Starting in 2024, we are no longer requesting recommendation letters as part of the Mathcamp application. Instead, you will need to include contact information for an adult to serve as your reference. Make sure to talk to your reference first to make sure they agree to serve as your reference!
A reference is an adult who has interacted directly with you in a mathematical setting, often a teacher from school or a summer program. They're someone whom we can potentially talk with to get an outside perspective on your application, mathematically and personally.
As the admissions committee reads your application, its primary focus is on the materials that you provide. Our best window into your mathematical preparation is the Qualifying Quiz that you submit, and our best way to get to know you as a person is the personal essay that you write. Occasionally, there's something in an application that we'd like to learn more about, and that's when we might reach out to talk to your reference.
Here are some potential ideas for your reference:
If you have attended another mathematics summer program recently (e.g. Hampshire, MathILy, PROMYS, Ross, SUMaC, Texas Honors, MathPath...) that is not centered on competition math, we strongly encourage you to list an instructor from your summer experience as a reference. It doesn't have to be the program's director: choose someone with whom you've talked about math so that they would be able to comment directly on that. These instructors have experience that is directly comparable to the kind of work we do with students at Mathcamp, so their perspectives tend to be much more helpful to us than those from classroom teachers or competition coaches. If you have a very good reason to select a different reference (e.g. you have a research mentor whom you've worked with more closely), that's fine.
If you have specific questions about selecting your reference, contact us.
Only one reference is required, and in the vast majority of cases, we expect that to be plenty for the admissions committee to get the information it needs. If you strongly believe that no single reference suffices, then you can add more, but this should be rare: we are not expecting your reference to know every detail about you! If there's an adult who knows you mathematically in an in-person setting, that one reference is perfect.
The one hard and fast rule: your reference cannot be a family member. Even if you are homeschooled, and even if you have mathematical mentors in your family, your reference cannot be a relative.
The other important guideline is that a reference should be an adult mentor, not from a peer. For example, if you co-founded a math club with a fellow high school student, you might imagine asking your fellow club leader to serve as your reference, but we would much prefer to have the faculty supervisor for the club available as a reference instead.
We have many international students at Mathcamp, and while we need you to be comfortable interacting mathematically and socially in English (all day, every day!), we do not expect every reference to be fluent in English. We want your reference to be someone who knows you well, both mathematically and personally. If the best person you can think of as a reference is not someone who speaks or writes comfortably in English, we still would want to hear from them, so go ahead and list them as your reference. Mention in your application that they don't speak English, and tell us the language they do speak. Finally, if you have a second person who can speak or write in English, whom you could list as a reference, you could go ahead and add them too as a second reference.
In the online application, we'll simply you ask for a name, email address, description of how you know them, and any notes about their availability in March and April for being contacted. You should talk to this person ahead of time to verify that they're willing to serve as a reference, but please make it clear that they do not need to prepare a letter of recommendation. In fact, they don't have to do anything at all unless we contact them! If we do, we'll have a few direct questions for them that we encourage them to respond to informally, without having to spend the time writing a full polished letter. We'll also give them the option to have a short phone conversation instead of composing an email reply.
If your reference doesn't use email, contact us to discuss your situation.
No, your reference will not hear from us when you submit your application; their information is simply on file in our system in case we need it. If we have questions for them, then we will reach out later in the season.
We do not expect to follow up with every reference! Don't read anything into that either way. Relatedly: please don't nag your reference about whether they've heard from Mathcamp or not; they are doing you (and us) a favor by serving as your reference, so let's respect their time. (And again, whether they've heard from us or not doesn't actually give you any inside information about your likelihood of admission, so there's no reason to nudge them anyway.)