Applying to Dental School

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Applying to Dental School
By: Dave Corwin
Observation Hours:
Probably the first thing you should consider doing is to observe a few dentists that will allow you do so at their practice. Obviously, you will want to have an idea what you are getting yourself into before you decide to apply. The other great reason for this is that ALL dental schools require a minimum average of 30 hours of observing in order for you to even be considered for admission. However, if you are in Concordia College’s Pre-dental Externship course you will have accumulated many more hours than this by the end of the semester. It is also a very good idea to create some documentation of your shadowing hours, because many schools will ask for them. If you are accepted at the University of Minnesota they will ask that you submit a record of at least 30 shadowing hours. Lastly, it is good to gain exposure to different types of practices and dental specialties, such as the practices of endodontists, orthodontists, and periodontists, to name a few. The reason for this is that you might find one more interesting than another, and this may factor into your decision of which schools to apply to. For instance, Creighton University does not offer specialty education programs of any kind. This could be good or bad, depending on your perspective.
Another important activity you should begin as early as possible is to find a steady volunteer position somewhere if you have not done so already. Dental schools like to see not only that you are volunteering, but also that you are volunteering at one or two places consistently. Nikki Black mentioned this during last year’s visit to The University of Minnesota’s dental school. I also recall hearing somewhere that most dental schools like to see that you have engaged in at least 50 hours of volunteer experiences. It is also good, and perhaps beneficial even, to volunteer at an institution that is related to dentistry. This is not necessary, but it can only strengthen your application. The logic behind volunteering experience being part of your pre-dental curriculum is that you are demonstrating empathy, and concern for the welfare of others in your community – a quality that a dentist must surely exemplify.

Manual Dexterity:
Being that you ultimately want to work in a field that requires acute hand-eye coordination, dental schools want to see that you have already been engaged in some activities that require manual dexterity. This can include many different activities that may not seem so obvious. Examples include building model cars, fine-scale electrical soldering, playing a musical instrument, woodcarving, sculpting, drawing, painting, etc. Again, if you have not done many things like these, it is a good idea to start as soon as possible! After all, wouldn’t it be terrible to be accepted into dental school only to find that you don’t like or aren’t adept at working with your hands?! When you are completing your AADSAS application, there will be a section of it where you may briefly list such activities.
The DAT:
The Dental Admissions Test is one of the larger and weightier components of your application. By that, I mean that it is one of the key factors that dental schools use in comparing you to other applicants. It is an approximately four-hour long, computer administered, multiple choice, standardized exam that you will take at Sylvan Learning Center’s Prometric Testing Center. It can be taken almost any day of the year, unlike other standardized professional school entrance exams, such as the MCAT. The cost for taking the DAT changes a little each year, but is usually around $200, plus an additional $25 per school, beyond the first five schools that you select.
The DAT is scored on a non-linear scale from 1 to 30. Generally speaking, a score of 20 or above on any one section places you in the ninetieth percentile and upward for that section of the exam. The average score for most sections of admitted dental school applicants is between 17 and 19, depending upon the section and school. However, you should aim to score above these marks to be considered a competitive applicant by admissions committees. This is not to say that you can’t get into dental school with average scores, just that in order to increase the odds of this happening you should always aim higher. In all honesty, I feel it is best to aim for a 30, and if you don’t end up with a 30, you still probably scored pretty darned well! One really nice feature of taking the DAT is that you are given your scores immediately upon completing the exam! No waiting for scores like you would for an MCAT or PCAT!
By the time you are approaching taking the DAT you should have a pretty good idea of your personal study habits, and what works or doesn’t work for you. I personally recommend giving a few solid months of preparation for the DAT. There are a number of good products on the market that you can prepare and practice taking the DAT with. The first reference you should purchase is Kaplan’s DAT book. It contains the information you can expect to see on the DAT, as well as strategies for actually taking the exam. Speaking from experience, it DOES NOT MATTER which version of the book you use! Kaplan publishes a new edition of it every couple of years that contains exactly the same information from edition to edition. With that said, find a used copy on and pay $25 or so, instead of $75 for the newest edition. Another good reference is Barron’s DAT book. This book is rather skimpy on the sciences, but offers great strategies for the PAT (Perceptual Ability Test) portion of the DAT, and is worth it for this section alone. Again, you can find this inexpensively ($7-10 used) on Amazon.
There are also several very helpful computer programs that you should consider for practicing the DAT - the first being Scholarware’s “Top Score Pro” DAT software (for PC’s, not Macs). If you order it directly from their website you can actually save about $50 over ordering it from Amazon, and it will only cost you about $50. This program contains three full-length exams that offer solutions and correct answers for each question. I found this program to be very helpful in fine-tuning what subjects I needed to study further. I also felt that the questions were very much on par with the level of difficulty you will encounter on the actual DAT. It should be noted that the software has an expiration date that is about half a year from the time of registering and first using it. So don’t install and use the software until about six months before you intend to begin using it.
Another very helpful piece of software is the “Crack DAT” software. Crack DAT’s software focuses specifically on the PAT and Quantitative Reasoning sections of the DAT, and has multiple practice exams for each of these sections. I personally did not care much for the Quantitative Reasoning software, but did feel that the PAT software was very helpful in preparing me for PAT section of the test. You can also buy the two separately, which is nice. Speaking of the PAT - it is one of the more important sections of the DAT to admissions committees, so make sure that you practice sufficiently, and you are scoring consistently high before taking the actual exam.
The two programs that I mentioned are the two that I used. There are others such as “DAT Destroyer”, which I haven’t tried, but seem to have a good reputation on websites like
There are four sections to the DAT: Natural Sciences, which includes Biology, Chemistry and Organic Chemistry (NO Physics! Yay!), Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning. There are also sections that dental schools feel are more important than others. For instance, the QRT (Quantitative Reasoning Test) is considered by many schools to be the least important section of the DAT (for instance, I scored below average in this section and still got in!). And sections such as the Natural Sciences and the PAT are of utmost importance. I have a .pdf file published by the ADEA (American Dental Education Association) that I can email to you if you’d like. It contains a lot of information about what specific dental schools’ criteria are for being admitted.

