Determine a definite career goal. Select only one specialty of interest and pursue it. Diversification in several areas makes a candidate appear indecisive, and can indicate a lack of sincerity or confidence. Word travels fast in educational circles, especially if a candidate is applying to more than one graduate program at the same institution. If you are undecided about a specific course of study, a general practice residency may be an appropriate interim solution. You can gain experience while you decide about a specialty.
Determine which program or institution for postdoctoral education is best for you. Dental faculty at your school can provide information about the various graduate programs in each area of study, and may have an opinion as to which program would best meet your needs. These instructors may also be able to provide a list of individuals you can contact. Be sure to determine the emphasis of each program; know if the program features research training, academics, or clinical experience.
In making your decision, it is also very important to be realistic with yourself. Keep in mind the criteria the programs will consider--including portfolios, basic science and clinical grades, National Board scores, leadership qualities, and overall presentation. Think critically about how you may be rated in each area, and which factors may be more or less important to the type of postdoctoral program you wish to pursue.
Request applications early. A candidate interested in a specific area of study should investigate and apply for advanced education programs by the end of the third year of predoctoral study in a four-year dental curriculum. To narrow your choices, choose 15 or so programs in which you are most interested. Call the programs and ask the department assistant to send you any available information on the program. Carefully review the material you receive and use it to help you decide which programs represent themselves in a professional manner. Then, call the assistant again, thank them for the valuable information sent, and ask them for the names and phone numbers of two current program residents so that you can talk with them about their experience.
Verify, by either letter or telephone, the application due date at least one month before the scheduled deadline. Remember, a candidate cannot be considered for admission to a postdoctoral program until the application is complete.
Be complete, but don't overdo an application. If a program asks for three letters of recommendation, send only three. Resist the impulse to overkill, unless you have a justifiable reason for exceeding the required number of recommendations.
Be sure that letters of recommendation will be favorable. Ask potential recommendation writers a straightforward question: "Can you write a positive letter of recommendation on my behalf?" If the reply is negative or neutral, find someone who can write a strong, positive letter.