Pre-Dental Admissions Process
Dental schools seek students who they believe will make a good dental student and more importantly, a competent, caring dentist.There is a huge investment made by the dental school and the taxpayers in the training of a dentist (believe it or not, the $27,000-32,000 in-state tuition of public dental schools cover only a small portion of the total costs) and consequently decisions are made very carefully, using information from a variety of sources including: undergraduate GPA, science GPA, DAT scores, letter(s) of evaluation, personal statement, dentistry related experience, research experience, and the interview. These factors are assessed by the admissions committee, usually appointed by the Dean of the Dental School, that typically include faculty, full-time admissions staff and sometimes retired practitioners or dental students.
The Evaluation Process-
Admission committees strive for objectivity in their decision making. Dental schools are looking for students who present evidence of strong intellectual ability, a record of accomplishments, manual dexterity, and personal traits indicative of the ability to communicate and relate to patients in a realistic and compassionate manner. The five most important factors used in making the decision are:
1) undergraduate academic record - Studies indicate that the best single predictor of success in the basic science classes in dental school is the quality of work in subjects leading to the baccalaureate degree. It is evidence of your motivation and ability. The academic record includes the overall GPA, science GPA, performance in some individual courses, and the overall trend. For instance, a sub par freshmen year may be somewhat overlooked if followed by improvements over the next 2 years, whereas a declining record may not be. Dental Schools require a minimum of 2 or 3 years of undergraduate education, however, over 90% of students entering dental school in 2013 had completed 4 or more years of college. Less than 1% completed the minimum 2 years. If a student matriculates in dental school before earning the baccalaureate degree, credit can be earned (at the discretion of the department head at WKU) for first year basic science classes and a B.S. earned in Biology at WKU.
2) DAT score - The Dental Admission Test is also a very important indicator used by admissions committees. National standardized tests, like them or not, are a fact of life in dental school and beyond (e.g.. "the boards"). There is a high correlation between DAT scores and board exam scores. DAT scores have also been shown to be good predictors of academic success in basic science courses.
3) letter of evaluation - At WKU a single committee letter is sent to the dental school admission committee, or may be sent to AADSAS for duplication and transmittal to the schools you apply to. The evaluation is composed by your academic advisor (committee chairperson) with input from two other individuals (e.g.. faculty from which you have taken a class or done research with). The letter is written following a meeting (interview) with each member of the committee. Many students find this helpful, serving as a practice interview for your dental school interviews.
4) personal statement (essay) - Most application forms include a one page essay on a topic of your choosing. This can be a very difficult and introspective part of the process. This is the student's opportunity to really let the admission committee know who you are, to focus on your special strengths that you feel you can offer the profession. After all, you want to somehow distinguish yourself from all the other applicants with good grades and high test scores. What interesting experiences or skills do you possess? What interesting personal anecdotes can you relate that illustrate these experiences, skills, or traits ? Be yourself and write about your best points. Be prepared to discuss these points at your interview.
5) impression made in the interview - interviewers will evaluate the student according to: a.) maturity and sense of responsibility; b.) interpersonal skills; and c.) motivation for seeking admission.
Extracurricular activities are important in that they are indications that you can juggle a rigorous curriculum and still participate in outside activities be they work, volunteer experience, or research experience. The level of your participation is more important than the number and diversity of your activities. It is better to be immersed in one or two activities, and achieve increased levels of responsibility and leadership than to gain a shallow experience in a half a dozen arenas. It is important to realize that time spent outside of your academic pursuits is not a substitution for a modest academic record. It may instead be an indication of poor judgment, poor time management or skewed priorities. If your time spent in extracurricular activities is negatively impacting your coursework, you would be best advised to scale it back a bit.
Health Related Experience-
It is crucial that you gain some experience in an health related activity. Whether you volunteer in a clinic, work in a dentist's office, or shadow a dentist and/or hygienist, this activity will serve three important purposes. First, it will help you clarify your decision to pursue a career in dentistry. You may find out that peering into peoples mouths makes you uncomfortable, that it is too stressful, or that you faint at the sight of blood or would never be able to perform routine procedures. Better to find this out now than after you get to dental school. Second, admissions committees view this as a sign of your dedication and motivation to a career in dentistry. It will show that you have tested your career choice and have reinforced your commitment. Third, it will give you experiences to draw on for your personal statement and interview. NOTE: Some schools require a set amount of documented dental experience, for example UK requires 20 hours where as U of L requires 40 hours.
While performing biological research has its own intrinsic rewards (a deeper understanding of concepts, personal satisfaction, development of problem solving skills, exploration of the unknown, etc.), it also is an important extracurricular activity to admissions committees, particularly those schools where academic dentistry and biomedical research are stressed.