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Unlocking the Secrets to Dental School Admission: The Power of Volunteering from a Former Pro Golfer

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Hi everyone! My name is Isabel and I’m a D2 at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine. I attended the University of Southern California for undergrad where I majored in Business Administration and Biology.

My path to dentistry was not a straight line – I was formerly a professional golfer and pursued a course in business after my athletic career ended. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that I discovered my passion for dentistry.

At the time, perhaps like many of you, I found the path to dental school intimidating and had no idea where to start. Thankfully, with the help of peers, mentors, and reading blog posts like this one, I was able to get to where I am today.

Now, I feel that it is my role to pass on the wisdom. Hence, I’m writing this blog on volunteering, which for me is the spark to the start of my dental passion and a lifelong commitment.

Is Volunteering Required for Dental School?

“I heard that I’m supposed to do community service as a pre-dent, but is it necessary?”

The short answer is, absolutely!

Why Volunteering is Important as a Pre-Dent

If you’ve taken a sneak peek at the AADSAS dental school application, you’ll notice that volunteering makes up a good chunk of the application.

Having a good DAT score and GPA alone is not enough to get you accepted to dental schools. Dental schools are looking for well-rounded applicants who excel both within and outside of the academic setting.

Dentistry is a service-based profession, a lifelong dedication to serving your patients. Dental schools look for candidates who can demonstrate this commitment, starting by making meaningful impacts in their community throughout undergrad and continuing in dental school and beyond.

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Opportunities and Resources

How to Get Started Volunteering

Most colleges have club fairs at the beginning of the semester, and many of these clubs are community service based. While you’re there, check out your school’s pre-dental club. They often offer many dental-related volunteer opportunities to club members. If your school provides academic/pre-health advisors, make an appointment with them to discuss volunteering opportunities on campus (and other pre-dental topics like course planning, timeline, application, etc. if needed). Also, don’t be shy to just ask fellow pre-dental students or upperclassmen about their volunteer experiences.

Common Dental-Related Volunteer Opportunities

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Common dental-related volunteer opportunities include :

  • Mobile Dental Clinics

  • International mission trips

  • Community Oral Health Education

For reference, here are some of my personal volunteer experiences:

  • Managed patient charts and dispensed instruments at a mobile dental clinic at USC

  • Took x-rays and chairside assisted at UCSD free dental clinic

  • Went on a dental mission trip to Honduras

  • Taught oral health basics to a local elementary school through a program within my pre-dental club

Do I Need Dental-Related Volunteering as a Pre-Dent?

Definitely not! Dental-related volunteer opportunities can be hard to come by, but if you find the opportunity, I would take it!

My Non-Dental Volunteering

As a business major student, I volunteered to teach a course on financial literacy to foster teenagers. Throughout my undergrad, I also volunteered as a science/math tutor through multiple programs.

While dental-specific volunteering may sometimes be hard to find, plenty of opportunities exist outside of dentistry, such as volunteering at food banks, shelters, or churches. Find something that you are passionate about!

How Many Hours of Community Service do I need for Dental School?

This is a tough question to answer because each student is unique. Some may have extensive research/work experience with fewer hours committed to volunteering while others are fully devoted to community service.

My Pre-Dental Community Service Hours

Female dental student in sim clinic

Personally, I had about 200 hours of volunteering when I submitted my application.

As a general rule of thumb, I’d say aim for 100+ hours if you can. If you feel that more hours could boost your application and that you have the time and resources to do so, go for it!

Quality over Quantity for Pre-Dental Volunteer Hours

Having said that, remember that quality is more important than quantity.

It is better to focus on just a few activities where you can demonstrate commitment and growth rather than having insignificant hours scattered across tons of activities.

For example, in sophomore year, I volunteered with Global Dental Brigades (GDB) and went on a mission trip to rural areas of Honduras where we set up a free mobile dental clinic.

I continued my involvement with GDB and served as the treasurer of the club in my junior year and as co-president in my senior year. In addition to leadership, my experience with GDB has led to personal growth. Witnessing the health disparities on my mission trip was the spark that inspired me to pursue dentistry and work toward global health equality as a lifetime goal.

So, instead of spreading yourself thin, find something that is meaningful to you and stick to it.

Pro-Tip for Pre-Dental Volunteer Hours

Keep a journal of your volunteer activities (and shadowing too). Keep track of your hours, dates, location, supervisor contact info, and write down anything important that you learned from these experiences. This will come in super handy when it’s time to fill out the dental school application, trust me!

Be Proactive in Finding Volunteer Opportunities

How Covid-19 Affected My Pre-Dental Volunteer Opportunities

During the Covid-19 shutdown, campuses were closed and many volunteer activities were put on halt.

My dental mission trip to Panama was canceled at the last second, and I had to move from campus in Los Angeles to home in San Diego as per school guidelines. I didn’t want to just sit around and wait for volunteer activities to resume so I sought out opportunities under the new circumstances.

Smiling young woman

I soon found a position as an online tutor for disadvantaged high school students, as many of them had difficulty transitioning to virtual learning. Meanwhile, I got my X-ray technician license and volunteered as a dental assistant at the UC San Diego clinic. As a result, I ended up with lots of volunteering hours and gained valuable experience during this time.

The bottom line is, be flexible and be proactive. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.

If you have questions, please feel free to reach out!


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