Office of Pre-Health Advising

Pre-Dental

General Information

Lehman College offers pre-dental preparation for undergraduate, graduate, and post-baccalaureate students interested in pursuing a career in dentistry. Opportunities and services available to students include the following:

  • Strong academic preparation in the required pre-dental “core” of classes
  • Broad selection of recommended classes “beyond the core”
  • Pre-Dental Advising Program for academic and nonacademic requirements for dental school admissions
  • Assistance with the application process, including essay and interview preparation
  • Providing committee letters that are written on the students’ behalf
  • Opportunities to become involved in research
  • Student clubs that offer guest speakers, community service opportunities, and support

Planning the Program of Study

“Pre-Dentistry” is not a degree, nor is it a major or a minor. It is a plan of action that is designed to prepare you to meet the requirements for admission into dental school, in addition to completing a four-year Bachelor’s degree. The pre-dental course requirements must be completed before applying to dental school.

When planning the program of study, it is important to complete the subject matter that will be tested by the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) before actually taking the test. This material includes two semesters each of biology, general (inorganic) chemistry, organic chemistry, and college-level math. It is typical to take the DAT in the spring or summer following the junior year. To meet this timeline, the student should attempt to finish these courses by the end of the junior year.

Selection of a Major

The majority of students accepted into dental school receive a BS degree in a science field (especially biology and chemistry). However, there are a large number of students that pursue the BA or other B.S. degrees; a science major is not a prerequisite for dental school. Dental school admissions committees have no preference for any particular undergraduate major; what they are concerned with is how well you perform in your major and that you show good aptitude in the required basic science courses.

Choose a major that you truly enjoy. If you are not successful in getting accepted to dental school, you will want a degree in a subject that you enjoy and that opens other career options for you after graduation.

Pre-Dental Course Requirements

The requirements for admission to dental schools are determined by each individual dental school. For specific school-by-school requirements, the primary reference is the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Official Guide to Dental Schools. This is an invaluable resource for pre-dental students, and is updated annually. You may purchase a copy of the Official Guide directly at http://www.adea.org/; a copy is also available in the Pre-Health Advising office. Be sure to visit individual dental schools’ websites for a listing of their current admissions requirements.

The minimum course requirements for most of the U.S. dental schools are:

General Biology-one year  BIO 166 & 167 (with labs)
General Chemistry-one year     CHE 166/167 & 168/169 (with labs)
General Physics-one year PHY 166 & 167 (with labs)
Organic Chemistry-one year CHE 232/233 & 234/235 (with labs)
Calculus – one year   MAT  175/155 & 176/156 (with labs)
English – one year ENG 110 & 120

NOTE: All science classes should be pre-professional level courses designed for science majors.

In addition to the above courses:

Biochemistry is strongly recommended by dental schools

Other courses that are sometimes required for admissions, or often recommended to help prepare for admissions tests and/or dental school, include the following:

  • Microbiology
  • Histology/Embryology
  • Cell Biology/Molecular Biology
  • Immunology
  • Vertebrate (Comparative) Anatomy
  • Genetics
  • Statistics
  • Psychology

Many dental schools also recommend courses in the following:

  • Business (Accounting, Small Business Management, Economics)
  • Sculpture/3-D Drawing and/or Ceramics

*Advanced Placement Credit: Dental schools may have policies regarding advanced placement (AP) credits. One of the problems with AP credit is that there is no grade available to evaluate the student’s performance in the class, and no grade available to compute into the GPA. For these reasons, many dental schools will not accept AP credit to fulfill the requirements for science and math, and only occasionally for English.

Usually, if a dentall school requires a certain number of hours of subject X, they want you in a college classroom for that number of hours. Some medical schools have a more lenient policy on AP than others. If you have any questions about AP credit, contact the admissions office of the medical schools to which you want to apply, or contact the Pre-Health Advisor’s office.

*Withdrawals: Course withdrawals should be taken very seriously. “W”s on a transcript are red flags to admissions committees. One or two “W”s may not necessarily have an adverse impact, if they are accompanied by justifiable, reasonable explanations for withdrawing (personal illness, family crisis, etc). Students should consider the withdrawal option from any course with caution.

Admissions Process

There are three basic steps to the admissions process:

Step 1: Primary Application

Usually done through a centralized, web-based application service. The applicant fills out one online application and tells the service which dental schools to distribute the application to. The application must be completely filled out before it can be submitted, and includes demographic information, a listing of extracurricular activities, work experience, and the Personal Statement (aka the Essay). In addition, you must list every institution of upper education that you have attended, every college course taken, and the credit hours and grade for every course. The application service verifies official transcripts and calculates the applicant’s “official” GPAs. If a dental school participates in an application service, you must apply through that service.

