Health Professions Advisor Views

How to Be a Successful Dental Hygiene Applicant

Posted by Lisa Maxwell, LDH, B.S., M.S.M. on May 14, 2018

As with most allied dental education programs, dental hygiene has a competitive admissions process. It’s not uncommon to have a tenth of a percentage point separating you from the next qualified applicant. However, there are things you can do to stand out in the admissions process.  

Always research the school(s) you are applying to.

Were someone to ask, “Why do you want to go to school here?” what would you say? Read everything you can on the school’s website about the campus, school, program requirements and the admissions process. If you call the program with questions before investigating their website, they will likely refer you back to their site before answering your questions. You don’t want that phone call to be their first impression of you as an applicant. Research tuition and fees, prerequisites, scholarships, application process, application due date and finally, the selection process.  

Prepare by learning the school’s prerequisite requirements.  

It is important to know if the courses you are planning to take as prerequisites are accepted prerequisites for the dental hygiene program(s) to which you are applying.  Not all programs have the same prerequisites, or the same course offerings, which is why you need to make sure the courses you plan to take are the best match for your program choices. 

Often applicants take classes at one college or university and apply to multiple hygiene programs around the state. I have had the unfortunate task of rejecting applications because a course was taken for one program prerequisite but it didn’t transfer to our university. Therefore, the applicant was short a prerequisite and their application was incomplete. I’ll mention again the importance of reviewing the website for all availableentry requirements. 

Schedule an appointment to talk to the program director or an admissions advisor within the program. 

Once you have learned everything you can from the school website, contact the school about a meeting and/or tour. Bring a list of questions with you to your appointment. Is there something you saw or didn’t see on the website that needed more explanation? This will be the time to ask. Showing your preparedness during your appointment makes a good first impression. This brings me to another point—I recommend prospective applicants dress up a little. A business suit is not necessary but do avoid appearing too casual (i.e., shorts and flip flops).

Write a strong personal statement. 

Some programs require a personal statement to accompany your application. This is a vital part of the application process, especially if you are applying to a school that doesn’t hold interviews. Your personal statement will be the only opportunity to set yourself apart from the other applicants. 

The directions for the personal statement may be specific or more open ended. Aim to communicate your intentions and aspirations in a concise manner, yet tell your story in a way that makes you stand out as an individual. What can you tell us about you? What would make you a good hygienist? Have you done any volunteer work? Worked in a dental office? What about any mission trips? Let others review your statement to get as much feedback as you can. Check grammar and use spellcheck.

Professionalism during your interview. 

If you are applying to a hygiene program that holds interviews as part of the application process, you’ll want to present yourself in the best possible light. When in doubt, ask a friend or family member if your clothing is appropriate. Admissions officers assume applicants know the definition of “professional attire” or “business casual,” yet that isn’t always the case. 

Suggestions for professional attire: Ladies—dress pants, skirt, blouse or top that isn’t too revealing, and go easy on makeup and perfume. Gentleman—slacks, collared shirt, blazer, sport coat, and go easy on the cologne. 

Professional behaviors: No gum chewing during the interview, and turn off your cell phone. Remember to smile and be yourself.  

If you’ve done your research and learned as much as you can about the program, you’ll do great. Some campuses offer advising centers that will help with interview preparation. They will coach and provide guidance for best practices—what to do and not do. If you have one of these centers on your current campus, I strongly advise prospective applicants take advantage. 

Good luck!

About Lisa Maxwell, LDH, B.S., M.S.M.:

Lisa Maxwell

Lisa Maxwell, LDH, B.S., M.S.M.
Dental Hygiene Program Director
Assistant Clinical Professor
Indiana University School of Dentistry
Department of Periodontics and Allied Dental Programs

Lisa Maxwell, LDH, B.S., M.S.M., earned her Associate of Science degree from Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSD) in Indianapolis, her Bachelor of Science degree in Health Sciences Education from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and her Master of Science degree in Healthcare Management from Indiana Wesleyan University.

She was adjunct clinical faculty in the dental hygiene program for 12 years before becoming a full-time faculty member and then program director. She is the second-year clinic director and course director for the periodontics and nutrition courses. Ms. Maxwell led the development of the Bachelor of Science Dental Hygiene degree at IUSD, with the first cohort of this new degree graduating in 2019. She is also a consultant examiner on the Commission on Dental Competency Assessments.