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MIT staff blogger Matt McGann '00

Some recommendations about recommendations by Matt McGann '00

Some things to think about as you look for letters from teachers.

At MIT, we require all applicants to send in two letters of recommendation — one from a math or science teacher (“Evaluation A”) and one from a humanities teacher (“Evaluation B”).

If you are applying this year — early action (November 1 deadline) or regular action (January 1 deadline) — I hope that you have already asked your teachers if they can write a letter on your behalf. Please recognize that teachers are very busy — teachers in this country are seriously overworked and underpaid; I hope you will respect their time. So whether your application deadline is about a month away, or about three months away, please have these conversations now or very soon, if you have not yet done so.

I recommend that you find some face-to-face time alone with each teacher to ask them in person to write your letter, and to have a conversation about it. This is a much better approach than just leaving the recommendation form on their chair and running away. I recommend giving them all of the recommendation forms for every one of the schools you’re applying to at once. This is also a good time to tell them about why you’re applying to each school, and how you see yourself as a match for each place. Teachers often find these conversations very helpful.

If a teacher asks you to write the recommendation for them — do not do this (these requests rarely happen in the United States, but do happen with some frequency abroad). Instead, ask another teacher. Teacher recommendations should only be written by the teacher and by no one else.

If you attend school outside the United States, and have teachers who are not English fluent, this is okay — you can still have them write you a recommendation. They can write in their native language; the letter can then be translated. There are many sources for translation, and one that you may find helpful is an English teacher at your high school. Official translations from agencies are also good. If you send us a translated recommendation, please include both the English translated copy and the original in the native language.

MIT’s teacher recommendation forms are available for download from your MyMIT application portal. Please note that there is no online recommendation system for MIT; recommendations will need to be on paper and mailed to the admissions office. We prefer that teachers use our forms, but it’s okay if your high school has its own form, or if teachers want to use the Common App’s paper recommendation form. It is also okay — common, in fact — for teachers to write their own letter and not answer the questions on our form. We just ask that your teacher attach that letter to our form — with your name and date of birth clearly indicated — and that the letter address the questions on our form.

Who should you ask? You should certainly ask a teacher who has taught you in an academic class in high school (i.e. no middle school, and no basket weaving class). Ideally, this will also be a teacher who knows you as more than just a student who does well on all the tests. We find that the best recommendations are written by teachers who know an applicant well as both a student and a person. For example: the English teacher who is your newspaper advisor, the math teacher who is your math team coach, the biology teacher who is your field hockey coach, the history teacher that you talk about politics and health care policy with, the physics teacher who you challenge each day for the best time on the New York Times crossword puzzle, the chemistry teacher who is your mentor.

Also — you do not need to choose the teacher that teaches the subject that you want to major in. You do not need to choose the teacher from whom you received the best grade. You do not need to choose a senior year teacher — but you should choose someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship.

You can choose a teacher who has retired or moved to a different school, as long as that teacher meets the above criteria. The process is the same in this case.

I get many questions about what subject teachers can write the A or B eval. As a general rule, if the teacher teaches a class that would count towards MIT’s math & science requirement, that teacher should fill out the A Evaluation; if the teacher teaches a class that would count towards MIT’s humanities, arts, and social sciences requirement, that teacher should fill out the B Evaluation.

Purely as an exercise, I made a list of different kinds of classes that high school students might take, and tried to classify them as an A Evaluation or B Evaluation as best I could. A few are pretty fuzzy (and could be categorized reasonably either way — no worries), but most seem pretty straight forward:

A Evaluation potential subjects
  • Math
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Earth Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Technology
  • Research

B Evaluation potential subjects
  • English
  • History
  • French
  • Spanish
  • German
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Chinese
  • Japanese
  • Hebrew
  • Latin
  • Economics
  • Government
  • Psychology
  • Social Studies
  • Art
  • Music
  • Geography

After you have chatted with your teacher and given them the recommendation forms, you can track whether or not MIT has received and processed the letter on your MyMIT tracking page. Please allow up to two weeks processing time during peak application season. If the letter has not shown up as processed by the application deadline, do not worry. You may wish to very politely check in with the teacher, but you do not need to constantly hound them. As long as you have given your teachers sufficient time to write on your behalf, they will get your letter in to us. And we are much more flexible with teacher recommendations that come in a little late than we are with late student application materials.

