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Articles / Applying to College / Which Recommendation to Send?

Which Recommendation to Send?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Dec. 2, 2015

Question: I have just submitted my application to Princeton via Common App (along with supplements). My college office has already submitted one of my three teacher recommendations, which I had originally planned to use as a supplementary recommendation.

I am an engineering (computer science) major, and I have two options to choose from: a music teacher I’ve had for four years that knows me really well, and a computer science teacher that I’ve also had for 2-3 years, but I feel like might not know me AS well.

However, I’m still unsure, because computer science is my major, and I’m trying to decide which one to send to Princeton. On my application, I already talk about computer science a lot, so I’m considering sending the music rec in order to show more of my personality. However, that would mean I have two humanities recs, and I feel like that might be quite disadvantageous.  What should I do?

You didn’t tell “the Dean” who the initial rec was from … you only said humanities, and it would help to know.

But, even so, it may not sway my answer. I think you should go with Computer Science. If that’s your likely major, you don’t want both your recs to be from humanities fields. Presumably, if you have experience in music, it is already listed elsewhere on your application. And, typically, colleges prefer references from more “academic” subjects rather than from arts teachers (except, of course, for art-specific schools or majors).

In addition, a reference from a music teacher for an Asian kid (I’m assuming this from your name but perhaps I shouldn’t) isn’t exactly head-turning. As much as “The Dean” would like college admissions to be race/ethnicity-blind (a long conversation for another day), it rarely is. And Asians–especially those who favor “stereotypical Asian pursuits” (another conversation)–tend to get the short end of the stick (although this is something that admission folks will rarely … well …. admit!).

So “The Dean’s” vote is for the Comp Sci teacher … at least based on what you’ve told me here.

Good luck!


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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