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Do Dental Schools Care Where You Went for Undergrad?

February 8, 2022
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Part 1: IntroductionPart 2: Dental School PrerequisitesPart 3: Factors Dental Schools ConsiderPart 4: The Importance of Your Undergrad Degree for Dental SchoolPart 5: Getting into Dental School: Improving Your ChancesPart 6: Dental School Admission Requirements FAQ

Introduction

Have you ever wanted to become a dentist? Do you have an interest in oral hygiene? Are you passionate about solving dental problems and improving people’s oral health? If you answered yes to these questions, you might be interested in getting into a dental school.

Dental schools offer Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), two equivalent degrees. Once you obtain either, you’ll be qualified to become a dentist and start your career in dentistry! 

There are a total of 68 accredited dental schools in the USA. Each school offers high-quality education in dentistry fields and will turn your skills, abilities, and knowledge in dentistry into a promising and rewarding career, much like a dentist polishing and strengthening teeth, except that dentist could be you!

You may have heard that dental schools are competitive, so this article will analyze all the prerequisites and factors of a dental school application and what it takes for you to get in. Additionally, this article will also answer a common question asked by those seeking to enter dental schools: do dental schools care where you went for graduation?

Many students wonder if they’ve satisfied the requirements for admission to dental schools and what they can do to increase their chances of getting an offer to a program that will provide the education they need. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have the answers to all your questions and concerns.

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Dental School Prerequisites

Dental school prerequisites are conditions that applicants must meet to qualify for admission. The specific prerequisites differ from school to school, so it is your job to do sufficient research. 

In general, here is a list of what you need for applying to dental school: 

Applicants who are non-native speakers of English may be required to take additional language tests, such as TOEFL and IELTS. The score required to pass is different depending on the specific school.

Prerequisite Courses

Before applying for dental programs, schools require applicants to complete enough courses in certain subjects during their undergraduate years. As mentioned before, each school has different prerequisite courses, so it’s up to you to do your own research on what you need.

Typically, the prerequisite courses for dental schools will at least include biology, chemistry (general and/or organic), and physics courses. Note that these science-based courses need to have labs to be eligible. In addition to science courses, many dental schools include mathematics (or statistics) and English courses in their prerequisites.

However, according to the ADEA’s official website, some dental schools require undergraduate coursework in more advanced science-related subjects, such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, etc. Once again, research is important as it helps you know what you need to prepare.

The specific amount of courses you need to take for each subject also differs depending on the school. The unit used to measure varies as well. Some schools use credits, while others use time units, such as semesters, quarters, or credit hours. 

To use an example, the following is the list of prerequisite courses for the DMD program of the University of Pennsylvania, School of Dental Medicine:

You also need to complete three semesters or five-quarters of Chemistry with the corresponding lab in either combination of: 

Bottom line: it is very important to double-check your undergraduate transcript to ensure the courses you took align with your prospective school’s specific prerequisite courses. 

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

Taking the Dental Admission Test is a requirement for all dental school applicants in the USA and Canada. Much like your academic transcript, it plays a very important role in deciding whether or not you get accepted into dental school. Owned and administered by the American Dental Association (ADA), DAT scores are accepted by 66 dental schools in the USA and 10 in Canada. 

The test serves the purpose of assessing an applicant’s potential for success in dental education. It is offered year-round by Prometric test centers in the United States, its territories (including Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), and Canada.

The DAT test is computer-based and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions in English. The test content is composed of the following four sections:

The Survey of Natural Sciences covers the following three main subjects, each with specific subsections.

Biology 

There are 40 Biology questions covering the following topics:

General Chemistry

There are 30 General Chemistry questions on the following topics:

Organic Chemistry

There are 30 Organic Chemistry questions exploring the following topics:

The Perceptual Ability section covers the following topics:

The reading comprehension section is composed of three passages on various scientific topics and tests your ability to read, comprehend, and analyze scientific information. The scientific topics are somewhat rudimentary; a prior understanding of the topics is not needed to answer questions in this section.

