The following list are frequently asked questions that I receive from readers. If you can’t find the answer you are looking for below, feel free to ask me any questions on the Ask Elias page.

Dental School Admissions

Is observing dentists for a few months enough to meet dental schools’ requirements?

Observing for ~100 hours is the “minimum” requirement set by most schools. I spoke to the Dean of Nova a few years back who first gave me that number. He also told me any more shadow experience than that is a “concern” to them. At that point they expect you to become actively involved with dentistry by working as a dental assistant, taking dental assisting classes, taking other dental related classes, volunteering at clinics, etc.

One thing we offer at UCI to our members are tooth-waxing classes and denture making classes. These classes teach you oral and tooth anatomy from a hands on approach. The course is taught by a UCLA dental school bench instructor. Dental engagement like this show dental schools that you have physically worked with something dental related and that you are adroit (dexterous/artistic/mechanical) nature. This is where dentistry mainly differs from medical school. They want to see that you know how to use your hands.

Any advice for dental school interviews?

Those who get interviews are individuals who the dental school recognizes as potential dental students. The interview process is there to make sure those who are joining their school have adequate social skills to be a dentist. During the interviews your performance allows dental schools the ability to gauge your communication skills with your future patients. Based on your performance, dental schools can gauge your ability to interact with others, your effectiveness in communication, your listening skills, ability to establish relationships with trust and confidence, and management.

Make sure you suit up! The idea is that the nicer you look, the more time it took you to prepare yourself, which can be directly correlated to how much you want a position at the dental school. Bring copies of resumes, business cards, and anything else you may have that has not been expressed in your application. Things like dental models or a portfolio are great to bring along!

How do I make a DENTPIN?

A DENTPIN is needed in order to apply and take the DAT as well as opening an AADSAS application. Most of you should have a DENTPIN from taking the DAT; however, for those taking the DAT after submitting their AADSAS please visit the DENTPIN registration page now and pay for the DAT soon! There is a bit of processing time involved.

I forgot my DENTPIN. What should I do?

If you forgot your DENTPIN search your email inbox for the subject “DENTPIN Registration Successful” or click one of the links below to resend the information:

How do I make a Portal account?

When the application opens at 12:00 PM EST on the first Monday of June, the option to “Create New Account” will be activated and can be found immediately under the login on the left hand side. This is when you’ll be able to create a username and password. Make sure you have your DENTPIN handy, you’ll need it to create an AADSAS application account!

Can I submit my official transcripts before the AADSAS application opens?

No, official transcripts will not be accepted unless they are sent along with the AADSAS “Transcript Matching Form”. Once the AADSAS application is submitted, you will be provided with a form to deliver to all the schools you have attended. The form includes a barcode that allows AADSAS to locate and verify your application.

Can I submit my Letters of Recommendation/Evaluation before the AADSAS application opens?

No, Letters of Recommendation and Letters of Evaluation will not be accepted unless they are sent along with the AADSAS “Letter of Evaluation Matching Form”. Once the AADSAS application is submitted, you will be provided with the form to give to all recommenders, interfolio, or similar services offered by most colleges. The form includes a barcode that allows AADSAS to locate and verify your application.

What should I do while I am waiting for dental schools to receive my application?

After submitting your application through AADSAS, check all the websites of the applied dental schools to learn more about their secondary application. Many schools view a secondary application as a REQUIRED supplemental application in order for an application to begin review. Other schools may send a secondary application after an applicant meets their initial requirements like GPA and DAT scores. You can find basic information (e.g. cost of application and if the secondary application is invite only or public) about any dental school’s supplemental application on the ADEA Supplemental Information webpage. Begin filling out any secondary applications that are available. You can find information about supplemental applications before they are released on resources like StudentDoctor.net or from your pre-dental/dental student colleagues.

Supplemental applications that are available openly to all applicants can be found through the dental school’s website. These supplemental applications usually open up around the same time as the AADSAS application. To find out more information about a particular school’s supplemental application, go to the prospecting students section of the website or search the phrase “[dental school name] dental supplemental/secondary application” using a search engine like Google. You can also add “Student Doctor Network” to the end of the search phase to read discussions about the secondary/supplemental application from fellow dental school applicants.

