Importance of Choosing the Right Major For Dental School
Choosing the right major for dental school is an important part of the pre-dental journey. Your major will help you to plan which courses to take during your college career. Some courses, known as “basics”, you must take no matter what major you choose to pursue as it is a requirement for a bachelor’s degree. This is your basic English, History, Math, and more. Some courses are specific to your major such as Microbiology for Biology and Microbiology majors. Note that some courses have prerequisites such as Organic Chemistry which requires general Chemistry 1 and 2 beforehand. Lastly, you have prerequisites for dental school to fulfill. Managing all of this can be overwhelming for a pre-dental student. Hence, choosing the right major is incredibly important to ensure all forms of requirements have been met to obtain both a bachelor’s degree and dental school admission on time. In this article, we will discuss points of consideration when choosing a major, recommended majors, and more to help pave the path for your dental school admission.
Factors When Choosing Your Major for Dental School
The best undergraduate major for dental school is one that fulfills most of the dental school prerequisites and aligns with your passions and interests. Hence, there is no one right major that can serve as the golden ticket to success. It depends on your priorities and passions as this is a personal decision that requires thought and proper research. Furthermore, it is
important to research dental school prerequisites for schools you’re interested in beforehand. Common prerequisites include Biology, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, Biochemistry, and a few others. With this information, you can look into different majors and choose the one that best matches dental school prerequisites. The most common way to both complete the dental school prerequisite courses and fulfill major requirements is to major in Biology or Biological Sciences.
The second thing to consider are your passions and interests. Knowing that dental school prerequisites are primarily science (STEM) courses, are you interested in a science major? It’s important to note that it is acceptable to choose a non-science major as long as you complete dental school prerequisites. After all, the college experience is a once-in-a lifetime experience. So pursue your passions to the fullest. While that is a pro of this decision, a con might be that you may have to add a few classes or semester(s). For example, pursuing a fine arts degree will require courses dissimilar to dental school prerequisites which can extend your time in college.
Whether you choose a science or non-science major, you will build nonacademic skills which are crucial. This includes teamwork, communication, problem-solving, time management and more which will enrich your dental school journey. Besides this, you will still take science courses (dental school prerequisites) in a non-science degree which will expose you to useful material for dental school, and the Dental Admission Exam (DAT).
How Your Major Can Influence Your DAT Score
So far, we’ve discussed one benefit of choosing a science major for dental school: completing both a bachelor’s degree and the dental school prerequisites in 4 years. Another benefit of this is that it better prepares you for the DAT. The DAT tests your academic knowledge and assesses your readiness for dental school. Therefore, this exam is a crucial aspect of the dental school application and admission. Tested subjects include biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, math, reading comprehension, and perceptual ability. For a science major student, preparing for the DAT may be less of a challenge compared to a non-science major student who may have not taken as many science courses in these subjects. This is not to say that a non-science major student cannot score well on the DAT. However, learning and reviewing DAT content may be easier for students who are more familiar with the content from their science class.
Recommended Majors for Dental School
According to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), a majority of pre-dental students major in either Biology or Chemistry while the minority major in Music, History, Engineering, Social sciences, and more. ADEA also notes how building a good science foundation is important even if it's done through a non-science major. Let’s discuss a few recommended majors that are relevant to dental school.
General Biology (and related sciences: Microbiology, Physiology, etc.): This major fulfills a majority of dental school prerequisites, which is why it is one of the popular majors. You may have to take a few additional classes such as Biochemistry as it isn’t a major requirement but is a common dental school prerequisite. This major is rigorous but typically prepares students well for dental school, and the DAT exam.
Chemistry (and related sciences): This also includes majors related to general chemistry, organic chemistry, and more. These majors are rigorous and help prepare students for dental school.
Health sciences (and related sciences): This includes majors such as Public Health, Kinesiology, and more. This major is slightly less rigorous than Biology and Chemistry majors.
Business (and related majors): Although this is a non-science major and oftentimes less rigorous, the gained skills and knowledge are relevant for dental school. This is because dentists are healthcare leaders and often business owners. Therefore, learning business terminology, strategies, and management are useful skills.
Other Majors: Some majors are a mix of science and non-science material. The psychology major is one such example. This unique major is recommended for dental schools as it can provide valuable skills and knowledge. For example, information from courses like Behavioral Sciences can be implemented in dentistry and quality patient care.
Besides the recommended majors above, it is okay to choose a different major or a non-science major as long as the dental prerequisites are completed. Additionally, other majors are not discouraged or looked down upon as each major has the potential to add to a student’s skill set, expertise, and experience.
Recommended Courses for Dental School
The recommended majors listed above do an excellent job in either covering most dental school prerequisites, or providing a student with unique skills or knowledge. What about the recommended courses? There are numerous highly recommended courses that are not part of dental school prerequisites nor the relevant majors. This includes but is not limited to Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, Immunology, and Biochemistry.
