Advice Background Information Dental School Portfolio Tips

My Personal Letter of Recommendation Experience

Prior to asking for letters of recommendations, I had reviewed what to-do and not to-do in order to receive strong letters of recommendation and on time. You can find much of this information on my post All You Need to Know about Letters of Recommendations and in the Letter of Recommendation section of the FAQs. While religiously following the strategies I have learned, several of my letters of recommendation did not go as smoothly planned. Planning ahead provided a reassurance that the letters of recommendation would be completed on time expecially in these unexpected circumstances.

It is important to review the requirements of the dental schools you intend to apply to. Some dental schools may require a letter of recommendation from a specific individual like a (general) dentist, chemistry professor, biology professor, etc. Based on my selection of schools (and in most cases), it was best to have a letter of recommendation from a dentist, a biology professor, a physics/chemistry professor, and a principle investigator in my research lab. The research lab letter of recommendation is focused towards the research funded dental schools. A fifth letter of recommendation was requested by a specific school in order to meet their unique requirement.

The following is a breakdown of each letter and any unique circumstances/complications:

  • Dentist (Prosthodontist)
    • Requested from a specialist  that I have known and worked closely with for many years.
    • Least formal request (email) since I was hundreds of miles away.
    • A previous letter had been drafted for a job 3 years ago and letter was updated with further developed for dental school applications.
    • No documents requested (familiar with my experiences).
    • Conclusion: Close friends. Submitted on time no problems other than a identification verification with letter of recommendation storage service.
  • Biology
    • Requested from a Human Physiology professor in early January whom I have taken two classes with.
    • Asked through email for an appointment and summarized the appointment’s reason.
    • Dressed professionally with a suit and a portfolio of documents.
      • Professor commented on professionalism.
      • Declined any documents. Professor prefers to write letters of recommendation based on previous knowledge.
        • This was an unexpected. However, if I was writing a letter of recommendation, I would do the same.
    • Brief interview with professor about dentistry.
    • Letter of recommendation received within the time frame.
    • Conclusion: ALWAYS come professional and prepared. It can have a significant impact in situations just like this.
  • Physics
    • Requested from a mechanical physics professor in late December.
    • Personal interaction with professor.
    • Asked in person for a letter of recommendation after office hours and provided a portfolio.
    • Professor took a 6 month international vacation making it difficult to communicate.
    • Emailed a few reminders over 4 months and offered to ask another professor for a recommendation if she could no longer.
    • Letter completed in April.
    • Conclusion: In this case it really paid off to ask early. I would have been in trouble if I only asked 2 months in advance.
  • Research Principle Investigator
    • Requested from principle investigator from drug addiction research lab in May.
      • Waited until after several research events and awards in may.
    • Provided portfolio to compliment research achievements.
    • Principle investigator is also Dean of the Graduate School and is very busy.
    • Deadline of letter of recommendation near that of many research grants. As a result letter could not be completed on time.
    • Conclusion: Be weary of your letter writer’s schedule. They are busy people too and this can delay your application if not requested early enough.
  • Priest
    • Priest of nearly a decade. Served as an alter boy.
    • Requested a letter of recommendation and provided a resume.
    • Completed and received by dental school within 2 weeks!


As you can see from my experiences, no two situations were alike. Take some advice from my experiences and be sure to plan ahead, ask early, and come professional and prepared as if you are going to an interview for dental school. If you attend a large university, expect many other students to be asking for letters of recommendation. If you attend a research institution, professors are extremely busy managing time between lectures and research. In cases like these, be sure to give your letter writer as much time as you can. They will greatly appreciate it and write you a better letter.


The Dental Admissions Test (DAT) is Changing in 2014!

UPDATE (3/10/2014): New details have been summarized in More Details Emerge on the Upcoming Changes to the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) 


A recent publication by the ADA titled “DAT Newsletter – Volume 4” sheds light on several large changes to the DAT. The document states that these changes are expected to begin in 2014, less than 3 months away.

The ADA puts out a newsletter regarding policy changes for the DAT on, what seems to be, an annual basis. This newsletter summarizes the upcoming changes discussed by the DAT Committee since the last summary.  A past example of the DAT Newsletter from 2012 can still be accessed on the ADA website. Usually the newsletter consists of updated test taking policies and does not discuss changes to the content of the DAT. However, the DAT Newsletter for 2013 brings some interesting test subject changes alongside a few policy changes. A summary of the key changes can be found below.


Biology test specifications will be changed for 2014. Biology survey courses have shifted to a systems approach (i.e., focusing on complex interactions within biological systems, rather than viewing biology in a reductionist manner), and thus the biology test specifications are being adjusted to conform to this holistic approach. The Examinee Guides will be reviewed and revised to ensure clarity.”

Based on this quote from the newsletter, we believe the biology section of the DAT will likely have less “random” factoids to commit to memory such as material from lower division biology courses covering the topics of  “Organism to Ecosystem”. It is expected that topics such as physiology are to become a larger focus on the DAT biology section. This change may make it more difficult for many students to take the DAT following their 2nd year (as currently advised) since only a handful of core biology courses have been taken alongside the general and organic chemistry classes.

When contacting the ADA regarding more clarity on the biology section changes, we received a canned response:

The Biology Test Construction Committee has some recommendations regarding changes in the test specifications, and they will be up for discussion and approval by the DAT Committee in early 2014. We will keep test takers posted as to when it will take effect.”

Our only advice at the moment to those planning on taking the DAT is to take several of the core upper division biology classes such as physiology and microbiology prior to taking the DAT. Preparing for the exam in early 2014 may be difficult due to a lack of new preparation material and a well rounded understanding of biology is a must to perform well in this case! Keep an eye peeled for an updated iteration of The Examinee Guide. It is also likely that other material on the ADA’s main DAT Information Page, such as the sample test, will be updated to provide more information regarding these changes.



Quantitative Reasoning Test (QRT) specifications have been revised to eliminate the sections for numerical calculations, conversions, geometry, and trigonometry. Items will be added in the following areas: data analysis, interpretation, and sufficiency; quantitative comparison; and probability and statistics.”

This change has been rumored for a while and some preparation materials such as Math Destroyer have been adding tests with questions focused on the concepts listed above. The ADA explicitly states that “These changes will be implemented no sooner than 2015.” More information will be added regarding this change in the near future.
As more information becomes available, it will be posted on the DAT website