The Application Process
US dental schools admit students once a year in the Fall
Applications are submitted 12-15 months before your desired dental school enrollment date. This means the application process can begin as early as the spring after your Junior year. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework (and successfully take the DAT).
While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.
Dental schools requirements vary from school to school. Research schools early for specific information about requirements.
Before submitting applications, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your Preprofessional advisor is happy to do this for you.
Dental School Application process includes 5 main components
- The Dental Admissions Test (DAT)
- Primary Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Secondary Applications
Choose schools that are of serious interest to you, but give your list enough variety so as to maximize your chances for admission. It is wise to include one or two “reach” schools where your GPA and DAT might be on the low end, at least one to two solid "back-up" schools at which your chances are very good, and then several where you are likely competitive, but in the middle of the pack. On average, students apply to 12- 15 schools.
Follow social media of programs of your interest, visit their website, attend webinars, and visit their campus if possible. Assess your credentials realistically and give your school selection careful thought. You can also refer to our statistics for dental schools.
- Size of School and size of individual classes.
- Location and environment--do you prefer a large metropolitan area or a smaller city atmosphere? What about surrounding area, quality of life, etc.?
- Simulation labs and other facilities--quality of simulation labs, tutoring and other academic support services, adequate staff, study/meeting space, open hours, etc.
- General “personality” of School--what are your impressions from their faculty representatives you meet? Are you looking for an intense, more competitive environment or more of a community feeling?
- Special interest areas: combined degree programs; specialized courses, clinical programs, publications or student organizations in your area of interest; early decision program availability, early residency match, etc.
- Student/faculty ratio.
- Student body--How do you fit in with GPA and Standardized Test Score averages of students previously admitted? How balanced and diverse is the student body? How is the student morale? Do students have input in operation of School?
- Faculty diversity—Are they largely all from the same background or relatively diverse with respect to race, creed, gender? Are they well-balanced in educational experiences or only from the same School or schools? What is the extent of their research and professional activities?
- Faculty-student relationships--Are faculty accessible and committed to teaching? Is there an “open door” policy?
- Opportunities for clinical programs, research, international clinical rotations, student-run free clinics etc.
- What student support programs are available? If applicable, what minority or disabled student services are available?
- What kind of specialty trainings are available?
- Chair-student ratio -- How many students are assigned per chair at a clinic? The lower the ratio, the more hands-on experience you can get.
- What assistance is offered to take the board certification exams? (some dental schools do no host board certification exams at their campus. Students may also need to find patients on their own)
- What are the board certification exam passage rates?
- What is the placement record for graduates? Are graduates finding employment in the geographic areas you are interested in?
- Tuition costs. You cannot ignore the cost, but neither can you use it as your only criterion. Consider the cost and potential indebtedness along with the other factors, and make sure you are choosing the right schools for the right reasons.
Take the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) when you have finished the necessary coursework. The DAT is administered throughout the year at local testing centers. It should be taken 18 months prior to the dental school class you plan to enter. It is to your advantage to take it early—by April-June in the year you are submitting your application.
The DAT is scored on a 1-30 scale and is divided into four areas:
- Natural Sciences
- Reading Comprehension
- Quantitative Ability
- Perceptual Ability
For DAT information and registration, visit http://www.ada.org/dat.aspx.
The PreProfessional Advising Office at the University of Utah is proud to offer discounted Kaplan Test Prep courses for DAT to University of Utah students. For more information, please visit https://advising.utah.edu/preprofessional/test-prep.php
Dental schools incorporate a variety tools in their assessment in order to gather a holistic view of their applicants, to make sure they are not only academically capable but also possess the characteristics of someone who will likely succeed on the job. One such tool that is used by a few dental schools including the University of Utah is CASPer®, which is a situational judgement test designed to assess how an individual will behave in certain situations.
CASPer® assesses for 10 characteristics: Collaboration, Communication, Empathy, Equity, Ethics, Motivation, Problem Solving, Professionalism, Resilience, and Self Awareness.
It is a 60-90 minute virtually proctored assessment, made up of 12 sections. Each section contains a video-based or word-based scenario and three open-ended questions. Test takers have five minutes to type their responses to all three questions.
Further information is on the CASPer Website. http://takecasper.com.
Primary Applications for all of the accredited dental schools in the United States processed through the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) http://www.adea.org/. Primary applications are not school specific. The same information is sent to all schools to which you are applying. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!
AADSAS is available online in early June. Application deadlines range from October-February but generally submitting them earlier is best.
Your AADSAS Application will include:
- Your DAT score,
- A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit.
- A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
- A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as a physician
- Letters of Recommendations
NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential
The personal essay is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as a dentist. Remember, why you want to be a dentist is different from how you were inspired to become one. Describe your current passion for the field with specific examples from recent experiences. Try to choose a theme rather than random thoughts. The primary application activities section provides a list of accomplishments. Your personal essay is an opportunity to provide additional, more in-depth information.
REMEMBER, your audience is smarter, has more medical knowledge, and knows what is like to be a dentist. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of the field.
Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, dentist, dental student, parent, advisor, Writing Center, tutor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback. Do not ask too many people to read it. Having too many opinions can become confusing.
