How to get the perfect letter of recommendation

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You’ve worked your tail off throughout dental school to make good grades and pass NBDE Parts I and II, but there’s one more thing so crucial to that residency application: recommendation letters. Programs can see on paper how well you have performed academically these past few years, but it’s the letters from those who know you best that really make your application stand out. After going through the process this past year, I have a few tips for getting the right recommendation letters and thanking those who supported you.

  • Foster relationships with faculty and mentors early on and throughout dental school.

You will want to do this on day 1. Your recommendation letters are a way for programs to learn more about you as a person. You will want professors, clinical faculty and mentors who have seen you grow and learn throughout dental school and can write great things about you. They should be those who know you best and know your passion for pursuing that specialty or program. For me, I chose one of my faculty and research mentors whom I had met with on a routine basis to discuss classes, research, exams, study tips, scholarships and even difficult times throughout school. I identified this professor early on and fostered that relationship over years.

  • Check the ADEA PASS website to find out which letters are required for the specialty/programs you’re applying to. 

Applying to residency programs might is different from applying to dental school. Some required letters may include your academic dean, program directors, clinic faculty, personal, etc. There is a minimum of 2 and maximum of 4 per program. The ADEA PASS website provides links to all of the information you will need for each program or “advanced discipline”. It is also important to learn if the letters are to be electronically or physically submitted so you can inform your letter writers, if needed.

  • Request the evaluation in advance.

Don’t startle your potential letter writers with an automated response from ADEA PASS that they have been selected to evaluate a candidate. The people you choose should be those you are closest with or most comfortable with writing your letter, so they should for sure say yes, right?! Yes, but you still want to formally request their evaluation. Set up a time to personally meet with them or send them a letter in advance to request their evaluation. My evaluators knew I was applying for a specialty and it was about that time I would ask, but they were happy and honored that I asked for their participation in advance.

  • Give them the information they need!

Although you have chosen mentors who know you, you want to provide them with all of the information they need to write and submit your letter. This includes everything from how to log in to the ADEA PASS website down to what to say in conclusion of your letter. These are the things I provided to my evaluators:

1. ADEA PASS website how-to PDF – this can be found on the website and may be updated on a yearly basis. This showed my evaluators how to log into the evaluation portal and how to submit their letter.

2. CV/resume – It’s important for the writer to capture all of your experiences, qualities and strengths in the letter. A CV or resume that encompasses your dental school experience will help when they can’t remember everything you have done.

3. Due date – You should request your letters far in advance of the date you wish to submit your application so everything is ready to go when you click “submit.” I would suggest requesting your letters AT LEAST 1 month in advance of the due date you choose. Give your evaluators enough time to prepare their thoughts and write a quality recommendation on your behalf.

  • Say “thank you.”

You should always follow up with a personalized thank you. Whether the outcome was acceptance or not, be thankful for the mentors that guided and supported you. A thank you letter can be handwritten or electronic. I personally appreciate the value in a handwritten note (so that’s what I did.) You can even include that your application is complete, what interviews you’ve been offered, or an update on your progress along the way!

~Adrien Lewis, Texas-Houston ’16, 2015 – 2016 vice president

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About Adrien Lewis

Adrien Lewis graduated from Baylor University in 2012 and is currently a fourth-year dental student at the University of Texas School of Dentistry at Houston. Adrien was a 2015-16 ASDA vice president, delegate to the 2015 ADA House of Delegates, former chair of ASDA’s Council on Sessions, member of the NLC Planning Committee, and consultant to ADA Council on Membership and ADEA Taskforce on Clinical Licensure. She previously served as chair of ASDA’s Council on Membership. Locally, Adrien is Community Service Chair for the Alpha Omega International Dental Fraternity and serves on the Greater Houston Dental Society Legislative Action Committee.

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