Words From Your Peers

Predent Perspective: The Value of a Gap Year to Reset a Career Path

Posted by Elizabeth Wright on October 27, 2019

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. 

After conducting 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 much more.

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 this time.)

  • 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. 

  • I 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. 

    While 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.

  • Taking 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. 

  • A 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. 

    I worked in a dental laboratory, learning to operate computer-aided design and manufacturing technology, which is now incorporated into the curriculum of many dental schools.

  • Like 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. 

  • In 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. 

  • Most 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 school year. 

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!  

About Elizabeth Wright:

Elizabeth Wright_headshot

Elizabeth Wright

Predental Student

University of Wisconsin-Madison


Elizabeth “Lizzie” Wright graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2018 and is interviewing at dental schools as an applicant for the current application cycle. She was originally pursuing a degree in Economics and French but due to her dental shadowing, interest in art and desire to help others, she became more focused on dentistry. Lizzie has since returned to her hometown of Newport Beach, CA, and is enjoying her gap year. She works at a dental laboratory, is a member and leader for COPE Health Scholars at Hoag Hospital, volunteers at a dental clinic and a shelter as well as assists at a periodontal practice—all while completing her remaining prerequisites for dental school.