Congrats, you survived your freshman year (and more surprisingly, dining hall food). Now it’s time to start getting your act together. You may gain some advantages (especially socially) by being a sophomore, but you also lose the ability to get away with “freshman mistakes.” Professors are generally more understanding toward first year students. By your second year, they presume that you know the ropes and can take full responsibility for your actions (or inactions).
Keep your dental school goal in sight, use the study skills you obtained last year, and in the immortal words of Jerry Garcia, “Keep on Truckin!”
More Than Just Grades
A great GPA and transcript strewn with A’s is an undeniable plus to a prospective dental school. However, like college, it’s important that you are well rounded and have other interests, both dental and unrelated.
Join an intramural or club sports team, write for the school paper, or create set designs for the drama club. Many activities show schools that you are multi-dimensional and interesting. Social environments imply that you can deal with many different types of people and situations. This shows potential schools that you value teamwork, work well with others, and can implement effective communication skills—all abilities necessary for success in dentistry. In addition, extracurriculars can also be a great way to relieve some stress and take a break from your academics.
Many schools have pre-dental societies. Your non-dental friends may call you a geek, but this is an excellent way to meet people with similar interests and goals. These organizations also offer several fun and educational activities. They often bring in guest speakers such as professional dentists with various areas of concentration, representatives from test preparation centers, deans of admission from dental schools, and current dental students. They also may provide review sessions or hints and tips for common classes.
Joining clubs or teams can be an invaluable asset to your future success. These organizations not only look great on an application, they also offer numerous educational opportunities and the chance to gain a ton of exposure, experience, and insight. You can make contacts through these societies, which may prove very useful in the future—specifically in your search for offices to volunteer at, dentists to shadow, or experts to do research with.
Plus, professors that work in the field often serve as advisors to such organizations. Thus, you will have a chance to establish a close relationship with a teacher outside of the classroom. Be nice to them, they will have tons of knowledge to extend… and think of what a great recommendation letter they will be able to write for you!
If your school doesn’t have a pre-dental society you can start one, and even make yourself president! Contact the American Student Dental Association for details.
The summer following your Sophomore year is a great time to gain some valuable experience in the field. Dental schools look very favorably upon students who take advantage of all the hands-on opportunities that they can. Former pre-dental students note that they learned the most valuable information from such activities as shadowing, volunteering, or carrying out research.
A summer job or internship in the dental field can help you see what dentistry is like on a day-to-day basis. In addition to getting a hold on terminology and general know-how, you will ultimately improve your people skills, an invaluable asset to success in almost any health field. Think resume by day and delight at night.
If your college has a dental school, there are often summer positions, most often in research available. Visit the Career Services center at your school, contact a professor that you know works in the dental school, or go online to explore possible opportunities. This is a great way to get to know a professor outside of class…another potential letter of recommendation? An extra bonus—some research assistants get paid either via work-study, grants, or some other form of compensation.
If you aren’t planning on staying on campus for the summer, look for research opportunities at universities or hospitals in your area. Career Services or your advisor (pre-dental or general) should be able to help you here as well. If you still can’t find anything, try to contact local, state, and national dental organizations. The American Dental Association offers links to all of these.
Maybe you can’t stand the thought of research. Don’t worry; there are other possibilities. Contact some local dentists in your area and see if you could volunteer at their office. They most likely won’t want you around all the time, but perhaps you could help out, or at least observe, a few days a week. It doesn’t matter exactly what you do at their office, all that is important is that you gain some insight into the overall responsibilities and activities performed. But don’t just sit back and watch—use this opportunity to ask questions and discuss career decisions. Someone who has gone through what lies ahead for you is probably your best resource for knowledge and advice.
Many colleges and dental schools offer summer programs for pre-dental students. They expose you to numerous options in the field, supplement what you have learned in school, give you hands on experience, and allow you to work closely with professionals and professors. In short, they give you a definite edge over your peers.