In recent years there has been increased interest in careers in dentistry by Bryn Mawr students There are many professional opportunities for dentists from family practice to specialty fields such as orthodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery. Some dentists choose to do research and teach in dental schools.  The dental profession has many exciting career paths to explore.

Similar to medical school applicants, most Bryn Mawr dental school applicants apply after graduating from college, which enables them to focus on their studies while taking advantage of the many opportunities afforded by a liberal arts college education. In fact, at many dental schools the average age in the entering dental student class is 24, which signifies a national trend of students applying to dental school after graduation. (This time after graduation is often referred to as a glide year.)  The American Dental Education Association's GoDENTAL web site for predental students includes a "Pathways" section with career planning advice and a "Gap Year Done Right" Fact Sheet

Regardless of when you choose to apply to dental school, the prehealth advisor is always available to assist you with the dental school application process.

Note for international students: International students should be aware that admission to a U. S. dental school is extremely difficult for students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. International students are encouraged to contact the prehealth advisor to discuss the significant challenges faced by international students seeking admission to U. S. dental schools.  Some dental schools do not accept applications from international students. In addition, international students are not eligible for most financial aid sources such as U. S. government sponsored student loans. Some dental schools will require international applicants to take the TOFEL exam during the application year even if the international student has a degree from a U. S. college.

International students are encouraged to contact the undergraduate health professions advisor to discuss the significant challenges faced by international students seeking admission to U. S. dental schools

Predental course requirements

Dental schools require similar basic prerequisite courses as medical schools; some dental schools also have additional course requirements in sciences, math or social sciences.

  • ONE YEAR OF ENGLISH (one semester of the Emily Balch Seminar plus plus one additional writing intensive course that can be completed at any time prior to graduation)

The additional courses required for dental schools often include biochemistry and microbiology. Many dental schools also require one semester of psychology.

AP/IB credits: Each dental school has its own policy about accepting AP/IB credits. In general, if a student has AP/IB credit for introductory science, the dental schools strongly prefer or require that the student supplement those credits by taking upper level science courses with labs in the same scientific discipline.

The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, published annually by the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), provides detailed information about course prerequisites as well as admission criteria for all U. S. and Canadian dental schools.

Many sections of the ADEA Official Guide to Dental School are freely available as downloadable pdf chapters at the ADEA web site. Chapter 3 Deciding where to apply to dental school is particularly useful because it contains several tables listing individual dental schools admission criteria (average GPA and DAT scores, numbers of students interviewed, residency considerations etc). You can also purchase the entire book from the ADEA.

Copies of the Official Guide to Dental Schools are also available in the Resources Room of the Office of Health Professions Advising and on the Prehealth Reserve Shelf in Collier Library.

The importance of state residency in the admissions process

Your state of residence is an important factor in the dental school admissions process. Many dental schools reserve the majority of their seats for in-state residents. You should plan your predental course work around the requirements of your state dental school because your chances of being accepted there are much better than your chances of being accepted anywhere else. If you are thinking about dentistry, you should meet with the prehealth advisor early in your college career to review the prerequisites for your state dental school.

Shadowing dentists and exposure to the profession

An excellent way to gain exposure to the profession is by shadowing a family dentist. In fact, many dental schools require applicants to have 50-100 hours of observation at a dental practice by the time that the student applies to dental school.  (For a list of the current shadowing requirements review the Dental School Additional Requirements File.) Contact your family dentist to see if you would be able to spend time shadowing at her/his office during your breaks from college. You should set up a way that the dental office can track your shadowing hours. It is possible to spread out your shadowing hours over the course of your undergraduate career as long as you complete the required number of hours before submitting your dental school application. You can also shadow more than one dentist as long as you meet the requirements for total shadowing hours.

Community service and volunteer experiences

Dental schools are looking for applicants who enjoy working with people and have demonstrated a commitment to service. It is often difficult for predental students to find volunteer positions in dental clinics, thus predental students pursue other service opportunities in the community. The Civic Engagement Office (CEO) is a great place to start your search for volunteer positions. The CEO web site has sponsors several on- and off-campus service programs, and they can also assist you in finding opportunities on your own.

