General Application Tips for Dentistry

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Disclaimer: Please note that the information below provides some general application tips for applying to Dental schools. It is not an official guide by any means. The information below mostly comes from advice from prospective dental students, current dental students, advisors and general online resources. The information is simply meant to be a guide and is not extensive. Furthermore, every Dental school is different, thus some information below may not apply. Finally, this guide was designed with McGill students in mind, thus the terminology usually reflects McGill equivalents.

Contents

Academics

1. The first thing to do before entering Dentistry is to choose a major in a university. It is important that you choose something that holds your interest you rather than a major that seems complicated because you think it may look better on your transcript. The fact is that most schools look for students in all kinds of fields, whether they are from the sciences or the arts. It is also essential to pick a field of interest since it can serve as a backup plan if you do not get into Dentistry for whatever reason.


2. Start looking at schools early (to know course requirements, plan time for volunteering, etc.) This should be done in U0 preferably. This way you can plan how you will fulfill all the requirements of the schools you want to apply to well in advance and to avoid unpleasant surprises.


3. Although curricular activities and volunteering are important, grades count for a lot for most schools. It will be hard to be accepted into many schools with a CGPA of 3.0. A more realistic minimum is 3.3, but one should aim to generally get at least 3.5 for reasonable success. In general, the mean accepted GPA scores tend to be around 3.4 - 3.85. Sometimes, the lack of exceptional grades may be compensated by your volunteering experience, research you have done, good letters of recommendation, etc.

A good way to boost your GPA is to take “easy” electives. Ask other colleagues about their courses. You could also try attending some extra classes during the first 2 weeks before the course registration deadline to get a feel for some courses (even if you are only going to take the course next semester or next year).

However, grades are not everything; Dental schools will consider all aspects when applying. Even a CGPA of 3.9 may not be enough if you do not have anything else to show off in your application.


Course Prerequisites

In terms of course prerequisites, most schools require:

  • 2 semesters of Biology with lab
  • 2 semesters of Physics (sometimes with lab)
  • 2 semesters of General Chemistry with lab
  • 2 semesters of Organic Chemistry with lab

These are usually done in CEGEP or U0, but they usually can be taken as summer courses or as electives in subsequent years. Organic is sometimes also taken in U1. They generally must be completed by the end of the year before you start Dental school.

Other requirements depend on the schools, but they may include English, Math, Statistics, Humanities and other biology courses like Genetics, Molecular Biology, Physiology and Biochemistry.

In some cases, your elective courses will have to be dental prerequisites, so make sure to leave space in your schedule accordingly to accommodate these courses.


DAT

1. Know what to Study. The Canadian DAT subjects are: General Chemistry, General Biology, Perceptual Ability, Manual Dexterity and Reading Comprehension. On the American DAT, there is: General Chemistry, General Biology, Perceptual Ability, Reading Comprehension, Organic Chemistry and Quantitative Reasoning.

Be sure to consult the CDA and ADA websites to know which topics in each subject are covered on each exam:

  • For the Canadian DAT, click here
  • For the American DAT, click here


2. Make sure to keep your General Chemistry and General Biology notes from your Freshman U0 year (or from CEGEP) to prepare for the DAT. Almost all of the content for the Chemistry Section on the DAT can be studied for from the General Chemistry courses you’ve taken, although there are a few rare surprises that may occur. If you are taking the American DAT, make sure to take Organic Chemistry 1 and 2 because it will be fairly difficult to study that material on your own without any previous knowledge of it.

The Biology section is a bit trickier. The General Biology classes are not always enough for the DAT. There are quite a few Physiology questions which are not always covered in these courses. There are also some more advanced molecular biology topics on the DAT than what is covered in General Biology. Hence, it is useful to take some Molecular Biology class (like BIOL 200 or 201) and Physiology (like PHGY 209 and 210). Having taken these courses first will be useful for studying for the DAT. This is why doing the DAT after U1 is usually easier than taking it in U0. But, it is not necessary to go through this path; there are many DAT preparation books available that cover the subjects at a sufficient level for the DAT. In addition, there are quite a number of questions regarding ecology and evolutionary biology on the DAT, so don’t skim over these sections.


