There are seven dental schools in California, which is the most dental schools in any one state. The dental schools in California are spread throughout to serve its large population. Three are part of the University of California school system: UCLA, UCSF, and USC. While the three UC schools show a preference for in-state applicants, 20% of USCF’s new students were from out-of-state, so you do have a shot to get in if you’re not from California. The other schools vary between public and private institutions, with one of them hosting one of the only three-year DDS programs in the US. This article will give you a detailed list of all the dental schools in California, and tell you what you need to put on your dental school application to get in. 

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Dental Schools in California How to Get into Dental Schools in California Conclusion FAQs

Dental Schools in California

  1. University of California, Los Angeles School of Dental Medicine
  2. University of California, San Francisco School of Dental Medicine
  3. Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at University of Southern California
  4. Loma Linda University School of Dentistry
  5. Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at University of the Pacific
  6. California Northstate College of Dental Medicine
  7. Western University, College of Dental Medicine

1. University of California, Los Angeles School of Dental Medicine

Overall Acceptance Rate: 6.36%

Average GPA: 3.72

Average DAT Score: 22

Total Cost of Attendance: $109,952

Total Cost of Attendance (out-of-state): $122,197

The UCLA School of Dental Medicine is considered one of the best dental schools in the US for a variety of reasons. It has several different degree programs, but if you’re only interested in how to become a dentist, UCLA’s four-year DDS program often places high on dental school rankings for its innovative use of technology, variety of different specialty clinics, and the diverse, inclusive atmosphere.

Given the school’s location, if you’re interested in getting a lot of direct patient experience with a diverse population, then this might be the school for you. The school has a strong commitment to helping treat the community it is a part of and registered almost 5,000 patient visits last year. On top of that, the school regularly holds outreach events where underserved people can get basic dental care.

Academically, the school’s program reflects this commitment to service and population care through its core courses as well as its electives. In your clinical years, you can take several different types of rotations from Urgent Care and Community-Based Clinical Education to Professional Responsibility and Clinical Patient Management. But if you are more inclined to the technical aspects of dentistry, you can also choose from several science-heavy electives such as Advanced Materials and Biomechanics, Clinical Pediatric Dentistry, and Clinical Endodontics.

The school does show a preference for residents, as it is a state school, but it does make accommodations for several different student groups. If you are from a state that is part of the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), you’ll not only be able to apply, but you’ll also pay the same tuition as a California resident, if you get in. Undergraduate international students may also apply, so long as they meet the requirements to get a student visa. But the school also offers a Professional Program for International Dentists that helps foreign-trained dentists get their DDS in the US to be able to take national or state licensing board exams.

For traditional dental students, the school has typical dental school requirements, such as having a competitive GPA and DAT scores, and up to three dental school letters of recommendation. You do not need a full bachelor’s degree, but must have completed at least 90 credits of and undergraduate degree, along with completing a list of seven dental school prerequisites. You can apply with a Canadian undergraduate degree, but the school will not accept the Canadian DAT, so you must take the American version to be eligible if you’re a Canadian applicant.

2. University of California, San Francisco School of Dental Medicine

Overall Acceptance Rate: 3.9%

Average GPA: 3.76

Average DAT Score: 22.6

Total Cost of Attendance: $109,952

Total Cost of Attendance (out-of-state): $122,197

The oldest dental school in California, the UCSF School of Dental Medicine continues with its mission to serve the public through its many outreach programs, an inclusive curriculum and dropping its minimum GPA and DAT score to apply. The school has also developed several different degree programs along its four-year DDS program, such as two dual-degree options, (DDS/MBA and DDS/PhD). But you can also apply to the school’s post-bacc program aimed at improving your GPA or giving you a much-needed refresher on the science and medicine behind dentistry.

The post-bacc premedical program is also aimed at bringing more diversity into the school and dentistry, in general. One of the requirements is that you must be from a historically underrepresented group, so it is a good option if you come from an underrepresented group or minority.

The school also offers two separate pathways for foreign-trained dentists; one being a two-year program for advanced graduates who have already trained in the US, or a three-year program for those without any experience in the US. For traditional students, you can apply without a bachelor’s degree, but UCSF is not a dental school without prerequisites, and has strict credit and grade requirements. You must complete all of eight of the prerequisites with at least a C- or higher.

With its huge population, you’ll find that almost all of the dental schools in California make direct patient experience via rotations or working in the school’s free dental clinic a priority, and the UCSF School of Dentistry is no different. The school runs and operates 22 different dental clinics throughout the state, so you have many options for where to do your rotations.

