For some, dentistry has been a childhood dream. Sometimes, it’s the result of a
shift in self-confidence after months or years of wearing braces. Others pursue
dentistry later in life following years spent in the professional world and,
impressively, tackle dental school while balancing families of their own. Then,
there are those in the middle—where I found myself as a junior in college
pursuing a career in business, about to study abroad in Copenhagen under the Department
of Economics. Yet, I was still drawn to dentistry.
research into the profession, attending career fairs, shadowing two dentists
and working at the front office of my father’s dental practice, I was confident
of two things: I wanted to be a dentist, and a post-college gap year (or many
years!) was in my future. The prospect of this was exciting yet intimidating,
as I had never taken on such freedom in structuring my own schedule. I was a
junior in college with minimal science exposure and had a major in an unrelated field. I knew I would
have to push myself outside of my comfort zone and take the initiative to gain
the exposure to dentistry and health care that I desired and needed to succeed.
Upon my college
graduation with a bit more experience under my belt, I developed a general plan
for my gap year based on the areas of dentistry I intended to explore most. I
hoped to gain clinical experience, be that in a hospital or through dental
assisting. I wanted to build my shadowing exposure by obtaining an internship
with a dentist or by observing a few dental specialties. I envisioned continuing
to volunteer, as I had done in college at a homeless shelter, and pursuing some
new service opportunities, potentially a medical mission trip. Finally, I knew
I must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and complete my 12 remaining
science prerequisites and upper-level biology courses in preparation for
applying to dental school. What came next was an extremely eye-opening, thought-provoking
and liberating year, one that solidified my desire to pursue dentistry that
Here are some
benefits I experienced by taking a gap year: (For some context, I moved from my
college town of Madison, WI, back to my hometown of Newport Beach, CA, during
a gap year, you will likely have more mobility and time to tour and experience
dental schools for yourself—within financial and transportation constraints, of
course. I attended Preview and Pre-Dental Days for some programs in California,
and this served as a valuable chance to meet current students and faculty and
discover what makes each curriculum unique.
gained 200 additional hours of shadowing through observation of various
specialties and different practice models that varied from group practices to
dental clinics. I even met one dentist through my hospital service program
after conversing with one of his prior dental assistants.
traveling in New York (my family’s favorite city), I had the opportunity to
shadow a dentist who specializes in the notable procedure of immediate implant
placement and loading.
a gap year allows you to more deeply immerse yourself in your extracurricular
activities, which leads to opportunities to take on more leadership roles. I
experienced this within my job and volunteer involvement.
gap year is an ideal way to earn money to help pay for dental school while also
building skills crucial to your long-term career.
worked in a dental laboratory, learning to operate computer-aided design and
manufacturing technology, which is now incorporated into the curriculum of many
many students, I did not have a car in college, so transportation beyond where
I lived or went to school was costly and difficult to arrange. By taking a gap
year, I was able to participate in events a few hours from my house, such as
CDA Cares in San Bernardino and a tooth-waxing course at the University of
California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry.
my opinion, taking the DAT during a gap year is absolutely the most ideal time
to tackle this exam. Although I was enrolled in a few classes and maintained my
extracurricular activities, studying with this schedule was more manageable
than with a full, science-heavy course load. I made it a priority to score very
well on this exam to prove my commitment to dentistry and compensate for having
a non-science major. Read more about my DAT experience online.
importantly, I got to meet so many new people by taking on roles, joining teams
and attending events during my gap year—coworkers, pre-health peers, dentists,
dental school faculty and students and patients within my clinical
opportunities—that I would not otherwise have had access to during the regular
As you can see,
there are many ways to make the most of your gap year. This article only covers
some of my personal highlights. I did end up fulfilling several of the goals
previously mentioned and gained invaluable skills, experience and connections
simply by putting myself out there. No matter what you end up pursuing during
your gap year, be sure to incorporate your hobbies and passions. Dental schools
love well-rounded, people-oriented applicants with interests that extend past
teeth and biology, so do not shy away from those pursuits that make you unique!