Letter clip artAs mentioned in AADSAS Application Frequently asked Questions post earlier in June, three letters of recommendation are required as part of the application. Of the three recommendation letters,  two must be from your science courses and one can be of from anyone. The letters of recommendation are important aspects of your application since they, and your personal statement, are what define you as an individual beyond numbers and ranking. The admissions faculty is looking for individuals who have personable qualities, and a strong letter of recommendation will have more merit than any personal statement written by the individual applying. For this reason, it is important to receive three strong letters of recommendation. A letter of recommendation could be the deciding factor for interview opportunity just as easily as it can be the deciding factor for receiving a rejection letter.

Some of the following questions and answers were inspired by a presentation given by Stan Constantino, a Director of Admissions from the University of Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Stan enlightened us on topics related to admissions.  The following list was compiled based on answers to questions given by Mr. Constantino and expanded upon.

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 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 Mediocre 1 Good/2 Mediocre 0 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.

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.

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.

 

My last piece of advice is to make sure you maintain a good relationship with the individual writing the letter. If the recommender feels, for any reason, that their recommendation is no longer valid, they can easily retract the letter or modify it. I have heard horror stories in which students stop helping their recommendation letter writer, like the principle investigators of the research group, after receiving the letter of recommendation. The researchers were able to retract their letters and sent memos to the schools the student desired explaining why. You do not want to find yourself in this situation! Be smart and respectful! These individuals are doing you a great service!

If you have any other questions of concerns please submit them using the Ask Elias form!

APPLYING FOR THE 2014 AADSAS APPLICATION?

Good morning!!! Today is the most important day for every pre-dental student planning on attending dental school for the 2013-2014 school year! The 2012 AADSAS application season has begun! By now, you should have most of the application completed so that as soon as the application opens, you can fill all the application sections including your letters of recommendation, personal statement, and all your extracurricular activities! If you have not compiled your application contents, don’t fret! There is still plenty of time to turn everything in. However, keep in mind that dental school admissions are based on a rolling admissions system, in which fewer people are admitted as time passes by. In essence, it is easier to get in to dental schools if you apply right away rather than a few months in.

Last week I had the privilege to attend a presentation by Stan Constantino, a Director of Admissions from the University of Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry. Stan enlightened us on topics related to admissions. We also got the opportunity to get many of our questions answered regarding UoP and dental school admissions in general.  The following list was compiled based on answers given by Mr. Constantino which have been further expanded:

When is “early” when it comes to application season?

Generally, if you apply before the end of the month of June, you are considered an early applicant. Applications within the first month are immediately processed but not reviewed by dental schools for roughly another month. As a result, submitting on the first day does not have a significant advantage over submitting than the end of June. However, the rule of thumb is that if you have all the sections ready, then you should submit it as soon as the application is available.

When should I have my DAT done by?

It is highly recommended that the DAT test is completed as early as possible. To still be considered a moderately-early applicant, you should have your DAT done no later than July. You can take your exam later than that, but your application will lose its early advantage it had when you initially submitted it. Applications missing sections are put on hold until the section is delivered. I have heard of people taking the DAT as late as October or November of their application cycle!

What DAT score should I aim for?

You should aim for as high as possible, however a good “safe” zone is anything above 20. This applies to virtually all dental schools. Stan Constantino mentioned that UoP, in particular, is least concerned with the Quantitative Reasoning section of the DAT. His rule of thumb is that if you score 17 or under on any section, then you should retake the test. Anything that low is not considered a competitive score.

Can I take the DAT over?

You can take the DAT once every 90 days. Your last attempt is the score that is reviewed by dental schools. Please be aware that any regression in score will override any higher scores previously earned. Only take the test if you are ready to take it again, do not do it just because you can!

How long does it take for dental schools to receive my application?

Your application’s delivery time can vary significantly. Some schools fall under a 3-6 week window while other schools fall under a 6-8 week window. Since the delivery window can vary over a month, it is best to have the mindset that all of your desired dental schools will receive your application no later than 3 weeks after applications open June 4th. This way, you give yourself a specific goal that will prevent your applications completion from dragging on weeks or months longer than it should!

