1-2-3 Dental Schools
| The beginning of your adventure
Ah, the cool days of college, parties,
pizza and classes.
What is this DAT you keep talking about?
I get itís a test, but what is it?
Itís over!! Time to Relax (for a bit at
The Complete Package: All the stuff that
you wanted to know, and then some!
The beginning of your adventure
So youíve decided to consider a career in dentistry. Itís a noble and
intensely rewarding profession that involves more than just filling and
cleaning teeth. By now youíve figured out you have an interest, and want
to explore the profession in depth. Perhaps youíre wondering where it
may lead, and how it will take you to that point where you can say ďyouíre
thereĒ. For all of those who are still in high-school you have started
the journey into dentistry early, and beginning early can be one of the
order to truly get an idea of what the practice of dental medicine (dental
medicine is what dentistry is evolving into, no longer is dentistry being
considered separate from medicine, its now considered a subspecialty)
is all about the best piece of advice any dental student, professor, or
advisor can give you is to start shadowing a dentist. Nothing can replace
first hand experience. If you donít have or know a dentist personally,
donít hesitate to find one in your area and call them. Honestly, several
of the students who apply to dental school didnít know who or how to approach
a dentist, but when asked about it many give the same response: ďI just
called and asked if they would let me come in to observe.Ē Many of the
dentists who are in practice are extremely approachable and helpful. Introduce
yourself and tell them youíre considering a career in dentistry and just
While youíre still in high school getting some exposure to dentistry,
you should continue to pursue a curriculum that will give you a solid
foundation in science. This will only help you when you get to college
and reinforce the material. Remember, the more you see the information,
the easier it is. If youíre doing well in school, shadowing, and know
without a doubt that this is the profession you desire to commit your
life to, then there are a couple of options for you. The most traditional
approach to getting into dental school (the one both of us took) is to
graduate from high school, attend college, obtain a bachelors degree and
then go to dental school. The other approach is to apply straight from
high school to universities that have accelerated programs. Just like
several medical schools in the U.S have 6 and 7-year medical programs
that combine undergraduate degree and medical degrees, there are some
universities that offer this approach to dental school.
Although many of you probably arenít sure what you want to do for the
rest of your life, even if you do find dentistry fascinating, attending
college for 4 years can put a lot of things into perspective, give you
a chance to learn about other disciplines and see if dentistry is truly
right for you. For those of you who still canít see anything other than
working in the oral cavity, applying to the accelerated programs is for
Ah, the cool days of college, parties, pizza and classes.
While youíre attending college, the best thing you can do is to continue
learning about dentistry. Many schools have a dental clinic, dental ER,
or a private practice clinic near the school. Take the first step and
volunteer. The more time you spend, the more you will learn. Another key
point is that although you may have a solid interest, deep fascination,
striking desire to pursue dentistry, you must find other things to do
outside the realm of dental medicine. Find other interests, hobbies, and
activities that will make your college experience all that much better.
For instance, while in college neither of us were confined to the dental
building at our universities. We were involved in a plethora of organizations
and activities from tutoring high-risk minority students to student government.
In addition to having other hobbies we didnít limit our volunteering to
just dentistry. There many hours spent volunteering in the ER, Pediatric
Intensive Care Unit, soup kitchens, among other non-health related programs.
Often people will forget one of the most important things when they think
of dentistry; that it is a subspecialty of medicine. The more you learn
about medicine, the more informed you will be and the more certain you
will be about pursuing dentistry as your profession.
As mentioned before limitations of any sort wonít help you! College is
all about learning as much as you can. Another pitfall for many students
is picking a major. Sure everyone will tell you that the majority of kids
going to dental school (any health profession school for that matter)
majored in biology. But that doesnít mean that itís vital, critical or
remotely essential to have a ďbioĒ major. Several of our classmates were
classics majors, business majors, even theater majors. No dental school
will reject you because you majored in something that interested you.
Variety is good, and if you study something you have a genuine interest
in, you are bound to excel. However, there are courses that are required
in order to be admitted to dental school and to give you the foundation
for the DAT. It is mandatory that the classes be completed. These include:
general chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, biochemistry,
calculus, and English. These are just the general requirements, but each
school has a list of specific requirements and suggested courses. While
it may appear to be a lot of classes (and it is!) it is totally manageable.
