Words From Your Peers

Strategy for Success: Using a Grid When Selecting Dental Schools

Posted by Matthew Manly on May 20, 2019

Preparing for dental school is a lot like driving a car, making adjustments to your speed and direction. For example, while you’re driving your brain takes the information from your speedometer, views of the road through the windshield and mirrors, gas gauge and any light indicators (e.g., Check Engine light, etc.) to help you determine how you will get to your destination safely. While preparing for dental school, I created a spreadsheet grid to help me know which schools might be the best fit and offer me a higher chance of acceptance.

Applying to a doctoral degree program can be intimidating. Learning how to use grid can eliminate some of the ambiguity in the application process. Below, I’ve explained my process and methods. (NOTE: For the data, I used the 2017–2018 ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools).

  1. Gather data on each school you are considering. My criteria included all the dental schools that accepted more than 70% of out-of-state students in addition to the two schools in North Carolina where I currently live.

  2. Applying to more than one dental school can add up quickly. So, I recommend you avoid spending application money on a school where it might be more difficult for someone with your particular grades and attributes to be accepted, regardless of demographics. Check the demographic spread of the class to see how many seats you are competing for. Target entering class size differs from school to school. 

  3. Compare your GPA (Total and Science) and DAT score to the schools’ average scores (calculated as MyDATScore/School’sAverageDATScore). I estimated my DAT score and final GPA as I was still studying at the time. 

  4. List the school’s reported cost of attendance, adding up all four years or so, and be sure to consider living expenses. If you are like me and have a family, your expenses will be greater than someone entering dental school right after college.

  5. Be sure to include notes. For example, is the school’s curriculum more research or public health focused? Do you want to live in a major city? Will it be difficult to secure hours with patients in the clinic, or does the school have a high-traffic clinic? Are there any prerequisite courses that you still need? Try to talk to people who interviewed at the school or are current students at the school. They can give you valuable insight into campus daily life and culture. 

  6. Filter each criterion column and highlight the first 10 in each column. I picked 10 because I plan to apply to at least 10 schools. Next, check to see which schools share the most highlights across all columns. These schools could provide the highest chances for my acceptance.

A grid will help you adjust your application strategy to be more advantageous. The ancient Chinese strategist, Sun Tzu, stated that “Water shapes its course according to the nature of the ground over which it flows.” Just as you ensure a safe arrival by adjusting your speed and direction while driving, use a spreadsheet grid to help you adjust your application strategy to ensure success in your journey to becoming a dental professional.

*Here is an example of my spreadsheet. Percentages may not reflect current data from the 2019-2020 ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools.

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About Matthew Manly:

Matthew Manly_headshot

Matthew Manly
Engineer Officer in the Army Reserve
Predental Student 
Meredith College, North Carolina 


Matt Manley is a postbaccalaureate predental student at Meredith College, NC. Matt served 11 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, including a deployment to Iraq in 2007, and is now an Engineer Officer in the Army Reserve. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Business Management Information Systems from Liberty University. Matt has worked as a network engineer, youth director and a project manager of clinical trial software since 2005. He plans to complete his service as a military dentist and hopes to teach at a dental school. Outside of work and preparing for dental school, Matt enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter, reading, and he really likes coffee.