If you’re interested in learning how to become a dentist, you will need to start by informing yourself of dental school requirements. The bad news is that dental school acceptance rates are very competitive, but the good news is that dental schools share a common set of requirements that you can prepare for, even if you are not yet sure which school to apply to. This article lists all the main categories of dental school requirements you need to know.
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Dental School Requirements
A dentist is a medical professional who identifies and treats oral health care conditions. Serious health conditions like heart disease and stroke can be prevented by taking excellent care of your teeth and gums.
Although becoming a dentist requires time and perseverance, if you know what to expect, you will be able to plan ahead and take important steps during your undergrad to prepare yourself for applying to dental school. Like other medical specialties, dentistry requires extensive education and training as well as practical expertise.
1. Prerequisite Courses
As there are no dental schools without prerequisites, your chances of success will improve if you select the right college courses and internships. All dental schools require that students complete certain courses, especially in the sciences, before applying. These pre-dental courses will be categorized as either required and recommended courses; you must complete such prerequisites prior to entry into a DMD or DDS program. The main prerequisites for dental school include biology, chemistry, and physics (usually 8 credit hours each), but each dental school will also have its own required courses, such as biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology. English (especially reading, writing, and composition) and mathematics are additional prerequisites required by dental schools, along with arts, social sciences, and humanities courses in a few cases. Another important aspect of dental school prerequisites is fulfilling the lab work component; most dental schools require that your science courses include lab work.
Want to learn about some difficult and common dental school interview questions you need to know?
2. Undergraduate Degree
During your undergrad, you can work toward completing the pre-dental coursework you need, but simply obtaining 90 credits is usually not enough. While some dental schools accept a certain number of credits, completing a bachelor’s degree is much preferred. Note also that this will often be a four-year degree requirement. To plan your studies in anticipation of applying to dental school, it is highly recommended to meet with a health professions advisor at your school. You can also meet with a dental school advisor, who will advise you on all aspects of your dental school application checklist and choice of dental schools.
Something you can count on when applying to dental school is that you will need to learn how to shadow a dentist and participate in this activity regularly. Working alongside a dentist gives you the opportunity to observe how they run their practice, deal with patients, and perform different procedures. Additionally, you can take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about dental terminology and methods. Some dental schools require that you shadow up to three different dentists, and your relationships with these professionals may ultimately be helpful for other aspects of your application, like obtaining dental school letters of recommendation. Although certain dental schools, such as most dental schools in Canada, may not require shadowing hours, it’s such a common requirement that you should think of it as a prerequisite. It is also one of the best ways to be sure that this is the career for you, as you will be able to answer the question of “Why do you want to be a dentist?” once you begin experiencing the profession directly through shadowing.
To enhance your dental school application experiences, you can also get involved in a mentorship or dental school preparatory program, such as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). You should look into finding the best dental school extracurriculars as well, which will give you valuable experience, teach you skills, introduce you to the ADEA competencies expected of entering dental students, and boost your application. Opportunities to participate in scientific research, as well as community service activities, sports, part-time jobs, and hobbies, can all be sources of great skills and abilities required for dental school. Sign up for health-related clubs at your school to show you are a dedicated student. Be sure to select some activities that allow you to practice and improve your manual dexterity, such as making crafts or playing a musical instrument.
"Competency” is a sophisticated behavior or skill required for a general dentist to being practicing independently without supervision. Knowledge, experience, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, professionalism, ethical values, and technical and procedural skills are all forms of competency, according to the ADEA. When a capable general dentist provides patient care, these elements are combined in an integrated whole. To be considered competent, a general dentist must be able to assess the efficacy of the treatment they provide and ensure that all their interventions are carried out to a standard that promotes patient well-being.
5. Student National Dental Association
It’s a great idea to join the Student National Dental Association in addition to other groups. Chapter activities will introduce you to other dental students and working dentists, and sharing your professional aspirations and passions with other industry professionals through networking is a fantastic way to learn more about the profession and dental school application process.
Once you’ve decided that you definitely want to apply to dental school, you will need to set up a DAT study schedule and take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), a computer-based, standardized, multiple-choice test. The test, administered in English by the American Dental Association (ADA), is required by all dental schools in the United States. Taking the Canadian DAT (Dental Aptitude Test) is generally required to attend dental schools in Canada, although certain schools will accept US DAT results. The Canadian Dental Association administers the Canadian DAT, and many US and international dental schools accept Canadian DAT scores. If you don’t succeed on your first try at the DAT, you can take it again after 90 days up to a maximum of three times.
Here are a few tips for preparing for the DAT:
- Plan for at least three months of study before taking the test.
- Take a practice test to establish your baseline. Then, take more practice tests later on to gauge your improvement and get used to the format and presentation of the DAT.
- Start by studying your areas of most difficulty and improving your knowledge in these subjects.
- Research the perceptual ability test and do similar practice activities.
- Study complex passages and work on your reading comprehension.
- Arrive early on test day and remember to bring your government-issued ID.
7. Dental School Application
A competitive application is an absolute requirement for dental school hopefuls. Students will typically start their dental school application process a year before graduation. Most dental schools will expect the following in your application:
- Application form
- Official college transcript
- Personal essay
- Letters of recommendation
- Resume or CV
- DAT scores
- Proof of shadowing hours
- Application fee, plus possible supplemental fees
You can submit your ADEA AADSAS dental school application as of June 1. Your application materials will be sent to the dental schools you have selected, and if you apply early, it is likely that your application will be reviewed more quickly. Early application also significantly enhances your chances of an interview.