The reason many people decide to major in biology or any other science
is because many of the classes that are required for dental school admission
are required for the major, thus killing 2 birds with 1 stone. These classes
are also where the foundation will be laid (if you didnít see these courses
in high school or just conveniently forgot) for the DAT.
many students thinking about taking the DAT, they worry that since they
were weak in a class or two they just wonít be able to do well on the
DAT. This couldnít be further from the truth! Another thing that students
often worry about is trying to keep up with ďMr/Ms. Pre-DentĒ. Although
most of the students who are pre-dental are relatively calm and easy going,
the competition is always increasing. While most students arenít malicious
by nature, they are competitive, and nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.
Preparing for the DAT by yourself will not be detrimental to your performance
so long you keep up with the material and study earnestly. Another issue
that comes up is the debate of which review materials are better. Whether
you buy the Kaplan or Princeton Review material (or any other review material
out on the market), so long you know the information, mechanisms and can
manage to take the test within the allotted time limit, you can do extremely
well preparing on your own. Many students do sign up for expensive review
courses, and do well. But many of us who are in dental school will tell
you that these courses arenít absolutely necessary (although, they may
provide you with a peace of mind!).
What is this DAT you keep talking about? I get itís
a test, but what is it?
The DAT is the Dental Admissions Test. It is a standardized test that
all students who are pursuing admission to dental must take. There is
no way around it. So whatís on the DAT? Well we told you the basics. Remember
that list of general required classes? Well many of the subjects that
were required for dental admission show up on the DAT. However, not all
of the information you studied will be on the DAT. Below is a BRIEF synopsis
of the topics that will found on the DAT and some examples of the type
of questions from each section.
Is anything missing from this list? Yes, the PAT!!! ďThe PATĒ you ask?
Now I bet youíre thinking, ďIím taking the DAT not the PATĒ or even ďah-ha!!
A typo the editors didnít catch!Ē Well folks, the PAT is a section in
the DAT. The PAT stands for Perceptual Ability Test (among other colorful
acronyms!). While some people find this section to be fun and relaxing,
others simply just struggle through it. The PAT is unlike any other section
in that it is designed to test how well you can visualize and perform
spatial problems in your head. Unlike the other sections which you took
classes for, many people donít have a class that can teach you how to
visual or rotate objects in your mind. Either you can do it or you just
have to learn how to do it. Why would the evil test makers put such a
tricky section on the DAT? Since dentists work in very difficult and small
spaces, the use of mirrors is necessary. Thus, you will have to be able
to visualize many things while performing complicated procedures on patients.
Personally, this was my favorite section on the DAT. Compared to other
sections the PAT required me to use other skills and nicely broke up the
academic portion of the test. The key to doing well on the PAT is practice.
Many people also start working with their hands to improve hand-eye coordination
(whether its playing with Legoís, building toy models, or painting). The
PAT tends to be a love it or hate it section. However, the more you practice
the better you will do! Personally I loved it!
The key to doing well on the DAT/PAT is to study, study, and study some
more! How long should you study? Iíve known people, who prepared for 3
months studying a few hours a day, and others who studied for 10 hours
a day for a month. Personally, I prepared on my own studying a few hours
a day for a couple of months. As I said before the more you see the information
the easier it will be. Also the more you study to easier it is to recall
There have been many hours spent at the library, coffee shops, even online
forums where students ask, ďWhatís the best way to prepare for the DATĒ?
No matter how many times someone asks this question, the answer always
stays the same. The more you do, the better you will do. That being said,
we sat down and thought back to when we were taking the DAT, what we would
do and what we would avoid doing. First of all, go through the material.
Look at all the sections and see whatís covered. Next, go through all
the material, even the sections you think you know super well. You wonít
be wasting time reading information you know, because chances are you
know it but refreshing yourself will make it that much stronger when you
take the DAT. Besides it never hurts to reinforce the information.
That being said donít spend all your time reading the parts you know,
going through everything and spend time on the sections you have trouble
with. As rudimentary as this may sound, students like to study sections
they already know fairly well. The reason is that it helps build their
confidence while they are studying, but when they take the test they donít
score as well as they expected because they neglected the subjects that
needed their attention. In addition to studying out of books, take practice
tests. This will help you become familiar with how the questions are phrased,
and show you where you need to focus when you are studying. Another thing
that can help you for the DAT is to also see why you got an answer wrong.
If the explanation doesnít make sense or isnít explained well, you can
always consult other texts and people.
