How to answer, “why this dental school?” can be a puzzle for aspiring dental professionals. It’s an important question – up there with the “why do you want to be a dentist?” and “tell me about yourself” dental school interview questions in terms of its ability to convey your suitability for a career as a health professional. On the surface, it seems like an obvious question any school would want to ask. At its most basic level, admissions committees use this question to weed out applicants who are indifferent to which school they attend or who diverge from their program’s values, curriculum, and culture in important ways. But it can also be a great opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd. With dental school acceptance rates being so competitive, schools can afford to be exclusive, and it’s your job to convince them that you’re worthy of their trust. In this article, we show you how to do just that.
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When to Expect the “Why This Dental School?” Question
You are most likely to encounter this question in your dental school interview for several dental schools in Canada and most in the US. It’s possible that you could come across it in your dental school supplemental application as a short answer or essay question as well, but this is much less likely. If you are using a centralized application service, such as AADSAS or TMDSAS, you will certainly not face it in your primary application, where the dental school personal statement will take precedence and focus on why you want to go to dental school.
Therefore, because you can’t discuss any school specifics in your primary application, which will be sent to all schools, any consideration of “why this dental school” will only occur once you have gotten through to at least the supplemental application stage. This will be your first opportunity to connect with a particular school and convince them of how passionate you are about their specific program.
Want to learn about difficult and common dental school interview questions you must know? Watch this video:
Sample Answer to “Why This Dental School?” Interview Question
I’m ambitious. My fascination with technology and design has influenced my academic pursuits and hobbies since high school, where I took every technology and science course available to me, in addition to joining the Coding Club and volunteering as a mathematics tutor. As someone who had a natural aptitude for academics, these extracurriculars taught me the importance of teamwork and compassion for those who are struggling.
During my undergrad, I leveraged my leadership and engagement to apply to a biomedical engineering firm for a two-year internship in software engineering and was accepted. After being involved in several research projects developing model prostheses in miniature, I became fascinated with the small machines we created using digital printing and soon realized that I was very good at manipulating tiny mechanisms with precision in confined spaces. Simultaneously, a discussion with one of my biology professors led to her suggestion that I consider oral and maxillofacial surgery as a profession. She told me that it was rare to come across a student who seemed to possess the “whole package” needed for this exacting specialty, and the notion of pursuing this expertise has intrigued me ever since.
My goal as a student at Boston’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, one of the top academic and urban research institutions in the world, will be to positively influence the course of our profession. With your educational programs as cornerstones, I hope to first build a solid foundation of scientific inquiry and clinical experience, which will be fully encompassed by the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. I think I am that highly motivated candidate you seek who wants to contribute to research initiatives as a student. But I am also interested in your advanced programs. For example, you offer the Certificate in Digital Dentistry, which is perfectly aligned with my current research interests.
Although I may have a somewhat unconventional background as an aspiring dentist, and my story may differ from that of a candidate whose interest in dentistry was sparked by the human component, I do recognize that the interpersonal dimension is a key aspect of this profession in the form of patient care. You’ll find that I make a compassionate, communicative dentist, I’m sure. But if I’m honest, I have more experience in problem solving and teamwork. In recent years, my only patients have been little robots. My dream would be to specialize in operative dentistry as a surgeon, but I am convinced that my greatest contribution will ultimately be in design.
Few schools on my list check all the boxes in the way that Boston University does. Most importantly, I know that I will be able to jump into research almost immediately, given the outstanding opportunities available. I can work toward my degree while progressing science and learning the hands-on techniques of dental medicine, with the full support of the school. There is also the option of formally combining a clinical training program with a research program once I have established a clear research direction. For all these reasons, Boston’s Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine is my top choice.
Why This Is a Strong Answer
Dental school interview questions take different forms, and the way you respond depends on the type and purpose of the question. Keeping in mind that your main objective with your “why this dental school?” answer is to show how you align with the school, the following strategies (used in the above example) will be effective.
Captivating intro: as with any response to a prompt, whether in the form of a short answer, essay, or interview question, you should start with a hook. In the above example, the candidate immediately grabs your attention with the words, “I’m ambitious.” The brevity of this statement is almost guaranteed to take the interviewers by surprise, as the topic of the question lends itself to what could otherwise be a stiff, wordy response. Students tend to be naturally intimidated by the idea of telling a school’s representatives what is good about their institution. So, by centering themselves from the get-go, the candidate avoids the usual awkwardness. Be careful to avoid empty claims, however; if you make an assertion about a quality or skill you possess, follow up with an example to illustrate how this is true. In the example above, the candidate describes how they took a wide range of advanced classes in high school, joined clubs that were relevant to their academic interests, and landed an internship during their undergrad.