The quantitative reasoning section contains mathematical problems and covers the following:

The test itself takes a total of 4.5 hours to complete. However, there may also be scheduled breaks and optional sections in an actual DAT exam, such as a tutorial before the test and a survey after the test. Of course, none of these sections are part of the test itself.

DAT results are reported as scaled scores, meaning the number of correct responses will be converted to the final score. This also means that there will be no penalty for guessing. Test scores range from 1-30. In 2021, the American national average was 19. 

The ADA recommends prospective dental students to take the DAT amidst the second semester of their third year of undergraduate studies or during the summer between the third and fourth undergraduate years. 

ADA also offers guides and practice tests, and although practices cost money, the valuable preparation they offer is worth the price. 

Note, if you’re planning to get into an American dental school, it’s best to take an American DAT. Some medical schools might accept Canadian DAT test scores, but overall, American DAT test scores are preferred even if not required.

Undergraduate GPA

As mentioned before, dental schools will look at your transcript when reviewing your application. However, the courses you’ve taken are not the only thing they pay attention to. Some dental schools also require your undergraduate GPA above a certain minimum amount to qualify for admission consideration. 

Minimum requirements for your GPA are notably less common than the previous two, but it’s still important to keep your GPA high. After all, even if it’s not part of the requirements, there’s nothing wrong with a number that reflects your good academic performance.

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Factors Dental Schools Consider 

Your Academic Performance

Much like applying to other schools, dental schools care how well you perform academically, especially in the fields and subjects related to dentistry (such as biology and chemistry). Therefore, getting high marks in the prerequisite courses, a high undergraduate GPA, and a high DAT score will benefit your chances. 

In terms of the courses you take, don’t just focus on what is being asked for. Do as well as you can for the prerequisite courses. You should also take additional dentistry-related courses, such as biochemistry, human biology, and anatomy, to improve your chances. This isn’t just to polish your transcript but also to build your skills and knowledge in dentistry.

Many dental schools recommend applicants to take advanced courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, and other science-branch subjects. Doing well in courses will also increase your GPA, offering you another advantage.

For the DAT test, make sure you prepare early. The ADA offers many guides, tips, practices, and other resources to l help you. As you’ll need to take the test at the end of your third year in college by the latest, you should leave out some time for DAT preparation during your early undergraduate years. 

But academics are far from the whole picture. Many non-academic factors will affect your chances of getting into dental schools.

Personal Statement 

Many dental schools require applicants to write a personal statement, an essay usually no longer than 4,500 words that tell dental schools who you are and why you want to go to dental school. Personal statements are very important; they allow dental schools to get to know you better as a person and know your motivations for getting into their schools. Thus, a good personal statement makes a great opportunity to impress dental schools.

The ADEA, or the American Dental Education Association, recommends the following when writing a personal statement:

Be Yourself

A very common mistake is caring too much about what the admission committee wants to hear, to the point of conforming to a perceived idea of “an ideal candidate” in hopes of increasing chances of getting accepted. This is an awful way to write your personal statement. 

Don’t think about what they “want to hear,” nor what is “ideal” for a candidate. Think about what you want to tell them to convey that you’d be a good fit in dental school. Don’t put on a facade in hopes of impressing the admission committee. Don’t use any jargon, big words/phrases, or any language you wouldn’t use in a normal conversion setting. The only thing that they want to hear is your true voice. 

Really show the admission committee that you’re interested in the programs the school offers and that you’re motivated to join. Use positive, imaginative, and personal language, and don’t emphasize the negative.

Don’t repeat anything that your other documents (such as transcript or resume) already say. Do explain an important or defining moment that helped steer you toward an interest in dentistry.

Give Yourself Enough Time

Similar to the DAT test, try starting on your personal statement early. Your personal statement isn’t done when you’ve finished writing, but when you’ve finished revising it. 

