Teacher Letters of Rec- Does 1 have to be STEM?

Our '24 D will soon be asking her teachers for recommendation letters. Our GC has suggested 1 STEM and 1 Non-STEM. Sara Harberson on her website also recommends this.

Her 2 best letters would probably both come from Non-STEM teachers (English and History). The teachers know her better and they are also her best subjects. We looked up some of the schools she’s interested in and none of them indicated a preference that they had to come from 1 of each.

Is this some unwritten rule? She’ll major in either business or econ. She’s only targeting reach schools and 1 auto-admit safety (Indiana).

Her non STEM recs would probably be a 9 and her STEM recs would probably be a 7. She’s just not as strong in her STEM classes.

Schools where she’ll likely apply:

Texas: McCombs
U Mich: Ross
Indiana (auto admit- she’ll meet the requirement - she has 4.0 UW and 35 ACT, #3 in her class out of 230)
SMU (maybe as an additional backup).

Thank you.

Yes. At least one stem and one humanities. Some schools specifically ask for it. And it is sort of understood as important. If you want to include more than one humanities, and if you think they’ll highlight different aspects of her, you can sometimes push three reccs into the process – either make one a supplement, or have the GC summarize the third into their recc.

For business or Econ…does she have a math teacher she can use for one reference?

Having said that, one of my kids had only STEM LORs, and the other had NO STEM references. Both got accepted to colleges of their choice.

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Her math isnt as strong. She’s only had 2 A-'s in high school (Physics and Math this year).

In History and English, she’s an A+ student. She’s also had the same English teacher for 2 years. Her history teacher also knows her from one of her school EC activities where she’s a strong leader.

At Rice, Brown, I’m not sure they can tell her intended concentration study and she may not self identify when asked that her major would be business/econ. She may indicate English instead (we know Rice and Brown’s applications do not depend on the intended field of study as a freshman). Do state schools really care about 1:1 rec letters?

First, please: get some perspective.

Second, you (like many students) misunderstand the basis on which teachers write strong LoRs- and on what the AOs are looking for from the LOR:

They do NOT only write strong positive letters for A+ students
They do NOT only write strong positive letters for students with whom they have a ‘friendly’ relationship

They DO write strong positive letters for students based on specific reasons that they are recommending the student, including both hard and soft skills / characteristics such as work ethic, inter-personal skills, perseverance, potential, etc.

They DO include specific examples of the student’s strengths, which is facilitated by the student giving them a cheat sheet that includes where the student is applying, what they are highlighting about themselves in general and -crucially- specific examples of their experience in the teacher’s class that stand out. It can be a time when the student shone in the class, or even something that the teacher might not even know. For example, “I never thought of myself as a math person, but in your class I have discovered that learning how to work through an X type problem is really satisfying”

eta: I see you have edited the original statement to say ‘only 2 A-’. I stand over the post- and if she is going to get into Brown or Rice with mulitple Bs in Math, a strong letter from a Math teacher is more likely to help than hurt. And fwiw, if she is gong to do Econ, she is going to be doing math- a lot of students don’t realize how math-y Econ is- and Business will have some math as well.


You don’t view A- grades as “strong”. They are strong. Seems to me these two teachers would be good ones to ask…if a STEM LOR is required.

You do understand that some colleges don’t even count + and - grades when they recompute GPA…right?

I agree…you need some perspective. A- is still an A grade.

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That shouldn’t be the reason for not asking for a rec though.

I’m with @thumper1 . The best recommendation is going to come from someone who knows your student well, who likes them, who they also like, who is going to give insight to the type of person the student is.
It’s not the grade in the class that matter for a teacher rec. It’s all about what they say about your child’s character.

On the CDS section C7, many very selective college indicate that recs and character are very important or important. Recs give them a lot of that information. My advice is for your child to go with two people who will have very good things to say about her, who are teaching her academic subjects. If that’s a math class where she is getting a B, that’s fine. If it’s English and History, that’s also fine. UNLESS the college specifies one STEM and one Humanities.


The more relevant question for us, is do schools really require the STEM/Non STEM?

None of the schools we have seen indicate this preference. Also, our D would prefer her English/History teachers since they know her much better and she’s feels a stronger, more natural connection.

That’s a persuasive argument.

I forgot to mention that the intended major is worth considering. If the student says they are intending to study physics for example, then it might seem like an omission to not have a rec from a STEM teacher. But overall, I stand by what I said previously.

Your daughter might be applying to two majors that have some significant math requirements. Whether required or not…I’m not sure why she thinks an A- grade teacher in her math class is a LOR problem.

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As I stated before, her math teacher is not her preference because she’s had the same English teacher 2 years in a row and she has a strong connection.

Also, her history teacher is one of the organizers for Diversity/Inclusion at school and we just had the teacher conference where he said she has strong leadership skills.

Her math teacher likes her but she doesnt know her as well and also, it’s not a topic that she absolutely loves.

If none of the schools on your D’s list require a STEM LOR, then technically it isn’t a problem.

I would have some concerns though about making sure that the schools on the list (most of which are very, very competitive) don’t question her ability to be successful in math and stats.

If she would be happy at IU, then you really don’t have a problem since it’s fabulous and she’s auto admit.

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Four of my kids were/are business majors, another was science, all had a humanities recommendation even though they were strong math students, I assume on the recommendation of their guidance counselor. I think the advise given here on this topic is solid.

Not all schools require 2 LOR. You need to look up the schools on your list individually and see what they require. Most people on this site have kids who are applying to selective schools and those generally do require two, but many schools do not. Neither of my kids needed two LORs for any of their schools. I would especially double check the state schools as they may only require one.

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I was a business major and IMO, her math is more than adequate for business.

I’m sure she is more than capable! And as noted in multiple comments, an A- is a great grade.

My comment was more about not having a STEM LOR and what an AO might imply. IMO there is good reason for GCs recommending one of each.

A strong math sub score on the ACT will help reinforce her ability as well.

She’s only taken the ACT once in February. She wasnt happy with her ACT math subscore.

She scored 33 on Math (her lowest). She got 34, 35, and 36 on the other sections. She got a 35 composite but will retake it in June to raise her math portion.

First of all, your child is strong in STEM, as evidenced by her GPA (an A- is not a bad grade) and her ACT score.

Unless the common app has changed since my daughter applied, I think you can ask for more letters of recommendation that you need and then submit the ones you want to the schools you want. Is that still the case? If so, I would ask for recs from her English and History teachers and then also one from a STEM teacher. Even though your daugther will waive her rights to see the recommendation, some teachers still will send you a copy so maybe you’ll get a chance to see the STEM recommendation and then can decide if it’s something you want to submit (though I dont think my daughter saw her recommendations). But even if you don’t see it, you can decide which letters to submit to each school based on what you learn about the school in the application process.

I am not sure I remember this 100% correctly but I am pretty sure my daughter asked for 2 STEM recommendations (both math) and then her 3rd was non-STEM but that teacher was someone whose relationship with my daughter was through a school activity she was really involved with and not as a teacher. She loved her and I’m sure the recommendation was great but it did not speak to her abilities as a student. Did that hurt her? Who knows, but she did get into a couple of schools on your list and attends Rice.

We were big fans of Sarah Harberson when we went through the process. Are you members of her Facebook group? If so, this might be a good question to ask there.

33 is an excellent score.

That’s a great score and a 33 is not low! Obviously her call to retake but if it was my kid I would have celebrated and focused on working on the essays. (There will be lots!).