dental school can be quite the daunting task. It’s where you’ll spend the next
four years of your life, so it’s important to find a program that challenges
you yet makes you incredibly happy.
question is, how do you find that school? Well, the answer is different for
everyone. As a predental student, you need to decide what you’re looking for in
a program, including what you’re willing to compromise on and what is
non-negotiable. In the beginning, it is perfectly okay to not know what you’re
looking for. You can apply to as broad a range of schools as you would like,
but remember, the application process is a time, financial and emotional
investment. The schools where you’re invited to interview will give you a
better idea of not only whether you’re a good fit for their school, but if
their school is a good fit for you.
is meant to serve as a guide of some factors to consider while applying to
dental school. This list is certainly not comprehensive, so tailor it to your
needs and priorities.
schools, the first two years are spent in didactic and preclinical coursework.
You’ll take classes in the basic biomedical and dental sciences and begin
developing your hand skills in preclinical simulation laboratories. During
years three and four of dental school, you will transition to mostly clinical
coursework, where you interact with your own set of patients. However, in
recent years many schools have tried to get away from this concept that the
curriculum is divided in this manner, preferring that clinical and didactic are
spread throughout the four years.
operates on their own timeline, with unique requirements, rotations and
curricula. Some things to consider:
is the basic biomedical science coursework like?
dental students take classes alongside other health professions students?
there opportunity to interact with medical, nursing or pharmacy students in an
are courses delivered?
classes traditionally lecture-based, or is there opportunity to engage in a “flipped-classroom”
model, such as team-based learning or problem-based learning? (In flipped-classroom
settings, students prepare outside of class, and come to school ready to work
as a team through cases and faculty questions.)
the curriculum pass/fail, or are there letter grades?
sets the overall tone for the school’s student body. From my experience
interviewing, I noticed schools operating on pass/fail curricula seemed more
collaborative, with students sharing notes and study materials with their
classmates. At schools with grades and class rankings, there is greater
opportunity to stand out from your peers, but it may add a competitive element
to your overall dental school experience.
should also be taken into consideration that schools with pass/fail feel there
are different ways that students can stand out and be just as competitive as
students attending schools who administer letter grades.
do students see their first patients?
some schools, students start seeing patients as early as their first year, while
at other schools, students don’t start seeing patients until their third year.
can range in size from about 40 to about 400 students, depending on where you
go. What you choose is truly your preference! At smaller schools, you will get
to know your classmates quite well and form a tight-knit community, while at
larger schools you will have the opportunity to form larger social circles and
learn from peers of diverse backgrounds and upbringings.
One thing that
is important to note, though, is the school’s faculty-to-student ratio.
Independent of whether you’re at a small or large school, you want to have the
opportunity to learn from and interact with your faculty.
time is quite limited during dental school, at the end of the day you’ll be
calling this place your home away from home for the next four years. It’s
important for your physical and mental health to be happy in your new location.
Do you want to be close to home, or travel across the country and live
somewhere completely new?
also affect your clinical training; it dictates your patient pool. If you’re in
an urban setting, you’re more likely to see lower-income patients from the
surrounding city. At more suburban or rural schools, patients may be driving
further distances for their dental care.
is an investment in your future. Public schools tend to be significantly less
expensive than private schools. If cost is a major factor, look into public
state schools throughout the country. Even if you may be paying out-of-state
tuition your first year, some states allow you to declare residency after your
first year and qualify for in-state tuition for the next three years. Some
public schools also offer regional tuition to students from neighboring states.
It should be noted, some public schools may be more competitive for students
applying from out-of-state.
Am I a Competitive Applicant?
yourself if you are a competitive applicant for the school. It is important to
select a range of “safety”, “goal” and “reach” schools for you to apply. You
want to challenge yourself as an applicant, but you need to be realistic with
yourself. How does your Dental Admission Test score and GPA compare to current
students? Have you completed all of the prerequisite requirements? How many
shadowing hours do you have?
With that being
said, don’t let cutoff grades or other specific requirements stop you from
applying to a school you really like. Schools look at your application
holistically, and admissions faculty realize there are no perfect applicants.
Everyone has their weaknesses! Being able to address and overcome those
weaknesses is what schools are looking for in their prospective students.
At the end of
the day, the application process is quite unpredictable; you never know what
will happen. So keep an open mind and a positive attitude throughout the
process. And remember, the purpose of dental school is to become a competent
general dentist. You’ll achieve that goal at any school.
Best of luck! I
hope you find it to be quite rewarding.