Suggested Study Guides:

  • All DAT sections:
>Kaplan DAT with CD-ROM
>TopScore Pro for the DAT
  • Biology section:
>Hyperlearning MCAT Biological Sciences Review
>Barron’s AP Biology
>Biology by Campbell
  • General Chemistry section:
>Hyperlearning MCAT Physical Sciences Review
>Examkrackers: 1001 Questions in MCAT Chemistry
>Chemistry by McMurry and Fay
  • Organic Chemistry section:
>Examkrackers: 1001 Questions in MCAT Organic Chemistry
  • Perceptual Ability section:
>Crack DAT PAT


Suggested Practice Exams:

>DAT Achiever
>TopScore Pro for the DAT


3. There are also DAT prep courses that can be taken during the semester (usually during evenings or weekends) or also during the summer. Some universities may offer some courses, but usually outside resources offer them, such as Kaplan. They offer various course options; you attend their classes, or take online classes, or even take part in some private tutoring. Courses cost in between $ 1200 – $ 1500. Princeton Review also offers DAT prep courses. Another one is Rock the DAT which provides less course hours, but they have a soap carving tutorial. Finally, you could also try doing the subject-specific lessons from Prep101. Although they are tailored specifically for the MCAT, most of the content in the Biology, General and Organic Chemistry sections still apply for the DAT.

For more information about:

  • Kaplan’s courses, click here.
  • Princeton Review’s courses, click here
  • Rock the DAT’s courses, click here
  • Prep101’s courses, click here


4. There are also prep lessons such as with Prep101 that give a review for a particular course along with practice exams and a review manual. Although not formally DAT prep material (since they are reviews for final exams), you may find it useful to have these materials to do some extra review for the DAT. They also have a free Chemistry handbook available here and one for Biology available here. Not all of these topics are covered on the DAT, but they can still be used for review.


5. The Canadian DAT examination days are only available twice during the year: once in November and once in February. Unfortunately, this usually occurs around midterms, so preparation is crucial. It will be increasingly challenging to dedicate lots of time for the DAT as the exam date approaches when you have many midterms simultaneously. Study for the DAT in advance (during the summer) or during less intense periods during the school year. That way you’ll only need to do some light review for the DAT when midterm season comes to set aside a decent amount of time for midterms.


6. There is no calculator on the Canadian DAT. Although this may sound hard for the Chemistry section, they usually make their numbers “easy” so that you can mentally calculate it in your head or on paper. Or, sometimes they will have the formula written out with the numbers plugged in the answer choices so that you don’t need to calculate it. Make sure to try out some practice exams to see what to expect on the exam.


7. On the Canadian DAT, the Manual Dexterity test does not require carving a tooth shape out of soap (after hearing rumours from other students). In fact, they ask you to carve some abstract shape with specific dimensions out of a cylindrical soap bar. It is best to order the CDA official DAT guidebook with a box of soap to practise. The guide allows illustrates what kind of carvings you are expected to do on the exam. It also offers some carving tips.


8. Be aware of the last date you can write the DAT. Usually the last time to write the American DAT is during the summer of U2 (the summer right before the Fall of U3) since schools start to accept applications during that summer. This is because many American schools function on a rolling admission basis, which means that they already start filling their seats when they receive good applications (before the application deadline), instead of waiting to check the whole pool of applicants after the application deadline and then pick the best applicants from that pool. Thus, it is best to apply to American schools as early as possible for better success.

For the Canadian DAT, usually the last time to write it is in November of U3, although some schools may accept the test if done in February of U3. Canadian schools usually do not function on a rolling admission basis, so applying extra early is not necessarily advantageous.


A few notes

  • Some US universities don’t accept the Canadian DAT and vice versa, so make sure you check with the schools you want to apply to.
  • The DAT can be taken as many times as you want, but some schools only look at the last DAT scores taken, others will pick the best among all the ones you have taken.
  • Most Canadian English schools won’t accept the French DAT (called the TAED in French) since it does not include the Reading Comprehension section. Unless you plan on applying only to Université de Laval or Université de Montréal, you should do the English Canadian DAT.


Extracurricular Activities/Volunteering

1. Do some volunteering. Choose some activities that interest you. Doing volunteer at a hospital is always a good choice to see how it is to deal with patients. You can call them up or visit their Volunteer office and ask what services they offer. You can also do some other type of volunteering, generally something you enjoy doing. It is good to see if you were involved in volunteering for a few years prior to application, rather than just cram many hours 3 months before the application deadline.