Please note that some supplemental applications are invitation only which requires the dental school applicant to pass the initial screening of academic performance before being approved to fill it out.

Where can I find supplemental applications for the dental schools I am applying to?

Many schools have a supplemental or secondary application which is a requirement to begin viewing an application. Other schools may send a secondary application after meeting initial requirements like GPA and DAT scores. You can find basic information (e.g. cost of application and if the application is invite only vs. public) about any dental school’s supplemental application on the ADEA Supplemental Information webpage. Begin filling out any secondary applications as soon as they become available.

Supplemental applications that are available openly to all applicants can be found through the dental school’s website. These supplemental applications usually open up around the same time as the AADSAS application. To find out more information about a particular school’s supplemental application, go to the prospecting students section of the website or search the phrase “[dental school name] dental supplemental/secondary application” using a search engine like google. You can also add “Student Doctor Network” to the end of the search phase to read discussions about the secondary/supplemental application from fellow dental school applicants.

Please note that some supplemental applications are invitation only which requires the dental school applicant to pass the initial screening of academic performance before being approved to fill it out.

Can I get into dental school with a failing grade (D or F)?

Yes you can! Make sure to retake the course and get a high grade. Unlike most college GPAs, AADSAS will not replace the failing grade. They will request both the failing grade and the repeat grade and use both for the GPA calculation. Be prepared to explain why you may have failed the course and what you have done to improve. Do not make excuses!!

Where can I get status updates for each dental school I applied to?

AADSAS itself has a decent status update system that indicates the current status of your application at every dental school. Please note that it is common for the status to change a few days before or after a milestone occurs (like being accepted or receiving an interview).

You can also join the member driven DDS Applicants resource by Student Doctor Network to get the latest updates from the current pool of applicants. This website will indicate members’ GPA, DAT Scores, the day they submitted their AADSAS application, as well as many other details allowing participants to get a good idea about each dental schools’ stage in the admissions process.

Which dental schools offer a lot of clinical opportunity?

This is a very difficult question to answer. Mainly because there are 65 (and growing) schools in North America. This is something you will have to research on your own, however here are a few tips:

  1. Dental school is meant to provide clinical opportunities. All dental schools provide students with at least 2 years of clinical exposure. You can get an idea of a dental school’s clinical expectations by looking into their specific requirements.
    1. For example, most schools have a set number of each procedure you must complete to pass. The required number of procedures is a good indication of how much exposure a dental school expects from their students or the availability of patients for certain procedures.
    2. Please note that several schools are starting a proficiency based curriculum that allow you to “test out” of a procedure instead of completing the minimum requirement.
    3. Location can have a great influence on the number of patients that have access to the school clinic or the type of procedures being performed (i.e. dentures).
    4. You can try contacting the school for specifics on the requirements but a good idea is to reach out to the students. Most schools now have pre-dental outreach organizations that would be more than happy to answer these sort of questions!
  2. Utilize the network of dentists you have been building since deciding to pursue a career in dentistry. Ask them if they see a different caliber of clinicians coming from any specific schools.
  3. Generally, the less specialties a school offers, the more exposure dental students will have to more advanced cases.
  4. Take advantage of the free time you have as a pre-dental student and pick up a hobby involving fine motor skills. Enhancing your skills early, with any sort of activity, will help you breeze through many of the manual dexterity development projects during the first two years of dental school. This introduces the potential to allow you to focus on more advanced techniques while your classmates are still building up the basic fine motor skills.
  5. Any dental school has the potential to make you into an excellent clinician. Schools go through a seven year accreditation process that ensure the quality of the education is up to the ADA/ADEA’s standards.

In 2010, the ADA released an extremely comprehensive survey breaking down each schools clinical hours by area of focus. Please remember quality over quantity. More hours does not necessarily tell you a school puts out better clinicians. This resource can help you determine what areas a school puts more attention toward.

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.

How Expensive is Applying to Dental School?

Applying to dental school can easily total over $5,000 dollars. Be sure to budget for these expenses. I recommend reviewing a full breakdown of expenses to expect during the application cycle. Use the page to estimate your expenses based on the number of schools you plan on applying for. Be sure to add a cushion for any unexpected situation.

