Preparing for Dental School Admission

The dental school admission process may seem intimidating, but advanced preparation can put you ahead. Realize that some schools will be more realistic options than others based on your geography as well as your personal traits and experiences. Some schools accept mainly in-state applicants. Some give more consideration than others to the diversity of the student population. When it gets close to crunch time, you may want to buy the ADEA Guide to Dental Schools; there’s a new edition each year. You can find a lot of program-specific data, including average GPA and in-state/out-of-state acceptance rates.

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If it’s not crunch time yet, you can take steps that will help make you competitive for a number of programs. Admission committees look for many of the same things. Requirements include references, test scores, and transcripts. Committees will want to know about observations or past experiences in the field; some require job shadowing. There will likely be both a personal statement and an interview (at least if you make it past the first round). You can also expect to submit a confidential reference. Here’s a breakdown of the major requirements and how you can begin your preparations.

Grade Point Average

Academic aptitude is a must, but isn’t enough in and of itself. Schools look at both your overall GPA and your GPA in science prerequisites. Your academic performance determines, among other things, how early you can realistically apply. Most students complete a baccalaureate degree before dental school, but some schools will accept exceptional students who have completed only a couple years of college.

3.0 is sometimes cited as the minimum GPA, but it varies by school. Most successful dental school applicants have averages well above 3.0. Successful students suggest that if you slacked off a bit early on, or if your science GPA isn’t quite what it should be, you can enroll in a short master’s program before dental school. You might ask yourself if there is a science field that you really love. If you’re going this route, make sure to seek out a mentor.

Preparing for the DAT

The DAT, or Dental Admission Test, is used by schools around the country. It is your chance to show you have prerequisite skills in four areas: reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, natural sciences, and perceptual ability. The perceptual ability portion includes concepts like apertures, cube counting, and angle discrimination. The science portion includes biology and general and organic chemistry.

You may take the DAT after as little as one year of college, but most applicants wait until they have at least two years of college under their belts. The DAT company makes basic review materials available, as well as a practice test. There are additional review courses available from independent publishers.

Preparing for the Essay and Interview

In a sense, you can begin preparing for the essay and interview years in advance. Past experience is a good indicator of future success. You can begin by job shadowing. Resources include Learning for Life and the National Job Shadow Coalition. Some dental students choose to work as dental assistants.

You can also join clubs and associations for pre-dental students. HOSA (the Health Occupations Students Association) is an option in many parts of the country. You can join as either a high school or college student. There are several exams and competitions designed specifically for future dentists. The Dental Science competition consists of a multiple choice exam and (for top scorers) a skill procedure test. HOSA participants also have opportunities to develop speaking skills.

Your personal statement should highlight important formative experiences, but shouldn’t read like a resume. If you hang out on forums like Student Doctor, you will sometimes find successful dental school applicants willing to critique your personal statement.

Additional Support: Finding a Mentor

Mentors can help you determine if the profession is right for you, and give you additional help in formulating a plan. You may contact your state affiliate of the American Dental Association.