FAQ by Pre-Dental Students

Q. What are dental schools looking for?

A. Dental schools are interested in applicants who have a demonstrated record for excellence in academics (GPA, DAT scores), strong interpersonal skills, clear motivation for dentistry, as well as demonstrated compassion and concern for others.

Q. Can I use AP credit to fulfill my Pre-Dental requirements?

A. Dental schools want to be sure that you can handle the science coursework at the college level. You can certainly use AP credit to fulfill all or part of the math requirement. If you use AP credit to place out of an introductory science course, then you must replace it with an upper level course with laboratory in that department.

Q. Can I take another reading and writing course in place of English?

A. While some dental schools may accept literature in translation or other reading and writing courses, it is best to simply take two English courses, as some schools are sticklers about that. Many of the Gen Ed ID category are advanced writing courses but the dental schools will not be able to tell this from a course labeled "KNES 354" or "PSYC 314". Any two courses in the English department are fine.

Q. Do I have to major in a science?

A. No, major in whatever interests you. That is fine with dental schools, as long as you do well in the required Pre-Dental science courses.

Q. Can I take courses pass/fail?

A. The basic courses required for the Pre-Dental process should not be taken pass/fail. Dental schools want to see that you have challenged yourself academically.

Q. Can I take required premed courses in summer school?

A. Yes, as long as it is at an accredited four-year U.S. college or university, and it is a course with lab normally taken by that school's Pre-Dental students. If you hope to transfer credit to Towson University, consult first with the corresponding Towson University department, but you do not need to transfer credit for it to count for dental school application purposes. You should use the summer school option sparingly, since whether it is true or not, some dental school applicant evaluators believe that less material is covered compared to the full semester course. It is highly discouraged that a Pre-Dental student take any Pre-Dental coursework at a community college. Whether it is true or not, the courses at community colleges can sometimes be viewed as "easier" than the same courses taught at a four-year institution.

Q. Can I study abroad?

A. Yes, it's a wonderful experience that shouldn't be missed, if it interests you. Dental schools like to see that students have had broad, interesting college experiences, and studying abroad demonstrates that you can get along in a culture different from your own.

Q. Can I take Pre-Dental requirements abroad?

A. No, it is not recommended for a student to take any of the required Pre-Dental courses abroad.  Foreign school grading systems do not equate to those in the U.S.

Q. What kind of extracurricular experiences should I seek?

A. Dental schools like to see that bright intelligent students with great test scores are doing so while also pursuing other interests, especially those who have been active contributors on campus, and who have a range of interests. You should choose a few things to do meaningfully and well, rather than dabble in a long list of activities. If you choose to do too much, you may well spread yourself too thin, resulting in your GPA suffering.  Community service is an important way to demonstrate your concern and compassion for others.

Q. Do I need to have dentally-related experiences?

A. Definitely! It is critical that you involve yourself meaningfully in a dental setting, to show dental schools that you have observed dental practice first-hand. Students do this through volunteer work in dental offices and clinics, summer jobs, internships, formal Pre-Dental summer programs, or shadowing dentists, periodontists, orthodontists, etc. at work, either during the school year or during school vacations.

Q. Do I need to do research in the summer to get into dental school?

A. No. However, if you think you would enjoy it, research is a valuable experience that some dental schools view as a plus. It does demonstrate that you are willing to go "above and beyond" to get an education but remember that clinical experience, whether shadowing or volunteering, is as or more important.

Q. What is the DAT?

A. The DAT is the standardized test required by all dental schools. It consists of 280 multiple-choice items distributed across four different tests: the Survey of the Natural Sciences (100 questions from Biology, General and Organic Chemistry), Perceptual Ability Test (90 questions, 2- and 3-dimensional views), Reading Comprehension Test (50 questions, three passages) and Quantitative Reasoning Test (40 questions, mathematical skills).  It is a 4.5 hour, computer-based exam, given at Prometric Test Centers.  Students must apply to take the DAT from the American Dental Association, Department of Testing Services.  Once the application is processed, Prometric is given notification of the student's eligibility to take the exam and the student will receive instructions via mail or e-mail to call the Prometric Contact Center to schedule their exam.   A student may retake the DAT again in the same year but must wait 90 days to do so.  The DAT may be retaken up to three times before special permission is required.
The ADA has a lot of helpful information at their Dental Admission Test website.

