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Preparing to apply to dental school
Applying to dental school is a long and complex process. Use this checklist and series of links to help understand the process and establish a series of deadlines for yourself. The dates associated with each step are suggestions; your timeline may change depending on personal factors like the deadlines for your schools of choice and your readiness for the DAT.
Register for your DENTPIN (January or earlier)
If you haven't already registered with the ADA, do so now. This number will follow you through dental school and your career as a dentist, so you will only register for one DENTPIN in your lifetime. This number will be required to register for the DAT.
Get to know AADSAS (February or earlier)
The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) is a mouthful. It is also the centralized application portal through which all applications to US dental schools begin. The ADEA has produced a wealth of resources to help applicants understand how to use this portal and time all steps in the application process. So use them, preferably in this order:
Overview: learn the steps in the application process and technical requirements for completing
the application online
Instructions: a detailed page that will guide applicants through the details of all application requirements
ADEA Webinar featuring recently accepted dental students (see below)
We expect that AADSAS will open for Fall 2018 applicants in early June 2017.
Find out how you stack up academically (February/March)
As you get closer to application season, you need to look at your GPA as it will appear to dental schools and start looking at schools that are a good fit for your credentials. AADSAS does not calculate your GPA the same way that ETSU does, so your Goldlink transcript GPA can be deceiving.
You will have a BCP GPA, which includes all biology, chemistry, and physics classes (including initial attempts that you later repeat and failed classes). You will also see a Science GPA, which includes all classes above plus other science (e.g. HSCI) and math classes. This also includes repeated classes. Your a non-science GPA includes all classes not included in the Science GPA. Finally, your overall GPA is exactly what it sounds like.
AADSAS standardizes the scoring system across the board, so the numbers associated with each letter grade are a little different than ETSU's numbers. Factor in previous attempts at repeated courses and you may end up with a surprising number. It's better to know now where you stand and determine which schools are within your reach based on that number, the one that dental schools will see on your application.
If you have not yet taken the DAT, a practice test can help you estimate how you will do. That's one more data point to help you generate your list of schools. Kaplan offers free online practice tests at regular intervals. Register here.
Make (or refine) your list of dental schools (February/March)
The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, especially Chapter 3, is a great way to start making this list. You can buy this guide here for $15 or you can stop by and borrow mine in the MPA Office for free. You can see each school's mean GPA/DAT and the GPA/DAT range for accepted students at a glance. You can also easily access the ratio of in-state to out-of-state matriculants.
This interactive map of all U.S. dental schools (with links to each school's website) can also be helpful in starting your search).
Check out this ADEA presentation to hear about several other factors you should consider when deciding which schools interest you most.
Defining this list early is important because it gives you time to thoroughly research these schools, including prerequisites, student support services, student organizations, curriculum, tuition costs, and other important factors.
It will also be critical to timing the remaining steps of your application process. Which brings us to...
Work backward to set application deadlines (March/April)
AADSAS will stay open until next February, but dental schools all set their own application deadlines. These dates often fall much earlier than next spring. For example, UTHSC's deadline is in September. Once all application materials are received by ADEA AADSAS, you can expect to wait 4-6 weeks for processing. So, your last deadline for all materials (personal statement, letters of evaluation, transcripts) has to be at least 6 weeks before the earliest deadline.
AADSAS won't even forward your application on to a particular school if your application is completed after that school's deadline. These deadlines are incredibly important, so leave yourself some breathing room when you establish your timeline, which should include all of the remaining steps.
Register to take the DAT (January - July)
Download a copy of the DAT 2016 Program Guide and read it before you register for a test date.
After you have completed the required coursework and have prepared on your own (we recommend at least 300-350 hours of independent study for the DAT), you need to take this test. Although you can submit your application before your DAT scores are in, you ideally want your schools to see the whole picture upon first review. Your official scores will be sent to ADEA AADSAS 3-4 weeks after your test date and may take up to a week to get from AADSAS to your schools. It is recommended that you register for the DAT at least 6 weeks before your anticipated test date.
When you take the DAT, please utilize the option to release a (free) copy of your score report to your pre-dental advisor.
Although you should plan on taking the DAT once and getting it right the first time, you should note that, should you have to retest, you will have to wait 90 days between test dates.
Arrange for your Letters of Evaluation (January - May)
You can submit up to 4 individual letters of evaluation or one committee evaluation report plus one more individual letter to AADSAS.
ETSU has an evaluation committee on site. If you are applying to a school that prefers or requires a committee evaluation letter/report, you should prepare to go through the first or second committee evaluation cycle of the year. These committee evaluations are offered to students on a first-come, first-served basis and are limited to 34 students each cycle. It is a complex and somewhat time-consuming process that will help you prepare for the real deal by having you submit an application, write a personal statement, and interview with two committee members. Students are required to submit 4 letters of recommendation (2 from science faculty and 2 from non-science faculty), so you would do well to start thinking about faculty to recommend you and making these requests early on. Students planning to take part in the committee evaluation should read up on the process and relevant deadlines and should also talk with their MPA Counselor (423.439.5602) as soon as they make this decision.
Get your finances together
Applying to dental school is an expensive process. Grab that list of schools from a few steps ago and run these numbers.
$245 AADSAS application fee (covers 1 dental school application)
$98 for each additional school
$430 DAT fee
Then add up the supplemental application fees for each of your chosen schools (expect $50-75 per school) and add these numbers to your total:
- supplemental application fees
- interview attire
- fuel/flight costs for travel to your chosen schools for interviews
- hotel and food costs during interviews
- DAT preparation books/courses
Do you have a knot in your belly? Financial assistance is available for students who qualify, but you need to apply early in the process.
The ADEA AADSAS Fee Assistance Program (FAP) waives the initial application fee and the additional fees for 2 more schools (for a total of 3 schools). You may add additional schools to your application by paying the additional per-school fees. This program also runs on a first-come, first-served basis and funds were depleted by mid-July last year (within 6 weeks of the application cycle opening).
The ADA partial fee waiver reduces the cost of taking the DAT by 50%. You should apply early for this one as well because you cannot apply the waiver once you have registered for a test.
Draft and refine your personal statement (February - June)
Visit this AADSAS link for pointers on developing a compelling personal statement. I am happy to meet with you to develop ideas, help you start the drafting process, or to give feedback and suggestions for revision.
Develop a resume or CV to chronicle your achievements
This process will help you keep track of what you've accomplished and been involved in as you have prepared for dental school. You may want to pass this document along to faculty and clinicians who will be writing letters of recommendation for you.
Include things like:
Academic awards and honors
Organizations, clubs, leadership experience
Volunteer work and community service
Health- and dentistry-related job shadowing
Research experience & publications
Work experience (especially in the health field or working with people)
Activities that require manual dexterity
Request official transcripts (May-June)
Use this AADSAS form.
Get ready for those interviews (May-December)
Move on into our next section, "Win Your Seat," to get ready for your dental school interviews.