Demonstrating “manual dexterity”

If you enjoy creative arts and working with your hands, dentistry may be the career for you.  Dentists need to have great manual dexterity as well as good “3-D” perception. In fact, the dental school application has questions about hobbies involving manual dexterity. You may want to join one of the arts clubs on campus as a way to enhance your manual dexterity.

Summer programs for predental students

There are few formal summer academic programs for predental students. A few state dental schools have summer programs for predental students; check individual dental school web sites to see if they sponsor any summer programs.

The AAMC and the ADEA sponsor a six-week summer program for first year students and sophomores who are interested in careers in medicine or dentistry known as the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP).   Each year the Office of Health Professions holds an information session about the SMDEP.

Dental Admission Test (DAT)

All dental school applicants must take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) that is sponsored by the American Dental Association (ADA). The test takes close to 5 hours and it consists of four parts: natural sciences (introductory biology, general and organic chemistry), perceptual ability; reading comprehension,and quantitative reasoning. DAT scores, which range from a low of 1 to a high of 30, are reported for each of the aforementioned sections and for two composite scores – the Academic Average and the Total Science score. At the end of the test examinees receive an unofficial report of their DAT scores.

According to the 2014 edition of the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools, the national average DAT scores of matriculated dental school applicants for the fall 2013 entering class werre 19.9 for the Academic Average, 19.8 for the Total Science, and 20.0 for the Perceptual Ability Sections; however, dental schools are generally looking for a stronger DAT performance.  For information about individual dental schools, consult the ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools for the range of DAT scores of the accepted students from the prior year’s applicant pool.

The dental schools place considerable importance on DAT scores when evaluating applicants. The DAT is the only common metric among dental school applicants. Furthermore, the licensure tests for dentistry are standardized tests, thus the dental schools feel that it is important for dental school applicants to be proficient in taking standardized tests.

Before applying to take the DAT you must register for a DENTPIN (Dental Personal Identifier Number), which is a unique personal identifier for applicants and students involved with the U.S. dental education system and standardized testing programs.

After receiving the DENTPIN, you may initiate the registration for the DATs through the ADA DAT web site, . The DAT Guide provides information about the test registration procedures, test fees, and test center regulations. You first apply to the ADA to take the DAT, and upon receiving a letter of permission from the ADA, you can contact a Prometric Test Center to schedule the test. You should schedule your DAT test date a few months in advance of your desired exam date because the Prometric Test Centers host standardized tests for many academic and professional licensing services.

Many dental school applicants take the DATs by July in the summer that they are applying to dental school. Applicants can then assess if their scores are competitive for applying to dental school or if they need to repeat the test. There is a 90 day waiting period before it is possible to retake the DAT. Tests taken later in the fall can delay the review of the application by the dental school admissions committee.  Applicants are limited to taking the DAT three times; applicants who wish to take the DAT for a fourth time must apply for special permission from the ADA.

The 2014 DAT fee is $395, and in 2014 the DAT fee will increase to $415.

How to prepare for the DAT

Several publishers have DAT review books to help you study for the DAT. There are some DAT review books available for overnight loan in the Resources Room of the Office of Health Professions Advising. The ADA web site has a free downloadable file of practice test questions.

It is important for you to do practice tests on the computer to get used to the computerized format of the DAT. Prior Bryn Mawr students have reported that they especially needed time to adjust to the computerized presentation of the PAT section. There are also commercial test prep companies that offer DAT review courses.

Changes coming to the DAT in 2014 and 2015

The DAT Newsletter Volume 4 Number 1 provides the following information about proposed changes to the DAT that will be implemented in 2014 and 2015.

Proposed changes to the Biology Section:
"Biology test specifications will be changed for 2014. Biology survey courses have shifted to a systems approach (i.e., focusing on complex interactions within biological systems, rather than viewing biology in a reductionist manner), and thus the biology test specifications are being adjusted to conform to this holistic approach. The Examinee Guides will be reviewed and revised to ensure clarity.
As more information becomes available, it will be posted on the DAT website at”

Proposed changes to the Quantitative Reasoning Section:

"In order to enhance testing of critical thinking skills, the Quantitative Reasoning Test (QRT) specifications have been revised to eliminate the sections for numerical calculations, conversions, geometry, and trigonometry. Items will be added in the following areas: data analysis, interpretation, and sufficiency; quantitative comparison; and probability and statistics. These changes will be implemented no sooner than 2015”.

