FAQs

The following list are frequently asked questions that I receive from readers. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for below, feel free to ask me any questions on the Ask Elias page.

Letters of Recommendation

Do I need two science letters of recommendation for dental school?

In 99% of cases, yes you will need two letters from science professors. It is very likely at least one (most likely more) of the schools you apply to will need multiple science letters. The article simplifies the whole process by just assuming you will need two. If you have a list of schools you plan on applying to, you can determine how many science letters you need in total using this list. Keep in mind this resources is from 2010-2011 so it is advised to double check with the school directly as well. For example, if you plan to only apply to three schools (just simplified for the sake of the argument):
In this case, applying to UoP means you must have 2 science and 1 dentist letters in order to qualify for all three programs.

What if I have more than three letters of recommendations?

The AADSAS application accepts more than three letters! However, please be aware that admissions faculty is only required to read three letters, regardless of how many you submit. For example, imagine a scenario in which you submitted five letters, two of them were strong letters and three of them were mediocre. If three of the letters were read at random the likelihood of getting the three letters you wanted read are greatly reduced. The following table shows the probability of each combination:

2 Good/1 Mediocre1 Good/2 Mediocre0 Good/3 Mediocre
30%60%10%

Based on the assumption that an admissions officer will only read three letters, 1/10 schools you applied to did not get the opportunity to read any of your top letters, while 6/10 schools only got to read 1 of them. As you can see, the odds are not in your favor. For this reason, I highly recommend following a quality over quantity ideology when submitting letters of recommendation. Make sure to get strong letters and pick the letters that you believe will carry the most weight. It will always be better to have three very strong letters rather than 5 moderately strong letters.

Does research count as a miscellaneous letter of recommendation or a science letter?

The answer to this question depends on if you received units for research, and as a result a letter grade based on your research performance. If a letter grade was given, then research qualifies as one of your science letters of recommendation. A research letter of recommendation is highly recommended if you can get one since, in a research environment, you spend significantly more time interacting with the person who will be writing the letter than with a professor during office hours.

What characteristics are looked for in a letter of recommendation?

Admissions officers are looking for specific things in recommendation letters. It is important to nail key characteristics like interpersonal skills, teamwork, and personality. The admissions director emphasized being very careful picking who writes you a letter of recommendation. Do not go to a professor that you got an “A” in just because you got an “A”. Keep in mind that the dental schools have your transcript and as a result, having a letter of recommendation emphasizing your performance in the class does not bring any new advantages to your application.

What if the letter is not written by the due date. What do I do?

Don’t put yourself in this situation! The people who will be writing letters for you are very busy individuals and they often forget to write a letter of recommendation. The worst thing to do is to remind them last minute since at this point they will rush a letter all while being under pressure by the student.

The following time guideline, two-two-two,  is highly recommended so that you do not find yourself such a situation. Give the person enough time so they can comfortably write a letter for you in their free time. I recommend asking them two months before the letter is needed. This way they have no reason to feel pressured. Since you are asking two months in advance, two weeks prior to the deadline, contact the individual and remind them of the letter of recommendation and see if they need any other documents or information from you. The final component of this plan is to give them a deadline that is  two weeks before the actual due date. This will give you an extra window of time just in case they do not finish it on time for any reason. At this point, you can tell them that the latest the school will take it is two weeks from the deadline and that you would really appreciate if they could still write the letter for you. Following this procedure will minimize the stress on both of you and since a two month window was given, the recommended should not have any reason to think negatively about you if the letter sees any unforeseeable delays.

Do you have any advice on how to get a good letter of recommendation?

Make sure the person knows who you are, and that you are in good standing with them. A letter of recommendation can go one of two ways. The recommender can write a letter recommending you, a neutral letter, or a letter against recommending you. Stan emphasized asking the writer if they could “write a positive letter of recommendation.”

At large universities it can be fairly difficult to get a letter of recommendation from a professor teaching a class of 300+ students.  Most commonly, that professor can have at least one or two other classes which can make it even more difficult for students to get a good quality and positive recommendation. One method of getting around this dilemma was recommended by the Biological Sciences Councilors here at UC Irvine. It is acceptable at large universities that TA’s assist in the writing process and that the professor agrees to co-author the recommendation letter. Doing this may be easier than getting a professor to know you on a personal level all while maintaining the same weight a letter directly from the professor has.

Should I give the person writing the letter anything to help make the writing easier?

Yes! Please do! When asking for a letter of recommendation, do not rely on a verbal agreement or an email conversation. Have a physical request that you hand directly to the person. I found a letter of recommendation template in high school and I have used it every time since when asking for recommendation letters. Please do not print out the template and fill it in. Rewrite it on a word processing program and have key parts like the due date in bold. Fill in the the accomplishments section and paperclip a resume and any other documents to the back of it.

How many letters of recommendation should I have?

Your goal should be to have 2 science curriculum letters of recommendation and one miscellaneous letter. The miscellaneous letter carries weight in its own way. It is a great opportunity to show admissions officers your life outside of academia and how people perceive you. A great miscellaneous letter can come from many places. Some common ones are from a priest, a former or current boss, or a dentist you shadowed at.

What if I submit my application immediately, but I am waiting for a letter of recommendation?

Every requirement of the application must be ready in order to have the application reviewed by dental school admissions. If any part of the application is missing, the whole application is put on hold until the required pieces are submitted. This most commonly happens due to a late letter recommendation. It is highly recommended that you request a letter of recommendation very early on in the process and give the writer a deadline a few weeks prior to the AADSAS application cycle. This gives you a little safety window in the case that the individual may have forgotten to write the recommendation letter. That said, if this is no longer an option, it is alright. One of my letter writers didn’t complete the letter of recommendation until after AADSAS opened.

The key message is that you should have EVERYTHING ready to go!

If the letter is a physical copy or is a committee letter of some sort that will be mailed to AADSAS, all you need is the contact information of the letter of recommendation writer/service and AADSAS will provide you with a “Letter of Evaluation Matching Form” that must be included with the letter of recommendation. Give this form to the writer and let them know that your application is on hold until their letter is received by the AADSAS system.