Author: ALEXANDER TAKSHYN, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA SCHOOL OF DENTAL MEDICINE C/O 2022
The AADSAS application cycle traditionally opens in early June. By this time I recommend that you have your letters of recommendation, personal statement, DAT scores, transcript verification and experiences (ECs, research, etc) submitted. Applying early in the cycle is essential to receiving multiple pre-December interviews. This is because dental schools are based on rolling admissions. They will give out interview spots as applications get submitted for review and will also provide a decision to those candidates on December 1st (if interviewed). (Interviews close to December 1st may automatically be put on waitlist/ kept under review for several weeks). The application cycle has different deadlines for each school, with some ending in October and some in February. Therefore, it is important to look up these dates for each individual school where you plan to apply. The application cycle for acceptances can continue until the first day of class in some instances.
A general timeframe for the submission of your application is as follows: June & July is considered early, August is the average time for submission, and September or later is considered a late submission. I once again urge you to submit your application as close to the opening date as possible, especially if you are an international applicant. International applicants (including Canadians) who submit in August or later are putting themselves at an even higher disadvantage than they already are.
A letter of recommendation (LOR) is essentially a reference letter which supports your decision to pursue dentistry. The AADSAS portal will allow you to upload four letters of recommendation, and any additional letters can be sent directly to the schools at their discretion. To send additional letters of recommendation you would need to contact the school directly and inform them that you would like to submit another LOR, and they will advise you how to get the letter to them.
Each school has different LOR requirements, and you can find this information either from the AADSAS portal when you add the program to your list or you can contact the school directly and ask what kind of LORs they require. A general package of letters you should aim for would include: two science professors (ideally from one chemistry and one biology), one non-science professor (ideally a liberal arts professor), and a dentist. These four letters would cover the bases of most universities however, some programs may require three science letters and therefore it is once again essential to check what requirements each program needs. If your university has the committee letter option available, then you should go with that. Something that more savvy applicants do is mark the committee letter as a single letter, that way it only takes up one slot on the AADSAS portal. This will allow you to upload additional reference letters if you wish.
You also want to ensure you are getting strong letters of recommendation. Ideally, you spoke with your professor over the term of the course. You want to get to know them on a more personal level and engage in their material. This will also allow them to get to know you better as well. You want to stand out so you can get a strong letter of reference and give your professor something interesting to write about. Ask interesting questions and show up to office hours. You don’t have to go over the top and go every week, but be sure they remember your name. There are many ways to stand out and be unique. A trick I used before was being active on the course website (if offered with the course). Students would ask questions and you could answer people’s questions before the professor or anyone else gets the chance. This way even though the professor may not know you personally, they will recognize your name and see that you were engaged and helped many students out. There are many ways to stand out to a professor and this is the key to getting a strong letter of recommendation from them (not sure if I mentioned STRONG enough). On top of this, you want to make sure you are doing well in their course. Keep in mind who is writing your reference letter; some professors’ letters are worth more than others. For example, one of my professors is the chairman of the chemistry department at my university. His recommendation was brought up numerous times in my interviews. The strongest letter will come from a professor who knows you on a deeper level and has a high standing in the academic hierarchy. These are the small details that can give you the edge and help you get into the top programs.
The best way to ask your professor for a letter of recommendation would be to first set up a meeting through e-mail or in person. Here is an e-mail I sent to one of my professors:
Good afternoon Dr. X,
It’s Alexander Takshyn (student number) from your chemistry course. I was hoping to meet with you next week to discuss my future plans. Would you be on campus between Tuesday and Friday? And what time would work best for you?
From here, once you meet with them, you can explain how you want to pursue dentistry, and ask them if they would be willing to write a strong reference letter for you. Key word is strong. You don’t want to have a neutral reference letter from a professor unless it’s your last option. When they accept, be sure to hand them your curriculum vitae (resume), grade report, and any additional documents that they may ask for. This will give them additional context to include in the letter and get to know you better. Understand that professors want to help their students, and writing reference letters is part of their job. Most would be happy to write you one, provided you are courteous and professional. In the odd case that they refuse, thank them for their time and ask a different professor.
Some things to keep in mind: Give your letter writer plenty of time, at least a month and a half. When they accept, be sure to follow up with an e-mail thanking them again and attach any documents they asked for. Also, be sure to include a time frame for them and follow-up 1-2 weeks before the deadline you set. Once they have uploaded the LOR on the AADSAS portal, you will be notified. Also remember to send them a thank you card. Your reputation as a professional is very important. Being grateful for their help is the least you can do.
The personal statement is a crucial portion of your application. In a nutshell your personal statement will give insight into you as a person and answer that important question—why dentistry? You can focus on a defining moment or the journey that led you to the decision. It should read more like a story than an essay. The ADEA website gives some more guidelines. Once you have written your personal statement, get feedback from many people. You can ask the dentist you shadowed, professors, friends, writing committee, etc. The more feedback you receive the better. Your personal statement may change quite significantly. Mine had over 20 versions until I finalized it.
