At least 61 U.S. and 10 Canadian dental schools will be accepting applications to the first year of their Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) programs in 2013–14. The D.M.D. and the D.D.S. are equivalent degrees that are awarded to dental students upon completion of the same types of programs.
Qualifying for Dental School
Dental schools consider many factors when deciding which applicants to accept into their programs. Many utilize “holistic admissions” strategies that include looking at the total applicant, not just grades and test scores. Factors considered in the holistic admissions process include: Experiences, Personal Attributes, and Metrics.
We all hear about how important good grades and test scores are, but most successful candidates for admission not only demonstrate academic potential, but also show through their actions and experiences that they are motivated, compassionate and have the potential to be caring, ethical health care providers.
The majority of dental students possess a bachelor’s degree before they enter dental school. Some have graduate degrees. Some dental schools will admit a few students through early admissions programs with two to three years of undergraduate preparation. For most people, plan to earn your bachelor’s degree before starting dental school.
Traditional admissions requirements. Traditionally, dental schools have selected candidates for admission who possessed:
- Two semesters (three quarters) of biology with lab
- Two semesters (three quarters) of general chemistry with lab
- Two semesters (three quarters) of organic chemistry with lab
- Two semesters (three quarters) of physics with lab
Some dental schools require additional courses such as English composition and additional upper-level biology courses such as anatomy & physiology, microbiology, and biochemistry. Some dental schools will substitute one semester of biochemistry for the second semester of organic chemistry. Many schools strongly encourage applicants to take courses in the arts and social sciences.
Selecting a college major. Dental school students come from all types of academic backgrounds. You do not have to major in biology or the sciences to go to dental school, but because of the strong science preparation required by most programs, the majority of dental students have majored in the sciences.
Other Factors to Consider
It takes more than good grades and good test scores to be a successful dental student and future practitioner. Every path to dental school is different. Consider these options to make yourself a more competitive applicant:
- Become involved in predental or prehealth student organizations
- Demonstrate your leadership by organizing a project, working with others, and achieving a goal
- Shadow practicing dentists and volunteer at community health clinics. Ask practicing dentists:
- What do they like about dentistry
- What do they dislike about dentistry
- If they were able to do it all over, would they have selected dentistry as a career
- Become involved in a research project. This project doesn’t have to be dentistry-related. Research is multi-faceted; basic science, clinical, public health, and educational research are a few categories that would involve projects in which you might be able to participate. Find an experience that helps you develop critical thinking skills.
- Become informed about health care issues, legislation impacting dentistry and health care, and access-to-care issues.
- Get acquainted with faculty and advisors. You will be asking these individuals to write letters of recommendation for you in the future. What can they tell admissions committees about your interests, motivations, and potential to be an ethical health care professional?
- Do you work full time while attending school? Think about how this has made you a stronger applicant to dental school. The dental school curriculum is very demanding, and admissions committees favorably consider applicants who have successfully managed multiple priorities.
- Conduct yourself responsibly. Many dental schools conduct criminal background and student disciplinary checks on applicants. Don’t let alcohol, drugs, or silly pranks haunt you for the rest of your life.