Here are some of the tricks I have thought about, or other people have told me for getting good letters of recommendation before you apply to dental school.
Find out your dental school’s requirements
You need to visit the website or call the dental schools that you really want to apply to and find out what their specific requirements are on letters of recommendation. Here is a list of the North American Dental Schools.
Generally, you are going to need two to three letters from science professors. Different schools have different rules. Some schools require a letter of recommendation from a dentist. Others will allow a letter of recommendation from a regular non-science professor.
Oftentimes, they will allow or even require letters of recommendation from community service organizations. I believe Loma Linda, a 7th Day Adventists school, requires a letter of recommendation from a religious leader.
When to start looking for professors
I would recommend that you start thinking about this your sophomore or junior year. The reason why I would recommend you start doing it so early is because some people feel like they can do better in their early science classes. For example, they can get a really strong A in general chemistry 101. But once they get into the higher level chemistries, it gets harder for them. They may have more trouble in getting the A. If this is your case, start thinking early about who you want to get a letter of recommendation from early.
Once you have chosen a professor:
When you find professors or a class you feel like you can do well in, get to know the professor and find out what kind of person they are. If they are positive and you have a good relationship with them, try and strengthen it. Visit their office multiple times throughout the semester.
Talk to them. Ask them questions as much as possible. Sit in the front of the class. Pay attention, don’t miss any classes. Do everything you can to show them that you want to be a good student. There will probably be other people doing the same thing but try to make yourself stand out. Do really well, get good grades, and then near the very end of the semester or right after the grades have been submitted, go in and talk with the professor. Let them know that you are interested in getting a letter of recommendation.
Approaching the professor
I took a pre-professional class once where we talked about letters of recommendation. It was recommended that we approach the professor and ask them like this, “Would you feel comfortable writing me a positive letter of recommendation?” By asking them this way you are giving them an out if they feel like they are not going to write you a positive letter of recommendation. I have heard of students getting negative letters of recommendation.
If you get a negative letter of recommendation sent from a professor to a dental school, you pretty much have closed all doors and erased all opportunities of ever going to that school. So by asking the professor in this way, you are letting them know that if they are not going to write you a positive letter, you don’t want it.
“Would you feel comfortable writing a positive letter of recommendation?”- Ask them this. If they say yes, then give them the needed paperwork, so that they can write your letter and send it to the dental school or your pre-professional office where they manage your letters. Different schools have different policies. That is another thing you will have to consider.
Where to send the letter of recommendation
If you are going to have the letter sent straight to the dental schools, you have to let the professor know that you will need to get the letter later on. I would highly suggest that for your specific college or university, talking to your pre-professional office about what they do.
At BYU they had an office where they would hold the letters of recommendation until we were ready to apply. So I could ask a professor any time during my four years if I could get a letter, and they could send it to the professional office in my file. Then, when I was ready to apply, BYU would send all the letters or copies of the letters to the schools I was interested in applying to. Talk to your pre-professional counselors or advisors and then start thinking about getting letters early on. Good luck.