According to ADEA, the first and second year classes in the dental school curriculum are related to those listed above plus dental-oriented sciences. Therefore, taking the recommended courses will better prepare you for dental school. This is because dental school is known for being rigorous with a hefty workload which is why being familiar with recommended topics can be a huge help in the future.
It is also worth noting that some minors are extremely useful in preparing you for dental school without prolonging your time in college. For example, a student majoring in general Biology usually only needs to take Biochemistry 1 and 2 to obtain a Biochemistry minor. Considering that Biochemistry 1 is a common dental prerequisite, only Biochemistry 2 is additionally required to achieve a minor. Not only is that only one more class to take, it’s also a way to impress the admissions committee by taking challenging classes that prepare you for dental school. Similarly, there are a number of minors (Physcology, Chemistry, etc) you may choose to complete, but these may require you to take many additional courses.
Alternative Paths to Dental School
Just like there is no one right undergraduate major for dental school, there is also not one right path to dental school. While the traditional route is to pursue dental school right after 3-4 years of college, many students have found success taking a non-traditional route. The term “growth year” refers to students taking a gap year, or a couple gap years, for self growth. This can be a productive time to take extra classes, complete a minor, pursue a post-baccalaureate degree, or even gain more dental experience. It can also be a time to pursue your passions and hobbies such as traveling while staying connected to dentistry through volunteering and other activities. Let’s explore a few alternative paths to dental school below.
Students who have not majored in a science field may consider taking science courses (including dental school prerequisites) in their gap year(s) because having a strong science foundation is necessary for dental school. Furthermore, they may pursue a post-baccalaureate degree by joining a 1-2 year master’s program. Note that a master’s program should be done with the intention of completing the required coursework as dental admissions want students to be done with such projects before starting dental school. Such programs are an excellent way to progress in a career, study in subjects with passion, and develop a unique skill set while gaining expertise. Another way of strengthening your science foundation is by taking applicable classes at your local community college. Note that prerequisites should either be done fully at a 4-year university or some at a community college before transferring to a university. It is typically not favorable to take prerequisites for dental school at a local college once you have already transferred. However, you may choose community college for additional courses and even dental-oriented courses, if offered.
Regardless of the path you take to dental school or the major you pursue in college, completing the prerequisites should be a priority. As stated before, researching dental prerequisites for your schools of interest is crucial so you may construct an effective semester-by-semester schedule. As you do this, be sure to consider recommended courses for electives or for a minor.
Do I need to complete all dental school prerequisites before applying?
Not all of your prerequisites for dental school have to be completed by the time you submit your dental school application. Many students apply at the end of their junior year, when there are still two more semesters of their senior year remaining. In fact, there is a section for "Planned Courses" in the dental school application where you can list all the courses you are planning to take in the near future. With that being said, you should typically avoid delaying your dental school application under the assumption that uncompleted prerequisites may be problematic. However, it definitely helps to be done with most of your dental school prerequisites before you apply. This is because academic performance in the prerequisite courses is a point of consideration for the admissions committee. These courses are prerequisites for a reason as they can measure your success in dental school. Hence, showing great academic performance in most of the prerequisites by application time helps the admissions committee make a clearer decision about your potential acceptance to their dental school. An additional reason to take most of the prerequisites before submitting your dental school application is because it helps you prepare for the DAT. As mentioned before, the DAT tests on numerous topics, many of that from prerequisite courses. Overall, it is best to stay on track with both your major and dental prerequisite requirements to be prepared for the dental school application, dental school, and DAT.
To recap, the goal of this article is to help pre-dental students choose the right major and understand the prerequisites required for dental school. It is essential to choose a major that aligns with your interests and strengths your candidacy. It is also important to plan early to be on track for graduation after completing both major and dental school prerequisites. In order to do this, it is advised to research your major and the dental schools you are interested in.
Furthermore, you should make appointments with your academic advisor, or work with a professional dental school admissions expert, to ensure you have updated and correct information regarding requirements for graduation and dental school admission.
Lastly, remember that the journey to dental school is not an easy one. There are many requirements and factors that come into play. Now, there is no way to control how the admissions committee perceives you through your application. However, doing your part as a pre-dental student can help achieve dental school acceptance. This means you must properly plan and ensure you have met most of the dental school’s requirements by application season. Knowing what to do will help you plan the "when and how" part to help ensure dental school acceptance.
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Meet one of our Predenting authors: Nidhi Tanwar!
Since her shift to the U.S. from India at just 7 years old, Nidhi’s passion to study grew. Eventually, she graduated with a degree in STEM and discovered her love for dentistry. After receiving multiple dental school interviews and acceptances, she hopes to help pre-dental students find success by sharing advice, knowledge and experiences through articles on Predenting and her dental Instagram page. Follow @teethbytanwar to connect with Nidhi and join her journey at Texas A&M School of Dentistry.