While studying for the organic chemistry section of the DAT, I constantly
found myself needing help. I could see how the mechanisms, but the question
I had was ďWHY??Ē. After consulting my old textbooks, notes, exams, and
still not understanding the problems I went back to my old chemistry teaching
assistant. Had it not been for my TA, many problems would have unanswered
and that section would definitely not been pretty!.
While the study materials only come in books, the actual DAT is given
on a computer and is timed per section. Many people have said reading
on a computer proved to be a problem, but it can easily be over come.
A simple solution: read the daily news online. Whether it is the New York
Times or the gossip column, the more you read the more comfortable reading
on the computer will be. Granted, the more complicated the reading material
the more of an improvement will be seen on the reading section (versus
if you read the online classic of the Three Little Pigs). Another way
to get more comfortable with the format of the test (since it will be
on a computer) is to take practice exams on the computer. There are some
CD-ROMs that mimic the real DAT, fully equipped with timers and the stellar
graphics that make the DAT a visual masterpiece (itís in all black and
Itís over!! Time to Relax (for a bit at least)!
Now to the fun part: Preparing for Admission to Dental School! But before
that can happen, you MUST apply! Unlike applying to college (where you
just sent off an application with a letter of recommendation, an essay
and a check then hoped for the best), applying to dental schools requires
multiple applications and effort. Applying to dental school is yet another
test; a test of patience, will and determination. In order for the dental
school to receive your application you first complete a primary application
through AADSAS which is managed by the ADEA (www.adea.org). Once AADSAS
receives your primary application, it will be forwarded to the schools
you designate you are applying to. Although most schools participate in
AADSAS, not every school does. For example, dental schools in Texas and
Georgia have their own process and the best way to find out is visit the
ADEA website and see which schools participate in the AADSAS and which
ones do not. Depending on the schools you applied to, you may receive
a secondary application, a note to send an application fee, or a letter
saying the school will contact you when and if anything else is required.
Now before we get into all the statistics and analyze the Complete Package
of an applicant, I want to go back and reiterate something I mentioned
before. Think back. Think back before the DAT, before studying for the
DAT, even before the classes. Remember I mentioned shadowing, volunteering
and doing extracurricular activities? The reason why those are so important
isnít just because they gave you knowledge but because they provided you
with an outlet. Preparing for dental school is a long and grueling process
especially with an increasingly competitive applicant pool. You will get
plenty of time to study, but having a balance between work and play is
essential to doing well.
The reason why so many stellar applicants do not receive admission to
some programs is because they didnít do anything except get high grades
and scores. Dental schools like to see mature applicants. Students who
have developed, developed interests and will be able to relate to experiences
with future patients. The practice of dentistry is a marriage of science,
art and comforting people. Developing interests, exposing yourself to
new activities (within reason) will help you in several ways. It will
keep you happy, interesting, exciting, but in addition it will help you
make a connection with the people coming to see you. In the end, dentistry
is the practice of medicine specifically for the oral cavity and structures.
And as in all practices of medicine the doctor can ďcure sometimes, relieve
often, but comfort always.
The Complete Package: All the stuff that you wanted
to know, and then some!
Well if youíre at this stage, or almost here you have made it through
some of the most grueling and difficult classes and are one of the few!
Itís something many people do not realize but a small percentage of students
who originally come into college with the goal of going to professional
school actually end up going.
Many times students have gone to see academic advisors only to come away
more confused, disheartened and discouraged. Even students who have stellar
GPAís have been told that they are not an ideal candidate and that they
should consider a ďback-upĒ. The first advice we can give you is if you
want to go to dental school work hard and you will see results. It really
comes down to perseverance. Even with the numbers of applicants increasing
and average GPA/DAT increasing, students who show they have potential,
the desire and the intelligence will not be turned away.
So how do the numbers work? Well if you have a high GPA of a 3.5 or greater
you are in excellent standing at most dental schools. The higher your
GPA the less stress you have when it comes to the DAT. Of course that
is not to say you can ignore the DAT and expect to receive admission just
because your GPA is high. Think of it this way. Youíre about to step over
the threshold onto shaky ground. A strong GPA is like having a strong
leg to carry your weight. But you have two legs to carry you completely,
so even though one leg is strong, you still need to other leg to help
Now assuming you have a 3.5 GPA what kind of score on the DAT should you
aim for? Naturally the higher the score the better. Ideally, if you have
a 20ís across the board on the DAT you are in excellent standing. Chances
are you will get several interviews and acceptances. Even if your score
is in the 17 range youíre still ok and have a good chance. If however
you get any scores below a 15, you will have to re-take the DAT. With
a high GPA you have more flexibility than many other applicants, but you
still have to perform well.