Q. How do I apply to dental school?

A. The American Dental Education Association (ADEA) has a centralized application processing service: the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS).  This service participates with 54 dental schools and one Canadian dental school.  The remaining dental schools not participating with AADSAS must be applied to individually.  Applying through AADSAS is what is referred to as "filing your primary application".  AADSAS applications are accepted from May 15-February 1.  The individual schools, upon receipt of the primary application from AADSAS may or may not send you a "secondary application".  These individual schools have their own deadlines by which the secondary applications must be received.  Transcripts of all coursework completed must be submitted to AADSAS from your undergraduate or graduate institutions and must be submitted with a Transcript Matching form.  Those schools not participating with AADSAS must be applied to directly.

While you are applying via AADSAS, you need to arrange to take the DAT and you will need to work with the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee to obtain an interview and thus a Committee letter of recommendation.  Committee interviews are only granted during the Spring semester finals week so you must plan ahead to obtain your interview prior to the beginning of your application process.

If you are interested in applying to certain dental schools in Texas, you will need to use the TMDSAS service (Texas Medical and Dental School Application Service) to do so.

Q. Who will write my letters of recommendation?

A. When you apply to dental school, you will need to have at least three letters of recommendation from science faculty provided to the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee in order to qualify for an interview. It may also be useful to submit perhaps 1 or 2 more from others who know your work, such as supervisors and coaches. These letters are submitted to the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee, which uses them to produce a committee composite letter of recommendation on your behalf.

Q. What is the timetable for applying to dental school?

A. You should apply to dental school in June of the year BEFORE you intend to matriculate in dental school. In other words, you would apply in June 2016 to begin school in the fall of 2017. You will begin compiling information for the Pre-Med/Pre-Dent Committee in the March before the June that you apply and having your interview conducted prior to submitting your application to AADSAS. You will need to take the DAT on or around your application submission time also and make arrangements to meet with the Committee Chair (or mail them in) so a copy of the original score sheet can be placed in your file. You should take the DATs as early as is feasible in your study schedule, by June if possible, no later than August. Those taking it later should recognize that waiting longer will result in your Committee letter being submitted relatively late and you will run the risk of being at the bottom of the large stack of applications that were completed before yours. No one wants to be interviewing for a wait list position.

Q. What kinds of grades will I need to be accepted?

A. Currently, with about a 3.5 average, both overall and in the sciences, you can apply to dental school with reasonable confidence in being accepted, assuming you have good DATs and impressive non-academic experiences. The very top schools are generally only interested in applicants with 3.7 averages and above. However, there are many individual factors that come into play in the admissions process, so students should consult with Dr. Harrison about their individual situations.

Q.  Do dental schools factor in what school the student is currently attending in their decisions about applicants?

A. Yes, many dental schools include a school ranking determined by what kind of school the applicant attended. Towson University is a public institution, part of the State of Maryland system. Since it is not considered on the same level as, for example, JHU, Towson students MUST have higher GPA's to help prove their worth.

Q. What can I do if I'm determined to be a dentist, but my grades aren't good enough?

A. Many applicants take a few years after graduation to strengthen their academic records. They may choose to take additional science courses at a local university, or to enroll in a formal Post-Bac program for students interested in dental school who need to improve their credentials. Some may enroll in a Masters program, to prove their capabilities in a graduate-level program, which helps to compensate for a lower-than-desired undergraduate GPA. If you find that you are doing poorly in your science courses at Towson University, it may be a wise strategy to put your Pre-Dental plans on hold, concentrate on subjects you like and do well in, and then do the sciences after Towson University, if you are still interested in going to dental school. Be sure to consult with Dr. Harrison about your individual situation.

Q. Is it okay to take time between Towson University and dental school?

A. Yes, often applicants opt to take at least a year off between college and dental school, to allow them to take a breather between two intense academic experiences, spread out the premed requirements, acquire some work experience, or strengthen their applications. Dental schools often like older applicants because of the maturity and life experience they bring to their applications.