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

Every requirement of the application must be ready as soon as application season opens. 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 actual June 4th deadline. This gives you a little safety window in the case that the individual may have forgotten to write the recommendation letter.

The key message to this is that you should have EVERYTHING ready by June 4th, application day.

I have a few C’s. Will that prevent me from getting into dental school?

Mr. Constantino said that 1 or 2 C’s will not hinder your application much. Depending on the difficulty of the class, a C can be considered acceptable.

What factors make up the dental school admissions process?

Fulfilling all these categories will put you and your application in a very good standing. Being solid in all of these categories will make you an extremely strong applicant anywhere.

  • Coursework
    • Gives the admissions officers an idea about the difficulty of your classes, types of classes, and diversity of classes.
  • Course Load Sufficiency
    • Maintaining a dense course load throughout college is very important. This shows dental schools that you can perform strongly in very intense and demanding situations.
  • GPA
    • A numerical value calculated based on your performance in classes. Several versions of your GPA are evaluated. Mainly a science GPA and total GPA.
  • DAT
    • Standardized testing score helps balance the inconsistency in GPA’s across hundreds of schools.
  • Letter of Recommendation
    • 2 Science Curriculum letters of recommendation
    • 1 Other letter of recommendation
    • You can submit more, but some schools may only review 3 out of however many you have.
    • It is better to have 3 very strong ones rather than 5 moderately strong letters.
  • Personal Statement
    • A high quality personal statement can show a lot about you and your personality. This is a great place to show to admissions officers that you are passionate about becoming a dentist.
  • Extra-Curricular activities
    • Community service is a great way to show admissions that you are doing other things than just studying. Contributions to the community go a long way especially when they know you are busy doing everything else mentioned in this list.
  • Leadership
    • Having leadership positions in organizations shows your ability to manage others and lead a team. This is vital to becoming a dentist as dentists who own private practices are the boss and are the leaders of a dental team.
  • Dental Experience
    • It is important to have some shadowing hours. Mr. Constantino recommended 40+ hours to be a strong candidate. I would recommend doing as much as you can. Spending as much time in a dental environment as possible will really help you feel confident in your decision to pursue a career in dentistry.
    • My dental experience is the reason why I know dentistry is the career for me. An answer to the question “Why Dentistry” is much stronger when you have experiences that tell your story for you.
  • Dexterity
    • Proving you have fine motor skills is vital. Pick up a hobby that involves complicated and precise movements. Hobbies like painting, sculpting, or playing an instrument not only show fine motor skills, but they also show admissions officers that you have developed an artistic edge over other dental students.
    • My hobby has been soldering and repairing small electronics. To me, it is like performing surgeries. Very precise movements in very tight areas are needed to perform the repairs and built electronics. Research may open up opportunities to perform surgeries on animals for various reasons. Although this may be difficult to do at first, it is a great way to develop dexterity skills in a stressful environment.

Do you have any recommendations on curriculum that will improve my application and ease my load during dental school?

It is highly recommended that more than 1 science class is taken per quarter. Some important classes to take with their respective labs are:

  • Human anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Bio chemistry
  • Histology
  • Microbiology

Many of these classes will be taken again in your first two years of dental school, during which you will be taking 5+ intense and dense classes at once. Early exposure to these subjects should simplify the transition to dental school by making the workload less exhausting.

Does applying for a second cycle hurt my chances?

While most schools will see that you have applied previously, they will treat your application similarly to first timers. They may also use another factor to help their decision by looking into how you have bettered yourself since your previous application. If you are applying for a second cycle, be sure to emphasize on your improvements during your time off.

Does taking a year off between undergraduate and dental school hurt my chances of getting in?

Taking a year off is completely acceptable; in fact, you can take as many years off as you would like! The only catch is that you have to show that you have grown as an individual during that time period. As long as you did not spend the entire year sitting in front of the TV, there should be absolutely nothing to be concerned with when it comes to taking a break from school.

 

I would like to thank Stan Constantino for coming all the way down to UCI to give us this presentation. It was a wonderful opportunity to get to speak to an admissions representative. If you have any questions regarding the application process, fill out the Ask Elias form and I will contact Mr. Constantino to get an answer.