States your goals: the answer lays out the candidate’s long-term objectives and links them to the ways the school can help the student achieve the anticipated outcomes. Although the candidate has an unconventional background, they are able to clearly show how their education, interests, and employment are perfectly aligned with the dental program to which they are applying.
Shows, doesn’t tell: the candidate provides actual examples of their experiences to connect their dental school ambitions with their previous employment and research experience. If it is an open interview, this will remind the interviewers of what they read in the employment section of the student’s centralized or school-specific application. And if it is a closed interview, this will introduce the interviewers to the candidate personally. The story about how the student’s AutoCAD career led them indirectly to dentistry is unique and intellectually intriguing. Crucially, it sets the candidate apart and will be memorable. Moreover, it highlights their manual dexterity – an essential ability for any dentist and a skill you should draw attention to during the application process, as testing for this skill has been suspended due to restrictions initiated by COVID-19.
Demonstrates your competency for dental school: compassion, communication, problem solving, and teamwork are all key qualities of an aspiring dental professional. Moreover, they are among the ADEA’s entry-level competencies:
Demonstrating their knowledge and application of these competencies is another way the candidate in our example signals their readiness for dental school. Note that the student also avoids a potential red flag by being transparent about not having much clinical or patient care experience. Although having dental school extracurriculars is recommended, if it happens that you do not, you should not hide this fact. In the example, the candidate does not have many professional experiences that are related to health care per se, but they manage to highlight skills one might use in dentistry; thus, they ensure that their distinctive background is seen as a feature, not a bug.
Demonstrates what you know about the school: you do not have to flatter the interviewers or tout the merits of the dental program to be effective. In fact, that will have the opposite effect. The school’s prestige should never be the focus of your interview. Instead, tell them exactly why you applied: you will have picked their school out of a list of many for good reasons, so convey those reasons humbly and authentically.
When thinking about how to become a dentist, each student will have an idea of the type of campus, field of dentistry, curriculum, faculty, and many other aspects of their education that they might like; all these aspects of a school can be discussed when answering the “why this dental school” question.
- Why do I want to attend this specific school?
- What do I appreciate about the program and its curriculum?
- What distinguishes this program from that of a different school offering a comparable one?
- Is there a particular degree, program, certificate, department, teaching approach, or research project that makes attending this specific school ideal?
Then, research the program until you know it inside and out.
In the example, the candidate’s answer brings up a specific certificate the student is interested in, which shows that they did their research. Their answer also includes a nod to the school’s website, where it mentions the desired student profile: “highly motivated applicants who want to contribute to research.” If there is a key phrase in the school’s mission or values that really called out to you, be sure to mention it in your answer to “why this dental school.”
Underscores your potential contribution: although the student in the example has not decided on a specific path or specialty yet, they nevertheless show that they have central interests and a clear direction. They describe what they will bring to the school, even before starting their formal training. By emphasizing the win-win dynamic of being able to both learn from and work for the school in a research capacity, they virtually guarantee a mutually beneficial fit.
Finishes strong: much like the "why this college" essay, your interview answer should have a beginning, middle, and end. But you do not have to use a formal-sounding conclusion in an interview answer or necessarily refer back to your opening statement. Remember that an interview answer, unless otherwise specified, should not run over 3 minutes: that’s about 400 words or less. So, you should endeavor to say everything you want to in the body of your answer and continue right to the end. Your last sentence can be an open-ended, brief statement that you deliver with a smile. Although what you say here is less important than the mood you set and the tone, the way you conclude your answer must leave no question in the interviewers’ minds that you did your research, that you know what you want, what the school can give you, and what you can contribute. Your conclusion should also sound every bit as assertive as your opener, convey that you are eager to continue talking, and leave the interviewers plenty of room for their choice of follow-up questions. Your final statement should reiterate the reasons for why you are the perfect candidate and the school is the perfect place for you.
How to Answer the “Why This Dental School?” Question
We have already covered many of the elements you should include in your “why this dental school?” answer by pointing them out in the sample above. But does that really tell you how to answer?
First, remember these tips for preparing your answer:
- Research the school you’re applying to/interviewing with. What qualities and experiences do they value most?
- Based on research, brainstorm stories, aspects of the school, or personal qualities you will highlight in your answer.
- Use stories and examples to showcase relevant qualities and confidence.
- Use bullet points to practice. Don’t memorize a script, or you will come off sounding stiff and robotic.
- Use mock interviews based on the model of mock medical school interviews to practice.
