PRE-HEALTH PROFESSIONS Pre-Dental Program Overview
Schools of dentistry have specific course prerequisites that vary to some degree, so it is important to check with the particular school in which you are interested. Generally, the requirements for admission include: one year each of biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, general physics and English (often including English composition). Some schools also require courses in mathematics (which may include calculus, statistics and/or computer science), social sciences and behavioral sciences. It is strongly recommend that you take biochemistry and that you also consider taking genetics and physiology. Though many schools do not require it, these classes can help you prepare for admissions testing and for professional school. Some schools require human anatomy and physiology as well. Admission tests are usually taken in the spring of the Junior year, so it is best to have these classes completed by then.
Dental schools may limit or exclude the use of AP, IB and CLEP credit towards completion of the pre-medical and pre-dental requirements. Be sure to find out if the school in which you are interested will allow your AP or CLEP credits to count for prerequisite courses.
Your academic record includes your science GPA, overall GPA, grades in each class, and trends in performance. It is necessary to maintain a strong academic record for admissions into dental schools; in fact, it is considered the most important predictor of admission. Trends are important, as well, so it is best to demonstrate upward trends in academic performance over time.
Choice of major
While the prerequisite courses can easily lead to a major in biology, chemistry or kinesiology, there is no requirement to major in any of these fields. Medical and dental schools give no preference to any particular major, so choose a major that you enjoy. This is to your advantage because you are more likely to excel in your preferred major and you will find more enjoyment in your studies.
Academic accomplishments are very important, but not enough to get into dental schools. It is also important to demonstrate the validity of your interest in dentistry with experience in a health-care setting. Though it is not a stated prerequisite for dental school, it is a major factor that is considered in the admissions process. It is also beneficial to have some research experience. This will help you develop important skills in the experimental process, problem-solving, and data analysis. Such experience is especially crucial if you are seeking admissions to research-oriented schools or if you are considering a career in research. Additionally, it is wise to be involved in a regular extracurricular activity such as a sport, club or community service. Dental schools want to see that you can maintain a strong academic record while participating in campus or community activities. It is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate important characteristics such as service, commitment, leadership and responsibility. Note, however, that it is the level of your participation that is important rather than the number or variety of your activities.
Dental schools all require either the Dental Admission Test (DAT) or the Canadian Dental Aptitude Test. This exam is typically taken in the spring of the Junior year. Scores on the DAT are a very important consideration in the admissions process, so work hard to prepare for them.
The application process occurs in three parts: a centralized online application, secondary applications, and interviews. The centralized application service (i.e. AADSAS) allows you to fill out one application for multiple schools. This application will include things such as your transcript, admissions test scores, and a personal statement essay. (The essay is very important so write this well!) Those schools that are still interested in you will then invite you to complete their specific secondary applications and to send letters of recommendation. After this has been reviewed, you may be invited to an interview. Note that the application process is a significant time and financial investment, so plan ahead. If you intend to enter medical school directly after graduating from Westmont, you must begin the application process the spring of your Junior year. Moreover, it is also very important that you complete each step of your application as soon as it is reasonably possible. Many schools have a “rolling admissions” procedure, meaning they fill spaces as they receive completed applications (including test score results). Know the deadlines and plan ahead.
Westmont uses a committee to write a letter to the school about you. You choose the members of this committee, and Dr. Kristi Cantrell serves as the chair of the committee. The individuals you choose each write an evaluation of you, and these separate letters are used to prepare a group letter that summarizes these evaluations. The group letter and all of the individual letters are sent to the AADSAS letter service. It is important to have strong evaluations written by people that know you well, so it behooves you to develop a relationship with your professors. Also, essentially all dental schools require a letter from a dentist. You should develop a relationship with a dentist and work with the individual in an internship.