2. Another thing that may enhance your application is to join some clubs, which offers a chance for the Admissions committee to see what kind of activities you enjoy and may also show some leadership skills if you ever plan some fundraising events or other activity. You could also accomplish this if you manage to get some executive position in the club, or if you start your own club. You can check out McGill’s clubs here.

There is also the McGill Pre-Dental Society which offers some soap carving workshops, seminars that explain the Dental application process along with some tips, and they also give you the chance to shadow McGill’s Dental students at the Dental Clinic of the Montreal General Hospital a few times during the year.


3. Tutoring can also be helpful; it shows that you have excellent grades in that subject, but it can also help you to learn and review concepts that may be useful for the DAT if tutoring Biology or Chemistry. It also demonstrates personal initiative, leadership and commitment to the Admissions Committee.


Shadowing

Shadowing a Dentist is a great way to learn more about the profession and to get a better idea of what the job entails. Although it is not necessary, it will be better for your application (for most schools), but some universities may have it as an application requirement. Not all dentists may be willing to have a student watching them all day, so you should try contacting a few dentists if that’s the case.


Research

Do some research during the summer. This can really set you apart from other applicants and can give you something to discuss during the interview. You could ask some professors and find out if they are willing to accept students to work for them during the summer. You could also ask if you could volunteer in their lab if there are no paid positions available. Another way to get involved in research is through McGill’s 396 undergraduate research courses. They count as 3-credit electives taken during a semester and require a final report.

There are also some internships that can also be found on the Internet. These may occur locally or abroad, so Google those early since application deadlines may be as early as December – February for a summer position. You can also apply for a summer research scholarship from NSERC or FRSQ.


Teaching Assistantship

Try for a Teaching Assistantship (TA) if you can find one. They are extremely rare for undergraduate students, but they have them for ANAT 261, and maybe some other courses. However, if you are a graduate student, this would be very helpful. Postings are usually found at myFuture.


Letters of Recommendation

Get to know your professors for letters of recommendation. Get acquainted with them by visiting their office hours and ask questions and learn about their research. You can also get acquainted with them if you work for them during the summer of by taking a 396 research course. You can also ask a dentist you have shadowed for a significant amount of time, or employers that could describe you suitably for the dental profession. Make sure that they know you enough and about your interest in Dentistry. Also, hand them a copy of your personal statement and also a description of some of your curricular activities, experience doing research, volunteer efforts, etc. This will make sure that your recommendation will contain pertinent information about you and provides a guide for the professor so they can write an informative letter.

When asking for letters, make sure to ask early (1-2 months at least) before you need to send them. The people you have asked may be busy and may not have time to write one 3 days before your application deadline.


Interview

Most schools will require an interview. It usually consists of a member from the faculty of Dentistry and/or the Admissions Committee and/or dental students, and possibly other individuals. It usually occurs on the school’s campus, and telephone interviews are not always available. It is also best to ask 2 – 5 questions during the interview.

In addition, it is extremely valuable to do mock interviews. You can also try searching some sample Interview questions on the web. To get you started, some sample questions can be found here.

Make sure to practise your interviewing skills in front of a mirror and a group of people. You can also try recording yourself so that you can hear how you answer your questions. Usually you can get a mock interview session with CaPS at McGill.


Personal Statement/Essay

1. Don’t write it at the last minute. You might forget to change important details (if you are sending it to many schools), such as changing the university’s name to the one the letter is being sent to (a rare occurrence, but it happens). Also, by writing it early, you can take a few days to take a break from your essay, and return to it a few days later with a “fresh mind”. This allows you to re-read your essay more critically and from a more objective standpoint in order to identify mistakes more easily. It also gives you an opportunity to see how you can improve your essay with better ideas.


2. Do not exceed the number of words stated and follow the instructions properly (font size, paper size, etc.) Any violation of these rules could signify an automatic refusal. Also, make sure to keep a copy of your letter for your own records.


3. Make your letter stand out from others; it must be convincing, concise, interesting and error-free (proofread it many times and ask your friends to review it). If your grades and DAT scores are not up to par, then this section will be critical to score well on.

