Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
Being a dentist is a lifelong dream for many people. Yet few are able to make this dream a reality. Year by year, the application pool for dental schools has become more competitive, and selection committees have a more difficult time choosing the best candidates. As the number of applicants increase, it has become more vital to stand out from among other applicants. Strategically planning your undergraduate years can significantly increase your chances of acceptance at your dream dental school. Looking back at my experience, this is the advice I would give a friend to maximize the experience and overall results to yield the best outcome.
Study what you actually enjoy. Many people have the misconception that you need to be a science student to get into dental school. It is true that majority of dental student come from science backgrounds, but that may be because science majors automatically complete the prerequisite courses to apply. Choosing a science major is also recommended by many educational advisers, and many students rightfully believe that having a science foundation would give them an advantage in dental school. I was fortunate to have been placed in a program that I enjoyed but I was afraid of approaching (chemistry major). Although it was a very difficult journey, I learned that difficulty of a subject or pure determination to get through it are not the sole determinants of results. Rather it’s your passion for the subject. The more you like something, the more time you will put in it. This upward spiral of positivity will place you on top of the field. Choose something that you enjoy.
Choose your school wisely. Many students believe that they would have a higher chance of dental school admission if they attended a higher ranked school. With the exception of very few schools like Harvard, Columbia, and Stanford, the school that you attend does not matter. But that doesn’t mean graduating to Harvard with a 3.0GPA is better than a 4.0GPA at your state school. Choose the school that gives you the best chance for success. Don’t forget to consider factors such as scholarships, proximity to family and college lifestyle (party school or not).
Take recommended courses (even if they’re not required). As a dental student, I can attest that my life in 1st year would have been much easier if I took the course that some schools recommend but are not pre-requisites. For me, these include physiology and anatomy. If you don’t put the time now, you will need to put it later.
Go on a mission trip. Mission trips have become increasingly common among pre-dental students trying to give back to communities and standout within competitive applicant pools. The experiences of students are undoubtedly valuable, but unfortunately, many students perform dental services in the gray area of legality or are sometimes outright illegal. These well-intended acts can be a red flag for admission committees. When searching for missions programs, make sure to avoid any program that promotes these actions.
Get involved in research (and find a great supervisor). The majority of top dental schools in the country place heavy emphasis on students who have had experiences as volunteer researchers, paid researchers, and published scientists. Not only are these experiences valuable for a solid foundation in science, but they can also lead to more opportunities. When looking into doing research, it is very important to not only find a research field that you’re passionate about but also to find a supervisor/professor with whom you can bond. This critical tip will significantly boost what you get out of the experience. It is very probable that they will be one of the references for your dental school applications, so you want someone with whom you can form a great relationship.
Take advantage of leadership programs and opportunities. You can find many such programs in your local area or in your university. They are a great way to learn from mentors and to meet like-minded individuals. You can also choose to participate in student organizations, athletic clubs to improve your leadership skills and to get more involved outside of the academic environments. Admission committees show great interest in individuals with community involvement experiences and strong leadership skills.