The purpose of this document is to explain what you will need to do in order to be qualified to attend dental school. This will begin with a discussion of what’s required during your time in college, then the application to dental school itself, then conclude with a section on what you can do during high school for a future career in dentistry.
More than anything else, you will need to connect with the office of pre-health advising at your college. While this office does focus primarily on serving premeds (due to the shere number of premeds), they have many resources for all students who are interested in pursuing higher education and careers in health.
They will be your initial center for networking, letters of recommendation, finding internship and research opportunities, and receiving the most up to date information on the requirements for your chosen field. You should connect with pre-health advising as soon as you make it to campus.
The point of your time in college is to prepare you for what dental schools want to see in an applicant. This begins with basic coursework requirements, to make sure you have the needed foundation. These are:
These are the baseline requirements given by most dental schools. Note that they generally require all science courses to include a lab component. Each school has their own unique requirements however, and you should check on what individual schools want from your coursework when you are considering which schools to apply to.
There are additional courses which are recommended, because they help you prepare for the Dental Admission Test (more on that later), or once you begin dental school. These are:
While mathematics is not required, a strong background in mathematics will be beneficial to you, both in taking recommended courses, and beyond.
On top of this, your grades are one of two key components admissions officers look at when deciding who to accept. Your total GPA should be above a 3.5, and your sciences GPA should be above a 3.4, though some schools have stricter requirements. Dental school is a lot of work academically, and they want to make sure you’re prepared before they offer you admission.
This means you should take classes you know you will be able to do your best in, and try to take a balanced load of courses each semester. Don’t overload yourself with work and become overwhelmed.
Admissions officers also have no real context for how difficult or easy a course is, and no good way to compare courses between colleges. Therefore, your final grade is all that matters. Unlike high school, there is no incentive to take an honors level course over the standard level, and it may hurt you instead.
Some colleges will allow you to get out of taking introductory science courses if you have AP credits. Not all dental schools will accept AP credits; indeed, it is not the norm for them to do so. You may choose to take intro courses again for this reason, or take equivalent courses. You should review whether schools will accept AP credits when composing your list of schools to apply to.
There are no major requirements to apply to dental school, and indeed, admissions statistics show no bias in favor of any one major or group of majors. That said, many pre-dental students choose to major in the sciences, as the major requirements line up well with the course requirements for dental school.
Pre-dental itself is not a major at any school. We recommend choosing a major that aligns well with your interests and talents in high school. As your choice of major does impact admissions, this can improve your chances of getting into a college to study pre-dental in the first place.
This is the other main factor considered by admissions officers, alongside your GPA. Much like the MCAT for medical school admissions, this test seeks to measure your academic preparation for medical school. While there are different versions in the US and Canada, they are generally accepted equivalently in each country’s dental schools.
The test consists of four sections:
There is an optional half hour break in between the first two and second two sections. The test is computer based, and administered almost any day of the year at official testing centers.
Scores are calculated immediately after completion. You are scored from 1-30 on eight standards; the first six are conceptual subjects, the second two serve as summaries. These are:
Dental schools summarize what they are looking for in this test by reporting the average perceptual ability, academic average, and total science scores for admitted students. Overall, the average score for students accepted to dental school is 19, but this varies by both year and school, as the difficulty of the test can vary. You should check the requirements on the schools you are applying to carefully when you are preparing for this test.
These scores are directly reported to the schools you apply to through the standardized admissions portal.
Students generally take the DAT in their junior year, as soon as they have completed the prerequisite courses to give them the necessary academic background. This is especially true for students who intend to enter dental school straight out of undergrad, which most do. DAT scores are accepted for three years after taking the test.
While your GPA and DAT score are the most important factors for your application, dental schools practice holistic admissions, and also strongly consider what you did outside of the classroom. Generally, you should participate in the following kinds of extracurriculars:
While none of these are explicitly required, they are all expected. Applicants without these experiences will struggle to gain admission to dental school.
This is work experience in a dental office, from various jobs to interning. There are fewer opportunities for this than pre med students get, because dental practices tend to be smaller, with fewer spaces for students. That said, dental practices tend to be more numerous, and the number of pre dental students lower. Dentists also had to do this themselves when they were in school so they are usually quite open to students who reach out to them looking for opportunities.
Your school’s pre-health office may have existing relationships with nearby dental practices, or you can reach out on your own. These experiences let you know for sure if dentistry is the right choice for you, and further allow you to gain letters of recommendation from dentists, which are also key when applying to dental school.
Shadowing is related to clinical experiences, but is less involved. It consists of following around a dentist while they perform their normal duties, and observing what the field requires. These are much easier to gain access to than other clinical experiences, and are the most important for you to complete.
In general longer term shadowing is more useful; an hour a week for twenty weeks will show you more about what the job is like than ten to twenty hours over a single week. Shadowing relationships with doctors can become more involved internships, though this should not be expected.
Health services involve giving back to the community. This is slightly less of a concern in dental medicine, but dentists are still doctors, and do still owe a duty of care to their patients. Volunteering and community service is how you demonstrate this ability to admissions officers, and show that you have the nature needed to be a dentist. The song from Little Shop of Horrors is amusing, but isn’t what dental schools are looking for in applicants.
Your volunteering can be related to healthcare, but does not have to be. Anything that sees you working with people in your local community will do well, especially if you maintain commitments over a long period.