When you’re done, make sure you read through it a few times. Do you like the sound of your personal statement yourself? Get a friend, instructor, or advisor to go over your personal statement and let them provide any feedback.

Interviews

Oh, dear. The dreaded interview. Fortunately, if you’ve just begun your application, you don’t have to worry about it just yet. Keyword: yet.

According to ADEA, many dental schools will offer interviews if you’ve made it past the initial round(s) of the application reviewing process. 

Many dental schools will have a mission statement. This is very helpful for interview preparation, as it can give you ideas on what kind of students the school is looking for and what qualities its ideal candidates possess. You can incorporate the mission statement into your responses to the interviewer’s questions to leave a better impression, giving you an advantage in the competition.

Furthermore, this will show the interviewers that you took the time to understand the school, which will give you more advantage over those that didn’t do the research.

Mock interviews are also an excellent resource. Make sure to attend as many as you can, so you can get both the practice, feedback, and the confidence boosts that you might need. 

And of course, when it’s your turn to ask questions in interviews, never ask something that can be answered by searching it online. Otherwise, you’ll not only end up wasting both your and the interviewer’s time, but you could also leave a bad impression. 

Letters of Evaluation

Most dental schools will also require letters of evaluation, similar to recommendation letters, as letters of evaluation are written by a third party to comment and appraise the applicant. 

To prepare good letters of evaluation, doing well in your courses and activities is, of course, important, but also remember to connect with your advisors, instructors, and professors. That way, you will give them a better impression, and they will do a better job at helping you. 

The Importance of Your Undergraduate Degree for Dental School

Most dental schools require their applicants to finish four years of undergraduate education. These four years will be a critical time for you to develop and achieve everything you’ll need for dental school application, so use this time wisely.

As mentioned before, make sure that you’ve taken and completed all the prerequisite courses of the dental school that you want to apply to. But simply completing them is the bare minimum. You must do as you can for the prerequisite courses to demonstrate you have a good enough foundation of knowledge and abilities. 

Of course, prerequisite courses are not the only courses you should pay attention to. As you’ve read before, many dental schools list recommended courses, which are usually more advanced than the prerequisite courses. For example, Louisiana State University’s New Orleans School of Dentistry recommends the following courses for admissions for their DDS degree: 

Once again, researching is your best friend. Make sure to do enough research to know what courses your goal dental school recommends to its applicants. If your undergraduate institution offers these courses, doing well in those will also increase your chances of being accepted. 

If they don’t have the courses recommended, then in replacement, you can take any available advanced courses that you think will increase your knowledge and academic abilities in dentistry. Usually, these can be courses in biology or chemistry, but you can also take courses related to mathematics (such as statistics and calculus) and English (such as composition and reading). If admissions officers see that you’ve put in the effort to learn and grow, that’ll also be a positive impact.

Additionally, as previously mentioned, it’s always a good idea and worth the effort to try and make your GPA (both your overall GPA and the collective GPA for your science-branch courses) as high as you can. 

However, remember not to get too caught up in your courses, either. Because you will have much more to prepare than simply your undergraduate courses, you must also make time for other parts of the application, such as the DAT test, your personal statement, etc. Good time management skills are also crucial for applying to dental schools (and any school, to be honest). 

So, back to the titular question: do dental schools care about where you got your undergraduate degree? Well, a little bit.

Dental schools care much more about what you studied for your undergraduate studies and how well you did, instead of where you went. Although, some dental schools will require you to complete your undergraduate education in an accredited college or university in the USA, such as the School of Dental Medicine of Boston University. Other than that, however, where you go for undergraduate studies doesn’t matter much. 

Of course, if you go to an institution that’s considered more prestigious or respected, especially in science education, then your chances of getting accepted may increase. But do remember: fundamentally, your academic performance, your application documents, and you as a person matter the most. 

