Obtaining Quality Letters of Recommendation

letters-of-recommendation-photoLetters of recommendation are a very important part of your dental school application. In fact, if you look at my previous post about the dental school statistics, you will find that most schools list it as a very important piece of the application. This means that is going to be essential that you obtain quality letters of recommendation. By following the four suggestions below the letters you receive a much larger asset to your application.

1. Ask for your letters now

The upcoming application cycle opens on June 1st most years. That means that you have less than two months to have the letters ready. The minimum number of letters you will need is three. Each school has a slightly different requirement, as far as how many from a science professor or from dentists. However, the most common combination required is 2 science professors and 1 dentist. Their lives are busy and it may take some time to get the letters written. You should not only choose writers who you are in good standing with but writers who have known you for some time and know your character.

2. Give your writers an “About Me” form

You are going to want to have the “About Me” form ready and in your hand when you go to ask your professors to write you a letter. When they accept the responsibility of writing your letters of recommendations, hand this to them. You will want to explain to them that this is a form that you created that contains information about you. The following are a few things that you could include in your “About Me” form.

a) Family:

Who are your parents? How many siblings do you have? What are somethings your family likes to do together? Include whether you are married and have children. If so, how old are they and what are their names.

b) Growing Up

This is the section is reserved for telling about things that you liked to do growing up. If you played sports, instruments or had other activities that you like, write a brief explanation of why you enjoyed them. Include any awards that you won and any leadership positions that you held (team captain etc…).

c) Mission Trips

Write about any mission trips that you were able to go on. Include some of the things that you did. Remember to be brief.

d) Current Activities

Reserve this section for listing any volunteer work, jobs, or current leadership positions that you hold. Once again, just list some of the more important ones with a one or two sentence explanations. Depending on the length of the other sections only write three to five. Do not write ten or fifteen. These are there just to help the professor fill in any gaps that they have about you.

e) Academic Career

If you feel it necessary include your current GPA. More importantly include a list of classes that you took from that particular professor and the grades you received. Professors have hundreds of students and they don’t remember all the grades. If you did well in the class this can help the professor remember that you are a hardworking student.

You can include any other pertinent information on the “About Me” form. This should not take up more than a page. Remember the professors are busy and that you are writing this to help give them a better idea of who you are. Generally, professors already have an outline of what they are going to write about. This can help them be a little more specific in the letter thus making it a stronger letter of recommendation.

3. Things to talk about in a letter of recommendation

Some of the professors or dentists may have never written a letter of recommendation or have written very few. In some cases the professors may be writing letters of recommendation but not really know what they should write about. That is why you should hand them a list of things that can or should be included in a letter of recommendation. This list should not even be much more than ten items long. I will list some ideas but feel free to come up with some of your own. You do not have to include all of them.

• Maturity
• Academic potential
• Problem solving skills
• Ability to handle stress
• Adaptability
• Communication skills
• Ability to exercise good judgment
• Self-confidence
• Resourcefulness
• Compassion
• Work ethic
• Critical thinking skills
• Capacity for empathy
• Motivation for learning
• Understanding of the profession
• Motivation for the profession
• Interpersonal skills
• Integrity

4. Follow Up

I am going to repeat, professors and dentists are busy people! When you hand them your “About Me” form and the list of potential writing topics, tell them the date that you need it back by. Then let them know that you will check back with them by a certain date to make sure they have everything and that everything is going okay. When that time comes, call or go to their office (in the meantime, continue studying for the DAT, crafting your personal statement, and bolstering your GPA.)  See how they are doing and if they completed the letter. If the letter is not yet complete let them know that you will check back with them in the next couple weeks. Sometimes letters are not a priority for the professors and other times they just forget about them, kind of like I do when professors give me small assignments. This has a big potential to help you get better letters. If the professor waits to the last day to do it, it might look like some of your assignments do when you do it the morning of the due date. This is not what you want! If they sit down with plenty of time before then the letter will be much higher quality.

Follow these fours suggestions and you are going to get the best letters of recommendations possible. These are simple, and effective steps to obtaining the letters of recommendation that you want on your dental school application!