It is also worth mentioning that you DO NOT have to take the DAT before completing the rest of your application. This means that you can submit your AADSAS online application prior to taking the DAT (plan on taking the DAT by the end of August at the latest, though, so you can have your application processed early). Your DAT scores are sent separately from your application. However, there is a section in the AADSAS application to enter your scores.

The AADSAS Application:
AADSAS stands for Associated American Dental Schools Application Service. It is an online service that you will use to submit a standardized dental school application to all the different dental schools to which you apply within the United States. This is nice, because you only have to fill out one full-length application for all the dental schools to which you apply. It does, however, take some time to complete, so anticipate beginning this process as soon as possible. The first day that one was able to beginning working on their AADSAS in 2009 (for the 2010 entering class) was June 1st.
The reason you should start this is soon as possible is threefold. First of all, it is paramount that you submit the AADSAS application as soon as humanly possible, as it will put your application toward the top of the pile of applications that dental schools receive, and thus consider. Secondly, it takes a couple of weeks for your transcripts to be received and verified by the ADEA. Lastly, one component of your application that you must have in place is your letters of recommendation from your college professors. And don’t assume that your professors will be as efficient as you would like them to be in submitting these letters for you. I had to wait a full month for one of my professors to submit their letter - so, the sooner, the better!
Generally speaking, it is preferable to click the “submit” button on the homepage of your AADSAS application by the first week of July in order to have your applications received by schools by August 1st, which is considered the “deadline” for early applicants. This is because the AADSAS people still have to print, package and mail your application. Technically the deadline date is around December 1st for most schools, but this is the day that most dental schools actually begin extending offers of acceptance! The fee for AADSAS’s service changes from year to year, but was around $200, plus an additional $60 per school (in 2009) for each beyond the first school that you select.
In addition to your AADSAS application, most dental schools require that you complete a supplemental application. There is usually also a fee associated with supplemental application, which ranges from $50 to $75 (in my experience). You are either responsible for printing and completing the application from the school’s website, or the school will send it to you. The nice thing about the supplemental applications is that they are short and only ask things that the AADSAS application does not.

Dental School Interviews:
The final step in the application process is to attend an interview at the school(s) that extends an invitation to you. The interview may seem like the most intimidating step, but if you have made it that far, it should really be considered the least stressful step of the entire process. The reason for this is that the admissions committee wants to accept you, but they are just trying to get a sense about you and your personality. So, just try to be relaxed and confident, but not pompous or arrogant. The key here is just to try to be you, and to speak naturally and respectfully. Obviously, you will want to dress professionally for the dental school interview.
All three interviews I attended were very different from one another. In Lincoln the interview was very short (15 minutes), formal and non-conversational, whereas at the U of M, it was longer (1 hour), informal and highly conversational. For most interviews, expect to be interviewed by more than one faculty member. Again, this may seem intimidating, but it is actually to your advantage. The reason schools do this is because they want more than one opinion of you as the committees vote on your acceptance. One other noteworthy comment about the U of M is that the people who interview you (there will be two of them) will have no knowledge of you other than your name. This is done so that the interviewers won’t have any particular bias toward you one way or another.
The vast majority of schools will notify you on or soon after December 1st as to the status of your acceptance. Some schools email, others call, and others send a letter via postal mail. I was notified the University of Nebraska at 12:01 a.m. on December 1st, via email. I stayed up to see if I would receive an email and subsequently did not get much sleep that night! The U of M notified via email around 8:30 a.m. on December 1st.
Final Thoughts:
I hope this document is helpful to you. I tried to include everything that I thought was important and essential in being accepted, as well as to give you a feel for the timeline of the application process. I did not include any statistics about GPA, as minimum requirements vary from school to school, but generally a strong GPA (3.5 or greater) is preferable, but not absolutely necessary. Granted, your GPA is a very important part of your application, but it is only one part. So try to avoid falling into the trap of thinking that your GPA alone will get you in or keep you out of dental school. Keep in mind that the average entering GPA into most dental schools is around 3.6. This means that statistically, as many people with 4.0’s are accepted as those with 3.2’s, and that your application is a comprehensive package. If you feel your GPA is somewhat lacking, then try to bolster your application with strong recommendation letters, DAT scores, volunteering and shadowing experience. Also, make sure to take the aforementioned “Pre-dental Externship” course that Concordia College offers, if you haven’t already.
If you have any thoughts or questions, please, feel free to contact me at

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