Nearly all students who apply to dental school will have strong grades and DAT scores. In order to stand out, an applicant must showcase how they utilize their spare time with meaningful social or academic enrichment.
Pursue Meaningful Experiences
Working to support yourself, volunteering in an appropriate health-care setting, and undergraduate (or graduate) research are the most common co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on student resumes. In addition, college organizations and fraternities offer many social and academic service opportunities where you can develop and practice important leadership skills. Even serving as a teaching assistant for a college professor can become a meaningful learning and leadership opportunity.
Dental schools also look for students who show dedication to causes and/or communities. These do not necessarily have to pertain to the health-care industry, but should demonstrate that you are capable of deep involvement and making a long-term commitment. In many cases, students will become involved, volunteer, or work in a health care setting to shadow a number of dentists of different specialties and interact with patients.
Volunteering and Job Shadowing
The more time you spend volunteering, shadowing or employed with health-care professionals, the more convinced you will become that dentistry is (or is not) the right path for you. Some dental schools may expect up to 100 or more hours of volunteering or shadowing in health-care. This can be accomplished through employment or volunteering at a private dental office, public dental clinic, or hospital setting.
These types of experiences allow the student to demonstrate that they understand the day-to-day rigors of the profession and are still able to commit to a professional life-style that is very demanding of one’s time, energy, intellect, and in many cases, one’s integrity. In the process, students are also likely to glean information about issues important to the health-care industry, an increasingly important facet of becoming a compassionate dentist.
Students involved in research, regardless of the study topic, often demonstrate to the committee, among other things, that a prospective dental student is well versed in scientific inquiry, experimental design and, in cases where the outcome is a publication, accomplished at scientific writing. Nearly all of the skills involved in conducting research are indispensable tools within a dental school setting. Completing a research endeavor also demonstrates to a committee that you are serious and diligent about your commitments.
Consequently, regardless of the type of commitment you undertake, dental schools will assess your activities with the goal of determining whether you have the fortitude to successfully complete a tour through dental school. Remember, not only do you have to undertake such commitments; you have to demonstrate convincing proof on paper that your experience reflects outstanding accomplishments and positive personality traits, and warrants further consideration.
Much like the proverbial tree falling without anyone to hear it, an accomplishment without a publicist seldom yields additional opportunities. You have to be your own publicist and sell your experiences and accomplishments. In some cases, there will be physical proof (as with a publication in a scientific journal or the establishment of a soup kitchen). In many other cases, you (and your letters of recommendation) should provide a verbal description of the depth and character of your extracurricular experiences and accomplishments.