Choosing the right dental school to attend is an important decision that requires careful consideration. In this article, I provide the perspective of someone who has gone through the dental school admissions process, had multiple acceptances, and the perspective of also helping 300+ pre-dentals choose the right school for them. Here are some key criteria you may want to consider when evaluating dental schools:
Ensure that the dental school you are considering is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). This will ensure that the program meets certain educational standards and will allow you to take the licensing exam required to practice dentistry.
Review the curriculum to ensure that it covers all the topics you will need to become a competent dentist. Look for programs that offer clinical experience early on, as well as opportunities for specialization. See if the curriculum fosters collaboration or competition. Attending a dental school that is on a pass-fail basis will typically foster more collaboration than a dental school that is on a letter-graded basis.
Review the qualifications of the faculty, including their educational background, professional experience, and research interests. Look for programs with faculty members who are active in research and have a strong reputation in the dental community.
4. Clinical Experience:
Evaluate the quality and quantity of clinical experience offered. Look for programs that offer ample hands-on experience and exposure to a wide range of dental procedures and technologies. This is especially important nowadays since different dental schools vary widely in the amount of clinical experience offered. For example, some dental schools will allow dental students to begin treating patients in their first year, while other schools may not allow dental students to begin treating patients until their third year of dental school. Likewise, the types of procedures that you may be able to do can vary between schools. For example, some dental schools will allow dental students to do endodontic procedures on complex cases, such as on molars, while other dental schools either limit this experience or provide such procedures to their endodontic residents, instead of allowing dental students to complete such procedures.
Consider the resources available to you as a student, including access to state-of-the-art equipment, technology, and research facilities. Look for programs that offer ample support services, including career services, counseling, and tutoring. Having strong support systems, such as a mentor-mentee program, D1/D2 "little brother" or "little sister" pairings can also be helpful. Each dental school has different resources available to their students, and it could be wise to consider this as part of choosing which dental school you should attend.
Consider the location of the dental school and the surrounding area. Look for programs located in areas with a strong dental community, as this may provide more opportunities for networking and job placement after graduation. Likewise, choosing a dental school where you can see yourself living for the next four years is also important. You don't want to be miserable with the location. Consider weather, location type (e.g. rural or metro), and proximity to family. While some pre-dental students want to go to a dental school close to family or where they can see themselves working in the future, you might view going to a dental school far from "home" as an opportunity to explore somewhere new for 4 years, and maybe fall in love with a new city. Staying close to family and friends has its benefits, but going outside of your comfort zone and exploring somewhere new also has its benefits. What do you value more?
Evaluate the cost of attending the dental school, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. Look for programs that offer financial aid, and other forms of assistance to help offset the cost of attendance. The cost of dental school can range from approximately $250,000 to over $550,000, depending on the school and cost of living in the area. It could also be wise to consider the cost of interest on a large loan amount. With federal loans having an interest rate of about 7%, the cost of dental school can quickly accumulate beyond what you were expecting.
If you are an international student, you may also want to consider how you will be financing the cost of your dental school tuition. Some dental schools may offer specific loan programs for international students, since international students can not get federal loans, which are the most popular type of loans for financing your dental school education.
The reputation and ranking of a dental school may be important to you. Firstly, attending a higher ranked dental school can provide you with better opportunities and resources during your education. Higher ranked schools may have better facilities, more experienced faculty members, and more opportunities for research and clinical experience. This can help you to develop a stronger foundation of knowledge and skills as a dentist.
Secondly, the rank of your dental school can impact your competitiveness for certain residency programs and job opportunities. Some residency programs and employers may favor graduates from more prestigious or well-known dental schools.
However, it is important to note that while the rank of a dental school can be a factor in these situations, it is not the only factor that is considered. Other factors, such as your individual academic performance, clinical experience, and personal qualities, will also play a significant role in your future success as a dentist or specialist.
Order of Significance
It's important to know that these criteria are not listed in order of significance. The weight that you place on each of these different criteria is dependent on what is most important to you. Some pre-dental students consider the cost of dental school to be the primary determinant in choosing which school to attend. Other pre-dentals may be willing to spend an extra $150,000 to receive the best clinical education possible, as they see the extra cost as an investment into their lifelong career. I have advised students who have chosen both ways, and neither option is correct for everyone.
About the Author: Andrew Ghadimi, DDS
Dr. Andrew graduated from UCLA's School of Dentistry and served on the ADEA AADSAS Advisory Board, helping run the dental school application, AADSAS. He also served as the National Pre-Dental Liaison for the American Dental Education Association (ADEA), the same organization that runs the dental school application. While at UCLA's School of Dentistry, he also served on the Council of Students, Residents, and Fellows Board, as the Pre-Dental Chair for California. He has mentored and advised 300+ pre-dentals on their journey to dental school and helped pre-dentals receive over $1,000,000 in scholarships in addition to acceptances to some of the most competitive dental schools in the country, including Harvard, UPenn, Columbia, UF, UCLA, and many others.
The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to UCLA School of Dentistry, the American Dental Education Association, or any other organization.