High School Tips

So you want to be a dentist? – High School Edition #2

A high GPA lead to success in college and beyond
A high GPA lead to success in college and beyond

The greatest way to succeed in college is doing well in high school. Perfecting your study skills in high school will help you start college with higher grades and make it easier to maintain those grades. Doing well in high school has many benefits that are commonly overlooked and may help you get into your dream dental school.

Honors Classes

Taking honors classes is a great benefit towards your GPA. As a result I highly recommend taking as many honors classes as possible! Honors classes are an easy way to inflate a GPA and make you a strong applicant. In most high schools, nearly every subject in the “a-g” categories have honors courses. The benefit of taking these courses is that they are weighted equally to AP classes at a fraction of the difficulty. They are great classes to take before an AP course as they typically build a foundation that will give you an advantage over those who started learning the subject during the AP course.

AP Classes

While still in high school, many of my friends in college told me that AP courses and AP tests were a waste of time and money since in most cases, the class must be retaken to continue to the next series. Most of my friends at this time were computer science majors at various universities. However, this is NOT TRUE for pre-medical students. Taking these classes works as an advantage in the sciences and allows you to start off with a high college science GPA due to the familiarity of the material.

Just like honors courses, AP courses are also weighed on a 5.0 scale. This can inflate your grade making you a strong application, but this is not the main benefit of taking these classes. Material covered in basic bio, chemistry, math, and physics is very similar, if not identical, to that taught in AP classes. Scoring high enough on the AP exam will also earn you college units which in most cases still allow you the option to take the class in college. RETAKE THEM! Retaking these classes in a college atmosphere will help you do several things:

  • Recall the material that you once knew and spend more time understanding details that were unfamiliar. This is important because it will help you retain the information with make up the majority of the Dental Admissions Test (DAT).
  • Gives you an advantage in getting a high grade that will go towards your college GPA that dental schools will evaluate you by.
  • Gives you units towards your college degree and the benefit of registering for classes earlier.

With colleges accepting more students than ever before, science classes have now become difficult to get in. In college, units are an influential factor in deciding which students get to select their classes first. Fighting for one of the last few spots in a class every quarter can be a stressful experience and many times make the quarter more difficult since you have to resort to the more challenging, less experienced, or a less engaged professor. The conversion of AP classes to college units differ from college to college so be sure to do a bit of research on your top schools to know what classes will benefit you the most. For example I quickly found the UC Irvine AP Credit Chart by performing a simple google search for “University of California, Irvine AP Credit”. Focus on taking the AP courses that will benefit you the most in college as well as the AP courses that give you the most units like the language or history courses typically worth 8 units (quarter system conversion, equal to two college courses).

Many of my friends at UC Irvine began college with over 60 units even though they took the same amount of AP courses, but took the courses that were worth 8 units each. In the three years I have picked classes they have never struggled to get the courses they want while I have been fighting for the last few spots left in classes I want.

Automatic Acceptance to College

In California, there is a fantastic program called ELC (Eligibility in the Local Context) designed to help students get into the UC System.

Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC) is a program by which the University of California identifies top-performing California high school students. Unlike the broader statewide eligibility pathway, which seeks to recognize top students from throughout the state, ELC draws qualified students from among the top 9 percent of each participating high school.

Check to see if your state has a similar program that automatically awards admissions to academic achievers.

Honors Programs

Doing well in high school also opens doors to university honors programs. These programs offer early admissions to college as well as many wonderful perks like private study rooms and early class registration. Students in these programs get to pick classes before graduating seniors which guarantees any class you want and the freedom to conveniently pick your schedule.

The honors programs do require a few extra classes, but in most cases the extra requirements are fairly minimal and are classes also taken by non-honors students.


High grades also open many doors for scholarships. Not many high school students take advantage of these opportunities and there are many scholarship opportunities available. PLEASE take advantage of scholarships during high school. There are many search engines for scholarships like that will notify you about new opportunities based on certain criteria that you specify on your profile.


Actually study for the SAT/ACT! I cannot stress this enough. I know many individuals who “winged” the SAT or ACT and scored decently. However, studies have shown that even a little bit of preparation dramatically increases one’s score. Join a coaching program or if you feel comfortable, self-study using the plethora of resources online and in books, and sign up for the free SAT question of the day email program.


Doing excellent in high school has a tremendous effect on your college experience and has the potential to make college easier to handle. Your performance in college is an important step in becoming a dentist and a high GPA really improves your chances of getting into dental school. Its never too early to plan ahead!

By Elias Almaz

I am a dentist in Sacramento, CA. During undergrad, I served as the President of my local Pre-Dental Society and learned the intricacies of the dental admissions process. documents much of what I learned during that time.