- Pay attention to tone. For example, by starting off their answer with the words, “I’m ambitious,” the candidate expresses their confidence from the first moment. It’s not difficult to picture the scene: this candidate is assertive, knows the reputation of the school they are applying to, and has well-defined objectives. They’re probably grinning – because to deliver this bold first line in an overly serious tone might just sound boastful. As they continue to speak, the candidate weaves in anecdotes that express their personality and highlight their qualities.
In other words, how to answer “why this dental school?” does not mean just listing a series of facts you know about the school or reciting a memorized speech. Although you will want to prepare and rehearse the major parts of your answer by writing down your ideas in bullet-point form, you should seek to remember the content but not the script. For one thing, “why this dental school?” can arrive in disguise: you might instead be asked, for example, “what are the top three aspects of our program that appeal to you?” or “how will you decide which school to attend if you receive more than one offer?”. You can see how you could get easily caught out by these different takes on the question if you prepared a memorized response.
At BeMo Academic Consulting, we privilege strategies over rote learning in our dental school interview prep to help students prepare for and answer any question. We provide mock interviews, MMI prep tips, and simulations to introduce you to the structure of behavioral interviews and situational judgment tests like those used by dental schools. When you feel ready for anything, your confidence is high, and you can consider a brave opening statement like the one presented above.
Indeed, the “why this dental school?” question is one you can prepare for, and you can expect some version of it if you make it through to the interview. Not only do you have to come across as sincere, but your answer must have substance and depth. In a dental school interview, eye contact, body language, posture, tone, and a pleasant demeanor are all aspects of your presentation to assess. With a strong start, you’ll likely capture and hold your audience’s attention throughout your answer and interview.
What to Expect from Your Dental School Interview
Dental school interviews will usually take one of four forms: one-on-one, panel, group, or multiple mini-interview (MMI). Although the “why this dental school?” question might be asked as a personal question in an MMI, it’s much more likely to come up during a one-on-one. You might be asked it during an in-person or virtual interview, such as a video interview or Kira Talent interview, depending on the options provided by the school.
While many schools prefer a “closed file” interview format, most use “open file” interviews. In an open interview, the interviewers have access to and are generally acquainted with the information in your application. A closed interview is one in which the interviewers have no access to material such as your GPA, DAT, personal statement, etc.
Keep in mind that it is your responsibility to provide the entire context for the interviewers in your answer. The more information you provide, the more likely it is that the interview will swing in your favor. Remember that it is your interview, and how it unfurls is largely within your control.
1. Why do they ask, “why this dental school”?
Although this may seem like a simple question, it is more important than you might think, so your answer needs to be carefully considered. Your response will help interviewers get a better sense of you as a person as well as your objectives. They will want to know why you wish to attend their school specifically, based on your goals, interests, and passions, to determine whether will you be a good fit with their program.
2. When do they ask, “why this dental school”?
This question will usually only come up during your interview, but it could also appear as a short answer question or essay in the ADEA AADSAS supplemental application, in similar sections in other centralized applications, or as part of a school’s internal admission requirements. In any case, the content of your answer will not change – only the length of your response.
3. When will I know if I’ve been invited to a dental school interview?
Invitations to interviews are sent out by schools for slots beginning in November and running to March.
4. When will I know if I’ve been accepted after my interview?
This depends entirely on the particular school. Some will let you know within a couple of weeks of your interview, while others will wait until late March after they have interviewed all candidates.
5. Should I focus on a school’s reputation when answering, “why this dental school”?
Not really. Of course, you can mention it if it is part of what attracted you to a school. For example, if they are the only school offering a specific program for which they are renowned, and that is the program you are interested in, it would be essential to discuss it. However, if you’re applying to Columbia University College of Dental Medicine just because you’re looking for the easiest Ivy League school to get into, this will be obvious and turn off the interviewers.
6. What should I focus on in my “why this dental school” answer?
Focus on your goals, interests, and passions that align with the school’s program.
7. What should I avoid in my “why this dental school” answer?
Red flags in a dental school interview include making a poor first impression, not preparing an introduction, using a lot of filler words, like “ums” and uhs," making political comments, blaming others for past performance, partially or dishonestly explaining gaps in your academic or employment information, being arrogant or lacking self-awareness, and finishing the interview unprofessionally (rushing, forgetting the interviewer’s name, or failing to smile and thank them).
8. Do I need a dental school interview advisor?
Engaging a dental school advisor is always a great idea, especially when preparing for interviews. Your interview is what will decide whether you get in to dental school or not, and proper preparation is key. Why not invest in this most crucial moment in your dental school journey?
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