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Health Careera FAQ's

Questions About Committee Letters and Letters of Recommendation

What is a committee letter?

    A committee letter is a composite letter of recommendation that is put together by the Health Careers Advisory Committee here at UCD. In summary, what happens is you the student complete the application process for a letter. As part of that process, you have 3-5 individuals submit letters of recommendation as part of that application. The letters submitted by the people you select, are then sent to the dental schools, AADSAS, or other graduate schools you choose along with a cover letter from the committee. To write that cover letter, the committee will review all the application material you submit including your other letters of recommendation, and will also conduct a 30-45 minute interview. From this material, we will write a letter and send it along with certified copies of the letters you had submitted.

    It is important to remember that even if you start the committee letter process, you are not obligated to have that letter sent. When we conduct the interview, as part of the process, we will inform you that day whether or not we can write a letter that will be of use to you or not. You then have total control over whether or not that letter is sent. If you give us envelopes addressed to the dental schools, the letter is sent. If you do not, then it is not sent. I will however, if you choose not to have the committee letter sent, send the other letters of recommendation that were submitted on your behalf. I will write a cover letter simply stating that we collected these for you, and that we are now sending them on. There will be no mention that you did or did not pursue a committee letter.

Is a committee preferred over standard letters of recommendation?

This will depend to some extent on the school. Many schools do prefer this type of letter if the institution where you attended college offers this service. In fact, many will want to know why you did not submit a committee letter if they know you come from an institution that has a committee. The reasons for preferring this type of letter vary significantly from school to school. But they are considered important at many dental schools.

If I have a committee letter done, do I have to have it sent to some or all of the schools I intend to apply to?

No. You have complete control over the letter. The only way the committee letter is sent is if you provide stamped, addressed, envelopes to the schools you wish the letter to be sent to. If we do not receive those envelopes, the letters do not go out.

What if I have had a professor for a class and I want a letter now while he/she can remember me but I am not applying for several years?

I am more than happy to collect, file, and protect letters of recommendation. In fact, I strongly suggest students have letters written as soon as possible after having a professor for a class, while the professor can remember the details of your interactions with them. Have them send the letter directly to me, and I will keep it filed until such time as you are ready to have them sent off as part of your application process

Who are the best people to write letters? Is it better to have doctors or professors or who write a letter?

    The best people to have write letters for you are those who can add something to your application that is not already there, and who can attest to your probability of success as a student. This includes professors, lab instructors, teaching assistants, etc. You do not have to have only tenured professors. In fact, lab instructors and teaching assistants often write letters that are much more useful, simply because they have spent more one on one time with you than a classroom professor.

    Be sure that the person writing the letter can address things such as your ability to handle stress, work with peers, make decisions, handle multiple tasks at once, etc. If all the letter writer can do is reiterate things that are already on your application, then their letter won't be of much help. Make sure they can ADD to your application, not just reinforce your application.

    Lastly, if you are obtaining this letter for dental school, practicing dentists are often the worst people to have write letters for the very reason just stated. They often write a letter that says how well you've done in school, reiterate your volunteer work etc. They seldom add anything new to the application. Keep in mind that letters of recommendation are not used to assess your probability of being a good dentist. The dental school assume that if you are accepted, THEY will make you a good dentist. What they want is to know whether or not you have what it takes to survive the rigors of dental school. This is in part why they want primarily academic letters, not professional letters.

What should people who write letters of recommendation say? What is important to have in a letter?

Again, letter writers need to be able to add to your application. They need to address your ability to cope with stress, deal with your peers, handle multitasking, punctuality, etc. Dental school admissions committees couldn't care less about whether or not you will make a good dentist because you watched a root canal. They need to be able to include anecdotal stories and events that demonstrate both the level of your relationship with this person as well as how much they have really worked with you.

When should letters of recommendation be sent?

Letters of recommendation are being considered by more and more dental schools and other programs as part of the decision whether to offer you an interview or not. Therefore, they are often submitted as part of the supporting material for the secondary application. When each individual dental or other graduate school send you their secondary packet, they will almost always include instructions on what they want as part of the letter of recommendation component of the application. Follow their instructions exactly! If they say they only want three letters, send three; not four, not five. This will be part of your evaluation.

Can I see my letters of recommendation?

No, unless you are accepted to dental school. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) states that enrolled students can have access to their files, including letters. However if you are not enrolled, but are in the process of being accepted, you do not have access to those letters. The waiver of confidentiality that you sign on documents does not entitle you to see your letters at any time. It entitles you to see your letters if you are officially matriculated into a specific school, not as part of the application process

Is it appropriate to "coach" my letter writers

To some extent, yes. It is appropriate to ask them to emphasize things like leadership skills, ability to handle stress, etc. It is not appropriate to write the letter for them, and ask them to sign it. It is appropriate to ask them directly if they will be able to write you a positive letter. If they cannot, it is appropriate to rescind your request