Dental School Letters of Recommendation

This one is a sensitive subject for me. First, I’ll detail what you should look for in your letter-writers. Then you should visit my post on types of letters of rec for dental school.

Honestly, I hate this aspect of the application to dental school. Letters of recommendation are a really outdated form of gatekeeping that started with Ivy league colleges in the US in the 1920s. Basically, a “who-do-you-know” game... and it still can be. 

Another thing that frustrates me to no end about letters of rec is they are the aspect of your application probably the least in your control. You earn your GPA, your DAT, write your personal statement, and control use of your time in leadership and volunteering roles, but you are supposed to outsource the testaments of your work ethic, integrity and character to other people?! Why can’t our actions speak for themselves?

As much as I would like this antiquated tradition to just get canceled, it’s here for now. And you will be expected to perform.

It’s intimidating to ask for letters of rec. Hey, can you write a letter to tell some people at this school how awesome I am? 

Nevermind if your letter-writer is not tech savvy either, as that presents a barrier to many letter-writers who may struggle to fill out the online letters which the AADSAS requires if you don’t have a go-between at your school who can accept paper or PDF letters for you and submit them to the AADSAS.

So who should you ask for letters?

First determine how many you need. AADSAS allows you to submit max 4 letters. Some schools have different/more specific desires for their letters--you should confirm on their website. Most schools require 2 core science professors, a dentist, and a reference from somebody else who can attest to your abilities and character. The committee letter can replace 3 letters.

Once you know your criteria, get a list in your head of people you know who fit that criteria who you have a good working relationship with. The people you ask should be trustworthy, reliable, and you should more or less know they have a good opinion of you. (Bonus if they tell you they have written letters of rec for pre-health professions students in the past-- they know what adcoms are looking for.)

Don’t take asking them for a letter lightly. You should treat it seriously. Ask them for an appointment during their office hours, or a few minutes at the dental office, or some set-aside time in a context-appropriate manner to ask them. Dress professionally that day, wash your hair, and think beforehand about how you want to ask them. They might already know your intentions, but be prepared to explain to them why you are applying to dental school if it is news to them. If getting into dental school is important to you, then act like it. Even if it may seem over-the-top to them.

Another important thing is to THANK THEM. Maybe later in the day, or the next day, write them an email expressing your gratitude for agreeing to write you a letter. It means a lot  to you, and you know they are busy, so you appreciate the time they are taking to support your career aspirations. This looks good, but also it is the right thing to do. 

It’s hard to cover all bases when talking about letters of rec because there is such a spectrum of options. 

Read more about each type of letter and my two-cents here.