While dental school is not itself about research (unless you pursue a dual degree PhD program), the scientific concepts used when conducting research are still important to understand for your classes. Thus conducting scientific research while in undergrad usually looks good on your application.
This should be research in the sciences, but does not need to be directly related to health. Indeed, doing ecological fieldwork can contribute just as well as working in a lab on cell cultures. The point is the research experience itself, and understanding what that entails. If you are interested in pursuing a dual PhD, then research is one of the most important parts of your preparation, and you will need a letter of recommendation from a research mentor.
These are very niche programs, and admit a very select group of students each year. If you are interested in pursuing clinical research related to dental medicine, then these programs exist to give you the needed experience and scientific background. These programs are longer than either a DDS or PhD alone, and require you to complete all of the requirements of both degrees.
If this is something you might be interested in, you should begin laying the groundwork early. On top of all the other work you need to do to prepare for dental school, you will also need extensive research experience.
As with many fields, you can begin thinking about and preparing for a DDS while still in high school. There are two main things to consider: your academic preparation, and your extracurricular involvement. We’ll go through each in turn. The thing to remember, however, is that your goal is to prepare for undergraduate schools first. You are not applying to colleges just as a stepping stone to a DDS, but as a goal in and of themselves. All of this advice is aimed at allowing you to prepare for both at once.
You will need a solid base of math and science knowledge above all else. You should try taking biology, chemistry, physics, and math through calculus. The AP versions of all of these courses are recommended. While they do not quite imitate the experience of a college lab, they will challenge you, which is what you want.
You will want to take the highest level courses your school offers, and do well in them. First, you want to demonstrate to colleges that you can succeed when pushing yourself academically, and second, you should demonstrate your interest in the subjects you take.
In addition to simply doing well in courses, you should work to build the associated skills that will continue helping you. Dental school is academically rigorous, and you will have lots of work to do during your time there. Thus you should master study strategies and time management techniques now, while the pressure is lower, and you have more freedom to experiment.
There is no one right way to study, or to organize your time. What you need to do is determine which methods work for you, and turn them into ingrained habits. These will serve you well in both college and dental school.
This can take many varied forms. There is less opportunity to get involved with dentistry than with medicine for high school students, but there are still many ways you can prepare for the field more broadly.
Shadowing opportunities are rarely formally offered to high school students, but you can try to set one up. Begin by speaking to your own dentist; even if they aren’t able to offer you an opportunity, they may know other places you can look, or have other ways for you to get involved. We recommend shadowing so you can get a more in depth understanding of what dentistry involves, and to ensure it is the path you wish to pursue.
Research in the sciences is also good to pursue. Lab openings can be competitive for undergrads, as a lot of college students want to gain research experience. If you already have experience with lab techniques, and training in lab safety, you will have a major leg up when applying to research positions on campus. This experience can come through independent research projects, summer research programs, or both.
Healthcare-related activities, such as student groups or clubs for those interested in pursuing careers in health can be interesting ways to get involved. We will warn that these organizations are generally aimed at students who want to go to medical school however, so they may be tangential to your interests at best.
General science-related activities are a good way to demonstrate interest if you plan on majoring in one of the sciences. Things like science olympiad (or other competitions), participating in (and winning) science fairs, or involvement with other science-related clubs demonstrates your passion for the subject, and allows you a deeper understanding of these topics.
Volunteering and other community service opportunities are always helpful with admissions if done mindfully, and can give you an idea of what kinds of community involvement you enjoy. Since you’ll be expected to do this later on anyway, getting involved now will give you a leg up, and help you try out different ways of giving back.
There are some summer activities directly related to dentistry, though these are far more limited than ones on medicine more generally. These can be a good use of time, but don’t make the mistake of assuming they are essential. Your activities in high school can help prepare you for your eventual career, but are far more important when preparing you to face college admissions more generally.
Just as BS/MD programs allow you to earn multiple degrees in an accelerated time frame, BS/DDS programs allow you to apply to undergrad and a dental college simultaneously. There are not many of these programs, and they are very very competitive for admissions.
These programs exist as partnerships between a college and a dental school, which are sometimes but not always attached to the same university. Acceptance to the program gets you into the college, though not automatically accepted into the dental school. If your grades (and in some cases DAT scores) are sufficient, then you are considered by the admissions committee for the dental school, and sometimes must complete an interview.
These programs are often accelerated, taking only seven years. This can cut down on your opportunities in undergrad, and generally requires that you major in one of the sciences to make sure you can finish all your major requirements in an abbreviated time frame. That said, with careful planning, you can still enjoy classes outside your major, and even opportunities like studying abroad.
These programs usually have minimum GPAs and test scores when you apply as a high school student, though your own scores should exceed these in most cases. These are the baseline, not a guarantor of success. In addition, they want to see many of the same things dental schools want in your extracurriculars, particularly a devotion to science.
Additional essays and interviews are required to apply to these programs. These generally address why you want to go into dentistry. This makes sense, as these programs are a major commitment, and admissions officers want to make certain you know what you’re signing up for.
In general, we recommend you apply to these programs only if you are certain that you want to pursue a career in dentistry. If you do, then they are a great opportunity. You should be aware of the amount of work required however, and be confident in your decision.