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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 least)!
  • 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 best things.

    In 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 want exposure.

    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 you!.

    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.

    For 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.

  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • General Biology
  • Quantitative Analysis
  • Reading Comprehension

    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 the information.

    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 white, sigh).

    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 out.

    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 the picture.

    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 and medicine.

    So, 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.

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