Getting Into Dental School: Essays, Recommendations, and Interviews

Essay… Personal Statement… Statement of Purpose… Candidate’s Admission Statement… These terms bring a shiver to the spine of many a potential dental student. You should think of the application essay, however, as an opportunity to show admissions officers what you’re made of. They want to know why you want to attend their optometry program and this is your chance to tell them as clearly and compellingly as you can.

Your application essays can serve two basic purposes. First, they show whether or not you can write a clear, coherent essay that’s logically and grammatically correct. These days, students’ writing ability is often presumed deficient unless proven otherwise. Second, they provide you with the opportunity to present the admissions committee with more of a “three-dimensional” portrait of yourself as a deserving candidate than GPA and DAT numbers possibly can. What you choose to write sends clear signals about what’s important to you and what your values are. You can explain why you really want to pursue dentistry and the career path it will enable you to follow. Your essay also enables you to explain things like a bad grade or term in an otherwise creditable record.

The dental school essay should provide a 3-dimensional picture of you.

Essays are the best way for admissions officers to determine who you are. So, don’t hesitate to go beyond your current experience for essay topics. Feel free to discuss other events that help define who you are. If you have overcome significant obstacles, say so. If you were honored with an award, describe the award and what you did to achieve recognition.

It behooves you to do a good job here. So start early. Go over your goals and aspirations, write several drafts, talk to students and professors. Then give some thought to your goals. How will you accomplish them? What can you contribute to the dental school community? What can you contribute to this particular school or program? If you can answer these questions in a clear, concise manner, the statement will be a relative breeze.

A Few Final Tips for Dental School Essays

  • Answer questions.
  • Follow directions.
  • Match yourself with the school.
  • Be your unique self.
  • Tell stories and make your essays interesting.
  • Start with a bang.
  • Ask other people to read your essay and give you their impression.

Getting Recommendations for Dental School

Recommendations rank among the most important items in your admissions file. In many cases, they are the most important, making or breaking many an application. So start thinking about them as soon as possible. The whole process of identifying good recommenders, lining them up, and then making sure they follow through with winning letters can take a lot of time.

If you’re still in college or a recent grad, your college professors will likely make the best references. This is especially true if you’re going on to study the same subject in grad school.

Make it personal

Choose people who like you, and who think you’re good at what you do. Choose good writers who can express their opinions clearly. If a potential recommender seems less than enthusiastic in any way, keep looking. That person’s ambivalence is likely to come through in the letter.

The more personalized and detailed your letters are, the better. So invest the time to make your recommenders’ job as easy as possible. Try to set up an appointment or lunch interview to discuss your grad school interests with each letter writer. At these interviews, review your academic performance and see what other information they’d like. Providing copies of your papers, portfolios of your work, and the like will help writers make their letters as focused and specific as possible.

Provide your recommenders with all the info, forms, stamped and addressed envelopes they’ll need. Make sure they’re aware of deadlines and follow up later. By all means, give them as much time as possible. Writing a good reference takes time and your recommenders will likely have other competing demands for time—and other recommendations to write.

Keep your recommendation writers on schedule. Provide a gentle reminder when a deadline is approaching. Pave the way for this reminder when you first ask for the recommendation by mentioning a date for a follow-up call. And, of course, a thank-you letter at the end of the process is always appreciated.

Finally, letters from big-name scholars can certainly get admissions committees’ attention. But the usefulness of a letter from Prof. Supernova, who can’t quite place your face, not to mention your abilities, is questionable.

Ask yourself these questions when considering potential recommenders:

  • Have you worked closely with this person?
  • Do you feel this person thinks favorably of you?
  • Does this person know you in more than one context (e.g., work plus an activity)?
  • Does this person know that you intend to go to grad school?
  • Is this person an effective narrative writer?
  • If this person knows you from previous rather than current experiences, have you kept in touch?
  • Will this person complete your recommendation letter by the deadline you give?

The Dental School Interview

When applying to dental school, your interview is an important requirement for admissions. In addition, some schools use interviews to evaluate borderline cases. Whatever the reason for the interview, it’s important that you schedule with the admissions officer early.

Top Dental School Interview Tips

  • Review your application. The interviewer is likely to ask specific questions about it.
  • Be ready to relate several stories on how you took initiative or participated in a leadership role.
  • Be open and honest.
  • Ask good questions and make sure the answer is not in the school’s reading materials.
  • Be prepared to give a convincing answer to the interviewer’s inevitable question, “Why here?”
  • Follow proper business decorum.
  • Watch your non-verbal clues, such as eye contact, posture, and fidgeting.
  • Write a thank-you note.
  • Be courteous to the administrative staff. How you treat them can have an impact (positive or negative).