The Non-Traditional Student: Getting back
to the old grinding stone.
Although neither of us can attest to this approach first hand, we have several
friends who came back to school after some years of being out in the real
world. For those of you who haven't had the experience of being out of school
for more than a summer or a semester, once you're out of school and working
life begins to change.
You don't have tests and work ends at 5 (for most people). When you're home,
you're done and can spend time as you wish. But for those of you who are
making the courageous return to education to fulfill your dream of becoming
a dentist it can be very difficult. Since neither of us had taken extended
time off from school we asked several of our friends who had to see what
advice they could offer and how to get back into the swing of things.
Many of you are probably thinking going back to school is going to be so
hard, and moreover since you haven't had to in some time it will be tough.
But nothing worth doing is ever that easy. As we should in the introduction,
it is a sacrifice. Just like a freshman starting college, you too should
start off slowly.
Take only a few classes the first semester until you feel comfortable. Whether
you are pursuing the requirements for dental school or earning another bachelor
degree, starting off slowly will help you easy you're way back into studying
and being a student. However, unlike most freshmen you know exactly what
your goal is, and will be more focused. In addition, once you start studying
the habits will return and you will have no trouble.
Many of our friends who returned from the work force, joined school after
serving in the military or did post-baccalaureate work pursued another degree.
This shows you have a commitment to the field of study. Many schools will
also waive some of the requirements for the new major if you completed them
during your first major.
For instance, one of my friends who applied didn't get accepted into any
schools. She decided that to strengthen her application for the following
year she would work and earn another degree. She had already graduated with
a bachelor's degree in Microbiology and Cell Sciences, but decided to get
another bachelor's in Nutrition. Since she had all the basic English requirements
done for her previous major she could just concentrate of her core classes
for her major and take any additional classes she wanted.
Another friend of ours, decided to return and took only those classes which
would be required for admission to dental school. Since he already new that
was exactly what he wanted to do, he focused on those classes and managed
to finish all the requirements within 3 years and then went straight into
Although in these two cases the students were single, having a family or
a significant other can add another element which needs to be addressed.
If going back to school wasn't already a stressful process, having a family
or being in a relationship can either add to the stress, or it can help
easy it. Many students find having a significant other is remarkably supportive
and they becoming a source of inspiration which they often refer to when
asked what factors contributed to their success in getting into dental school.
Others have said that they felt guilty about being so busy and not being
able to spend as much time with their partners and felt that the relationship
became burdened by their academic pursuits. The most important piece of
advice we received from parties who were married said that before they decided
to go back to school, they talked about everything. This way there were
no surprises and no one felt bitter. Now what if there are children in the
picture? Another stress? Possibly, but if you plan and work together it
can be done without too much complication.
Another issue that several non-traditional students worry about is studying
with younger students and how this will look when you do apply. For those
of you who are making a career change, dental schools like to see non-traditional
students. It is the non-traditional students who tend to be the more mature,
focused, and experienced applicant who greatly add to the diversity of the
From experience, I can tell you that I got to know a few non-traditional
students while I was in school. Getting back to school is a big step, and
you needn't worry about how the younger kids in the class will act seeing
someone older than them. Chances are you will lead study groups, and since
you are serious about studying, those who are also serious won't care that
you're a few years older.
While I was taking biology and chemistry, one of my classmates was in his
late 20's. Often times we would run into each other at review sessions and
eventually after exams we could talk about certain questions. After doing
this a few times a group of us began meeting and studying on a regular basis.
My older classmates turned out to be not only more understanding but also
more interesting. They had more to talk about and could relate more. Besides
they were focused and that often helped me get through some tough times.
Like the students who are thinking about dentistry in high-school and college,
the same rules apply to you. Although you have a few things that work in
your favor, the maturity factor, experience etc, you still need to maintain
great grades, and get good DAT scores. While you may have other worldly
experiences, you will still need to have volunteer experience and extracurricular
Can you go back? Yes.
Can you make a career change that involves a lot of additional schooling?
Will other students look at you funny? Not really, you could
be their senior in position.
Will the admission committee have problems with you as an applicant?
Can you maintain a good relationship? Yes, if you work at it.
Can you be a practitioner of dental medicine? Yes.
Can you have a good family life while pursuing dentistry? Absolutely,
many people get married while in school too, and start families while
still in school.
So long you see that going back will be a long process and are ready to
tackle it, you will succeed. Make sure you have excellent lines of communication
between your significant other and family, keep things in perspective
and work hard. You will be challenged, but then you will also be satisfied.