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Filling out the AADSAS is fairly straightforward. And if you need any help you can access their guide posted on the AADSAS website.

Please note: Since this school year is winding up, I will be taking a short break for the following two weeks so I can focus on finals! Good luck on applications! I will still be answering any email questions if you have any.

With application season right around the corner I thought it would be a great time to post some resources that I commonly use. While most of these have similar information, each one of the websites recommended below has a unique attribute that makes it stand out over the others. To best prepare for dental school, I would recommend bookmarking and using all of these resources along the way.

ADEA AADSAS

  • AADSAS, the Associated American Dental School Applied Service, is an organization run under the ADEA (American Dental Education Association) specifically designed to provide a universal application to dental schools. As you can guess, this is a vital resource if you want to become a dentist. It is the best and only way to apply for all the dental schools you are interest in attending. One application will contain and deliver all components of the application including your personal statement and your letters of recommendation to every school on your list.
  • Application season starts June 4th, and since you want to get into your dream dental school, you should give yourself every advantage possible. Submitting your application early is the simplest and most effective way to significantly improve your chances of getting into your dream school. This is due to the fact that the early applicants get more interview opportunities since none of the seats have been filled yet. As time goes on, seats begin to fill and schools begin slowing down admittance rates. Make sure to have everything ready as soon as possible so that you can submit and complete your application within the first few weeks of the application season.
  • This is the best resource for talking to other pre-dental students. In my opinion, these individuals are the experts of how to get into dental school. Many of them have already gone through the process and are there to help spread their knowledge to get others in. The people who put a lot of effort into this website usually can be considered experts and as a result many of them have outrageously high GPAs, DAT scores, and achievements. Please do not feel intimidated by them. These students are commonly the “cream of the crop” when it comes to applicants.
PreDents.com (Shut Down) – Alternatives: predentals.com & dds.studentdoctor.net
  • This is the best resource for statistics on dental schools. While the website does not have the greatest design, the information it collects is unique and I would recommend anybody applying to dental school to use it. PreDents.com is a great way to keep track of one’s stage in the application process versus others applying the same schools.
  • It is member driven in the sense that members update their status at the dental schools they apply to. For example, when somebody gets an interview at a specific dental school, they update their status which automatically updates the statistics for that dental school. This data is obviously not complete since many pre-dental applicant do not know of this website. Although the system is not perfect, it is the only way to keep track of the status of the current application season. You can get a good idea of the interview rates, acceptance rates, rejection rates, and attendance rates. You can also look into the previous years worth of data collected by this website and you can compare statistics over the years. As with StudentDoctor.net, the people who use this website are commonly the top students. Please do not be alarmed about the high averages posted by people on this website.

ASDA

  • ASDA, the American Student Dental Association is an excellent group to be a member of. Their mission statement (below) defines the purpose of the association perfectly.
The American Student Dental Association is a national student-run organization that protects and advances the rights, interests and welfare of dental students. It introduces students to lifelong involvement in organized dentistry and provides services, information, education, representation and advocacy.
  • If you are interested, you can become a registered member. ASDA has free resources, but I would highly recommend being a paid member for at least one year so you can take advantage of the resources they provide you with. For $58 dollars you get:
  • Free subscriptions to our publications, Contour (10 issues per year), ASDA News (archive), Mouth (archive), and our e-newsletter Word of Mouth (emailed monthly)
  • A copy of our handbook “Getting Into Dental School
  • Members-only access to our website
  • Discounts on products and services that are valuable to students, including T-Mobile wireless phone plans, Kaplan’s DAT courses and materials, Bank of America ASDA credit card, Geico insurance and more
  • Opportunities to network with 18,000 dental students through our national, district and chapter events as well as our Facebook page

ADEA

 

Please visit these resources! They are there for pre-dental students to take advantage of. I would highly recommend reading through these to learn tips that will help you get into your dream dental school. If you know any other great sources, please comment below or email me using the “Ask Elias” page. I would love to expand this list as more excellent resources are discovered.