Getting into Dental School: Improving Your Chances

One very important yet often overlooked aspect of you is your interest in the field of dentistry. Naty Lopez, the assistant dean of admissions and diversity for the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, says this: "Ultimately, [dental] schools are interested in applicants who show an interest in the field of dentistry, which includes a strong interest in science, competitive academic scores, passion for volunteering and service, and desire to help those in need.” 

Having a passion for dentistry will certainly help you in many ways. It can fuel you to strive for good performance and reach your achievements. And, as mentioned above, your interest and commitment will be valued by the admission officers, giving you an advantage.

Participating in extracurricular activities and/or events related to dentistry (such as a pre-first-year experience or orientation) may increase your chances. This is not just because they help show your interest in dental studies, but also because they provide opportunities out of the classroom to develop your skills, knowledge, and abilities that will help your performance and your chances.  

Additionally, try connecting with current dental school students or alumni if you have the opportunity to do so. They can offer valuable information and insights that will relieve you of a lot of stress, doubts, and uncertainties. 

Dental School Admission Requirements FAQ 

And those are pretty much all you need to concern yourself when it comes to getting into dental school. If you still have questions, perhaps the following will provide the answers you need.

1. Is a Bachelor’s Degree Needed for Applying to Dental School? 

Although dental schools require four years of undergraduate education for four years and a number of credits in prerequisite subjects, a bachelor’s degree usually isn’t a must for applying. Nevertheless, most dental schools strongly recommend acquiring one (preferably in biology, chemistry, or any science branch related to dentistry) before starting your application. Many applicants have bachelor’s degrees, with some even having a master's degree when applying to their first dental school. 

2. For My Undergraduate Studies, What Should I Major In? 

Unless stated otherwise. dental schools mostly don’t have any requirements about your major. Many people believe that they must major in or get a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or any other relevant science branch. Still, in reality, it’s not needed for you to major in any particular field. Although a major in something like biology can potentially increase your chances of getting accepted, you should focus more on whether you’ve taken enough prerequisite courses that are required by the dental school you’re applying for.

Remember: dental schools want you to get a firm academic foundation in dentistry-related fields, especially biology and chemistry. Therefore, you are free to major in whatever your heart pleases as long as you have earned enough credits for the prerequisite courses.

3. Do AP/Ib Courses or Programs Count as Credit for Prerequisite Courses?

This one depends on the specific dental school. Some schools, such as the School of Dentistry of the University of San Francisco, recognize AP or IB credits, while others, such as Boston University’s Dental School, do not see AP/IB credit as valid for satisfying any prerequisites.

4. Where Can I Find More Information About the Dat Test?

The ADA’s official website contains everything you’ll need for the DAT test, such as test dates, application deadlines, rules, requirements for testing, guides for current year tests, and much more.

5. What Are Some Extracurricular Activities That You Recommend?

You can consider any volunteer work in the dentistry field that you’ve completed as valuable extracurricular activities that will improve your application. This includes volunteering to work in hospitals, clinics, and similar environments. The AEDA, for example, recommends community service. Activities that demonstrate skills in dentistry, such as spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination, will also be great additions to your application.

Conclusion

It seems that applying for dental schools is a lot of work, but your efforts will be rewarded. Many careers in dentistry offer great financial compensation. For example, according to US News, the Bureau of Labor Statistics records that the median salary for a U.S. dentist in 2018 was $156,240. Additionally, if dentistry is your passion, a dental school is the best way to turn your dream into a fulfilling reality. 

Getting into dental school is a very long commitment, which not everyone can do. However, if you prepare ahead of time, you’re already putting yourself in a good position. Manage your time wisely, and make sure you balance both your academic performance (especially in the prerequisite courses) and your non-academic documents. 

Take any opportunity to hone your skills, knowledge, and abilities, but don’t get too caught up in studying in your room, as making connections is also important and helpful. And of course, have faith in yourself, as that will help you put your best foot forward. 

Best wishes!

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