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How to become a competitive applicant for dental school

  • by John
  • Feb 09, 2014
  • MCAT Blog, MCAT Long Form

How to become a competitive applicant for dental school

A guest post by Admissions Helpers

Dental school admissions committees take the time to carefully review the many different elements of each dental school application.  In this article, we will review the different components that dental schools consider when evaluating applicants, and discuss how you can become more competitive by exceling in each of these areas.

Part I. Grades and DAT Scores

Getting a High Pre-dental GPA: Getting a high pre-dental GPA is not as challenging as it seems if you plan your courses appropriately. Whether you are an undergraduate or you have returned to school to pursue dentistry, consider planning your coursework early on. This means having a general idea of what courses you are going to take and when you are going to take each course. We suggest you balance difficult courses with less challenging ones and take a combination of science and non-science courses together. Having said that, you also want to demonstrate to dental schools that you can handle multiple challenging courses at the same time so taking too many easy courses at once is also a bad idea.

Doing Well on the DAT: A good DAT score is crucial to a successful dental school application. Most undergraduate students take the DAT during their junior year of college. It is wise to give yourself about 3 months of focused studying before you take the test. If you are taking the DAT during the school year, make sure you keep your courses lighter during the quarter/semester that you are preparing for the DAT. It is also common for students to take the DAT the summer between their junior and senior year of college while they are applying to dental school. If you plan to take this route, makes sure you are prepared for the test, you can perform well on the DAT, and you can submit your application in a timely fashion to ensure success.

 Part II: Clinical Experience for Pre-dental students

 Gaining Clinical Experiences in Dentistry: Having clinical experience in dentistry is absolutely essential for pre-dental students. Dental schools do not want to take their chances on someone who does not know anything about the dental profession and has not thoroughly explored the field. The more thoroughly you explore the dental profession, the stronger your application. We encourage students to choose the experience that affords them the greatest opportunity to observe dental care in action and get an understanding of the dental profession. Volunteer experiences tend to be better in this regard, but some paid experiences can be valuable. If you are a paid dental assistant (DA), registered dental assistant (RDA), x-ray technician and/or dental hygienist, these experiences are considered very impressive on your application. It would greatly help if you have gained experience in dentistry in more than one setting. Shadowing dentists in various specialties can help demonstrate that you have explored dentistry thoroughly, but only shadowing specialists is not always a good idea. You want to demonstrate and interest in general dentistry before you delve into experiences with specialists. Below we review some possible avenues through which you can gain clinical experience in dentistry and discuss the pros and cons of each.

1) Volunteering at a Local Dental School Clinic: Pre-doctoral dental clinics at dental schools are good venues to gain exposure to clinical dentistry. In these settings, you will have an opportunity to meet dental students and faculty who may have insight into the admissions process and could guide you.  It would be more beneficial for you to work in the back office of the clinic, where you are shadowing dentists or dental students, as opposed to working in the front office, where you are only involved in paperwork.

 2) Serving as a Dental Assistant (DA), Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) or obtaining a Dental x-ray License: These experiences are great ways to gain experience in dentistry, assume responsibility in patient-care, and to better understand the process of patient assessment and treatment planning. Keep in mind that obtaining these licensures takes time because it requires taking courses and preparing for examinations. Only commit to it, if it does not interfere with your pre-dental coursework. Doing well in your courses and your DAT are more important than obtaining these licensures.

3) Working at a Free Dental Clinic: Free clinics that cater to the under-served tend to offer pre-dental students more opportunities for involvement than private outpatient clinics in affluent neighborhoods. In addition, sometimes through free clinics, you will have the opportunity to become involved in health fairs or other community-based health initiatives that could further enhance your application, enable you to gain community service experience, and perhaps even take initiative in the community.

4) International Clinical Experience: Dental school admissions committees tend to look favorably upon clinical experience abroad in a developing country setting. This experience is only worthwhile if it is done right. Identify a legitimate, well-established organization, with which to travel abroad. Look for an experience that allows you to be on the front lines and assist in patient-care. It is important to point out that international dental clinical experience by itself is not sufficient.  While working in a developing country setting can be impressive, admissions committees also want to see your commitment to providing dental care in the United States.

 5) Pre-dental courses and seminars: Some dental schools offer courses for pre-dental students that allow you explore the manual and technical aspects of dentistry and learn more about working with your hands as a dentist.  These experiences are quite unique and add to your application while giving you the opportunity to learn more about the dentistry.



Part III: Dental Organization Membership Opportunities:

Becoming a member of student-based and professional dental organizations is a great way to learn more about dentistry and to meet others with common interests.  Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities throughout your undergraduate dental career.  One great example is pre-dental membership with the American Student Dental Association (ASDA).

Part IV: Research Experience as a Pre-Dental Student

Dental schools prefer applicants with research experience.  While most pre-dental students do biomedical research, if done properly, research experience in virtually any field is looked upon favorably because the general approach to conducting research is similar across various disciplines. If you enjoy working in the laboratory, basic science research would be a great option.  If you prefer interacting with others, you may want to participate in survey-based research where you could conduct interviews with study participants.  Dental clinical research may also give you the opportunity to interact with patients who are subjects in a study. Regardless of what setting you choose; make sure you get involved in an experience where you are not just performing mundane technical tasks but you are also involved in high-level thinking and problem-solving.  And remember, the best way to ensure that you gain good research experience is to commit to research over a long period of time.

Part V: Community Service as a Pre-Dental Student

Community service is an integral part of a dental school application as it demonstrates a commitment to improving the lives of those who are less fortunate.  Examples of community service include volunteering at a local homeless shelter, tutoring children from underserved backgrounds, and serving as a coach to children with disabilities.

Use your community service to demonstrate leadership: One of the most impressive attributes of a good dental school applicant is their ability to take initiative and be a leader.  And one of the best places to show your ability to serve as a leader is in the community.  Identify an issue that you are passionate about in your community and work on finding a way to address it.  In other words establish your own program in the community.  This may seem daunting at first, but it is quite achievable if you believe in your own idea and have the courage to execute.  Examples of community-based programs you can implement:


  1. A program to provide dental health education for the elderly in your local neighborhood
  2. A program to promote brushing and flossing among children from low-income neighborhoods
  3. A program to help the uninsured in the community navigate free dental clinics


One unique community-based opportunity, which allows pre-dental students to reach out and serve those in need, is Give Kids a Smile Day.  This program is sponsored through the American Dental Association and provides dental services to children from underserved communities.  Participation in this program can be a strong addition to your dental school application.  For more information, please visit:


For more information and to get a free 20-minute consultation on your dental school application, visit

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