I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Biology in June of 2007 from Northwestern University and after being rejected from all the dental schools that I applied to immediately after graduation, I took some time to evaluate and plan the steps I needed to take in order to remedy my less-than-stellar undergraduate career. 2 years at CSUF, an expired DAT score, lots of time in the library, and hours of invaluable help from numerous CSUF faculty later, I’ve finally achieved my goal of gaining acceptance into dental school.
Advice to Re-Applicants:
With the number of dental school applicants increasing every year, there will inevitably be an unfortunate number of individuals that will experience the same humbling experience that I experienced in the summer of 2007 - receiving rejection letter after rejection letter from dental schools informing you of your inadequacies and shortcomings. From this experience, I’ve come to realize that failures such as these can serve as an invaluable learning experience that, I believe, can set you up for future success.
If you are currently in a similar situation to the one I was in three years ago, the first thing I would suggest that you do is to make sure that you have had ample experience in the field of dentistry (ie. shadowing, front- and back-office work, dental related research, etc) to know that it is a profession that you are willing to make sacrifices to be a part of. As much as I want to expound on the fact that poor applications can be remedied by good planning and hard work, it is also important to note that it is imperative that you are pursuing dentistry for the right reasons. Going down a difficult path to work towards a goal is made infinitely more difficult if the goal is not in-line with your passions and interests. Long story short, do your best to get as much information as possible about the dental profession and what it entails. I’ve found that there is undoubtedly someone in your life, whether it be a family member, friend of the family, or friend, that has a close relationship with their dentist and is willing to introduce you to them. Make sure dentistry is for you!
If after this process of discovery you remain passionate about dentistry and still wish to work towards getting into dental school, it is time for you to make realistic goals about what you are going to do to improve yourself as an applicant, and a student. Below is a condensed version of the many things I had to consider while making my own plan.
1. Where am I going to take classes and through what kind of program? Masters? Formal Post-Bacc? Informal Post-Bacc?
One of my major hurdles in getting into dental school was my 3.0 undergraduate GPA. As such, it made the most sense for me to get into a situation in which I was able to take as many classes as possible. CSUF provided me with the opportunity to take classes full-time while also giving me the chance to take advantage of the Health Professions Advising office. From my own personal experience and research, it seems that while dental schools do appreciate someone completing a masters program, taking classes through both formal and informal post-baccalaureate programs is also a viable option. Simply put, as long as you consistently get exemplary grades for an extended period of time (close to 2 years), you have a chance of getting interviews and acceptances in spite of your previous missteps.
2. What classes should I take?
In short, you should take upper-division BCP (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) classes full-time (4 classes per semester). Remember, dental schools use your GPA to make a judgment call on whether or not they think you will be able to handle the rigors of the dental school curriculum. Because of this, taking a couple classes here and there does not give an admissions committee sufficient evidence that you will be able to handle a full-time course load in dental school. Also, if you were a Biology major in college, you already have a lot of BCP units and taking a couple classes will not have much of an effect on your GPA. Again, this is coming from someone that had a 3.0 GPA in college so if yours is in the mid-3.0s, be sure to adjust accordingly.
3. When to take, or re-take, the DAT?
Whether you are a first-time applicant or a re-applicant, you need to do a little research on the DAT score policy of the schools you are interested in applying to. If there is even a small chance you are applying to school X, find out after how many years school X considers a DAT score “expired”. Schools range from 2-4 years on this (among the schools I applied to) so it was necessary for me to re-take the test. If you are planning on taking classes and getting your GPA up before applying, you do not want to take the DAT until the summer before you apply (at the earliest!) as you will run the risk of only being able to use your score once for the schools that only accept scores received within the past 2 years.
The reason why schools look for dental-related ECs is that they want to know that you are truly interested in, and passionate about, dentistry. By shadowing, interning and/or researching, you are giving yourself a chance to learn more about the field, but you are also giving yourself a huge advantage in the application and interview process. Many questions I had during my interviews centered around my extra-curriculars and what I was able to glean from my various experiences. I can’t imagine having to answer the question “how do you know that dentistry is for you?” if I hadn’t had hours upon hours of first-hand experience.
5. Planning, planning and more planning.
While my path to getting into dental school has by no means been easy, it would have been increasingly more difficult had I not taken the time to carefully research and plan my past couple years. With all of the things to consider, many of which are mentioned above, it would be easy to overlook something. As such, it is important to research due dates, how long your professors take to write letters of recommendation, CSUF Health Professions Advising protocol, DAT dates, etc. After you feel like you have a good handle on what and when you need to do things, you need to take the important step of establishing a REASONABLE timeline for yourself. Don’t spread yourself too thin as that will only lead to you not being able to perform at the level that you need to. If you need to take classes full-time and also need to take the DAT, try to figure out a way to take the DAT over the summer so that you are able to completely devote yourself to studying for the DAT and the DAT only. Also, if your GPA is below a 3.0, think long and hard about applying the next cycle. I made the tough decision to skip an application cycle and give myself 2 years to get my GPA up, get my Letters of Rec, study and take the DAT, and to get more dental experience, and I couldn’t be happier about my decision.
6. Take advantage of the resources you have at your disposal!
A lot of individuals spend their undergraduate careers going to class, doing the necessary work, taking the tests and (hopefully) getting good grades. Many students don’t realize, and don’t put to use, the amazing resources CSUF has to offer. While most dental school applicants know they need letters of recommendation, many wait until several semesters have passed to ask a professor. As soon as you identify a class as one that you believe you will excel in, establish a relationship with your professor and ask them for a letter of recommendation ASAP so that they can write a more personalized one that includes more than your grade. Also, make sure you take advantage of the Health Professions Advising Office. They will help you setup your recfile, plan your classes, organize your application, and work on your personal statement. Don’t let knowledge and experience Dr. Goode has go to waste!
Having spent close to 4 years after college in order to get into dental school, it is pretty common to hear family and friends second-guess my decision to keep plugging away. I can honestly say that the many supportive and immensely helpful faculty I met at CSUF played an integral role in my eventually achieving my goal of pursuing a career in dentistry and hope that anyone considering a career in dentistry, or re-applying to dental school, will find a way to take advantage of the resources and opportunities they have before them. Good luck!