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Medical Professions Advisement

Center for Advisement and Student Excellence

Plan your path to dental school


Choose a major

You may have already settled on a major and minor. If not, your second year is the time to solidify your decisions.

One of your main goals as an undergraduate is to acquire a knowledge base that will prepare you for dental school. While a strong foundation in the sciences and mathematics is important, professional schools are looking for students who think critically, solve problems, communicate effectively, work independently and in teams, and can act with compassion and empathy. A motivated student can master and demonstrate these skills and traits within virtually any program of study in college, meaning that any major can theoretically work with your pre-dental program.

We will talk during advisement meetings about the best majors for your goals. Popular choices include

or other majors in the science and math fields. Don't feel like you have to choose to major in a science discipline. Many pre-health students choose alternate fields that will help them manage the business side of the practice, increase their dexterity and visual acuity, or equip them to work well with patients from different backgrounds. A program of study in business, art, or the social sciences--psychology, sociology, or anthropology, for example--can help you develop these skills.

Your minor is another important consideration. Students who major in a non-science discipline should consider a science minor such as biology, chemistry, health sciences, or microbiology. Science majors may want to round out their education with a minor in a completely different field. I recommend that you start by looking at these minors:

Meet with your major / minor advisors to review the requirements for your program and lay out a graduation plan that you and I will build on in our advisement meetings. You can find your advisors' contact information here.

Research professional schools

Start exploring dental schools in the U.S. here.

Questions to ask yourself as you read up on (and visit!) these campuses include:

  • Where is the school located? Is it a community that I could study in? One that I could see myself practicing in?
  • What are the costs of attendance?
  • Does this school admit a high number of out-of-state students?
  • What does it take to be a competitive applicant at this school (GPA range, DAT score range)?
  • What extracurricular activities and student organizations are available at this school?
  • If I have trouble in my first year, what resources are available to help me get back on track?
  • What is the mission of this school?
  • Does this institution have other health sciences programs (medicine, dental hygiene, etc.)?
  • What is this school's NBDE pass rate?
Continue to seek out extracurricular and leadership activities

We recommend that you get involved in 2 or 3 organizations on campus that represent causes you are passionate about. Sincere and consistent contributions to these organizations will help you develop leadership skills, make like-minded friends to study and work with, and cultivate different facets of your professional skill set. 

In addition to the Oral Health Student Association, we recommend looking at:

  • Alpha Epsilon Delta
  • Students for Altruistic Action
  • Volunteer ETSU
  • Wellness Peer Educators (enrollment in a 3-credit hour class required)
Seek out undergraduate research opportunities

Research experience is an important component of your preparation for dental school. 

Talk to your professors about getting involved in ongoing research. You may also talk with your pre-dental advisor about workshops and classes that will teach you introductory research skills and help you get placed on projects at ETSU.

Build your record of clinical observation and experience

Dental schools are looking for applicants who have taken it upon themselves to make sure they have educated themselves as much as possible about the field they plan to enter. Time spent in a clinical environment is one of the best ways to do this.

Shadowing in a general dentistry setting should, in most cases, make up the bulk of your observation experience, but you could also benefit from exploring specialty areas like orthodontics, endodontics, and cosmetic dentistry to get a field for dental practice in a few different contexts.

Prepare for letters of recommendation

This is the time to start thinking about faculty who will write letters of recommendation for you as you go into the application process next year.

AADSAS allows for up to 4 letters of evaluation. Some dental schools favor evaluations from faculty across the board, while others would prefer to see letters from dentists that you have shadowed or worked with. Read up on the preferences of your schools so that you can choose the best possible evaluators for your application.

It will help you to have letters from both science and non-science faculty (and if you choose to take part in the committee evaluation process, choosing professors from diverse fields will be a requirement). 

Visit these professors during office hours and get to know them outside of class. Work with them on research projects and, if possible, on conference presentations and publications. Develop ongoing relationships with these faculty members by taking both parts of 2-course sequences (e.g. Organic Chemistry I and II) with the same instructor. When possible, choose tenured or tenure-track faculty over adjunct instructors or lecturers.

For some additional (and rather nuanced) advice on choosing the best evaluators for your letters of recommendation--and how to go about asking for letters--read over this article by Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Michelle Finkel.

Take a DAT practice test

While you should not take the DAT (Dental Admission Test) until you have completed all prerequisites and are fully prepared, the middle or end of your sophomore year is a great time to take a practice DAT to see how prepared you are for the real thing.

Kaplan offers free practice exams. Check out their upcoming events and register for a practice test here. Your practice score will guide us when we develop your DAT study plan and consider the timing of your exam.


Apply for summer internships and research experiences

The Summer Academic Enrichment Program (SAEP) at Virginia Commonwealth University is a 6-week program that simulates your first year at a health sciences professional school. Juniors and seniors are eligible for this program.
Learn more and get application materials here.




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