The Stuff Pre-dents Are Made of!

The Stuff Pre-dents are Made of!

People often ask me what exactly it takes to become a dentist— here’s the scoop on the basics and answers to some FAQs:

  • “So how long is dental school?”
    • Dental school takes four years to complete. There’s one school in California, University of the Pacific, that does offer a three-year program.
  • How do you get in?”
    • While each of the [now 66] US Dental Schools have varying requirements, there are some fundamental tasks every student needs to complete:
      • Pre-requisite courses: There are core classes a pre-dental student will need under his or her belt. Mandatory courses typically include two semesters each of General and Organic Chemistry, General Biology, Physics, English, Humanities, and often a couple other classes like Biochemistry. The nice thing is that you can major in ANYTHING—from Molecular Biology to Business to Spanish– as long as you hit the basic requirements.
      • The Dental Admissions Test (DAT): This is the exam that sophomore pre-dents spend months dreading. We lock ourselves in our bedrooms, surviving solely on coffee and anxiety. We pour over practice questions and instructional videos. We desperately stalk online forums for tips to survive the $400 test that covers everything we’ve learned over the course of our college education (can you tell I’m having flashbacks??). Anyway, the DAT asks a random array of questions in six sections—Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. Each section is scaled from 1-30 and test-takers also receive Total Science and Academic Average scores. The best thing is that, unlike the MCAT (bless those poor, pre-med hearts!), scores can be seen immediately after taking the test instead of waiting for them by snail mail. There’s no “pass or fail” on the DAT—some schools have minimum cut-off scores for each section and there are average acceptance scores for every school, but other features of the dental school application can make or break a terrific or unexceptional score.
        • Experience in the dental field: By no means does one need to be employed in dentistry before applying to dental school. I just happened to get really lucky and was offered an internship after a couple months of volunteering at River Oak Dental. However, if a school is going to invest in a student, they want to know that he or she sincerely wants to be a dentist. That means spending hopefully at least 100 hours shadowing dentists and becoming familiar with everything the field entails. There is no such thing as spending too much time learning about a job before committing an extensive amount of time and money!
        • Extracurricular Activities: Admissions committees don’t give any golden suggestions for what dental school applicants should do to stand out. They do state that they want to see “well-rounded” applicants who did more than just study. Leadership positions, community service, employment, research—involvements that would set one up to be a strong healthcare professional. My personal favorite past-time has been the opportunity to work with youth in STEAM, and I was fortunate to have access to a lot of other great programs during undergrad!
    • The Application Process
      • AADSAS: This little gem is the online portal where dental students can literally upload every portion of their application and digitally send it to every dental school they want to apply to with the click of a button.
        • What to submit: In addition to sending transcripts and [essentially] a resume, pre-dental students need to submit a personal statement (sell yourself in 4500 characters or less!), letters of recommendation (typically 3 from professors and/or a dentist or supervisor), and answer a few questions.
        • When to apply: Students apply about a year before they should expect to matriculate. For example, my application portal opened June 2016 and I will be starting school August 2017.
        • What it costs: When I applied, sending my application to the first school was $245 and each additional school was $98, so the application process certainly takes some preparation and budgeting. Students from low- or fixed- income families should not fret, because the AADSAS will offer an application to help reduce or waive these expenses! The instructions for the ADEA’s 2018 Fee Assistance Program (FAP) can be found here.
      • Secondaries: After an initial application, most schools will request a secondary application. Often, the application is just an additional fee, and other times it is a few short essay questions. The lowest supplemental I paid was $30 (Go UF!) and the highest was $75, although I have seen some schools request up to $200. For me, this was a rude awakening because I had only budgeted enough for the primary applications and really had to scramble to submit my secondary applications on time! I think this is historically the most forgotten-about part of applying to dental school. The ADEA provides a list or each school’s secondary information here.

        An Interview Day memento from UFCD

      • Interview Season!: Similarly to applying to a job, aspiring dental students must be invited to interview with a school. After submitting an application, it can be anywhere from several weeks to several months to learn whether or not you will be invited to interview. Interview days consist of a tour of the school, usually a complimentary lunch, and sitting in the “hot seat” answering questions about why you deserve to be selected over the hundreds or thousands of other applicants. Overall, I had a really positive experience interviewing at each school because my interviewers were very warm and inviting, but I still left every school with the exhausted, “Ugh, I should have answered that question like this…”. I may or may not have polished off my UF interview with tequila and cuddling my dog.


  • Waiting, waiting, and did I mention waiting?: That’s it—you’ve completed all the requirements to get in! You took your DAT, made it rain application money, and embarrassed yourself in a couple interviews. This all started in June and the earliest a school can inform you if you’ve been accepted is… December 1st. Maybe six months isn’t a long time, but I’m an impatient person, so this process took a lot of growing up on my part. Especially since months were passing and I still hadn’t landed an interview with my dream school, University of Michigan (which I’ll probably talk about in my next post). But alas, the time passes, and you get to find out if you’re going to be a dental student! It’s important to recognize that a fair number of applicants do not get accepted the first time applying—and that’s okay! So many wonderful dentists did not get accepted until their second or third year applying, so keep your head up and determine how you can improve for the next application cycle.
  • Do you need a bachelor’s degree to be accepted?”
    • While a lot of schools state that a bachelor’s degree is not necessary for acceptance, it’s pretty widely suggested. Pre-dental students need to satisfy enough pre-requisite courses that make them basically eligible for a degree anyway, so it’s really encouraged to just get that piece of paper. Plus there might be down-time between undergrad and dental school, so it can also help with getting a job during that gap! Therefore, if you want to become a dentist, you should generally prepare to spend 7 to 8 years in college.
  • “When do they let you start drilling on people?”
    • I’ll of course have more details when I’m an in-action dental student, but this is my understanding of the process: *Most* schools begin students with two years of lectures and classroom learning while practicing on manikins in a simulation lab. At most, we might get to provide oral cancer screenings and practice injections with our classmates. Then, we’ll be required to pass a Clinical Entrance Exam before we have the privilege of working with patients. So, to answer this question to my knowledge, it’s typically the end of the second year to beginning of the third year that a dental student will begin performing restorations on people.
  • Why would you want to stare at people’s teeth all day?”
    • I get this question a lot. And for some reason, people still think dentists are sadists. The truth is, though, that we aren’t your great grandmother’s dentists anymore.
      • Dentists get a be a part of an exciting and dynamic field that’s constantly implementing new technology and scientific findings to better the quality of life for patients. I love to learn, and dentists are required to be life-long learners.
      • It’s going to sincerely fulfill me to contribute to the systemic health of individuals, alleviate pain, and improve basic human functions like eating and talking.
      • Dentists get to work with their hands—which, as someone who enjoys art, is very important to me.
      • They get to be a part of a team, take on leadership roles and have a lot of face-to-face interaction, all which I enjoy.
      • There is so much variety and a comforting amount of job security in dentistry. As a dentist, I will have the choice to continue my education and specialize, perform research, teach, or could even become involved in other fields like forensics. The unemployment rate for dentists remains low and it offers a fair level of work-life balance.
      • Plus, let’s be honest: who doesn’t love watching those funny videos of people after getting their wisdom teeth extracted?

      If you couldn’t already tell, I’m always eager to discuss dentistry and I’m completely open to all input, advice, and questions— so let’s talk teeth!


2017-09-06T13:52:21+00:00 September 29, 2017|