Aside from its commitment to patient care, UCSF also strives to make important scientific and medical advances in dental care in all dental specialties such as oral surgery, oral cancer, and pediatric dentistry. It has four distinct research centers located on campus that are ranked highly and have been able to make important discoveries in fields such as dental health disparities, biomaterials and bioengineering, and craniofacial biology.

3. Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at University of Southern California

Overall Acceptance Rate: 6.1%

Average GPA: 3.78

Average DAT Score: 20.7

Total Cost of Attendance: $162,092

The Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry at USC is another of the three dental schools in California that are part of the UC system, and it has many similarities to its sister schools at UCLA and UCSF but has a few unique features as well. The school welcomes students from various backgrounds and even sponsors student visas for international undergraduate students who wish to enter the four-year domestic DDS program. It also has options for foreign-trained dentists to receive their accreditation, but what’s unique about the Ostrow School of Dentistry is its pivot to providing online dental school programs.

It does not currently offer an online DDS program, to be clear. But it does offer several, online Master-level degrees for students who want to obtain a graduate degree before dental school, or who simply want to have the credential to advance their career in other, non-dentist, dentistry professions, such as a dental hygienist or dental assistant.

For the traditional, four-year DDS program the school requires a list of seven prerequisites, which, like the prerequisites for the other dental schools in California, reflect a more all-around education. You are required to complete at least one year in a philosophy, humanities or arts program, as well as a single year in English composition. The other prerequisites are all science-based and require lab work, with no online components, although the school will accept pass/fail grades for courses taken during the pandemic.

Ostrow is also one of the dental schools in California that requires a full bachelor’s degree and does not allow you to simply complete the prerequisites to get in. You also have to supply your DAT scores, transcripts and at least three letters of recommendation, one of which must be from a dentist. The school recommends, but does not require, at least 100 hours of shadowing experience, so you should know how to shadow a dentist to be able to meet the requirement and to get the most out of the experience.

4. Loma Linda University School of Dentistry

Overall Acceptance Rate: 6.9%

Average GPA: 3.47

Average DAT Score: 21.01

Total Cost of Attendance: $93,701

The Loma Linda University School of Dentistry is one of the newer dental schools in California, as Loma Linda is one of the newer universities in the state. Loma Linda has a Seventh-Day Adventist background so while the courses, degrees and programs are all secular, the school does emphasize its commitment to Christian values, so if that does not appeal to you, you should think about any of the other dental schools in California that are completely secular.

With that said, the school is one of the easiest dental schools to get into, as it has minimum GPA and DAT requirements that are well-below the averages for other schools. You can apply with a 2.7 GPA, or a 19 DAT score to be considered, but if you want to be a serious candidate, you should aim for somewhere at or above a 3.5 for your GPA and a 20 DAT score.

The school also hosts a bridge program for undergraduates, from its own undergraduate school or others in California, so you can apply for early admission in your senior or final year of undergrad and transfer to the four-year DDS program straightaway. However, you can also apply to the school’s bachelor of dental hygiene program that also acts as a pathway to enter the four-year DDS program.

The school has a shorter list of prerequisites than the other dental schools in California, and requires you complete mostly a set of science-based prerequisites (chemistry, physics, and biology), while also requiring a single year of English composition. You can also apply without a bachelor’s degree, as long as you have 93 completed credits and have successfully completed all the prerequisites with a C or higher. Loma Linda also does its share to reach out to the community and get minorities and other underrepresented groups into dentistry. The school hosts several summer camps aimed at minorities, young people, and others to think about a career in dentistry.

5. Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry at University of the Pacific

Overall Acceptance Rate: 6.9%

Average GPA: 3.5

Average DAT Score: 22

Total Cost of Attendance: $146,654

The Dugoni School of Dentistry is located in San Francisco and is home to a much-vaunted, accelerated, three-year DDS program, which is the first of its kind in the United States. The school has as long a history as many of the other dental schools in California, but it has made several important innovations to dental education that emphasize a human-centered curriculum, so you have more interaction with patients, but also learn in smaller classes and have more interaction with faculty.

