Advice needed please! Stanford letters of rec

Hello, some advice would be greatly appreciated. My son is working on getting letters of rec for his Stanford application. His preferred major is engineering, so he was thinking of asking his physics/PLTW teacher for one, and his calculus teacher for another. (He has had them both for two years and has a good rapport with them.) However, his drama teacher of 4 years offered to write him a glowing letter as well. Although not related to his desired major, this letter could show another important side of him. Does Stanford consider drama to be a core academic subject, and would it be useful to have letters from two contrasting subject teachers? Or should he maybe include the drama letter as an “other recommender?” Thanks a lot!

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He should get a humanities teacher (not drama) or social science in place of the Physics or Calc. While they don’t specifically say that, other top schools do. The idea being - he’s more than a STEM student. They don’t just want math/science geeks - but well rounded kids.

It looks like the drama teacher can do in other recommender - but it’d be better if they directed him in a play. I’d ask - would that teacher add value.

Remember, you want a letter to add to the app. They know from his grades, rigor, test etc that he’s a great student. What can they add that the other teacher’s can’t - about his personality, what value he brought to the HS and would bring to Stanford - what personality traits, characteristics, etc. So while the drama teacher may be tight with him, it doesn’t mean their letter would add value. I’d rather it be a coach or if they directed him in a play - or I wouldn’t go there.

Just my opinion.

Good luck.

Letters of recommendation from two teachers are required. We recommend requesting letters from grade 11 or 12 teachers in English, math, science, world language or history/social studies. You may request a letter from a grade 10 teacher if the coursework was advanced (e.g., Honors, AP, IB). Letters from classroom teachers are strongly preferred.

If there is another person who knows you well and can provide new insights about you, you may have one additional recommender submit a letter on your behalf. Please assign this person as your “Other Recommender” in the Common Application. This is the fastest method for a letter to reach your file.


This is helpful, thanks. He could probably ask his current AP Lit teacher, although she hasn’t known him for very long. He hasn’t had any of his humanities or social science teachers for more than one class. As for the drama teacher, she has directed him in many extracurricular plays, so it sounds like this would be a good “other” option.

If he’s a Senior, who did he have last year?

Yes, I like the drama teacher as the other - and not writing as the teacher.

Perhaps and others might weigh in -because that shows another side of him, maybe the two STEM teachers in combo with this - then work.

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I disagree. Recs from 2 STEM teachers are fine, provided they are different subjects. So calc and physics would be fine; 2 math recs would not be. Adding the drama teacher as an “other” rec adds non-STEM dimension.

If the school wanted a humanities rec, they’d say so, like MIT does

The rest I’m in agreement with.


He had a different teacher for his AP Lang/Comp class, and has a good rapport, but that particular teacher isn’t as good at following through.

Maybe best to avoid. You know that they’re in when you see it load in common. You could have more LORs in there - let’s say per @skieurope he was applying to MIT too and they say this. Yale used to say this but removed - humanities / social science and STEM teacher.

You could have that person in - maybe it’s not the best letter but it meets the requirement - and only use when needed. In common, you’ll get the list of letters you have and choose the specific ones to apply to each school.

Now if they don’t follow through - their letter may or may not be lame - but you’d know if it was in or not - and yes, they require weekly follow up to remind the teacher of deadlines you have and it does get a bit nerve wracking, etc.

I also had my kids give them a note thanking them for their support once they indicated they would write the letter and providing a list both of likely schools applying (so they feel included) and a mini resume / brag sheet - so they could know what the student is interested in, partaking in outside of class…so it wasn’t just - Jimmy is in my class, participates and is well behaved.

Good luck.

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To me it sounds like the two STEM teachers plus the drama teacher as a supplemental LOR would be ideal. The classroom teacher LORs would emphasize academic strength in his area of interest and the supplemental LOR can speak to a whole different (non-STEM related) side of his personality/interests/talent.


Thanks all, your suggestions are appreciated!

Way back in time my references for Stanford were NOT “well rounded”. They were all more senior people working with me at a nuclear physics research facility (and there were three references sent in, all written by PhD physicists). However this was for a graduate program. It is at least my impression that my references helped quite a bit.

I was under the impression that Stanford wants a well rounded and diverse class, but that this does not necessarily mean that every student is by themselves well rounded or diverse. Stanford wants students who are each exceptional in their own way.

I do not see anything wrong with getting a reference from a physics teacher and a reference from a math teacher. It sounds to me as if the drama teacher would be the “other recommender”.

I do not think that anyone other than Stanford admissions staff will know for sure. I would read the directions on the Stanford admissions web site, and believe whatever they say.

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I would call admissions (don’t talk to a student working there) and ask about the drama letter. Is he doing an arts supplement? In any case we found extra letter(s) were very helpful in certain circumstances.


I agree here. Adding the drama teacher as an “other” rec would, IMO, be a great way to go and could provide a differentiating component to the overall application. The application readers will review hundreds of applications with strong recommendations from STEM type teachers, but not too many with a drama rec - especially if that letter is carefully crafted with Stanford in mind; intellectual vitality, quirkiness, and desire.

Best wishes…


My daughter is a rising junior at Stanford. Her letters were from an English and creative writing teacher, and another humanities teacher (she taught D21 two different philosophy electives), both knew her well. Your son should choose two teachers who know him well, no matter that they are both STEM, and the drama teacher can be the third recommender, which to me sounds like a nice balance.


Apparently, visual and performing arts are not for the purpose of recommendation letters at Stanford (but could be used as an additional recommendation).

Required School Forms : Stanford University says:

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Hello! Just wanted to add our experience!

  1. Both of my daughters are decidedly humanities leaning and both had letters written by English and History teachers, as they knew them the best and could speak to their personalities. You could definitely use two academic teachers for the primary letters, and the drama teacher for the third optional letter.

2)If your son is strong in theater, he should definitely look at submitting a supplemental to the Theater and Performance Studies department. He doesn’t need to be planning to major in TAPS! Here is the link to the information:

Best of luck! Stanford is an amazing place!!

Is it okay to have two teacher recommendations and have one supplemental rec also be from a teacher like this? I’m in a similar dilemma and wondering if three teachers (no mentors/supervisors/etc for the supplemental) is academic overkill.

What will the third add about you that the first two won’t? If nothing, then I wouldn’t - especially if the third is a teacher but this is what Stanford says.

If there is another person who knows you well and can provide new insights about you, you may have one additional recommender submit a letter on your behalf. Please assign this person as your “Other Recommender” in the Common Application.

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