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Math vs. Econ professor for recommendation


Wahasky
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Sorry if this is a kind of trivial question: is there any particular benefit to having a math professor writing one of your LOR? I have two strong letters from economics professors that I know I'm going to use. I have a math professor who keeps really good records of his classes over time, and has told me he will place me in the top few percent of several of the classes I've had with him over the course of 1-2 decades of teaching those classes. On the other hand, there is another economics professor who would probably give me a more effusive/supportive letter but with less specifics about where I've fallen in his classes.

 

Does this matter at all, 2 economists and 1 math professor vs. 3 economists? Any advantage to having a math professor to signal your strength in the area? I'm a math major too with a 3.9 for what that's worth.

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It may ultimately depend on how mathematical your research interests are, and the specific faculty you’ll wish to work with at each school. It may differ on a school by school basis — some schools may see the academic/mathematical distinction as a greater attribute than a generic economics letter that repeats what the first two say. I for one am taking more math than economics courses and thus will have a math professor write one of my letters. The other two will be from economists with insight into my research abilities and overall scholarship.
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No, there is no particular benefit to having a math professor write a letter for you. Your grades and math major speak for themselves and having a letter that simply narrates what is already in your transcript does not add any value. LORs are valuable when they convey information that is not readily available in other parts of the transcript, which in the best case means credibly vouching for your research potential. A letter from a math professor might be helpful if you had low grades in some math classes or had taken an unusual set of classes, and the math professor could put your transcript in context. Or, if the math professor him/herself works with economists, and can explain how your math background will allow you to do research in economics. But even a positive letter from a math professor saying "this person is one of the top students I have taught" does not sound as useful, at the margin and given your academic background, as a letter from an economist saying more or less the same thing but tailoring it to your aptitude for economics research.
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You wrote that the math professor will say something to he effect " top few percent of several of the classes I've had with him over the course of 1-2 decades of teaching those classes." Assuming we're talking about advanced math classes, that does have some value. The reason is that even A grades aren't that uncommon. Saying top few percent over many years is a much stronger statement than can be found from a transcript.

 

But in most cases, letters from math professors are useless. They do not provide information that econ admission committees are looking for.

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Startz and Prof provide good points. I am not making a general point here or disagreeing with them at all.

 

However, I will note that in a panel discussion on Economics PhD admissions comprised of the graduate admissions chairs of Rochester, UW-Madison, and UND, all three noted that a letter of recommendation from a math professor could be very beneficial, with two actively suggesting two econ professors + one math professor is an excellent combination.

 

There isn't a "consensus" per se among admissions chairs / committees. But, if you do have three strong economics faculty to draw letters from (especially from a professor who taught theory-heavy or advanced class + you RA'ed for or did research under), I would go there first.

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