Dos and Don’ts
DO answer the questions “Why do you want to be a dentist?”
DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments.
DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming a dentist
DO limit the number of “I” statements you use
DO share your background if it is appropriate
DO describe meaningful experiences
DO use all five senses as you tell your story
DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation
DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, dentist you shadowed)
DO NOT summarize or simply repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application
DO NOT use overly flowery language or words you do not know how to use
DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations
DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know
DO NOT try to make jokes
DO NOT use foreign language
DO NOT begin your essay with a quote
Submitting Letters of Recommendation
You will submit your letters to AADSAS. From there they will be distributed to the dental schools to which you apply. Dental schools will request your Letters of Recommendation (LORs) after they receive your AADSAS Primary application, so do not delay submitting your primary application while waiting for letters to arrive.
Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what they require. Most schools require 3 or 4 letters.
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask if potential writers if they feel capable of writing a supportive letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
- Get business cards with your recommenders’ contact information.
- Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession. You could also include a snapshot, a copy of a paper or assignment from their class, or transcript.
- For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, the PPA Advising office provides a Guide for Letter Writers.
- Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum. Follow up to make sure that your letters have been sent.
- Send thank you notes.
For more detailed check out our “How To” Guide
Once dental schools receive your Primary Application, they will send out Secondary Applications. You will generally have a month to complete these. These are specific to each school, and vary in length and structure, but often require one or more additional essay. FOLLOW DIRECTION CAREFULLY.
Some Schools send Secondary Applications to every student who submitted a Primary Application. Other schools will screen Primary Applications first and only send Secondary Applications to students who make the cut.
Secondary Applications usually have a fee attached, so it is a good idea to reevaluate your list of schools at this point. If you have changed your mind about applying to a school, you do not have to complete their Secondary Application.
The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a school has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most dental schools hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!
Interviews can take many forms, so it is important to research your schools and be prepared for each kind. The Preprofessional Advising office can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.
The most common types of interviews are:
- One on one interview—Usually one or two 30-45 minutes interviews
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the prompt and any follow up questions, or play out the scenario with a trained actor.
- Group interview—Either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or in a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.
Due to COVID-19, many dental schools are offering virtual interviews. Visit ADEA Go Dental website for helpful tips for virtual interviews and our Recorded Virtual Interview Workshop. To schedule a mock interview appointment, email your request to email@example.com.
- Applications are submitted 12-15 months before your desired dental school enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework (and successfully take the DAT).
- The AADSAS website has a general timeline that covers an applicant’s four years at a college or university: AADSAS Timeline
- It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to dental school but your timeline should be flexible. Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
- For specific application deadline dates, you should always check the AADSAS website.
- Talk to potential writers of your Letters of Recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write the letters. The PPA Website has helpful information on asking for letters and guidelines that you can give to your writers.
- Continue with your volunteer, work or research activities until you have received an acceptance letter from a dental school. Do not stop these activities until you have an official offer of admission. It may take two or more application cycles to gain admission, so you need to be continually improving your application until you do.
- Prepare for and take the DAT – Try to take it before June of the year that you submit your dental school application.
- Attend various dental school admissions and application workshops, predental conferences, graduate school fairs, etc.
- Consult online Dental School Guides to see requirements for each school. Check out the ADEA website Deciding where to apply for links to each dental school’s website, and purchase or subscribe to the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools.
- Continue to save money for the application process.
- AADSAS opens on or around June 1. Begin to fill out primary applications as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully.
- Make final decisions on which dental schools to apply to and submit primary applications.
- Order official transcripts from all colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to AADSAS
- Have letters of recommendation sent to AADSAS - check individual schools for specific criteria
- AADSAS verifies primary applications, and notifies applicants of verification or problems with verification
- Submit supplemental application materials if required by individual dental schools. Generally you should try to submit supplemental applications within two weeks of receipt.
- Continue working on and submitting secondary applications.
- Begin to check dental school application status websites for schools where applied.
September – November
- Prepare for and attend interviews. The PPA Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview.
- Continue to complete and submit secondary applications (check deadline dates)
- Send dental schools application updates if acceptable
- Continue to check dental school application status website for each individual school
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October.
- Dental school admissions committees meet and decide status: accept/reject/waitlist.
- Schools begin extending acceptance offers December 1. Depending on the date of an offer of admission, you will have a specific response time. Most (but not all) schools require a deposit to reserve a space in the class at the time you accept the offer of admission.
- Find out how alternate lists work. Many schools don’t operate with just one alternate list. For example: If you are applying as an in-state applicant then you may be on a waitlist with just other in-state applicants. Many schools will rank alternates while others will not; some will look for metrics and others will focus on holistic qualities. You can ask how the schools you have pending decisions with handle alternates, as long as you do not pester them.
- Predental Society (PDS) Helps establish social networks and helps pre-dental students get into dental school. Provides opportunities to provide community service. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Future Women Dentists (FWD) -Encourages interest in dentistry as a career among women, and provides a support network. Contact email: email@example.com
- ADEA (American Dental Education Association) Go Dental General resources for Predental students, and information on AADSAS and the dental school application process
- ADA: American Dental AssociationDAT Registration