What qualities should we look for in a dental school that will prepare you well for the profession?

This is  a difficult question to answer since every individual has their own personality, interests, and ways of learning. Here is a short summary of what I look for in a dental school. There is a high chance no dental school will be absolutely perfect for you, but knowing what you are looking for and how well it fits into your vision gives you an idea of what schools “best fit” you. I have included both perspectives for any that may be controversial.

  1. Faculty
    1. The faculty member to student ratio gives you a good idea of how much attention you will be receiving in the sim-labs and clinic.
  2. Research
      1. Dental schools considered research institutions may have faculty that is more focused on their research rather than providing attention to the students (not necessarily true with every faculty member). A research rich institution provides opportunities to participate with research in leading fields of dentistry. This opens opportunities to present findings at local, state, or national conferences.
      2. A school with less of a focus on research means the faculty is primarily there to focus on the students and their development.
  3. Specialties
    1. A high number of specialties allows for observing (shadowing) a specific specialty and learning about more complex procedures. It can be a great way to expose yourself to a specialty you may want to do and is also great for networking.
    2. A low number of specialty programs means students do more advanced cases since they will not need to forfeit them to specialty residents.
  4. Specialization rate
    1. The specialization rate gives you a good idea of how specialty programs (nationwide) perceive graduates from the school. Find the number of people who apply as well as the number of accepted.
    2. It can be useful to also ask for the number of AEGD (Advanced Education in General Dentistry) applicants/acceptances to have a better idea of how many acceptances are going to the specialties like Orthodontics, Endodontics, Periodontics, Prosthodontics, Pedodontics, and Oral Surgery rather a residency in general dentistry.
    3. The overall rate gives a good idea as to the students focus in dentistry.
  5. Boards pass rate
    1. Boards are separated into two sections (NBDE 1/2). A didactic exam and a clinical exam. Finding out a schools passing rates gives you a good idea on how well students are prepared both educationally and clinically.
  6. Graded vs. Pass/Fail
    1. With a switch towards pass/fail boards, there is concern over specialization for students attending schools with pass/fail curriculum since there is little left to rank students with.
    2. Measures have been developed to counteract this issue such as pass/fail/honors systems in which the top students of a class receive an honors in the course. Some specialty programs are now requiring additional tests such as the GRE to rank candidates.
    3. Students have mixed feelings about pass/fail/honors systems. While they have the potential to allow you to focus on your clinical experience, the stress of being top in your class in order to receive “honors” can be very daunting.
    4. Graded programs may have less of an issue when it comes to applying to specialty programs (since applicants can be ranked) but students are graded for most of the curriculum.
  7. Free time
    1. Does the school have any programs that allow you to participate in your own activities for a few hours a week? Dental school is a full time job and it can be nice to have time reserved for activities such as outreach.
  8. Student Organizations
    1. ASDA, dental fraternities, community service, ethnic groups, hobby groups, intramural sports teams, etc.
  9. Location
    1. Attending dental school near where you plan to practice can have an advantage as you will be networking with dentists often.
    2. A dental school close to a big city like Los Angeles provides many opportunities for dental conferences/conventions/vendor fairs.
    3. A dental school close to a big city like Los Angeles provides many opportunities for volunteering.
  10. Social atmosphere
    1. School traditions, school athletic teams, local professional sports, restaurants, etc.
  11. Clinical requirements
    1. Procedure requirements prior to proficiency.
  12. Group practice structure
    1. A modernized dental practice structure in which you work in a small group to simulate a group practice after dental school versus working as an individual practitioner. Helps develop intraprofessional skills.
  13. Technology
    1. Does the school have modern facilities, digital charts, digital x-ray, etc.
  14. Interprofessional Education System
    1. Modern approach to medicine in which you learn alongside other health schools to enhance communication and problem solving.
    2. Schools with multiple health programs way offer interprofessional components.
    3. Education tends to be less focused on dental school didactics and focused on medical school (although there is much overlap) and taught in a very large lecture hall setting with hundreds of students.
  15. Orientation/Prep-Programs
    1. Depth of orientation programs prior to the start of school.
    2. Prep-programs are longer orientations covering science basics to help with the transition to dental school.
  16. Cost
    1. Cost should not be ignored! Dental school costs a tremendous amount with the majority of schools between 300-400K dollars.

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. PreDents.com documents much of what I learned during that time.