There are two web-based application services for US dental schools:

Application forms are available on-line beginning in May each year; this marks the beginning of the official application season (or ‘cycle’). Dental school applications are filed a year in advance (ie, apply in 2011 for entry into dental school in fall 2012). Most students begin the application process at the end of the junior year for entry into dental school in the fall of the following year. The end of the junior year is also when most students take the DAT; DAT scores are a required part of the formal application.

Many dental schools use a “rolling admissions” approach. In other words, applications are processed and acted upon as they are received. Many schools begin interviewing in the fall, and make decisions about accepting students soon after their interview. If you wait until the last minute to meet a school’s deadline (usually sometime in November or December), you will likely be competing for fewer openings than were available earlier in the year, effectively decreasing your chances for acceptance. If possible, APPLY EARLY.

Step 2: Secondary Application

Once the primary online application has been distributed to the dental schools designated by the applicant, the application service has completed its role, and the applicant deals directly with the dental schools for the remainder of the process. The next step is the secondary application, in which the dental school invites the applicant to submit additional information and short essays. Letters of recommendation are requested at this stage.

Step 3: Interview

Upon invitation from the dental school. This is the final step. After the interview, the dental school admissions committee makes the final decision to accept the applicant, place the applicant on a waiting list, or reject the applicant.

Factors in Applicant Selection by Dental Schools

There are several standard factors that all dental schools consider when selecting each year’s entering class. Schools may vary, however, in how much weight that they give to each factor:

1. Academic Record

The academic record will be judged primarily by grades (GPA), difficulty of the courses, and the ‘strength’ of the schedule. The GPA will be assessed in2 basic ways: 1) the Overall GPA (grade average for all undergraduate coursework) and 2) the Science GPA ( includes all biology, chemistry, physics, and math grades). The science GPA is one of the most significant factors for admission to dental school; it is seen as a predictor of aptitude and success in dental school coursework.

2. Admissions Test (DAT)

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) carries the same weight as grades when an applicant is evaluated for dental school admission. In fact, many schools use only GPA and DAT scores for their preliminary applicant screening.

The DAT is computer-based and is administered year-round at Prometric Test Centers. It consists of almost 4 1/2 hours of testing. The test is divided into four major sections, and each section is scored and reported individually:

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences (biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry)
  • Perceptual Ability (problem-solving in 2-D and 3-D)
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Quantitative Reasoning (math problems, calculations, etc)

There is information on the DAT at www.ada.org, which is the official DAT website.

Scores on the individual test sections are reported on a scale from one (lowest) to thirty (highest). In addition, there are two composite scores (Total Science and Academic Average). A score of 17 is the approximate national average for each section of the DAT. Section scores above 20 are highly competitive.

Students are encouraged to take the DAT prior to submitting their applications to dental schools, usually in the spring of the junior year or summer between junior and senior years. Late-in-the-year testing delays processing of your application by dental schools. Time should also be allowed for repeating the test if the first test score is not competitive; 90 days are required to lapse before applying for a retest. Students are allowed a maximum of 3 attempts at the test; further retests require special permission by the testing agency.

Required coursework in biology, inorganic (general) chemistry, and organic chemistry should ideally be completed before taking the DAT. There are several ways to prepare for the test, including books on the DAT, test-prep software, and commercial review courses. Taking practice DAT tests is essential, and is considered one of the most valuable and important methods of preparing for the test.

3. Recommendations

Take some time to get to know your professors. You want your recommendations to speak about your motivation, integrity, communication skills, and other character items not found in a transcript or test score. A letter that says only “Cathy came to class regularly and made good grades” is a very weak reference.

Dental schools will require recommendations as part of the application for admission. The school will specify how they want to receive recommendations; this will usually be in one of two formats:

  • Individual letters of recommendation: the school will usually specify how many letters and who should author them. Typically, this will be three letters (two letters from faculty and one from a dentist).
  • Committee Evaluation Letter: many universities have a committee of selected faculty and advisors that generates a single composite evaluation of the student. The composite is based on letters of evaluation from faculty members at the institution, chosen by the student. The committee reviews the letters, and other relevant information such as GPA and DAT scores, and generates a summary of comments and an academic assessment of the student as a candidate for dental school. This composite evaluation is then sent directly to the dental school admissions committees. Most dental schools prefer a committee letter over individual letters.