The verification process for DAT scores will normally take between 2-4 weeks and it may be worthwhile to call them after two weeks to ensure everything is in order.
The transcript verification process can also take several weeks—4-6 weeks on average. You can call after about three weeks, as I heard several times they were able to verify the grades over the phone and expedite the process. The ADEA has their own set of grade conversions. As of 2017, the ADEA revised their GPA conversion charts, as follows:
If your institution uses percent grades, use Figure 2.
|Percent Grade||Letter Grade|
|100 - 90||A|
|89 - 80||B|
|79 - 70||C|
|69 - 60||D|
|59 and below||F|
Side note: you would use this scale to convert to a letter grade and then use the above chart to get a GPA on the 4.0 scale.
grading scheme then be sure that when your transcript is sent, the university sends the letter grade conversion chart for the ADEA to use with it. This should be done automatically, but it’s good to verify.
It is important to complete the GPA calculation yourself to verify. I heard of a few instances where the ADEA calculated an applicant’s GPA incorrectly.
The experiences section of your application will include volunteer work, shadowing, extracurricular activities, employment, etc. It’s good to include at least eight different experiences as part of your application. When you discuss the experience, it is important to explain what it is, what your role was, and what skills the experience built. Here is an example of an extracurricular activity experience of tutoring:
I tutor students in the subjects of chemistry, physics and physiology. I review key concepts of the curriculum, answer questions, and go over practice problems. Many of my students are freshmen in university and are going through the same challenges that I went through during my freshman year. My responsibility is to guide my students and put them on the right path to achieve their academic goals. This experience gave me a chance to share my knowledge and study habits with other students, as well as point out their strengths and weaknesses so they can set appropriate goals.
When you ask someone what the admissions committee looks for, the typical answer you will receive is “a well-rounded applicant.” However, this is not necessarily true. What admissions committees want is a well-rounded class, which aims to further their school’s mission statement. A dental school doesn’t want to have a uniform class with equal qualifications; they want to enroll individuals who contribute to their school’s mission and offer a unique perspective. They want to have a mixture of those who show a commitment to community service, those dedicated to research, those who offer a unique perspective, etc. Think of the process as a coach building a sports team. Take soccer for example. In order for the team to be successful, there will need to be a few strikers, a few mid-fielders, a few defenders, etc. You can’t have a team if everyone is playing striker. The advantage of being well-rounded applicant means that you can maximize your chances of being a “good” fit for a school since you offer different skillsets, like being able to play both striker and mid-fielder.
There are several factors that you should consider when picking how many and which schools to apply to. This varies based on your stats and your place of residence/citizenship. If you are the ideal dental candidate with a 22+AA DAT, 3.8 GPA with a good all-around application, you can safely apply to around 8-10 schools. Someone who has more average matriculating stats such as a 20AA and 3.55 GPA should apply to 10-12 schools, and someone who is below average should apply to 12 or more schools. The point is to apply to enough schools that you will get accepted somewhere, not feel stressed out during the application cycle and not over-spend. It is important to note that just because you have excellent stats, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a spot at a certain school. Personally, I would spend a few hundred dollars more for peace of mind. Canadians and international applicants should apply to more schools: An ideal applicant should apply to 10+ schools, while a more average candidate should apply to 14+ schools. Most people would agree that applying to over 20 schools is unnecessary.
There are many factors that you want to consider when choosing which schools you apply to. I recommend that you purchase the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools; it has all the statistics for the incoming class in the previous cycle, including the average stats, class seats, amount of In-State and Out-ofState applicants admitted, etc. for each dental school in the United States and Canada (Costs $40 + shipping or $25 for online version.) Your school list should consist of a few schools that require higher stats than yours, mainly schools that are within you stats range, and a few “safety” schools that have stats below yours. Keep in mind though, having higher stats than a school’s average never guarantees an interview or acceptance. However, stats are only one variable when it comes to choosing schools. You need to consider whether the schools are out-of-state (OOS) friendly, the costs of attendance, location, clinical experience, etc. For example, while Texas schools may seem ideal by having a low cost of attendance, they take very few OOS or international applicants. If you’re a Canadian/international applicant, you will mostly be applying to private schools as they generally are more open to these types of applicants. A drawback with private schools is the tuition + living expenses, which will oftentimes exceed 400k USD. For your reference I have compiled a list of all dental schools in North America and included some key characteristics of each school.
