It’s a fascinating and life-changing medical profession that is consistently listed as one of the best to enter year after year. The demand for talented dentists has created a competitive field with those applying expected to carry a minimum 3.0 grade point average.
The chances of getting into dental school can depend on many things. It’s not just a numbers game. If your grades to get into dental school are weighing on you because they are less than you had hoped or are far below other applicants, then taking quick action can make a big difference in gaining entrance to a top dental school or college.
What Dental Schools Look For
A hopeful dental student should load up on science courses as well as other classes that explore different areas of the medical field while in an undergraduate program.
Most dental schools prefer to see two semesters of biology or zoology with a corresponding lab course. Any advanced courses in physiology, anatomy and microbiology help a dental school applicant rise to the top of the admissions pile. A year of understanding the basic principles of physics and a semester each of calculus and biochemistry are preferable for undergraduates to complete before applying to dental school.
Chemistry is key to standing out in the application process. A minimum of three semesters of chemistry with a lab training pairing is ideal. This should include inorganic chemistry and a semester of organic chemistry at the least. Any extra work either in class or in a volunteer or internship situation with organic or physical chemistry can help raise your rating with admissions officials.
Grades to Get Into Dental School
Most dental colleges or schools require a minimum GPA of 3.0. However, there are many reasons a student’s GPA can dip during the school career. If students find themselves approaching college application deadlines with a less than stellar GPA, they shouldn’t lose heart.
There are a few ways outside of your class ranking or GPA that can better your chances of getting into dental school if you have a low GPA. Dental schools prefer to accept students who have a variety of courses that they have completed during their tenure in college or high school. Admissions officials want to see what you excel at outside of science-based courses.
Aside from math, biology, anatomy and chemistry, prospective dental students should round out their coursework with a few extra interests. Completing a second language course or program can increase your viability and GPA. Physical fitness or physio-therapy training can also bump up your application by showing that you have a wide range of interests pertaining to the medical field.
Advisers Can Provide Aid
The focus of the undergraduate degree is not as important as the grade point average you have achieved while attending a higher education institution. Whether you majored in business, physical fitness or biology, the undergraduate degree is considered a base for admissions officials to get a sense of the student’s aptitude and interests.
For those whose grades have begun to slip as they head toward graduation, an adviser can help you get back to a good standing by guiding you to courses that are a better fit or programs about which you may not be aware that may provide GPA assistance. If you have access to an adviser during your high school or undergraduate schooling, the adviser can guide you to programs to help you get to the next step for your dental schooling.
What Is the DAT?
The Dental Admission Test is used by the admissions office to gain understanding of the student’s perceptual ability, general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information. It is required by dental schools along with the rest of your application. It is a small piece but is significant if you have had a low GPA. They use the DAT to compare your current level of knowledge and expertise to those of the other applicants.
The DAT is 4 hours and 15 minutes long. It is given all year long. It can cost around $400 or more depending on the test center where you decide to take the test. It is scored on a scale of 1 to 30. A basic calculator with four functions is made available on the computer at the test center for the math section.
You may not use your own calculator or phone or any notes, scratch paper or other items brought from home. The test center will check your glasses and pockets and will pat you down before you enter the supervised area where the DAT is taken. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves, pull down your socks and raise your pant legs so that the test center can check for any information you may be trying to sneak into the closed testing area.
Four Parts of the DAT
The Survey of Natural Sciences test has three subscores for biology, organic chemistry and general chemistry. It contains 100 questions: 40 for biology and 30 each for general and organic chemistry.
You have an hour to complete 90 questions on the Perceptual Ability test. There are six areas of these mini mind games:
- Angle discrimination
- Cube counting
- 3D form development
- Paper folding
- View recognition
The Reading Comprehension section is where you can increase your academic average. There are three passages with 50 questions that discuss science and economics. This must be completed in an hour. The Quantitative Reasoning section has 40 questions that you must answer in 40 minutes. It covers algebra, interpretation and sufficiency, data analysis, quantitative comparison and probability and statistics.
