Sometimes, It’s Like Pulling Teeth: Getting into Dental School
by Ricky Craven
Getting into medical or dental school is like writing an essay: You must have a theme and stick to it. Many times students think that there is only one “right” path to dental school — major in biology, shadow a dentist and join the dental club. But if you work hard, remain persistent and keep your goals in mind, you will find success regardless of where your journey takes you.
In this article, I will break down the three most important aspects of getting into dental school: undergraduate studies, the DAT, and the interview.
Assuming you want to pursue a career in dentistry, there are a few important things to consider while working on your undergraduate degree.
The first is to major in something you are interested in. Don’t pick a major only because you think it is the major dental schools want to see from their applicants. The more interested you are in a particular subject, the easier it will be to learn and the better you’ll do. I’ve known kids who have majored in history or Japanese and were accepted to some of the best dental schools in the country. Of course, you will still have to meet the prerequisite requirements for each school, but if those are met, your undergraduate major becomes insignificant for dental school applications.
That said, natural science majors like neuroscience, microbiology and biomedical engineering could have a more challenging curriculum that may better prime you for the rigors of dental school academics. However, the choice is yours!
A major part of your dental school application includes the activities you participate in outside of the classroom. Again, I can’t stress enough: be yourself. Pick clubs that interest you. It could be basket weaving or Dungeons and Dragons Club – as long as you are interested, that’s what matters, and you’ll have fun along the way.
Of course, you will need to become involved to some capacity in activities surrounding the field of dentistry. This includes shadowing a dentist (most schools require a minimum number of hours), entering the Dental Science Club, or getting involved in research. Another great way to gain dental experience is to volunteer at a hospital. Becoming a volunteer demonstrates your interest in patient care and willingness to make sacrifices for people. Additionally, these activities will provide you with great discussion points for eventual dental school interviews. The interviewers already know your GPA and DAT score. Now, they want to know who you are and how passionate you are about the field, which you can discuss through your experience volunteering, shadowing and participating in a dental science club. The more activities you become involved with that demonstrate your commitment to dentistry, the better off you will be for the application process.
Ah yes, the dreaded standardized test. The very thought of this test summons butterflies in the stomach. I’m here to tell you there is an effective way to approach studying for the test without spending a fortune or wasting time
I highly recommend using your free time in the summer to study for this test. The maximum amount of time you need is eight weeks. Any longer, and you will only burn yourself out.
Secondly, you need to have a plan and stick with it. Gather all your study materials together before you begin your studies and lay out your plan of attack week by week. Set reasonable goals each day and strive to meet them. My plan was six weeks long: Three weeks to review the material and three weeks for practice tests. Timing is everything on the test, and the only way to gain test-taking speed is practice.
Lastly, relax. Studying for the DAT is very stressful. Continue your hobbies on the side and set up study breaks during the long days of studying. Just like we need to rest our bodies after a hard workout, we also need to give our brains a break.
The interview, in my opinion, is the easiest part of getting into dental school. By this point, you’ve already done the hard work in order to be selected for an interview. The dental school just wants to get to know you as a person, whether you can hold a conversation about something other than your academic accolades or how many crown preparations you have observed. I know it sounds cliché, but the best way to approach the interview is to relax, be yourself, and be honest. Guys, get a suit; girls, business formal. Don’t over do it, dress conservatively, and make sure you feel confident in the clothes you choose.
There’s a website that I highly recommend for any questions about the DAT or the interview called studentdoctor.net. This website has of a large forum for pre-dents just like you where you can communicate and ask questions about the process. It was especially helpful for me before the DAT.
All in all, stay calm, have confidence, and good luck!