Provides the average DAT score (AA) as well as, the average cumulative and science GPAs for the first time enrollees into a North American dental school for the entering year of 2017, with a few exceptions providing data for the entering year of 2016 and 2018. The following data was gathered individually from each dental school’s website or directly from their admissions office.
|School||DAT (AA)||Average cGPA/sGPA||International Friendly||In-state Tuition after First Year|
|U of Alabama||21.3||3.60/3.60||*Yes||No|
|A.T. Still (AZ)||19.3||3.41/3.31||*Yes||No|
|Loma Linda (Religious)||20||3.51/3.39||Yes||No|
|UOP (3 year program)||22||3.58/3.45||Yes||No|
|Howard (Historically Black University)||NR||NR||Yes||No|
|Illinois at Chicago||21||3.58/3.50||No||No|
|Harvard (Ivy)||23||3.85/ 3.85||Yes||No|
|A.T. Still (Missouri)||19||3.50/3.40||No||No|
|Puerto Rico (Spanish)||NR||NR||*Yes||No|
|(SC) James B. Edwards||20||3.64/3.57||*Yes||No|
|Texas – San Antonio||20||3.60/3.60||*Yes||Yes|
|Texas – Houston||21||3.81/3.75||No||Yes|
|Western (UWO – Canada)||21||89.16/NR||*Yes||No|
There are a few points I need to make regarding Figure 3. Firstly, the above stats are for the entering class of 2017 and they tend to increase marginally every year. Therefore, by your application submission date you should expect to see the average DAT and GPA higher than shown. Secondly, pay attention to the schools that offer instate tuition after 1st year; this can save you a lot of money. Thirdly, some schools say they will accept international applicants, but didn’t have any enrolled international applicants the previous year. These are labeled as “*Yes” in Figure 3. Also, it is important to note that even though I marked some schools as internationally friendly, they may have only one enrolled international candidate—keep that in mind. Fourthly, Texas schools are known for being notoriously unfriendly towards OOS and international applicants. Moreover, Canadian schools tend to be very unfriendly towards out of province and international applicants. Lastly, some schools are unique to admitting more minorities, teaching in Spanish, French or being religious; these are marked in the table.
There aren’t any official rankings for dental schools, and each school offers its own unique experience and advantages to students. Keep an open mind to your end goals when applying. If you are dead set on becoming the best general dentist, then look into schools that have a heavy focus on clinical skills. If you want to specialize, then look into the Ivy League schools, or top tier schools that produce a lot of specialists. While this doesn’t mean you can’t specialize from a school that has a focus on general dentistry, some school offer more opportunities for certain applicants. Research every school thoroughly to understand what they are all about. It is also important to consider other aspects of the program such as the curriculum and grading scheme of schools. Each school is different and offers unique opportunities for students to grow. Figure 4 contains some unique characteristics to consider regarding each school. Keep in mind that when I made this chart, I noted down what I felt were some of the unique characteristics based on their website and the SDN Forums—I couldn’t include everything. Every school has community outreach and research opportunities. However, some schools are more focused in certain areas, so I marked it as a unique characteristic.
The following information outlines some unique features about each school in North America. The information was gathered from each school’s website, their social media platforms, and SDN Forums.
• State-of-the-art facilities (completion in 2018)
Once again, I recommend purchasing the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools and constructing a list of 20 schools that you are interested in. Afterwards, you can narrow down the list as you learn more about each school. You can ask for the advice of the [https://forums.studentdoctor.net/categories/dental-forums-dds-dmd.55/ SDN community], your professors, and personal network to determine which schools are the right fit for you.
After you have submitted your application, you should continue volunteering or getting involved in events and learning from new experiences. This will not only be valuable for you as a person, but will help you during the application process. Admissions committees want to know that you are continually growing as a person. It is important to keep the schools you applied to up to date on your application throughout the cycle. You can always add new experiences to your file (the AADSAS portal page has an update button for when you add new experiences). If you get waitlisted at a school and are able to provide them with new experiences, new grades, etc, this may tip the scales in your favour. It is important to note, the application cycle doesn’t end until you have actually started dental school, and applicants are known to be admitted up to the first day of class! Also, don’t slack in your classes because failing or doing poorly can cause your acceptance to be withdrawn. When you receive your acceptance package the school will expect you to meet minimum academic criteria—usually a “C” or “B.”
The secondary application is another vital step toward your dental school acceptance. Some schools have their secondary application on the AADSAS portal and you would complete the questions and submit your responses to the program that way. (Not all schools have a secondary application.) I recommend you spend a good chunk of time writing your response. Many schools place a great emphasis on the secondary application, and some even begin reviewing you application by first looking at the secondary. If possible, use the secondary application to include new information that the admissions committee doesn’t already know about you. Also, keep in mind the length of your answer—a one sentence response usually means you’re not very interested, while a page long response could mean you can’t arrive at the point. There needs to be a balance. Also, when writing responses, you want to think of experiences that build on your skills and character.