But, if you’re concerned about how long does it take to become a dentist, the school also offers variations on its three-year degree, and gives undergraduate students the chance to apply at various stages during their undergrad to enter the DDS program earlier. You can choose to:

  • Complete only two years of your bachelor’s and then enter the three-year program (2+3)
  • Complete three years of your undergraduate and then enter the three-year program (3+3)

Neither of these pathways are easy to get into. You have to have a minimum GPA of 3.70 to enter the fastest program (2+3), and you have to have at least a 3.05 GPA for the other two programs, including the longest 4+3 program where you complete your full bachelor’s degree and then enter the three-year accelerated program.

While you do not need a bachelor’s degree to apply to the DDS program, you must have completed at least five prerequisites and have a minimum of 40 shadowing hours to be eligible, among many other admissions requirements. Aside from those entry programs, Dugoni also allows internationally-trained dental graduates to apply to the two-year accreditation program, which features the same curriculum course options and faculty experience as the three-year, domestic program.

The school also offers a bachelor of dental hygiene program so you can then enter the DDS program provided you meet all the application criteria. If you’re a working dental professional or dentist, you can also take advantage of the school’s six different residency programs that range from the traditional (Advanced General Education in Dentistry) to the more innovative Dental Sleep Medicine Fellowship.

6. California Northstate College of Dental Medicine

Overall Acceptance Rate: n/a

Average GPA: 3.4

Average DAT Score: 20

Total Cost of Attendance: $142,646

The California Northstate College of Dental Medicine (CNUCDM) is the newest dental school in California and it has only recently graduated its first class. The school is still also currently developing its curriculum so that it properly covers four key areas of its stated mission:

  • Human Systems
  • Odontology
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Studies
  • Behavioral and Social Sciences

The school does not have any preference for California students so you can apply if you’re out-of-state or from Canada, and, as it is a Canadian-friendly US dental school, you can apply with your Canadian degree although it will not accept the Canadian DAT. You must apply with a bachelor’s degree and complete a series of prerequisites spanning six science courses (physics, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, biology and human anatomy). You must also have completed an English composition requirement.

CNUCDM hosts two different DMD programs:

  • A standard, four-year DMD program
  • A 3+4 BS/DMD program in collaboration with the California Northstate College of Health Science

The combined BS/DMD program is offered only to students at the CNC College of Health Sciences enrolled in the three-year pre-dental program and helps you prepare for dental school. You can also apply for a bachelor of dental hygiene and then apply for the DMD program afterwards.

7. Western University, College of Dental Medicine

Overall Acceptance Rate: 2.3%

In-State Acceptance Rate: 1.4%

Average GPA: 3.35

Average DAT Score: 20

Total Cost of Attendance: $136,089

The Western University College of Dental Medicine is another example of a dental school in California doing its best to serve the communities and underserved populations around it. Over 40% of all graduates from the DMD program end up practicing in these same areas, so if you are interested in practicing in these underserviced areas then you’ll be well-received at WUCDM. The school has a very competitive program, even though it only requires completion of five prerequisites with a C grade or higher and does not even require a full bachelor’s degree to apply.

You must have at least 40 hours of either shadowing or work experience in an oral healthcare environment, such as being a dental hygienist, assistant, or technician but the school recommends more to be a competitive candidate – at least 100. The school has a small list of degree programs, and only currently offers either a four-year DDS, a two-year program for foreign-trained dentists, and a single Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency in collaboration with the NYU Langone Health hospital. But it also offers several online certificate programs for practicing dental professionals to improve or learn new skills, as well as earn a certificate in different procedures.

How to Get into Dental Schools in California

1. Get More than the Minimum Shadowing or Work Hours

Shadowing hours are required now more often than in previous years, and dental schools in California are among the schools that require them. All the dental schools in California have varying policies on the number and type of experience you need, so check with them first about what it is you need exactly. But you should also be proactive about getting those hours in before you apply. You should ideally get them in your last two years of undergrad, but if you are thinking about getting into an accelerated program, it’s probably best to do them in high school or your junior year. The quality of your experience matters as well, so you should be an active participant during shadowing, while also respecting professional boundaries. You should make notes, volunteer to help in non-medical or non-dental roles, be courteous, polite and send your dentist a thank-you note afterward.

2. Get Good Stats (GPA and DAT)

Your stats may not matter as much for the dental schools in California as they would in other states, such as Texas, where your stats are much more important, but they are still essential. Only one dental school in California has minimums to apply (Loma Linda), but even its minimum is not that high. However, all dental schools in California require you complete their prerequisites courses with either a C- or a C, so that goes to show how important your GPA is to the admissions process. Your DAT score is equally important and you should create a DAT study schedule to give yourself enough time to study for the test properly, which can range from between two to four months.

