Hey everyone! Ben Frederick here. Here’s another great post from Kyle Smith (aka @askaDDSstudent) on general dental school requirements.
Creating a Competitive Dental School Application
Over 12,000 students applied to dental school in 2013. In these times of highly competitive admissions, it is imperative that your application stands out and is well rounded. Not only do you have to showcase your academic ability, you also have to prove to the admissions committee that you have what it takes to succeed as a dental professional.
The following additions to your dental school application may just put you in position to get noticed, or maybe even push you over the top, when it comes time to apply.
Take additional recommended electives or upper level science classes.
Take them and excel at them! Many of these classes will cover subject material that you will be exposed to in dental school. Showing that you can tackle these types of courses as an undergraduate student will give schools confidence that you can handle a dental school curriculum. Classes that fall into this category can include anatomy, cell biology, microbiology, histology, immunology, neuroscience, physiology, and medical terminology. Your potential school’s admissions website may also provide additional suggestions.
Add a minor, major, or master’s degree to your resume.
This may be especially helpful for applicants who intend to take a gap year or are re-applying. Showing your dedication to additional academics or completion of master’s level courses can, once again, give schools more confidence in your abilities. Variety in your classes can also showcase aspects that make you unique. For example, a minor in a non-science area of study as a science major, or vice versa, can show your diversity in academic or personal interests.
Participate in research.
Many schools do place considerable value on student experience in research and working with a research team. Showing you have an interest in problem-solving and analysis is a valuable asset in any potential dental student. Any type of research is fine – it doesn’t necessarily have to be dental related.
Rock the DAT!
This can be a big help for those applicants with GPAs towards the lower end of the accepted GPA ranges (found in the ADEA book mentioned above). It can show improvement in areas where you may have been lacking and it can also show that you have the ability to conquer large comprehensive exams under pressure (of which you will take a few in dental school! NBDE parts I and II anyone?). A score above 20 AA should give you a good chance of being noticed by the school you are applying to, but aim high. Make sure that you are consistently performing in all the sections scored on the exam. Some schools have recommendations for minimum scores in each of the individual sections. It is always a good idea to take the test once you are fully prepared, but I typically suggest that applicants take the test sometime between December and February of the year they plan on applying. I recommend this because taking the test at this time will allow for a retake attempt (if necessary) prior to the AADSAS application cycle opening and will not delay the submission of your application. Avoiding this delay and submitting earlier means schools will receive your application sooner, which is a big advantage since dental schools operate on a rolling admissions process.
Shadow, shadow, shadow!
Accumulate those hours and make sure to document them! Schools love to see your investment in exploring dentistry through shadowing, as it gives them confidence that you have evaluated your decision to pursue this path. Make notes of things you saw that you found interesting or inspiring. These notes may come in handy when writing your personal statement (more to come on this later). Diversify your shadowing experiences by spending time observing dental specialties to show that you are interested in all aspects of the dental field. Finding a specialist to observe is usually as easy as asking the general dentist that you shadow if they can recommend one to you. Make sure to make connections while shadowing since that can lead to opportunities to work in a dental clinic and maybe even as an associate dentist if you’re lucky!
Volunteer and get involved!
Volunteer experiences are amazing additions to your application. These experiences in your community or with student groups on campus can show your passion for giving back, leadership skills, and/or an ability to work with a team. These are all extremely valuable components of dentistry, especially as our medical care continues to emphasize the importance interprofessional relationships to facilitate more comprehensive patient care. Having unique, long-term, or varied volunteer experiences can make your application stand out and show dedication to giving back to others. Volunteer experiences can also give you experience in working with different populations, age groups, or cultures, all of which are extremely valuable skills in treating a diverse patient population.
Learn a second language.
This skill can greatly enhance your ability to connect with a diverse patient population and it adds another dimension to your application as well. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the US next to English, and there have been many times in my clinical experiences that I wish I could directly converse with my patient instead of working through an interpreter. (I definitely appreciate their services but I believe direct communication adds another level of connection and comfort between patient and provider.) You may even get a chance to put this skill to use when you travel abroad on dental mission trips in the future!
Write a personal statement that stands out!
The personal statement is your chance to show a unique side of yourself to the admissions committee that cannot be seen in the grades, numbers, and lists that make up your application. I have previously written an article on dental school personal statements so instead of rambling on here, I’ll just provide you with the link: How to Write a Dental School Personal Statement.
Get great letters of recommendation.
This will undoubtedly require you making a personal connection with a professor at some point during your academic career. Asking a professor who only knows you because he sees your name on his class roster probably isn’t the greatest idea. Different schools have different requirements for letters of rec so make sure you are targeting the right people (again, check out their admissions website). Once you have your targets, it’s time to make the connection. Sit towards the front, go to office hours, ask questions in class, and basically do whatever you can (within reason) to allow that professor to get to know you or at least recognize you when you approach them. Once you’ve established this, the time has come to ask for your letter. This can be done either in person or via e-mail. If you prefer the latter, I suggest you read this article: 5 Rules for Requesting a Letter of Recommendation via Email.
Don’t give up too soon!
Perseverance is an integral trait of any future professional. Many successful applicants are re-applicants in these times of competitive admissions to professional programs. Over half of my classmates in dental school were 2nd or 3rd time applicants. If getting into dental school is your goal, do everything you can (of course within reason) to attain it!
Bolstering your application by incorporating several, or all, of these suggestions will transform you from numbers and letters on a page into a substantial and competitive candidate. Creating this almost tangible representation of yourself through your application could make all the difference when it comes time for the dental school admissions committees to decide who will receive an invitation to interview or even an acceptance letter.
Kyle Smith D.D.S.