You have been to all the pre-dental days, listened to all the admissions presentations. You already know the due dates, the importance of applying early, when to take the DATs… blah blah blah. What I am about to tell you is the things NOT to do in the application process. I have compiled the top 4 things applicants should avoid while applying. This list was generated from my experiences and what I witness in the cycle. Ready for some tough love?
1. Applying to every dental school known to mankind.
I get it. Dental school is hard to get into and it’s getting more competitive each year. With competitiveness increasing, so is the cost! There are 66 dental schools in the US, with the first application being a whopping $245 and $102 for each additional application after that. Apply smart and make a strategic list of 7-10 schools you would like to apply to. I call this the 2-3-2 rule. The rule works by picking 2 schools where you meet the average DAT/GPA requirement. The next 2-3 schools should be the schools where you may not meet both the DAT/GPA requirement but you are fairly close. Finally, only apply to two far reach schools. These are what I call the ‘dream’ schools. They are the schools you would think was a dream if you got in. You may be far from the average credentials, but you have good ties there. You should try to network and make connections at every school you apply to, but these last two are where you should be networking the hardest at in order to increase your chances of an interview and acceptance. Dental school is competitive and expensive, but I assure you the 2-3-2 rule and will increase your chances of acceptance and keep some money in your pockets!
2. Being A Hermit.
“I’m applying to dental school but I’m keeping it on the low just in case I don’t get in”. Hello everyone, I’d like to introduce to you what I like to call The Hermit applicant. Boy, I can’t tell you how many times I have met the hermit. I totally get it though; I once was a hermit myself. My first time applying I barely told anyone because I had a strong feeling I wouldn’t get it and I didn’t want to have that awkward conversation to people explaining that I didn’t get in. How embarrassing. But man, if I could go back I would tell myself to open up my mouth! My dad always told me ‘closed mouths don’t get fed’ while growing up and he’s right! Things didn’t start happening for me until I started speaking up and telling people about my status and what I was trying to do. I put aside my pride and started telling everyone and I mean everyone, even strangers. The amount of connection I made was unbelievable. The world is a small place; people know people who know someone who knows someone you could use. For example, the oral surgeon I worked for during my year off introduced me to his friend from medical school that is also an OS. I told him I was applying to dental school and his best friend ended up being the dean of the dental school I was planning to apply to! See the small world? This occurrence set me on fire. I started telling everybody I met I was applying to dental school- in elevators, bathrooms, you name it I was sharing my story. People like to feel helpful. Especially those who have made it. As you grow up and go through the growing pains, they want to help people to not have to go through what they went through. And that my friend is what I am doing now. I have made it to the biggest goal of my life. I have endured all the cuts and bruises from the climb, but I made it and I am sending down the ladder for you all.
3. The Gunner Interviewee.
Whew, child. This may be a silly one but it must be talked about. So you’ve applied and have received an interview, how exciting! Embrace it, you are now past the hard part, the school has reviewed your application and wants you. Now here the issue, people often think they have to continue to sell themselves at the interview. Dental schools normally interview an average of 10 students. The groups are small and you spend the whole day with them doing various things such as touring the school, department presentations, and meeting students. To be honest, the actual interview ends up being only a small part of the day. As you start to go on more interviews you will start to easily pick out the ‘extra interviewee’. I mean just extra, doing the absolute most. Sadly, they think they have to keep selling themselves, so throughout the whole day, they are boasting about themselves. Sharing their spectacular scores and GPA, constantly reminding people they are on their 5th interview and its only September, constantly asking questions to be seen, and to be honest it is just flat out annoying to the rest of the group. You can see how annoying this can be right? I’m not being mean, I promise! Now here’s the truth; you don’t need to sell yourself, the school needs to sell you! Go into the interview with confidence and almost treat it as if you’re interviewing them. So I know you’re probably thinking, “if they know they want me, then why do I even have to interview?” Well, that’s easy, we have all seen Catfish right? Yeah, it’s kind of the same thing for them. They just want to make sure everything you said in your application is lining up to who you are in person. Be yourself, let your personality shine, and I promise you’ll nail your interview.
4. The “Plan B” Applicant.
Want to know how to get any dental health professional’s gears running? Tell them you changed your professional plans because the dental route seemed “easier”. It is perfectly normal to have a change in mind about a career choice. We have all had our fair share of thoughts about another career path for various reasons. It is great and encouraged to seek out other options, but do not change your career plans because you felt you were failing at your dream of going another route. The common switch applicants make is the switch from medicine to dentistry. It makes sense though. Our admissions test, application cycle, and curriculums are similar, but these are vastly different career options. If your dream is to be a medical doctor, then do not give up on that. Dental school is hard. Not just academically but hand skill-wise. You have to possess a strong passion for using your hands, while also enduring some unpleasant smells and sights. Save yourself time and money and make sure the profession is a passion of yours not just a quicker or easier route. Admissions will find out if you changed your career path and best believe they are going to ask why the switch. Be prepared for a good response.
Erin Howard is a current dental student at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. She received my BS Degree in Biology in 2017 at Hampton University. She is a nontraditional student and serves as a mentor for dental school applicants