Tips to Take the DAT
Break the DAT down into sections. Since you know you will have a good six weeks before your test date, study sections of the DAT by day and week. A specific study schedule will have you on course for completing all that you hope to cover. This can also build your confidence as the test date draws near.
There are many review books to study. Choose one that speaks to your style of learning. Each April, the American Student Dental Association holds a DAT week with webinars and events to help students prepare for the test. Make sure to apply for your personal identifier, the DENTPIN, when you are preparing to take the DAT.
Making a Date With the DAT
Aside from all the cramming you will complete to prepare for the DAT, you’ll need to think about the time and place where you will ace this lengthy exam. It’s more important than you may think. If you have to reschedule at the last minute or are rushed due to trying to maneuver work and home life duties and arrive late, you may have to pay a fee.
After you have applied to take the DAT test and have obtained a DENTPIN, it’s time to choose a date to take the DAT. If you aren’t entirely sure that the date will work, consider changing it. If you can’t know for sure that you can get that date off from work or have child care or other responsibilities covered, then it’s not a good idea to sign up. The test can be expensive, and the fees for missing your scheduled date may add to the stress of taking the test.
DAT Day Preparation
Choose a day that works best for you. If you are fresher on a Monday than on a Friday, ask for the day of the week that works best for your test-taking style. This also applies to how you function in the morning or afternoon. Decide to sit for the test at the time of day when you are at your peak.
Try to have a few days with no distractions or stressful events before your scheduled test days. Plot your path to get to the testing center so you don’t stress out just before the test while trying to find an unfamiliar place. Leave any notes and your phone in the car or in a locker if one is provided at the testing center. No outside electronics are allowed in the testing area.
Programs That Combine Schooling
Some universities offer a way to get to your goal as soon as you enter their undergraduate program. They combine the typical coursework that is expected for freshly accepted college students with specific dental school requirements.
A combo school program can get the student a degree in dentistry within seven years. This fast track can shave a few years off a student’s completion of a Doctor of Dental Surgery or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree.
What Volunteering Can Do for You
Admissions officers for dental schools consider more than the numbers that make up your application. They will look at what you did with your time and energy when you weren’t sitting in a classroom. Any volunteering at community centers, in particular with medical facilities, will count toward your acceptance.
On campus, get involved with academic groups and organize campus activities, such as a free dental checkup for students through a local charity or dental group. Ask a prominent dentist from the area to come speak to your class. If possible, request to intern with a dentist or orthodontist to gain real-life experience.
Alternative Routes to Dental School
If you have a low GPA for dental school but have a calling to become a dentist, there are a few ways to get into a good medical college. Technically, you can gain admittance to a good dental school without a Bachelor of Science degree. While it’s possible, it is not ideal.
A bachelor’s degree or associate degree in any major with a GPA of 3.0 or higher paired with a solid DAT score can help you land a spot in a quality dental school or university. Getting a master's before dental school can help propel you to leadership, coveted research and education positions in the medical field.
Final Grade Point Average Considerations
Don’t feel down about a low GPA. While dental schools are highly competitive, they are also open to examining a diligent student’s total work experience and capacity for overcoming obstacles. Dentistry is about more than grades. It’s about a passion to help people and a capacity to work hard.
If you have a GPA of 3.3 or higher, your chances of gaining acceptance are fairly certain. If your GPA falls below this plateau, there are a few options to consider to ensure you can get into the dental school of your choice. If you did well in your science classes, for instance, make sure to point out that individual GPA. Any extracurricular activities should be highlighted.
As soon as you realize that your GPA is below 3.0, reach out to the community and to school advisers. The work you do outside of school matters.
- If you get a C in one or two courses, do not panic. You do not need to have a perfect GPA to get into dental school. Work hard to get As in other science courses to bring up your GPA.
- Dental school takes four years to complete and is academically rigorous. If you struggle with undergraduate science coursework, graduate-level dentistry courses may be too difficult for you. Carefully consider your skills and talents before applying to dental school.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.