4. Extracurricular Activities / Dental-Related Experience

Extracurricular activities are highly desirable and make a favorable impression on admissions committees. The student who maintains a strong GPA in a demanding curriculum and also has time for outside interests is obviously motivated and energetic. However, extracurricular activities and dental-related experience cannot outweigh or substitute for a poor academic record or DAT scores.

5. Interview

Following review of secondaries, a select group of top applicants will then be invited for personal interviews. This is the final step of the admissions process. The interview is extremely important. It is the first chance for the committee to see you “off paper”, and your chance to stand out and leave a good impression of character, maturity, and motivation. The format of the interview varies from school to school. It may be one-on-one, or a personal interview in front of a panel, or a group interview where several candidates are interviewed at the same time.

What makes a “Competitive” Applicant?

Predicting which students will get accepted and which will be rejected from dental school is not a simple task, because so many factors are involved. However, one can look at average GPAs and DAT scores for accepted students as a good indicator of initial competitive status. Average GPAs and DAT scores can be found in the Official Guide to Dental Schools book for each individual school of dentistry. Many schools publish this information on their websites.

It is important to note, however, that admissions committees look beyond just GPAs and DATs. This explains why some students with very high GPAs and DATs don’t get in, and conversely why some students with lower than average grades or test scores do. This is where recommendations, clinical dental-related experience, community service, well-roundedness, communication skills, etc, come in.

Extracurriculars

Extracurricular activities include activities that the student enjoys: sports, music, drama, etc. Participation in clubs and organizations is positive only if the student actually becomes involved in the group’s activities. Leadership roles in organizations also reflect well on character.

While important to continue pursuing your personal interests, there are other types of ‘extracurriculars’ that are critical to your chances of acceptance into dental school.

Clinical

It is essential to obtain dental-related clinical/field experience, especially experience where there is exposure to the dentist-patient relationship. You need to demonstrate, through actions, your motivation for a career in dentistry. It has been suggested that a student should observe at least three general dentist practitioners and one dental specialist, and accrue at least 50-100 hours (total) of such experience. Many settings are available: private dentist’s offices, hospitals, county or community health clinics, etc, may have opportunities for volunteer work, shadowing, mentoring, or even paid positions. Admissions committees are particularly concerned that applicants have a realistic view of the dental profession and what’s involved in a dental career.

There is no minimum number of hours of clinical experience that is required by the dental schools. You must determine how much dedication and effort to put forth. It is not possible to get too much clinical experience, unless it interferes with grades and other responsibilities. Summers and holidays may be better times for some of these pursuits. Importantly, don’t put off these activities until your senior year, or you will miss the opportunity to include them on your dental school application (if applying as a junior).

Research

Research experience is not a requirement for dental school, but it can be a plus. Research experience allows time to build relationships with faculty, who can be valuable sources for letters of recommendation. Research is very important for students contemplating a career in dental science research (DDS/PhD or DMD/PhD dual degree). Many faculty on campus have active research laboratories and employ undergraduates to work in them. There are also summer research programs available at other universities.

Community Service

Volunteer community service is highly recommended. It is not necessary that the community service be dental or health-oriented. There are countless ways to participate in either group or individual community service projects. Community service offers a chance to demonstrate concern for other human beings and a willingness to “give back” and get involved in the world around you.

Summer Enrichment Programs

There are several summer enrichment programs available at dental schools and universities. These programs are designed to strengthen academic credentials and exposure to clinical dentistry. Most of these programs target under-represented minority and economically-disadvantaged students. One of the better-known programs, the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), offers free six-week summer programs at medical/dental schools around the country. Other programs offer research or internship opportunities.

Students may find the following websites helpful for information on minority issues and to locate summer programs:

The publication Opportunities for Minority Students in US Dental Schools, available from ADEA, gives information on recruitment, admissions, enrichment programs, financial aid, and data on racial and ethnic applicants, matriculants, and graduates of dental schools. It may be ordered directly from the ADEA at http://www.adea.org/. A copy is also available in the Pre-Health Advising Office.

Medical/Dental Mission Trips

There are many organizations that offer mission trips to underserved countries and regions of the world, and to underserved areas of the U.S. Some of these organizations have religious affiliations, but most do not. Opportunities for ‘hands-on’ work are often enhanced in such settings.

Summer Internships & Research Programs

Resources & Links

New York Dental Schools

Dentistry-Related Links

Last modified: Nov 28, 2011

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