As there a disadvantage to applying to all 65 schools?

There is no known disadvantage to applying to all 65 schools that I am aware of. I have spoken to administrators at schools and they have indicated that they CANNOT see any other schools you applied to. The paper application they get sent is a personalized version with only their schools name on it. Likewise, the online portal the admissions committee uses does not list those details. After the first 7-10 applications, most of the supplementals ask the same or similar questions that require little tweaking. The most challenging aspect of applying to 20-30 schools is answering the question “why do you want to come to OUR school”. My best advise would be to start working on an excel spreadsheet and researching each school thoroughly. Even if the supplemental does not ask for it, the interviewers will. It pays to be pre-prepared!

I graduated from a 4-year university but completed most of the requirements at a community college. Is that okay?

Community college course grades are looked upon differently than courses taken at a 4 year university. Not only is your GPA for each school calculated separately but community college courses are generally weighted lower than their 4-year university version of the course. If the decision came down to grades, the individual who has completed more classes at a 4-year university, although earning the same mark, will most likely be picked by admissions.

Will taking 1-2 courses per quarter/semester hurt my application?

Dental schools do take into consideration how packed you were during each quarter/semester. They know that taking less classes correlates to higher grades. Be ready to explain to them why you had to take less courses at any time through ought your education. They are NOT looking for an excuse! Creatively explain to them your reasoning (e.g. involvement, volunteering, working, etc).

I keep hearing apply early. What does “early” mean when it comes to submitting my application?

Generally, if you apply before the end of the month of July, you are considered an early applicant. Applications submitted during the first month month are immediately processed but not sent to dental schools until the last Friday of June as a single giant batch. Then applications are reviewed by dental schools and may start sending interview invites shortly after while other schools may wait until late September or early October (it varies for each dental school). As a result, submitting on the first day does not have a significant advantage over submitting at the end of June. Ultimately, you should submit as soon as you have everything ready. Every day can potentially help you get into your dream school!

There isn’t a distinct cut-off for what is defined as an early applicant. Think of it as a gradient throughout the cycle. The later it is in the cycle one submits, the less early an applicant is.

What do you mean by apply early?

Applying early doesn’t mean just submitting your application. It means having your application 100% complete by the end of July. If any part of your application is missing, a school will put your application on hold and your application will not be evaluated until all the missing parts have arrived.

If the school is waiting for new DAT scores, they will get them shortly following the exam (approximately 3 weeks). Don’t worry! There will be plenty of spots left at every dental school. Many people submit their application in June prior to taking the DAT. It is a fairly common practice and as a result many people will be at the same stage.

If the school is waiting on letters of recommendation remind the writer that your application is already submitted and is currently on hold until all the components like the letter of recommendation are submitted. Do not pressure them! It was your responsibility to give them enough time to finish the letter.  Pressuring them will only result in a poorer letter or remarks finding their way into your letter.

Am I waitlisted if I have not heard back from the school yet?

If you have not heard back from the school you are not waitlisted. The general rule is if you haven’t received a rejection then your application is still pending a decision. Waitlisting for dental school only occurs after interviews, not before. I would not worry too much if you haven’t heard back from dental schools by December. It is common and completely normal for interview offers to come in later than December! Not hearing back is the best situation to be in since most schools will notify you of a rejection almost immediately. You can check your individual application statuses on the AADSAS website.

What would dental schools think when a GPA started out really high, like 3.9, then start declining later on?

There is no definitive answer for this. Generally a downwards trend is not good. Even though classes may be getting harder an applicant is expected to maintain the same performance or improve on themselves.
In my opinion, it ultimately depends on the type of classes (and how many classes) the individual was taking when achieving the high GPA and comparing that to the type (and how many classes) were taken when the lower GPA was achieved. It is important to remember that the application review process is comprehensive. They are not only looking at your GPA but at your workload, extracurricular activities, and any issues you noted on the application like hospitalization.
Ultimately, maintaining the high GPA is ideal and a decline in GPA is expected to make an application less attractive than that with the high GPA. In some cases I honestly do not think it will hinder an application by much, if any.

