Hear from Practitioners

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: How to Prepare to Apply to a Dental Hygiene Program

Posted by Katie Williams, RDH, M.S. on November 17, 2022

Dental hygiene is a hands-on career that is both rewarding and challenging. Dental hygienists provide patients within their communities with comprehensive dental hygiene care that includes oral health education, oral health prevention procedures and various complex dental hygiene treatment procedures to treat a variety of periodontal diseases. There are many things a student can do to prepare when applying to dental hygiene schools. 

  • Consider shadowing. One recommendation we make to predental hygiene students is to shadow at a variety of different dental practices. The practice of dentistry and dental hygiene can encompass many different procedures, settings and practice models. This may include public health, private practice and corporate clinics that each offer different models of care. It is recommended that students experience as many different types of settings as possible when deciding that dental hygiene is a career they want to pursue. 
  • Enhance your study skills. Another is to practice enhancing their study techniques and time management to develop as a student and prepare for higher level learning. Some institutions offer transition courses that help freshman students integrate into a higher education setting by reviewing note-taking techniques, study tools, library resources, tutoring opportunities and supplemental instruction by graduate assistants. Joining or setting up study groups and creating accountability partners in your courses can also help stay on track with assignments, studying for exams and writing papers. 
  • Develop a strong application. The application process varies at every school, but many schools have similar criteria they consider, such as GPA for prerequisite courses, ACT or SAT scores, recommendations from dental professionals, academic preparation and rigor and interpersonal skills evaluated through an interview, among other criteria. Based on these criteria, there are specific things predental hygiene students can do to strengthen their application. Prerequisites heavy in science, such as anatomy, physiology and microbiology, are usually heavily weighted in the GPA calculations for selection into a dental hygiene program, so prioritizing those courses and performing well are important. Networking with dental offices during shadowing will help when it is time to find references for the recommendation letters. Finally, practicing communication and interpersonal skills will be helpful when you are invited for an interview. 
  • Consult with your college advisor. There are many different types of dental hygiene educational institutions across the country. All these institutions have different expectations and use a variety of different criteria to select their incoming students, so it would be helpful to incoming students to reach out to advisors as soon as they know dental hygiene is the career for them. Advisors and student counselors will guide individual students through their unique application process and clarify these expectations. 

Dental hygiene is a rewarding career that promotes oral health, systemic health and patient advocacy. Dental hygiene education is rigorous because of the important role dental hygienists play in the dental practice. Using these recommendations will not only prepare you for the application process but will also prepare you for the academic challenges of synthesis and critical thinking that will be required of you in dental hygiene school. 

Clear expectations and preparation throughout high school, prerequisite courses and a dental hygiene professional curriculum will set you up for success and develop lifelong learning skills that you will carry throughout your career. 

About Katie Williams, RDH, M.S.:

Katie Williams, RDH, M.S._headshot

Katie Williams, RDH, M.S.
Associate Professor 
Dental Hygiene
University of South Dakota


Prof. Williams has been a dental hygienist since 2009 and has worked in a variety of different settings, including private practice, corrections and health care. She began her career in dental hygiene education in 2012 at the University of South Dakota and currently teaches First-Year Experience, Oral Pathology, Dental Anatomy, Ethics & Jurisprudence and Periodontology. In the First-Year Experience course, Prof. Williams helps guide predental hygiene students in the application process and the transition into college-level courses.