Hey everyone, my name is Izzy and I am a D3 at UCLA School of Dentistry! Applying to dental school can be a confusing process. From having to figure out the pre-requisites to knowing how to get letters of recommendation, there is a lot of things that must be learned along with the collection of bumps and bruises. There are a few things I learned through this process, and they have been vital to be able to help navigate the preparation and application process. The few aspects of the pre-dental journey usually I emphasize are the selection of extra-curricular activities, the importance of pre-requisite classes, and finding a mentor.
First, there is one of the most daunting aspects of being a pre-dent, which is figuring out what you want to do to develop yourself as a professional. These extra-curricular activities vary so widely from person to person and there is often a lot of external pressure to be an applicant who checks off all the pre-dent boxes at the expense of passions and being genuine to yourself. This is something that everyone deals with differently and there really is no right way to go about it. However, I chose to select extra-curricular activities using the basis of two things; What is going to develop skills that translate to being a good healthcare professional and what you enjoy doing. It is important to be meticulous in these pursuits, because down the line when it comes time to describe your experiences on your application, you do not want to just list what it was, you also want to be able to articulate what skills you got from them. This was the most important thing to consider for me. Whether it be a TA position or tutoring to help with communication, research to help with attention to detail and critical thinking, or working with orientation for organization and other soft skills, it is important to know what each of these things is preparing you for and take note of that early. This allows you to not only articulate things better on your application, but also allows you to build the narrative of your application from the very beginning. You can take something that you want the admissions committee to get out of your application and build on it so there is no doubt about the preparation you have had throughout your pre-dental journey. If you combine this with doing things you genuinely care about, it makes it seamless to speak about your experiences with excitement and passion in addition to clearly stating how this has helped you grow as a future healthcare provider.
Make an Extra Effort in Pre-Reqs
In addition to extra-curricular activities being taken very seriously, it is also important to take your pre-requisite classes with the same level of attention. These classes are not only the building blocks of your GPA, but they are also the foundation of your scientific knowledge that translates to upper-division courses and the transition into dental school. Making sure to absorb as much of the information at a high level and working to put this into your long-term memory is vitally important. When you take the pre-requisite classes seriously, it lends itself a couple of things; Being able to maximize your grade in that class, reduces the struggles that you will have in your upper-division classes, reduce the amount of relearning you will have to do when studying for the DAT and allow for an easier transition into those foundational science courses at the beginning of dental school. That bit of extra effort at the beginning can save so much stress and time down the line so take that very seriously.
Finding a Mentor
Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important things is finding mentors. These are people who can save you a lot of headaches and provide the ability to be more calculated in the way you’re spending your time when time is something that gets increasingly more precious. For mentors, it is great to have one person who has gone through the process whether that be a current dentist, a dental student, or someone who was recently admitted into dental school. Something that is especially advantageous is having two mentors, one who is a dentist and has gone through the process of applications, dental school a beyond as well as someone who has recently gone through the process such as a current dental student. This enables you to gather more information about not just the process in general but also how it has changed over time. Knowing the dynamics allows creativity and enhanced navigation of the process. In addition to being able to find out information about the application process, mentors can also point you to others in their field for whatever goals you both have discussed. Mentors are great to encourage you, guide you, and ensure that your efforts are intentional as well as give you an idea of where you stand.
There is a lot to consider when applying to dental school, and though these are just three components of the multifaceted process of applications, they highlight some of the ways to think about each component of the process. Being meticulous in all areas, being reflective about what you want as well as ways to build yourself, and following things you are passionate about with no concessions. These strategies will help you be the most genuine and authentic applicant while also ensuring that you’re properly preparing yourself in a way that is apparent to you and the admissions committee with your application on their desk.