You can submit your TMDSAS application as of mid-May and before the deadline of November 1 unless you are applying to early decision programs (EDPs), in which case the deadline is August 1.
You will need to write a well-thought-out dental school personal statement as part of your application to most dental schools. Your personal statement should tell a story about you, provide examples, demonstrate why you are a good candidate for dental school, be authentic, and describe what contributions you hope to make as a student and as a dental professional. If you are concerned about your GPA or DAT, your personal statement provides an excellent opportunity to explain why you still have what it takes to succeed in dental school.
Depending on the school, you may also need to submit a dental school supplemental application. Which required materials you must submit will depend on the school, and each school will also have its own deadline for when your application must be complete. Supplemental materials can include essays, short answers to questions, such as “why this dental school?”, or simply the payment of a fee. Take the time you need to adequately explore the schools that interest you to see whether you are a good fit and to respond appropriately to any supplementary requirements or interview questions.
8. Letters of Evaluation and Recommendation
A letter of recommendation for dental school is an unbiased assessment of your abilities, life experiences, and, most significantly, your suitability for dental school. These are often referred to as letters of evaluation in the case of dental schools and are typically written by people in positions of authority who have interacted with you frequently in a professional setting.
As a first step, you should meet with your advisor to find about the school’s letters of evaluation protocol. Then, identify individuals who would be willing to write letters of reference for you and inform them of the submission deadlines. As part of this preparation, you should also document your dental office observation experiences and even learn how to write your own letter of recommendation, as this will help you understand what your letter writers should focus on. They should discuss your pertinent qualifications, abilities, and personality traits that make you the ideal candidate for dental school. Because this part of your application relies on others, you should begin cultivating a good rapport with your supervisors and instructors immediately.
Interview requests are usually extended as part of the supplemental application process. They may be automatic, or by invitation only. How to prepare for a dental school interview is a challenge for every would-be student of dentistry and oral health care. The interview is what will ensure your spot in your preferred dental school, so it’s important to prepare for your interviews well in advance.
The “tell me about yourself” dental school interview question allows admissions committees to learn more about you and your background as well as your interest in dentistry. Interviewers will also evaluate your interpersonal and communication skills to decide how you might conduct yourself as a dental professional. They will ask you ethics-related dental school interview questions to assess your understanding of the challenges and difficulties involved in health care provision. You will also be given the opportunity to ask questions during your interviews to confirm that you are suited to the school.
Mock medical school interviews are key to preparing for any interview for health care programs. As many dental schools use multiple mini-interviews, MMI interview prep will also be important to boost your confidence and teach you effective strategies for answering dental school interview questions.
Dental school is expensive, so aim to start planning for financing during the first year of your undergrad, at least. The pursuit of higher education often means you will need to endure several years of a frugal lifestyle: it takes about 8 years to become a dentist (4 years of undergrad, 4 years of dental school). You will need to cover the following expenses when you attend dental school:
- DAT fees
- ADEA AADSAS application fee
- Supplemental application fees
- On-site interview travel and other costs
It isn’t easy to balance a demanding academic schedule, work, and personal life, so if you don’t need to work at the same time, you will find it easier to cope. You can create a budget and start setting aside funds. Many students take on summer jobs in their undergrad years to save up money; finding one that will be both lucrative and beneficial to your pre-dental career can be difficult, especially if you are also doing shadowing or volunteering in a health care setting or dental clinic or office.
Scholarship and fellowship options as well as student loans provide other options if necessary. Once you are accepted to dental school, or even as part of your application, you can apply for financial aid. You should initiate the financial aid application process at the dental school you choose to attend as soon as possible. Check with the school’s financial aid office, as many financial aid awards depend on the date of application.
1. Are prerequisite courses a requirement for dental school?
Yes, you will need to take biology, chemistry, and physics for admission to all dental schools. In addition, specific schools may have other required courses, such as biochemistry, anatomy, physiology. English, mathematics, with arts, social sciences, and humanities.
2. Can I get into dental school without a college/university degree?
No, you will need a bachelor’s degree to apply to dental school, or at least 30 credits for certain dental schools. In many cases, you will need a 4-year degree.
3. What GPA is required for dental school?
You’ll want to maintain a college/university GPA of at least 3.2 to be accepted to a competitive dental program.
4. What is a good DAT score for dental school?
A score between 20 and 23 out of 30 is good, and 21 is considered competitive.
5. What is the best major for dental school?
Given the prerequisite course requirements, a biology, chemistry, or premed major would be helpful for dental school candidates, but any major is fine, provided you take the required science courses as well.
6. Is shadowing a dental school requirement?
As a rule, shadowing hours are a very important addition to your dental school application unless you plan to study in Canada, where this is much less important.
7. Is lab work a dental school requirement?
Yes, along with your science prerequisites, you will need to fulfill lab work requirements to apply to most dental schools.
8. When do I apply to dental schools using AADSAS?
You can send in your application as soon as June. Apply early! Early applicants have a better chance of being invited to an interview.
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