3. Get Good Letters of Recommendation

Dental schools in California look at your academics and test scores, no doubt, but as much as your scores matter, so does the quality of the letters you submit with your AADSAS application. Each school listed here has their own policies and requirements, but they either require two or three letters, or a single pre-dental advisory committee, if you are able to get one. But remember that you should choose people with whom you’ve had a working relationship either in academia or the workforce. Faculty and supervisors are usually the best people to ask, but if you feel there is someone who has known you a long time, and is a professional (lawyer, doctor, dentist is usually preferred) then you can ask them as well, but avoid asking close friends and family. 

4. Write Great Letters and Essays

Remember that a majority of these schools have no dental school supplemental application, so, you don’t have the chance to explain your case further through secondary essays. Your initial application matters the most so you have to make sure that your dental school personal statement, and letters of recommendation are top-notch. You should give yourself plenty of time to write several drafts that you can then distribute to trusted colleagues, dentists or faculty to see whether they pass muster. Dental schools in California do not have strict residency requirements, so you don’t have to spend too much time explaining “why this dental school?” (although, if something stands out to you, mention it). You should concentrate either on explaining more about why do you want to be a dentist, and what your long-term career goals are, which should, in California and elsewhere, include serving the underprivileged and underserved.

5. Practice Your Interview Skills

While most of the dental schools in California do not use supplemental applications, this means you’ll have less time to prepare for your all-important dental school interview. You should emphasize reading and reviewing common dental school interview questions such as “tell me about yourself” if you apply to dental schools in California, since your performance will be a deciding factor. These schools do not use MMI, so, you’ll be better off doing mock interviews and formulating short, concise answers to commonly asked questions for your prep. Mock interviews will also help you become more relaxed in the format, so you’ll be even more comfortable on the day of.


Dental schools in California offer a lot of variety regarding degree programs, outreach opportunities, patient experience and service-commitments, which are reflective of the state’s inherent diversity. Fortunately, many of the schools do not have hard residency requirements (although you may have to pay out-of-state tuition), so if it’s always been your dream to study in California, these schools make it easier to achieve that dream.


1. How many dental schools are in California?

There are seven dental schools in California. 

2. How can I get into dental schools in California?

You typically need a GPA anywhere from 3.0 to 3.5, and DAT scores at or above 20 to get into dental schools in California, but you could have lesser scores as long as your other applications materials (personal letters; letters of recommendation; interview performance) are exceptional. You also need to complete at least 30 to 40 (minimum) shadowing hours or professional experience in dentistry.  

3. Do I need to be from California to go to dental schools in California?

No, you can apply as an out-of-state applicant, and many of these schools regularly receive more out-of-state applicants than in-state applicants. You need to check each school’s residency requirements, as they may give you opportunities to pay in-state tuition if you qualify. 

4. Is it hard to get into dental schools in California?

It depends on the school. The three state schools, which are well-known throughout the country, have average dental school acceptance rates and they do not have any other obstacles such as residency or minimum GPAs. But Western University has a very low acceptance rate, and receives the same number of applications, so every program has its own standards and review methods. A lot depends on your interview performance and what you answer to dental school manual dexterity questions, which are hard to quantify. But as long as your application is strong in all areas, you should do well. 

5. What’s different about dental schools in California?

Dental schools in California are mostly different for the various roles they play in the state, aside from education and training. The three state schools also act as major providers of basic, and advanced dental health. Thousands of people rely on them to get their dental health and hygiene needs met, which is why your list of dental school extracurriculars should be full of service commitments where you volunteered your time, knowledge and experience. 

6. How do I apply to dental schools in California?

You have to apply through the national online application service, the AADSAS, where you upload your transcripts, DAT scores, and other application materials.

7. How much do dental schools in California cost?

Dental schools in California are very expensive, and include many different fees, cost-of-living and equipment expenses than other schools. There is also little difference between the in-state and out-of-state tuition, as it is erased by other costs such as living and equipment expenses. If you want to go to a dental school in California, expect to pay anywhere between $110,000 to $150,000 per year. 

8. Should I go to a dental school in California?

California has the most dental schools of any state, some of them dating back to the 19th century, so the state offers a lot of variety, but of course there are other reasons to study in California. But if you can stomach the enormous costs of many of these programs, and you have a commitment to serve underserved populations, then going to a dental school in California may be for you. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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