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So, you want to be a dentist? This post will guide you through the dental school admissions process and how to get accepted.

What you’ll learn:​

To become a dentist, you will need to obtain either a doctor of dental surgery or doctor of dental medicine degree. It’s the same curriculum. The school that you attend will determine the one you receive. There is no difference between them. Dental education is similar to medical education in that a bachelor’s degree is required to apply to dental school and a dental education is a commitment of four years with the option of pursuing a specialty with additional study.

Similar to practicing medicine, dentistry maintains the same high ethical standards and long-term commitment to education through continuing education requirements.

Dental students can pursue specialties in Dental Anesthesiology, Dental Public Health, Endodontics, Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology, Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Oral Medicine, Orofacial Pain, Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, Pediatric Dentistry, Periodontics, and Prosthodontics through additional professional training. For more information about these specialties please see the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards website.

The best way to determine whether you would like to pursue dentistry and any of these pathways would be to shadow dentists virtually and/or in person, when possible. The American Student Dental Association offers a shadowing guide on their website. They also provide blog posts on this topic. You can access virtual dental shadowing opportunities on Instagram: @dentalshadowers and @smileshadowers. Youtube also provides lots of virtual options like Dental Shadowers. The Hermann Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC offers a three-day virtual shadowing program. Keep in mind that many schools prefer in-person shadowing hours, but some schools will accept virtual shadowing hours given the limitations in place because of the pandemic.

Overview of the dental school application process: Primary, secondaries and interviews​

The first step in applying to dental school is registering for a DENTPIN which is a Dental Personal Identification Number. This number is required to take the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) and to apply to dental programs through the ADEA’s Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) and any other dental school application systems. It’s a number that will be associated with all of your subsequent dental exams and licensing so it will stay with you throughout your dental education and career.

For those of you who have graduated from a dental program outside of the U.S., there is a separate application system to apply to dental programs in the U.S., the ADEA Centralized Application for Advanced Placement for International Dentists (CAAPID).

The dental application is similar to the medical school application process because it includes three major steps that take a year to complete:

  1. Submitting the primary application

  2. Returning secondary applications

  3. Participating in interviews.

General dental school application timeline and information​

The ADEA’s AADSAS primary application opens mid-May, with the earliest submission date falling in mid-June.

Once all of your transcripts have been received by the AADSAS, they can process your application, which takes four to six weeks.

It costs $259 to apply to one school and $112 for each additional school. Please note that you can add more schools to your application at any time until their deadline.

You can begin receiving secondary applications anywhere from six to eight weeks after submitting your primary.

Interviews are conducted from September to March at most schools. A few programs start interviewing earlier, beginning in the summer.

You can expect to hear back from schools about their final decisions by December 1st or later, depending on the school.

All dental schools have different deadlines to submit the primary application. Their deadlines range from late September to early February.

School-specific deadlines for the primary application​

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Dental SchoolDeadline
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry11/15/20
Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health11/15/20
Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-Arizona01/01/21
Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC02/01/21
Loma Linda University School of Dentistry11/01/20
University of California, Los Angeles, School of Dentistry01/01/21
University of California, San Francisco, School of Dentistry11/16/20
University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry02/01/21
Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental Medicine12/01/20
University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine10/15/20
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Source: ADEA webpage

Academic requirements (Courses, GPA, DAT)​

The academic requirements for dental programs vary from school to school. Below I’ve included a list of courses that all programs require along with a list of requirements that some, but not all, schools include.

Required courses generally include:

  • 1 year Biology with lab

  • 1 semester or two quarters of Biochemistry (1 year recommended)

  • 1 year Physics with lab

  • 1 year General Chemistry with lab

  • 1 year Organic Chemistry with lab
Some programs also require: (semester hours)

  • 3 hours Microbiology

  • 6 hours of Human Anatomy

  • 6 to 8 hours of English

  • 6 hours of Mathematics

  • 30 hours Non-Science Courses
Check each program’s requirements to make sure that you meet them. They do change over time so check them regularly as you begin preparing your application. Keep in mind that majoring in science is not required. You can apply to dental school with a degree in any subject—as long as you complete the prerequisite coursework.

The minimum GPA required to apply ranges from a 3.0 to 3.3 for many dental programs. For the dental programs that do share matriculation data on their websites, the average GPA for accepted students ranges from a 3.41 science GPA to a 3.75 cumulative GPA. In general, a 3.5 cumulative GPA or higher is considered competitive.

Find out how an admissions expert can help you get accepted to your dream school >>

Dental admissions test (DAT)​

After you complete the prerequisite coursework, you can take the DAT. Please note that the only subject that is required but not covered on this test is Physics. (Phew! Sigh of relief!)

