Knowing the criteria where an individual dental school will place importance is something that isn’t so easy to find out. Schools are not inclined to divulge the answer. Short of becoming a member of the admissions committee in the school you wish to enter, you’re going to have a difficult time finding out the true weight placed on your letters of recommendation.
Instead, focus on making sure that your letters of recommendation show that you are a good candidate for entrance to dental school. How can you do this? Start by selecting writers that know who you are, know your commitment to the profession and your ability to compete with other students.
Let’s address each of those statements one at a time.
Select writers that know who you are.
Waltzing up to a chemistry professor after sitting in the 14th row of the lecture hall of a large university that may have several hundred students is not going to get you the kind of remarks that you want the admissions committee to read. Instead, choose a professor that you have connected with during the semester. This is probably an area where a student that attended a smaller college will have an advantage.
Select writers that know you are committed to the profession of dentistry.
Showing up to your professors door to ask for a letter while letting them know that you’re applying to dental school is not the best way to approach the problem of getting great letters. You should be establishing ties with the faculty long before you approach them with this kind of request. The earlier the better, as this gives them the ability to tell of how they have known of your desire to pursue the profession for some time.
Select writers that are aware of your ability to compete with other students.
In general, you’re going to need to do well in most of your undergraduate classes. While you can still get into dental school with a few blemishes on your record (yes, even D’s or F’s) you certainly do not want to choose one of those professors to write your letter of recommendation! Choose a course where you did excellent work, above and beyond the professor’s expectations if possible. That way you get a glowing report of your ability to handle the academic pressures that you will encounter in professional school.
TIP: Write a letter to the professor that shows your interest in the field, your personal life, your other interests and anything that they may use in their letters. If they choose to use some of the information in their letters it will show the admissions members that the person knows you better than the average student, meaning that you are someone that stands out in that person’s mind.