You may be living off campus but you still have to remember to stay on track! Don’t slack off now—you are halfway done with college but there is still much to do. Junior year is a great time to get more involved in dental activities outside of the classroom. Volunteer to work in a dental office, see if you can shadow a practicing dentist, or find lab work in an area of research that interests you. Lack of opportunities is a poor excuse; there is ALWAYS something advantageous that you can be doing. Even if you cannot find work specifically in the dental field, pursue any type of medical or science-oriented activity that you can.
This is an important and busy year for you. You will have to study for and take the DAT, request letters of recommendation, apply to schools, and go on interviews – all while taking a regular course load. This load can be hectic, but as long as you plan in advance and keep heading in the right direction, you will manage. Once again, at the start of the year check with your advisor to make sure that you have taken (or will take in due time) all required classes, both for your major and for general requirements. Also, check on campus visit dates for dental school representatives.
Shadowing is perhaps the most valuable resource for students in the health fields. The knowledge and exposure you gain cannot be found in a library nor read in a book. Most educators agree that the most valuable tool for learning, in all aspects of life, is experience. Working in a professional environment, with a practiced dentist, can literally bring what you learn in the classroom to life, replacing slides and videos with real life situations.
As a shadow you don’t merely follow a dentist around. You could potentially sit in on patients, watch procedures, or even assist in surgeries. Keep in mind that someone who has gone through what you are will is an invaluable resource.
Don’t just watch… ask questions, keep notes, and take advantage of every opportunity available in order to understand all facets of the profession, from client billing to cavity filling. A clearer understanding of where you are headed may provide further motivation to achieve your goals.
Dental schools recognize the value of hands-on experience. For this reason, many of them require that you complete a certain number of hours of shadowing prior to application. So, not only is shadowing recommended, it is often mandatory. In order to find a professional to shadow you can contact:
- your local dentist or specialist (orthodontist, pediatric dentist, etc.)
- your pre-health advisor (or general advisor if you don’t have one)
- your school’s pre-dental society (if you have one)
- the career services center at your school
- nearby dental schools
- the American Dental Association’s website for local organizations
Getting Recommendations for Dental School
Payoff time is here. Hopefully you have established close relationships with professors, volunteered at clinics, worked with professionals, and become friends with an advisor of an extracurricular activity. In short, you should have done everything we advised you to…or at least some brown-nosing!
You should put a lot of thought into who you would like to write your letters of recommendation. Most dental schools require at least 3 recommendations. The people that you choose should know you well, be familiar with your abilities, and understand your goals. And don’t wait until the last minute. If you want good recommendations, you have to give those you select a substantial amount of time to write them. Remember that many professors will be asked to write several letters, so get in touch with them as early as possible. You should allow a minimum of three weeks for them to compose it. This means that you must make contact about a month before your application is due, at the latest.
Make sure you supply all necessary forms, addresses, due dates, and stamped addressed envelopes. It would be helpful to write down or discuss when you took their class (or worked for/with them), information about your qualifications, and any additional background that you feel would aid your recommendation. You may even want to provide a copy of your resume and transcript.
You should follow up with a thank you note a few days before the recommendation is due. Not only is your gratitude a polite gesture, it will serve as a reminder.
The Value of the Visit
The spring or summer following Junior year is a good time to visit some of the schools you have applied to, or are planning on applying to. Websites and books can provide some great insight, but going to the school, walking around the campus, observing students, and touring facilities is the best way to figure out if a school is right for you.
When you are on campus don’t be afraid to talk to current students. Ask them about classes, professors, the surrounding area, etc. Most students will give you an honest opinion. If you can, set up an appointment with an admissions representative to discuss any further questions you have. Just like college, you are going to spend four years at the school you choose, so make sure you like it.
Studying Abroad: Assessing Your Situation
Studying abroad is often an amazing, life changing experience. Unfortunately, many pre-health students feel that they cannot go overseas due to the rigorous demands of their major or field of study. However, studying overseas is definitely plausible as long as you account for pre-dental considerations beforehand. Potential complications generally involve: Physics, which is usually taken both semesters of Junior year; DATs, generally taken in April; setting up interviews; getting recommendations; and organizing all of your material for the application process.
Most of these matters, except for physics, generally take place in the spring. Although most students seem to go abroad in the spring, it is much less problematic to go away in the fall. As for Physics, talk to your advisor and see if you could take a semester either the summer prior to your Junior year, or if need be, after your Junior year. Remember that if you are set on going away in the spring you will have to wait to take the DAT in August instead of April, when most people take it. This means that your application to dental schools will not be considered until the scores are mailed, usually 6-8 weeks later.
Since most dental schools have rolling admissions and begin admitting before the application deadline, waiting until August can lower your chances of getting in. In addition, if you do poorly on the DAT you will not have an opportunity to retake it.
If you are concerned about receiving academic credit, or specifically need credits that can count toward your major, check with your advisor to find the most beneficial program for you. Some students choose to only take classes within their major, some explore their minor, others take classes for elective or general credit, and some simply take classes that they think will be interesting for no credit. Since you have several pre-dental requirements, you will most likely need to take courses that count towards your major.
Here are some overseas programs that are designed specifically for pre-health majors or have a concentration in the natural sciences:
University of Bristol
University of Lancaster (Premed and Health Care Program)
University of Sydney (College of Health Sciences)
University of Queensland
University of London Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Some programs offer internship, research, or volunteer opportunities in combination with academic courses:
Boston University/Hebrew University of Jerusalem Pre-Med Program (Rothberg International School)
University of Sussex
Ben Gurion University (Israel)
Denmark International Studies (Medical Practice and Policy Program)
Going away during the summer is another possibility. Most of the aforementioned programs offer summer opportunities as well. Talk to your schools abroad advisor, your general advisor, and your pre-health advisor (if you have one) to determine which time and program is best for you.