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3rd and 4th letters: from department faculty with different subfield vs. outside faculty relevant to your emphasis


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I found that there are some schools accepting optional fourth letters, so I thought why not. I can ask additional professor who knows me well enough to write letters and I will comment that the letter will be fourth so the number of schools they need to submit won't be a lot.


I have two letters for the two of the three required. I am debating who should be the third letter writer and who should be the additional fourth. The two professors for the last two are: one professor in my department who does outside of my subfield and one professor outside of department who is more relevant to my research area. 


My discipline is political science and my emphasis is international relations--and I am particularly interested in international political economy. The first professor is American politics professor, who is interested in political economy but mainly American field. The second professor is from Economics department who does international economy. Also, the second professor is on my thesis committee (my school requires at least one faculty outside of our department to be on thesis committee). 


Does anyone have advice on this?

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Whichever letter is stronger should be third, the other one should be fourth. That matters a lot more than the professor's affiliation. So, if one knows you longer/better or if one can say more about your research abilities than the other, choose that one.


If the letters will be equally strong, I would go with the professor that is likelier to be known to the committee. If one is famous and one is not, make the letter from the famous person the third letter. It may carry more weight. 


If that's not a tie breaker either, I would go with the letter from the prof whose interests are a closer match to yours. I don't think it matters what department he is affiliated with, as long as he can talk about your research in your chosen area of interest. 

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