Does taking a year off between undergraduate and dental school hurt my chances of getting in?

Taking a year off is completely acceptable; in fact, you can take as many years off as you would like! The only catch is that you have to show that you have grown as an individual during that time period. As long as you did not spend the entire year sitting in front of the TV, there should be absolutely nothing to be concerned with when it comes to taking a break from school.

How important are the prerequisite classes listed for dental school?

Prerequisite classes are most likely mandatory courses the school requires in order to be accepted in their school. Any class that is mandatory must be taken or listed on an AADSAS application. From what I understand, you will still be accepted to the school if the course is listed on your application, but you MUST complete the course before the dental school year begins. I am not sure exactly what happens if you fail to complete such a requirement, but I would imagine that the upcoming dental student may lose the spot in that dental school.
Dental schools also have recommended course lists. These are different than the required courses and completing them is optional, but highly recommended. Completing the recommended classes as as the required courses do improve your chances of getting in, but not taking them should not hurt your application. Taking these courses also puts one at an advantage during dental school. Many of the recommended courses are classes you will be taking during your first two years of dental school which is very similar to medical school. During these two years a dental student is taking around 30 units of classes at a time. Exposing oneself to the material during undergrad will free up time to study for other classes.
If you are still concerned about prerequisites, I would not trust anybody but an admissions representative from the school. From what I have seen, taking classes at a community college is okay but completion of the requirements at a four year university is heavily preferred. .

Do dental admission boards frown upon taking a longer time, for example 6 years, to finish their undergraduate degree?

There are a few factors that need to be considered in order to come to a conclusion

  • Of the 6 years, are any of them attended at a community college? If so how many?
  • Are you picking up a second major or a minor? (assuming you have been staying the extra years to take biology and chemistry courses)
  • Have you had a full course load throughout college?
  • Is your GPA demonstrating hard work throughout the six years or an escalating performance?
All admissions personnel I have spoken to tell me that time is not a factor. The decision is based on what you have done in that time, not time itself. If you have 6 years, then you should have a good amount of extra curricular activities, volunteer work, and shadowing accumulated over that timespan. If you do not, I would highly recommend getting involved as early as possible!
Age is defiantly not a factor as dental schools have many students who are in their late 20’s or early 30’s. Some enter dental school after earning a masters or even a PhD!
Please be aware that during an interview, the interviewer may ask you why it took you so long to complete your undergraduate degree. It is important to have a strong and well thought out answer and in many cases it will make the fact that it took 6 years to complete an undergraduate education irreverent to their decision.
This also applies to those who want to take a Sabbath before entering dental school. You can take as many years as you need off as long as you can show why you needed this time, how it bettered you, and what you have done during the time.
Based on the information above, you should be able to conclude if you are still on track! If you have any personal situations you would like to discuss include answers to the 4 bullet points listed above when filling out the Ask Elias form.

How long does it take for dental schools to receive my application?

Your application’s delivery time can vary significantly depending on when you submit. If you submit during the peak of the cycle (typically the end of June/early July) the processing time on your application could be 3 or 4 weeks long. During this time period, your transcripts will be compared to the grades entered on the AADSAS application. This can take a significant amount of time especially during the peak of the application season.

AADSAS only mails out applications on Fridays and mailing can take up to a week for schools located on the west coast (AADSAS is located on the east coast). Applicants use these Friday mailing dates to compare application submission times. These are commonly referred to as “batches” with the first batch being the 3rd Friday of June and each following batch mailing 7-days after the last. This batch delivery system is frequently used by applicants and seems to be based on similar status changes occurring at the same time on the AADSAS website. From my experience, pre-dental students from the same batch typically get an interview invite at the same time. There are exceptions to this. For example, my friend and I who were both in batch 3 interviewed nearly 6 months apart for one school.

Once dental schools have your application in hand, the processing time can vary and take up to a month to acknowledge your application has been received. In the meantime, fill out any available secondary applications. If you have not heard back from a dental school a month after your application is mailed out, I would recommend confirming with the school that they have received it.

