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My Personal Letter of Recommendation Experience

October 10th, 2013 | Posted by Elias Almaz in Advice | Background Information | Dental School | Portfolio | Tips

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.