Application process for dental school

Most U. S. dental schools utilize an online centralized application service, AADSAS (Associated American Dental Schools Application Service), which collects your transcripts and letters of recommendation, and also verifies  your academic work and generates standardized grading information and GPAs.  The ADEA has a channel on YouTube with videos about the application and interview process and profiles of current dental students.

The few dental schools that do not participate in AADSAS have their own applications, and you would need to have transcripts and letters of recommendation sent directly to those admissions offices. Texas residents need to apply to the Texas state dental schools through the Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Service (TMDSAS). The online TMDSAS dental school application is similar to the AADSAS application.

You should submit the AADSAS application by mid-summer one year prior to intended matriculation in dental school. The AADSAS application includes a one page personal statement and sections to describe your experiences in shadowing dentists, employment, community service, and extracurricular activities. There is also a question asking you to describe any hobbies requiring manual dexterity. The AADSAS service verifies the course and grading information you enter onto the application, calculates standardized GPAs, and then sends your verified application to dental schools  that you designate. This verification process can take one month or more in peak seasons, so it is important to submit the AADSAS application by early-mid July.  You are also able to update the AADSAS application at the end of the fall semester to report fall grades if needed.

The 2014 ADEA AADSAS application fee is $238 for applying to one dental school and $80 for each additional dental school. The ADEA has a Fee Assistance Program (FAP) for applicants with significant financial hardship that waives the initial fee of submitting the AADSAS application to one dental school. It is necessary to apply for the FAP before submitting the AADSAS application.

After you submit the centralized AADSAS application, you should review the Dental School Supplemental Information file on the AADSAS web site. These school-specific supplemental applications will often have additional essay questions and request an additional fee. Dental schools will review your application only after  they have received all documentation – your verified AADSAS application, DAT scores (see below), supplemental applications and fees, and your predental committee letter and recommendations.

Your official DAT scores are directly reported in the AADSAS application; the scores are directly downloaded from the American Dental Association into your application. When you take the DAT, you need to designate one AADSAS participating dental school as a recipient of your DAT scores, which will then enable the downloading of  your DAT score into your AADSAS application.

Letters of recommendation and the predental committee letter

Letters of recommendation are an important way that dental school admissions officers learn about your intellectual, professional, and personal qualities. A great feature of attending Bryn Mawr is that in the small classes you will be able to get to know your professors well, and they will be able to provide you with personalized letters of recommendation. At a minimum, dental schools often require letters from two science faculty, preferably in different scientific disciplines.   If you are not a science major you will also need a letter from a faculty member from your major. In addition to hearing from professors, dental schools also want to learn about you from other perspectives, and they look for letters from employers, supervisors from community service positions, athletic coaches etc. A letter from the dentist(s) shadowed is also required. Predental applicants often have 4-6 letters of recommendation.

The Office of Health Professions Advising provides a predental committee letter for all undergraduates and alumnae dental school applicants. The predental committee letter is an individualized comprehensive summary of the your academic background, achievements, professional and extracurricular activities, and motivation for a career in dentistry.  The predental committee letter and copies of your original recommendation letters are scanned to a single pdf file and then electronically submitted to AADSAS, which then transmits the letters to the dental schools where  you  apply. The predental committee letter and recommendation letters are sent by regular mail to dental schools that do not participate in AADSAS.

In the spring prior to applying to dental school, you will write “an autobiography”, which is a guided response to a questionnaire about your undergraduate and postgraduate experiences.  (Note: the autobiography is only for the prehealth advisor; it is not sent to dental schools or shared with anyone.) You will then meet with the prehealth advisor to discuss your autobiography and review the your credentials for applying to dental school. You and the prehealth advisor will also discuss a tentative timetable for the dental school application process.