For this reason I like to approximate that some schools fall under a 3-6 week window while other schools fall under a 6-8 week window. It is best to have the mindset that all of your desired dental schools will review your application no earlier than 8 weeks after filling out your application. This way, you give yourself a specific goal that will prevent your applications completion from dragging on for weeks or months longer than it should!

What factors make up a strong dental school applicant in the eyes of dental school admissions?

Fulfilling all these categories will put you and your application in a very good standing. Being solid in all of these categories will make you an extremely strong applicant anywhere.

  • Coursework
    • Gives the admissions officers an idea about the difficulty of your classes, types of classes, and diversity of classes.
  • Course Load Sufficiency
    • Maintaining a dense course load throughout college is very important. This shows dental schools that you can perform strongly in very intense and demanding situations.
  • GPA
    • A numerical value calculated based on your performance in classes. Several versions of your GPA are evaluated. Mainly a science GPA and total GPA.
  • DAT
    • Standardized testing score helps balance the inconsistency in GPAs across hundreds of schools.
  • Letter of Recommendation
    • 2 Science Curriculum letters of recommendation
    • 1 Other letter of recommendation
    • You can submit more, but some schools may only review 3 out of however many you have.
    • It is better to have 3 very strong ones rather than 5 moderately strong letters.
  • Personal Statement
    • A high quality personal statement can show a lot about you and your personality. This is a great place to show to admissions officers that you are passionate about becoming a dentist.
  • Extra-Curricular activities
    • Community service is a great way to show admissions that you are doing other things than just studying. Contributions to the community go a long way especially when they know you are busy doing everything else mentioned in this list.
  • Leadership
    • Having leadership positions in organizations shows your ability to manage others and lead a team. This is vital to becoming a dentist as dentists who own private practices are the boss and are the leaders of a dental team.
  • Dental Experience
    • It is important to have some shadowing hours. Minimum recommended is 40+ hours; strong candidates have 100+ hours.  I would recommend doing as much as you can. Spending as much time in a dental environment as possible will really help you feel confident in your decision to pursue a career in dentistry and give you an idea about the daily nature of the profession.
    • My dental experience is the reason why I know dentistry is the career for me. An answer to the question “Why Dentistry” is much stronger when you have experiences that tell your story for you. This is a great way to perfect your personal statement.
  • Dexterity
    • Proving you have fine motor skills is vital. Pick up a hobby that involves complicated and precise movements. Hobbies like painting, sculpting, or playing an instrument not only show fine motor skills, but they also show admissions officers that you have developed an artistic edge over other dental students.
    • My hobby has been soldering and repairing small electronics. To me, it is like performing surgeries. Very precise movements in very tight areas are needed to perform the repairs and built electronics. Research may open up opportunities to perform surgeries on animals for various reasons. I later took on the role of performing catheterization surgeries on rats by implanting a catheter into their jugular vein. Although practicing challenges like these may be difficult to do at first, it is a great way to develop dexterity skills in a stressful environment.

I have a few C’s. Will that prevent me from getting into dental school?

1 or 2 C’s will not hinder your application much. Depending on the difficulty of the class, a C can be considered acceptable.

How would dental schools look at my pre-med experiences?

Your pre-med experience is great! There is nothing wrong with experience. If dentistry ends up being your thing, you can use this experience to show the dental schools that you were open minded about other careers and after investing a good amount of time, you realized dentistry was the best choice for you. With that said you need to show them that you have given dentistry the attention that it deserves from that point on. Personally, I think those who find dentistry after exploring other career options are in a better situation than those who picked dentistry and just stick to it without considering other career options.

Is it a bad idea to apply to medical schools and dental schools at the same time?

Dental schools have been recently looking for qualities that prove ones commitment to dentistry. This has sprung up and become fairly popular in the past few years. Those who apply to medical and dental school are at a disadvantage if the dental schools become aware.

That said, it is not mission impossible. People who apply to both will still get in; infact, one of my closest friends just did this and ended up at NYU College of Dentistry!

Before doing this, I urge that you make sure dentistry is something you can see yourself doing for the next 20+ years. In my opinion, dentistry is less flexible than medicine in general. It is important that our future of dentists are dentists because they are passionate about the career and not because they couldn’t get into medical school.