Considering Dental School? FAQs for Undergrads

by Billy Tarpley on March 5, 2013

What do dental schools look for in a potential student?

Dental schools will look for students with a firm educational foundation–pretty much like every other post-graduate or doctorate school. Unsurprisingly, your undergraduate GPA and DAT (more on that later) scores will play a large role in the school’s vetting process.

Generally, the mean GPA for incoming dental school freshmen is around 3.5. Schools will also look for DAT scores of 19 and above in all three sections. But, of course, keep your GPA as high as possible and shoot for the moon in your DAT.

Expect for schools to request in-person interviews and a couple or three letters of recommendation: again, no surprise there.

However, to get a leg up on the competition, we suggest securing in-practice experience observing a dentist before your senior year of college. Shadowing in a dental office not only looks great on your application, it’s also an invaluable step in deciding if dentistry is the right career path for you.

What undergraduate courses should I take to prepare for dental school?

The American Dental Association suggests you have a basic foundation of:
8 hours of Physics
8 hours of English
8 hours of Biology with lab
8 hours of General Chemistry with lab
8 hours of Organic Chemistry with lab

Also, seek out a pre-dental committee at your school, which can be an invaluable resource of information and experience.

Does Arkansas have a dental school?

As of now, no.

What about UAMS?

Little Rock’s University of Arkansas for Medical Science is on schedule to launch a Center for Dental Education in 2014. The Center will provide post-graduate residency programs for new dental school graduates. Also, the program intends to offer a cooperative program with seniors at the University of Tennessee wherein seniors can receive in-clinic training for credit.

What schools are in the region, then?

Graduating Arkansans typically enroll at one of seven regional dental programs: the University of Tennessee at Memphis, Louisiana State University, Texas A&M at Baylor, University of Louisville, University of Missouri at Kansas City, University of Oklahoma, and Meharry University.

Can I take time off between getting my undergraduate degree and beginning dental school?

Of course. It’s not at all uncommon for applicants to take a year-long breather after a grueling undergraduate experience and before undertaking an even more intense four years pursuing a DDS. This also provides for a great opportunity to acquire some dental-related work experience or otherwise strengthen an application through volunteering or continuing dental-related studies.

What is a DAT exam and when/where can I take it?

The DAT–or Dental Admission Test–is a standardized exam that must be taken by potential dental school students. The five-hour test is comprised of four sections: natural sciences (biology, organic chemistry and general chemistry), perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.

You can take the test virtually any day of the year at a Prometric testing center. Each applicant can take the exam up to three times, waiting 90 days between each exam.

We suggest that you nail down an exemplary DAT score at least one year before applying to dental schools: around the second semester of your junior year.

What’s the difference between DDS and DMD degrees?

Well, nothing, really. Just the name. Some schools offer a DDS, others a DMD. It’s a source of confusion for potential dentists and patients alike. But, at the end of the day, your friend with a DMD is no better or worse qualified than you are, DDS.

When should I apply for dental school?

Start getting those applications out at least one year before your expected enrollment date…but common wisdom says “earlier is better.” There is a wealth of useful, thorough information waiting for you through the ADEA AADSAS  (the American Dental Education Association Associated American Dental Schools Application Service, the first in an endless parade of really ridiculous acronyms you’ll encounter in your dental career).

How can I secure financial aid?

Grants, scholarships, government and private loans: it’s the same frustrating battlefield everyone has to navigate when applying for post-graduate school.

However, as an Arkansas, your situation is unique: because our state doesn’t offer a dental school, there are the SREB and ARHEG programs, which you should get familiar with right away.

Okay, so just what are SREB and ARHEG?

The Arkansas Health Education Grant Program (ARHEG) provides financial assistance for Arkansans who have to go out of state–and pay out-of-state tuition–for doctoral school.

Our state participates in an arrangement with the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB), which negotiates contracts on a school-by-school basis wherein dental schools reserve a certain number of “slots” or “positions” in each incoming class to be filled by Arkansans.

If you are accepted to fill an SREB-negotiated spot for Arkansans, you are eligible to receive state assistance. For fiscal year 2012-2013, SREB offered $16,400/year per student enrolled in dental school in order to cover some of the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition.

For more information, check out the ADHE financial aid website.

Should I start thinking about specializing?

Sure, why not? Endodontics, pathology, radiology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, pediatrics, periodontics, prosthodontics, geriodontics are all rewarding, profitable career paths. Just be open to the chance that you may find yourself perfectly happy doing general dentistry or pursuing another specialization than you first intended.

You’ll have ample opportunities while in dental school to explore each specialty. Should you decide you want to forge ahead into specialty after graduating with your DDS/DMD, expect to spend another two to three years at an accredited residency program.

What types of loan repayment programs are available in Arkansas?

The National Health Service Corps (NHSC), which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers loan repayment programs for graduates willing to practice in communities with little access to dental care.

Community Health Centers of Arkansas is another popular route for loan repayment, as well.

Are there any professional groups available for young dentists in Arkansas?

Our state offers a thriving young professional group in the Arkansas State Dental Association New Dentist Committee, which won the American Dental Association’s inaugural Outstanding New Dentist Committee award in 2012.

Okay, let’s do this! Give me some links to these dental schools!

University of Tennessee – Memphis

Louisiana State University

Texas A&M – Baylor

University of Louisville

University of Missouri – Kansas City

University of Oklahoma

Meharry University


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