The DAT is a multiple-choice test with four sections:

  1. Biology, general chemistry and organic chemistry

  2. Perceptual ability

  3. Reading comprehension

  4. Qualitative reasoning which includes mathematical problems and applied word problems (which includes statistics, calculus and precalculus problems)
It takes five hours and 15 minutes to complete it. The exam costs $495 (2021). If you have to reschedule your exam, you will have to pay a fee that increases the closer you get to the exam date. If you are experiencing financial hardship, partial fee waivers are available, with 50% off, if you submit forms on their website for fee assistance.

You can retake it 90 days after each attempt; however, after three attempts, you must request special permission to retake it a fourth time. If your request is approved, you can only take it once a year.

The DAT is required by all 66 dental schools in the U.S. that are participating in the ADEA’s AADSAS application system.

Your score cannot be more than three years old when applying to dental programs. A small number of schools, like Howard University College of Dentistry, will not accept DAT scores that are two years or older.

The deadline to submit DAT scores for many programs is December 1, but due to the pandemic, some schools have extended the period for which they will accept them. Be sure to check each program’s deadline to submit yours on time.

DAT scores range from 1 to 30, with a national average of 19. The average DAT score for accepted students is 21 for the academic portion and 20 for the perceptional ability section. A score of 20 or higher is considered competitive in each of these sections. A score of 18 or less is not sufficient to move your application forward.

Experience requirements for dental school​

The vast majority of dental schools do not have any requirements for shadowing or clinical experience. This approach allows them to be flexible when considering applications since they are reviewing a wide range of experiences and activities. At the same time, shadowing and clinical experience are highly valued. I recommend shadowing at least 60 to 100 hours, or more. Some programs are accepting virtual shadowing hours due to the pandemic.

When possible, in person clinical experience and/or community service is going to help your application the most since it is impossible to provide dental care virtually. Paid employment or volunteer work in a dental office will give your application an edge. The more direct exposure you have in the field, the better.

How to choose where to apply?​

There are 70 dentals schools that you can apply to through the ADEA’s AADSAS application system: 65 are located within the continental U.S., one is in Puerto Rico and four are in Canada.

For a complete list of participating programs, visit this website.

There is no official ranking for dental schools. There are a few unofficial lists but they are not consistent. The first was published in Dentistry Today and includes a global ranking of programs, with eight U.S. schools in the top ten for 2020. Higher Learning Today just published a 2021 ranking for the top five dental programs in the U.S. Student Doctor Network has a list based on student ratings and feedback.

It’s also worth joining the American Student Dental Association and maintaining active participation within the organization to learn more about applying and to build your professional network. Click here to access their Guide to Getting Into Dental School.

I recommend that you begin researching schools by location and special interests. Start with the schools in your state. If you have not already participated in any events they offer—in person or virtual—sign up for them now! Subscribe to or follow their social media accounts and posts. Check out their website, watch their videos and read the student handbook. Learn as much as you can about what they have to offer and how they can help you reach your long-term goals in dentistry. Even better, find the programs with areas of emphasis or special training in topics that you are involved in or want to pursue in the future.

The best approach is to apply to the schools with GPA and DAT averages that are close to your scores. To find this information, you’ll need to purchase access to the ADEA’s Official Guide to Dental Schools. This guide will provide the minimum GPA and DAT scores required for each program, as well as the average scores for students accepted. You will have the best chance at acceptance when your numbers are within this range. Scores are not everything, so make sure your activities, accomplishments and essays are also outstanding!

Components of the ADEA AADSAS Application​

On the ADEA AADSAS application, there are four main sections, as described on their website: Personal Information, Academic History, Supporting Information and Program Materials.

The first section includes your contact information, ethnicity and other personal details. The second one covers your college coursework. The third category includes your personal statement, activity descriptions, honors and awards, licenses, and letters of recommendation. You can have the most positive impact on your application by focusing your time and attention on this section. Equally important is the last section which covers program specific materials that individual schools request. Secondary questions may or may not be included here. Many schools have a separate portal for you to submit those additional essay questions.

For the personal statement, you have 4,500 characters with spaces to explain why you want to become a dentist. For most people, this will include a description of all the experiences that led to them to choosing a career in this field. Make this essay unique by taking the time to reflect on your life, personality, and values and how they have influenced your decision. No detail is too small. The more time that you take to make your essay unique by showcasing your personality, talents, skills and accomplishments, you will be helping them see what you can bring to dentistry and how you will treat your future patients. Don’t worry if you don’t have a lot of hands-on dental experience, there are other ways to demonstrate the dexterity, problem solving, communication skills and teamwork required to be an exceptional professional in this field.

For the experiences, you have 600 characters (roughly 100-125 words) to describe each activity. There is no limit to how many you can add. Include everything that you have done during college and after. They should all fit within the following classifications, as described on the application website: Academic Enrichment, Dental Experience, Dental Shadowing, Employment, Extracurricular Activities, Research and Volunteer. Make sure that you list promotions separately. Describe each experience as accurately as possible to demonstrate your skills, responsibilities and what you have learned from each one.