Choosing where to apply to dental school involves careful thought and research on your part. There are many resources available f or you to learn about the curricular styles, training programs, and admissions criteria of the U.S. dental schools. The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools and individual dental school web sites are great places to start exploring dental schools. After considering the schools' policies regarding admissions and state residency, you should review your application profile (GPAs, DAT scores) with respect to each school’s reported admissions criteria. Other factors to consider are class size, training opportunities with patients, research opportunities, and financial costs. You should also meet with the prehealth advisor for advice on choosing where to apply to dental school.

Admissions statistics from the national application process

For 2013 matricuation,  nationally 47% of the 12,162 applicants were accepted to dental school.  Women accounted for 46% of the enrollees.  (Statistics from 2014 ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools p. 53)

Average DAT Scores Academic Average Perceptual Ability Total Science
Matriculants 19.9 20.0 19.8
Average GPAs Science GPA Cumulative GPA  
Matriculants 3.46 3.54  

Above data from the 2014 ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools

Overview of the dental school application timeline

Applying to dental school is a long and demanding process that usually takes more than one year from starting to study for the DATs to matriculation in dental school. In the spring, approximately 18 months before matriculating in dental school, you will begin to study for the DATs, write the predental autobiography, and meet with the prehealth advisor to develop your application plans. By April you should have requested letters of recommendation from faculty, dentists, and other supervisors. All letters of recommendation for your predental committee letter are due in the Office of Health Professions Advising by June 1 of the application year.

The AADSAS application usually becomes available at the beginning of June. During June and July you will work on the AADSAS application essay, enter your coursework onto the application form, request transcripts to be sent to AADSAS, and make final selections of where you want to apply to dental school. Predental students usually take the DAT by mid-July, and then submit the AADSAS application after receiving their DAT scores. AADSAS can take 4 - 6 weeks to verify the application before releasing it to the dental schools.

After submitting the AADSAS application, you will work on secondary applications, with the goal of submitting the secondary applications to dental schools by the end of August. During the summer your predental committee letter and individual letters of recommendation will be submitted electronically by the prehealth advisor directly to AADSAS, which transmits the letters directly to the dental schools.

In the late summer to early fall dental school admissions committees begin reviewing applications and selecting applicants for interviews. Most dental schools have a rolling admissions process, so it is important to have your application complete at the dental school when they start to review applications. The interview season for dental schools starts in September and ends by February at most schools. Some dental schools may have interviews in March or early April. You will be responsible for all of the expenses to travel to interviews; dental schools require in-person interviews at the dental school. Early in the fall semester you should request a mock dental school interview with the the Career and Professional Development (CPD) Office.

The ADEA has established a set of guidelines for dental school admissions, known as the "traffic rules", which set general schedules for communicating decisions between dental school admissions offices and applicants. These guidelines are summarized below.

  • Dental schools cannot extend offers of admission until December 1 of the academic year prior to the academic year of matriculation.
  • Applicants who receive an acceptance between December 1 and January 31 have 30 days to respond to the admissions offer.
  • The response period for applicants from February 1 to May 15 is 15 days.
  • Applicants accepted after May 15 may be asked for an immediate response to the admissions offer.
  • After April 5, AADSAS will report to each dental school the names of candidates in their entering class who are holding acceptance(s) at additional institutions. Dental schools will have the option of rescinding an offer of admission to candidates who have paid deposits and are holding positions at multiple institutions. Dental schools with candidates holding multiple positions on April 1of the year of admission will give such candidates a minimum 15-day notice if they choose to withdraw them from the entering class.

Many dental schools require applicants to submit nonrefundable deposits to hold a position in the class. The deposits may be as high as $1000 or more.

After interview some applicants will be put on the wait-list for admission to dental school.  Acceptance from the waitlist can occur at any time up to the first day of classes.  If you are waitlisted you should contact the prehealth advisor to discuss your situation and to consider supplementing your application with additional information.

The ADEA has partnered with the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to provide financial planning resources for dental students.  You can access those resources from the AAMC web site AAMC/ADEA Dental Loan Organizer and Calculator (DLOC).