“What do you want to be when you grow up?”: A seemingly innocent, simple question that you have probably heard from the time you were in kindergarten and every Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of enjoying sweet potatoes and stuffing. Yet, this ten-word, ten syllable inquiry might be a stress-inducing annoyance with an unfathomably complex answer or an opportunity to express a true passion of yours! If you were like me, I changed my answer many times until deciding upon the career that I ultimately chose: astronaut, chocolatier, college chemistry professor (my aspiration as a fifth grader, who had never stepped onto a college campus), nurse, doctor, veterinarian, teacher and finally, dentist. If you respond to this question with “dentist,” you will likely get a reply like, “Why?” or, “Really?” or, “I hate going to the dentist!”
Once you’ve identified that you aspire to become a dentist, what can you do next? Well, that depends on where you are in your life and schooling. My personal recommendations below are targeted for college students, but high school and post-college individuals can use the general principles I’ve provided.
Key aspects of your journey to Dental School:
1. Ensuring that dentistry is the career for you
If you think that dentistry is the career that you want to spend the next few decades working in, you want to ensure that you will enjoy that profession. Why not visit a dentist and watch what they do in a typical day? This opportunity, shadowing, allows you to get an idea for what being a dentist is like. You can observe how a dentist interacts with their patients and staff members, watch them perform various procedures like filings, extractions or root canals and get a feel for what being in a dental office is like! A benefit of shadowing is that dental schools look for clinical exposure on their applications and many mandate that you complete a certain number before matriculation, the average number is around 80-100 shadowing hours, but investing a few more hours gives you an even better understanding for and perspective of the field.
If you are like many people, you might not know which field you are interested in, which makes it more important to understand what your alternative options look like. Shadowing in other professions, say medicine or veterinary medicine, if those fields interest you, can help you narrow down your interests and imagine your career better. With all shadowing opportunities, it is beneficial to consistently shadow one or several professionals to get different perspectives and a more holistic view of their field.
2. Maintain or attain a solid academic background
Like medical school, dental school admissions is competitive and a solid academic background both in college courses and on admissions exam is important. While this point seems obvious, it is an important aspect of an admissions application and should not be overlooked. You will want to do your best to study and consistently do well in your college courses as well as prepare well and perform well on the DAT (dental admissions test).
3. Get your hands dirty: Being involved
The saying that admissions committees are looking for well-rounded individuals isn’t false. Although academics are important, dentists need to be able to communicate well with their patients, work as a part of a dental and medical team as well as think creatively and use critical thinking skills. By gaining experiences outside of the classroom, whether it be working a part-time job, volunteering in the community or being a member or leader of extracurricular groups or sports teams, you gain perspective, hone interpersonal skills, and have a little fun at the same time!
A side note: Keep track of the hours and dates you devote to each activity, have contact information for a supervisor and a description of the activity. On your dental school application, you will be asked to provide all of this information, and it will be a less stressful, easier process if you are preparing along the way.
4. Be introspective
Growth is imperative to the dental and medical fields, as well as every individual. By reflecting on your experiences, whether that be shadowing, working or volunteering, you can better appreciate your motivation, values and actions. Introspection and reflection are an imperative part of the growth process, but in terms of dental and medical school admissions, these processes allow you to identify your story and show it to the committees.
5. Have fun and don’t lose sight of your values
The pathway to dental school and dentistry is long, and it’s important not to let it consume you. Time management and prioritization is an important skill no matter your profession and it’s a great time to work on them. While all of the points above are important, mental and emotional health should be promoted at all times. Take a break to hang out with friends, call your family members, enjoy your hobbies, stay healthy by eating well and exercising and doing things that genuinely make you happy!
I hope that this helped you! While I am not a member of an admissions committee, I have gone through the dental school admissions process and these are the most important points that I learned along the way. Thank you for reading!
Kristie spent her first year and a half of undergrad at the University of Rochester studying biomedical engineering and transferred to Union College in Schenectady, NY to study biology. After exploring science and liberal arts for two years, Kristie graduated from Union with a 3.95 GPA, Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa, and earned the Samuel Feuer Prize, which is awarded to the Union College senior interested in dentistry with the best overall academic performance. She is now studying dentistry at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine.
During her partial gap year before attending Harvard School of Dental Medicine, she worked as a tutor and advocate for middle school students in a student-success program. Kristie also has experience tutoring inter-city youth while at the University of Rochester as a member of their Learning and Exploring at Play program. From interacting with a diverse range of students with various learning styles in school, at the youth clubhouse, and privately tutoring students in their homes and online, Kristie knows how to engage her tutees, address difficult topics, and help them reach their goals. Kristie loves working with students of all ages in topics ranging from high school mathematics to college biology. She also has experience coaching students through the process of preparing for the DAT.
Thinking about taking the DAT soon or applying to dental school this year? Check out some other helpful blog posts below!: