Your College Extracurricular Activities Can Be Important
Dental-school admissions committees select applicants who have demonstrated intelligence, maturity, integrity, and a dedication to the ideal of service to society. One way for them to assess your nonacademic qualities is to look at how you lived your life prior to completing your dental school application. To this end, many committees will ask you to submit a list of your extracurricular activities. While not all admissions committees consider extracurriculars in the application process, those that do consider the nature and depth of the activities you have undertaken to be a significant factor in your admissibility to dental school.
Of all extracurricular activities, the one that is most likely to be considered essential by a dental school admissions committee is clinical experience. The best way to find such an experience is to call those organizations in your community that work with the chronically ill or disabled. Pick an organization whose work interests you and inquire about volunteering. Keep in mind, however, that you may be asked to make a commitment of up to one year.
In general, the only time research experience is an absolute must is if you are planning to apply to either M.D. or Ph.D. programs or are interested in an academic or research career. If this is the case, it is important that you have documented experience that validates your interest and potential in the career field.
But that doesn't mean applicants planning a pure clinical career wouldn't benefit from a research background. As a future dentist, your job will involve research, either as you seek to determine your patients' medical conditions or through the process of continuing education, in which you will study other individuals' research efforts.
A third category of extracurricular activity common to many successful applicants is teaching. One of the most important roles that a dentist plays is that of a teacher who imparts information to patients. Teaching patients enables them to play a more active role in their own health care.
The diversity of teaching experiences of dental school applicants during their undergraduate years is very broad. Such experience might include teaching bible study in your place of worship, teaching swimming or a musical instrument to children, or becoming a teaching assistant in a lower-division class in which you did exceptionally well. Teaching can encompass just about anything you enjoy doing. All you need to do is share it with others in a structured, organized manner.
Many undergraduate students need to work throughout their college years in order to stay in school. Many admissions committees recognize that the time you work necessarily means that you have less time for your studies and other forms of extracurricular activities. These committees understand that maintaining academic performance while holding down a job is hard work. If an applicant has been able to do both well, it is an indication that the person will be able to maintain a certain academic performance upon entering dental school.