Some tips to make your essay stand out:

  • Make sure to have your letter read by an advisor or a staff member from a career resource center to receive some professional commentary.
  • Use anecdotes to catch your reader’s attention. It is generally more interesting for the reader than to read a list of disconnected past experiences with no hints about your personal expression. It is great if the reader can get a view on your motivations and thoughts.
  • Try to utilize a central theme in your essay that ties up all the elements nicely. It helps create a “story” to your essay, rather than creating a list of facts.
  • The reader really wants to see that you are very interested in Dentistry, so this point should be emphasized (but not exaggerated).
  • Talk about research experiences you’ve had and what you have learnt from them. This is especially important if the school you’re applying to is very research-oriented.
  • When talking about past job and volunteer experiences, or other unique activities, make sure to explain how they made you a better person and how it can be helpful for your path in Dentistry.
  • If you are very artistically inclined and like to pay attention to detail, this is a plus since they are important skills for dentists.
  • Avoid writing comments that seem apologetic. Your statements should sound like you have confidence, while remaining truthful. If you cannot discuss about an experience in a very positive way, it is probably best to not write it at all.
  • Although a bit cliché, you should mention that you like helping others and that you have lots of compassion. Bringing this up in a unique way in your essay will go in your favour. Support your statements by explaining your experiences with clear examples and relevant anecdotes.


Do not procrastinate

1. Make sure to send application documents ahead of the application deadline. Your documents must be in by the date stated on the university’s website, so make sure to send them in advance so that they arrive on time. Moreover, write your essay in advance so you can review it many times and to allow many people to read it over.


2. Deadlines to obtain financial aid may be before the actual application deadline, so you have to watch out for them early.


Other Useful Links

  • Student Doctor Network: forum where many students discuss about all aspects of Dentistry.
  • CaPS: Career Planning Service at McGill which provides useful tips for applying into professional programs.


Suggested Schedule

U0/CEGEP U1 U2 U3
Academics
  • Choose a major
  • Apply to Pre-Dent (for CEGEP students)
  • Start looking at potential Dental schools and their requirements
  • Narrow down potential schools
  • Do well in courses
  • Fill schedule with easy electives to raise GPA
  • Do very well in courses
  • Apply to American schools (as early as possible during the summer of U2 due to rolling admissions)
  • Apply for graduation
  • Think of backup plans if refused, or re-apply
  • Apply to Canadian schools (by Fall or Winter of U3, depending on the school)
Course Prerequisites
  • Complete Biology, Physics and Gen. Chem. requirements.
  • Complete Org. Chem. 1 and 2 requirements.
  • Take other prerequisites if required (Biochemistry, English, etc.)
  • Complete dental prerequisite requirements
DAT
  • Don’t throw away Biology and Gen. Chem. notes.
  • Review your notes over the summer.
  • Review Org. Chem. notes for American DAT.
  • Purchase study books (especially for Biology) and practice exams.
  • Take advanced biology classes to help studying (PHGY 209/210, BIOL 200/201)
  • Study a lot for the DAT
  • Study some more
  • Do the American DAT by summer of U2
  • Do the Canadian DAT by November
Extracurricular Activities/Volunteering
  • Volunteer at a hospital
  • Do other volunteering activities
  • Join various clubs
  • Do some tutoring
  • Focus on volunteering activities that really interests you
  • Apply for executive positions in clubs
  • Continue tutoring
Shadowing
  • Shadow a few dentists
  • Continue shadowing
  • Ask for letters of recommendation
Research
  • Start thinking about research interests
  • Contact potential supervisors to work during the summer
  • Volunteer in a lab
  • Apply for 396 research courses
  • Find internships
TA
  • Consider being a TA
  • Apply to be a TA (i.e. for ANAT 261)
Letters of Recommendation
  • Get to know your professors, dentists you shadow and employers
  • Ask for letters 1 - 2 months in advance
  • Provide personal statement when asking for a letter
Interview
  • Practise interview skills in front of people
  • Do some mock interviews
  • Attend interview workshops
  • Do well during interview
  • Dress appropriately
Essay
  • Begin brainstorming ideas
  • Add more details from your U0/U1 experiences
  • Perfect essay (attend essay writing workshops, ask other people to read it, etc.)
  • Send essay along with application
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