What are Dental Schools Looking For?

The most common question asked by premed students is what characteristics dental schools interested in.  Many students assume that a high GPA and DAT score will ensure their entrance into the program of their choice, but grades alone are typically not enough.  Below is a basic overview of the characteristics of students that dental schools are looking for.  Read over them and see what areas you are doing well in, and what areas may need improvement.

In 2010, the average GPA of students admitted to a US dental school was 3.53 and their average science GPA was 3.47. While there are certainly students above and below these averages, this should provide you with a method to compare your current GPA to those that were successful in gaining admission to US dental schools.

In 2011, the average GPA of students admitted to the University of Colorado School of Dentistry was 3.72 and their average science GPA was 3.65.

In 2010, the average DAT academic average of students admitted to US medical schools was 19.3

In 2010, the average DAT academic average of students admitted to the University of Colorado School of Dentistry was 19.6.

Clinical Experience
One of the more critical experiences for pre-dental students is exposure to patients in a clinical setting.  This type of experience will allow you to ensure that you enjoy working with patients and that you are well suited for a career in dentistry.  The dental schools expect that you will have spent time shadowing dentists, and interacting with patients, either as a volunteer or in a paid position.  To learn more about the types of clinical experience that can be useful, click here.

Community Service
Most individuals who are interested in dentistry are driven by a desire to help others.  One way to show this desire and practice it before dental school is through community service.  There is a wide range of opportunities for community service while in college.  Students should choose an area that interests them and get involved in it. If you have a skill set that is helpful, use it.  Speak a foreign language?  Work as an interpreter.  Good at sports?  Volunteer as a coach or referee.  Like working with kids?  Volunteer as a tutor in a local school.  Good at working with your hands? Volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  Find what you love to do and use it help those in need.  Dental schools want students who demonstrate compassion and not those who just talk about it.

Dentists are often the leaders of a medical team and a personal practice, therefore you should spend some time in a leadership position.  This does not always mean that you have to be the president of the club or sorority or captain of the team.  Leadership can be demonstrated in a variety of ways.  You need to show that you have the ability to successfully get others to do a task and to work together.  Many students find leadership opportunities in their community service activities or their clinical experiences.  Just keep in mind that while leadership is important, you must also be a good follower and one that can work in a group even when someone else is in charge.  Both leading and following are important parts of being a dentist.

Dental schools want applicants who are mature, who know their strengths and weaknesses, and can handle situations that are new and/or stressful.  Maturity is the one thing on the list that can be the most difficult to obtain and demonstrate.  One way to help you become more mature is to attempt activities that take you out of your comfort zone.  By challenging yourself, you will learn more about yourself and how you deal with difficult situations.  Another way to become more mature is to interact with individuals who are different from you.  This can be individuals from another culture, those that are much older or younger than you, those from a different socio-economic background, those with physical or mental disabilities or any other differences.  The more you spend time with people who are different from you, the more you learn about yourself.  Yet another way to develop maturity is to take responsibility for you own actions.  Recognizing that there are situations where you have made mistakes and then learning from those mistakes is a classic sign of maturity.

Research Experience
Some dental schools prefer that applicants have research experience before they apply.  Research allows a student to investigate a topic in greater detail and more in-depth than work in the traditional classroom.  While it is more common for students to conduct scientific research in a laboratory, there are many different types of research experiences.  For students who chose to major in something other than science, research in his or her field of interest is just as valuable.  Conducting research allows you to gather and synthesize information and teaches you critical thinking skills.  All of these are valuable tools for anyone interested in a career in dentistry.