Just one powerful letter of recommendation can have the influence that gets you invited to interview and then accepted to a great dental school. And the power lies in the hands of social proof. Aren't you more willing to try something out when your friends rave about it? That's exactly the kind of power a letter of recommendation can have.
Here's what you need to know to get that letter of recommendation that properly influences the admissions committee.
Go to every lecture, and please, sit in one of the first three rows of the lecture hall and in front of where the professor usually stands. If you're in a smaller classroom, sit front and center. This is critical because your face will soon become remembered, and so will your 100% attendance.
During lecture, put your phone away and engage in the lecture. Make eye contact with the professor as he speaks, and ask questions. If you're confused about something the professor said, chances are that someone else is too. Be the leader and ask the question (you'll see why this is so important in a moment).
Go to office hours. Introduce yourself. Ask questions. Engage in a conversation. Be human. Get to know the professor. If your professor has a picture of his or her family, husband or wife, dog or cat, or anything else that can be interesting in his office, spark a conversation about it. Get to know your professor, and talk about who you are as well. If you're part of a pre-dental society which has a shirt, make sure you wear it to class and/or during office hours to send hints..."hey, I'm interested in dentistry, ask me about my career aspirations...I might just need a letter of recommendation. Another point to be made here is that if you don't have questions about the lecture material, make some up, or ask your professor questions about his/her research, how they got to where they are, or questions about how what was taught could be applied to the real world. I once had a 45-minute conversation about the universe with my Biochemistry professor, and he missed an entire meeting he was supposed to be at because he was so engaged in the totally-off-topic conversation. While totally off-topic, that opens a whole new universe (pun intended) of topics he could write about in my letter of recommendation...interest in the sciences, imagination, personable, visionary, whatever.
Get a good grade in their course. Or at least a better grade than you had in a previous course you might have had with them (hint: this allows you to let your professor talk about your upward trend you have going on, which dental schools love to see)
Ask your professor in-person if he/she is willing to write you a letter of recommendation, not by email, and when you ask, have the following for them:
A.) A copy of your transcript. This can usually be printed from your university account panel.
B.) Your résumé.
C.) A list of potential topics the professor can talk about in the letter of recommendation. For example, your participation in lecture which highlights your interest in the sciences, your leadership in participating and asking questions during lecture when no one else would, your strong teamwork, which is evinced by that one group project you did in his class, or your problem solving/critical thinking ability, which is evident by the "A" that you received in the course by being able to apply the knowledge taught in lecture to the more complex questions asked during the exams. Notice how each of these topics highlight a trait that dental school admissions teams want to see: teamwork, leadership, critical thinking, problem solving, interest in the sciences, etc. THAT is what makes an OUTSTANDING letter of recommendation...when the professor is able to write about your qualities in ways that show through stories, not just tell, who you are, and how you're a perfect fit for being a dentist.
And when is the right time to ask for a letter of rec? Approximately 3 - 4 months before you need it. So if you plan on having your dental school application submitted on June 5th, ask your professor for the letter around February, and give a hard deadline for May 31st. That way, you have nearly a week in case things go wrong for any reason. And once you ask for your letter, follow up 6 weeks later to see how it's going, and if there's anything else you can provide to help. Follow up again 3 weeks before you need it, but understand that professors are busy people so don't be bothersome.
Pre-dentals, don't just passively get A's in your courses. Excelling in a course is not what get's you a great letter of recommendation. It's the other things you do, the things I've outlined for you above, that will have your professor raving about you. BE ACTIVE. Get your letter of recommendation, and let me know how it goes in the comments or by sending me a message - I'd love to hear your story!
My mission with PreDenting is to help at least 1000 pre-dentals each year get into the school of their dreams. If you found this article helpful, all I ask of you is to share it with a friend. Thanks for being a part of the PreDenting mission and I hope to hear about your successes soon!