And when MIT does process your teacher’s letter — please thank your teacher. It’s the nice thing to do, and they deserve it.

I hope this is helpful!

[Please note: with this entry, I speak for MIT Admissions. While much of this advice is universal, YMMV with other schools for the specific tips, tricks, and rules]

22 responses to “Some recommendations about recommendations”

  1. Thanks so much! This is very helpful!

  2. Shiv says:

    Hey, thanks for the tips, really helps! And ya, its so true about the recommendations, in India at least, it happens really frequently that teachers ask the students to write their own recommendations. But if you really want it you can always find teachers willing to write one!

    A question though, do you guys have any preference as to which grade (high school) the teacher taught in? As in, do you prefer recommendations from 11th and 12th teachers, rather than the 9th and 10th ones?

  3. David says:

    Hi, I’m wondering, would it be bad to send more than two letters of recomendation?

    For example if you have one math teacher that you have on a regular basis, and another that you have as a kind of coach in mathematical competitions. Would it be bad to request a letter from each? (apart from the letter from the languages/humanities teacher)

  4. YMMV = “Your Mileage May Vary” – ie, you may have a different experience.

  5. Oasis '11 says:

    Psychology is not science?…but, but…9.00 (Intro to Psych) is in the School of Science at MIT…=p

  6. Anon says:

    There were a few good questions on the comments of the last post. Do you usually not answer questions in comments? Should we just email you, then?

  7. Min Kim says:

    Hi, so when you say “Research,” you mean a research mentor that might not be part of the teacher faculty, right?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the tips.
    If your school was the same from like 1st grade all through 12th grade (as happens in some schools outside the US) should write the actual date he entered the school or the date he started the High School in that same school?
    Thank you.

  9. Kamal says:

    Over the summer, I did a research internship at the University of Maryland, and my mentor has expressed interest in writing me a recommendation. Since none of the classroom teacher recommendations are appropriate, in what sort of format would you like the recommendation to be?

  10. Daniel says:

    I have a question not related to this post.
    Is it okay if I exceed the word limit on the essays?

  11. Justin Hess says:

    QUESTION: Is it okay if we are applying early action, but our teachers have already submitted our recommendations with Regular Action circled on the recommendation form?

  12. Zeki Uyan says:

    Thanks a lot.In Turkey teachers rarely knows English.I was thinking about an official translation but it is really expensive here and I’d have to see forms.
    I’ll direct them to ask English teachers,thus I won’t see form and teachers will be able to write everything they want.

  13. @Anon –

    No, that is not OK. Your teachers MUST write their recommendations. Yes, every single one of them.

    – Chris Peterson
    MIT Admissions

  14. Anon says:

    “If a teacher asks you to write the recommendation for them — do not do this (these requests rarely happen in the United States, but do happen with some frequency abroad). Instead, ask another teacher. Teacher recommendations should only be written by the teacher and by no one else.”

    What if, and this is just an “if” of course, all your teachers (yes, every single one of them) ask you to write your own recommendations, which they will later sign?

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thanks Matt! I was actually wondering if I could use my tech/engineering teacher for Evaluation A.

  16. Dane says:

    Thanks Matt! I was actually wondering if I could use my tech/engineering teacher for Evaluation A.

  17. Matt, how many supplementary recommendations does the MIT admissions committee allow or suggest? I want to get one from my fencing coach and/or research mentor, but I’m not sure which one I should do.

  18. Kevin says:

    I was just wondering, I’ve been in the navy for over 4 years now, I’m worried about the application process, was told that recommendation letters for people you work with that are a higher rank will be a good choice to send in also. Is this true?

  19. hey mat!! i have physics, chemistry, biology and math at school along with general studies!! i am doing my a levels!! the thing is i hav plenty of ppl for evaluation A but i hav no social science/language/art at school? i did study economics though but that i studied privately! i dint do economics at school! wat do i do now?? PLZ PLZ help meeeee……………

  20. Ulzii says:

    Thanks for the tips. Matt!
    I have a question though. Is it okey if i submit more than 2 recommendation letters. The thing is i am right now in an American high school and having two of my teachers write recommendation letters. But a year ago, I was studying in a country where i was born, and there are the teachers who know me very well.(not to mean my american teachers don;t know me)So I had them write letters too. And I have 4 letters. Please respond me…

  21. navin says:

    can international students waive application fee
    and if yes is the procedure same as it is for a US citizen?