Now take the average applicant who has a GPA between a 3.0 and a 3.49.
These are still good, respectable GPAís. However, with so many students
in this range that having a great DAT score would only make you that much
more attractive as an applicant.
For the last batch of applicants who have under a 3.0, although you are
at the lower end of the GPA curve that doesnít mean you canít or wonít
be interviewed and accepted by schools. Yes, a lot of schools may have
higher averages than what you have but then again keep in mind and average
is just an average. That means 50% of the students had above that and
50% had below that GPA. What can you do to make your application stronger?
Although it may be too late to do anything about the GPA, if you study
and really prepare for the DAT you can do well and a score in the 20 range
will definitely get your application noticed. Several students have had
difficulty while in college, sometimes a GPA doesnít necessarily paint
For instance if you had a shaky first year and then rebounded getting
high marks the rest of the time you, but still have a low GPA the dental
schools will see the improvement and take that into consideration. It
may as be in your best interest if you can explain what troubles you had
in your personal statement. It is even more important for students who
have under a 3.0 to have strong DAT scores. If you get in the upper teens
(17, 18 or 19) you are still in the running. If you do get below a 17
and have under a 3.0 gaining admission will be exceedingly difficult.
Not that it is impossible, or hasnít happened, there are always special
cases but they are very rare. Applicants who come under the last category
need to take re-take the DAT, potentially look for additional class or
even wait a year and reapply.
With that being said about the GPA and DAT line up, there are still a
few things that many academic advisors miss out on. Since everyone is
different, it is important for the applicant to convey who they are in
their personal statement. Itís important for the people who read your
statement to see you not as just the GPA and DAT score but as a dynamic,
3-dimensional person. Advisors will tell you to volunteer and get good
grades, but many applicants have meager volunteer experience, inconsistent
volunteer experience or none at all. If you can be consistent, have a
multi-faceted application, with more than just volunteering in the dental
arena, but show you have other interests and like to have fun. One thing
students forget frequently is that dentistry is a very personable profession.
Schools, like patients, want to see that there is more to a future health
care provider than just good grades and scores. They want to see a person
who will not only comfort, but assuage pain and fear perhaps through humor
now what? Well, after going through all those classes, tallying up your
GPA, preparing and taking the DAT, you need to get letters of recommendation!
Hopefully you have some professions already in mind who you can approach
and ask for a letter of recommendation. Schools will often specify how
many letters and what kinds of letters they want. A standard applicant
will send 3 or 4 letters of recommendation. Generally, there are 2 letters
of recommendation from science faculty, 1 letter from non-science faculty
and 1 from someone in the community (an employer, volunteer coordinator,
even a dentist whom you shadowed).
When you are approaching someone to write you a letter of recommendation
you should have already formed a relationship with them. It is difficult
to ask someone to write a letter of recommendation when they do not know
you. Although many professors are willing to write letters of recommendation
if you get an ďAĒ in their class and provide them a resume, admission
committees can tell from the letter that there isnít much more to your
relationship than that. It is important to have strong letters of recommendation
that can speak highly of your character, work ethic and determination.
Letters of recommendation that do speak highly generally come from people
who know you well, and if you get to know your professor they will reciprocate.
How can you get to know a professor now though? If youíre in a big lecture
class, go in for extra help or ask the professor after class to explain
a couple of things more clearly. This doesnít mean ask things that you
understand just to get their attention. But if you were going to just
go refer to the text, stop by and ask a few questions. Also, if you are
getting ready for an exam stop by and go through the material. Many times
they are willing to help you study. This will show your desire to do well
and want their guidance. What if youíre done with the class and donít
know the professor? Well, letís say you got an ďAĒ in the course and didnít
really meet the professor.
You can always stop by and set up an appointment to meet with them. Get
to know them a little and tell them what you are doing. After getting
to know them you can ask if they would be comfortable to write a strong
letter of recommendation on your behalf. Remember to give them any and
all information that they ask for, and give them time to write the letter!
Ideally you should give them a month to write it. Even though some professors
will agree to write it in a week, they are busy people and can forget.