There is a separate section for you to list your achievements. They can include the following, as provided on the website: Awards, Honors, and Scholarships. In writing your descriptions of these, keep it short, otherwise is looks like you’re bragging.

If you have any licenses, you’ll list each one separately and describe it. It will not hurt you, if don’t have any, but it will only help you, if you do. An example of a license could include a Dental Assistant with an X-ray license. You would describe how and where you completed the training or requirements to obtain the license along with dates and a description of how you use it.

Recommendations: Whom to ask? What should dental school letters of recommendation include?​

Most dental schools require two letters of recommendation from science professors and one letter from a dentist or a community service experience. If your college provides a pre-health committee letter, you’ll need to obtain one and submit your letters as a packet. Most schools have a limit of four letters so it’s not necessary to obtain more.

To submit a successful application, include four letters in your packet along with the pre-health committee letter/cover letter:

  1. Science professor

  2. Science professor

  3. Dentist

  4. Community service supervisor
Strong letters of recommendation will include:

  1. A brief history about your relationship with the letter writer—how they met you, how long they have known you and in what capacity.

  2. Description of your character, personality and/or values.

  3. Anecdotes or details about the quality of your work or grades.

  4. Outcomes of any projects or work you completed.

  5. Explanation of why you would succeed in dental school based on their experiences with you.

  6. Opinion of you as an applicant and what you will accomplish in dental school or as a dentist.
The best letters are written by people who work or worked closely with you. Give your professors, mentors, and supervisors the chance to get to know you. Go to office hours! Get involved in professional clubs and organizations! Find a job in a dental office! Volunteer with organizations you are excited to participate in regarding issues that matter to you!

Secondary applications​

Of the 65 dental schools located within the U.S., 39, more than half, have a secondary application. Depending on the schools you apply to, you may only have a few or several secondary essays to complete.

Dental schools that require secondary applications​

Search:
Edit
Dental SchoolSupplemental?
University of Alabama at Birmingham School of DentistryYes
Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral HealthYes
Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine-ArizonaYes
Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USCNo
Loma Linda University School of DentistryYes
University of California, Los Angeles, School of DentistryNo
University of California, San Francisco, School of DentistryNo
University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of DentistryNo
Western University of Health Sciences College of Dental MedicineYes
University of Colorado School of Dental MedicineYes
PreviousNext
Source: ADEA webpage

Secondary essays generally cover the following questions: Why their school? How will you contribute to the diversity on their campus? What meaningful leadership, teamwork or dental experiences have you participated in? Or tell us something about you that wasn’t included in the primary. These essays will take some time to complete. You can either pre-write them using the previous cycle’s questions or write them as soon as you receive them. Returning them within two weeks of receiving them will give you the best chance at receiving an interview invitation.

Dental school interviews​

Interviews are conducted from July to March. Due to the pandemic this year, all interviews were virtual, and they will continue to be virtual for the foreseeable future. There are two main types of interviews: traditional or MMI (multiple mini-interviews).

Traditional interviews usually involve one interviewer and one candidate. They can include a panel of interviewers. They can last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

MMI style interviews involve multiple “stations” in which you answer traditional questions, engage in collaborative activities, interact with actors and/or discuss ethical issues. This style of interview has become less common with the added stress of the pandemic making it difficult to offer this type of interview in a virtual format. In the past, students interacted with six to 10 different people, receiving a score from each person, which made it a more objective interview format. MMIs usually last anywhere from an hour to two hours or longer, depending on the number of stations.

If you have received an interview invitation, it is a good indication that the school is serious about you. The best way to prepare for an interview is to practice interviewing. Mock interviews are often the most helpful tool.

You can expect to see questions on the following topics:

  • Why do you want to be a dentist?

  • What have you done to reach your goal?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses as a student?

  • Do you anticipate any challenges in dental school or in your career?

  • Where do you see yourself in five years or ten years?

  • What specialties are you interested in?

  • Why our school?

  • Do you have any questions for us?

Applying to dental school?​

For help preparing for your interview or with any part of the dental school application process, you are welcome to contact me and my colleagues at Accepted. I have helped many students get accepted into dental schools over the years. It would be an honor to assist you.

Alicia McNease Nimonkar worked for 5 years as the Student Advisor & Director at the UC Davis School of Medicine's postbac program where she both evaluated applications and advised students applying successfully to med school and other health professional programs. She has served Accepted's clients since 2012 with roughly a 90% success rate. She has a Master of Arts in Composition and Rhetoric as well as Literature. Want Alicia to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!



Related Resources:

This article was originally posted on blog.accepted.com.

Applying to dental school? The talented folks at Accepted have helped hundreds of applicants like you get accepted to their dream programs in healthcare. Whether you are figuring out where to apply, working on your application, working on secondary essays, or prepping for your interviews, we are just a call (or click) away. Contact us, and get matched up with the consultant who will help you get accepted!
 
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