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The Guide to Extracurriculars for Dental School Admissions in 2024

Introduction to the Best Extracurriculars for Dental Schools

If you're an aspiring dental student, you may be wondering what extracurricular activities you should participate in to improve your chances of getting into dental school. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, there are several extracurricular activities that dental school admissions committees tend to look favorably upon. This article explores various options to gain experiences through extracurriculars.


Why is this so important? One reason is that participating in extracurricular activities allows you to gain valuable skills, knowledge, and experiences that you cannot gain in the classroom. Your extracurriculars play a significant role in shaping you into a unique applicant, which is favored by dental schools. Furthermore, the dental school application has a section dedicated to extracurriculars because it is a high-priority section for the admissions committee. Details about this section can be found on the official websites for American Dental Education Association (ADEA) and Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Services (TMDSAS).


Another reason why committing to extracurriculars is valuable is because the gained experiences can enhance your required dental school essays and be great conversation starters in interviews. Furthermore, these commitments allow you to connect with professors and dentists in a way that is both personal and professional. You may get to know someone well enough by the time you seek letters of recommendation for dental school.


Finally, it is noteworthy that participating in extracurriculars, especially those related to dentistry, exposes you to this career path. This is a great chance to learn about the field of dentistry, what a day in the life of a dentist looks like, and connect with pre-dental students, dental students, and dentists. This is ideal because understanding a dentist’s role in healthcare and the requirements for dental school admission, before committing to this career path is important. Also, pursuing extracurricular activities early in college is best to gradually build up experiences. It is desirable to participate in a few commitments at a time over the four years of college rather than committing to a lot of activities in the last 1-2 years. This requires both time management and proper planning. In this article, we will explore various extracurriculars you can get involved with in order to enhance your dental school application and chances of acceptance.



Volunteering for Dental School Admissions

Dental schools are interested in applicants who have a passion for serving others. Participating in volunteer work not only helps the community but also demonstrates your commitment to giving back. Look for opportunities to volunteer in dental clinics, nursing homes, or other healthcare-related organizations. A few ways to do this is to connect with organizations, pre-dental students, or local clinics. In general, the dental school application has sections for both healthcare and non-healthcare activities. While healthcare (dental) related activities are favorable, you can still list a combination of both as each experience is unique and valuable.


With that being said, volunteering in a dental clinic is a great learning experience for pre-dental students because it gives you an insight into how a dental practice is run. You may help the front receptionists with seating patients and ensuring they complete the correct paperwork. You may help dental assistants with sterilizing dental instruments and setting up rooms for treatments. Lastly, you may even help the dentist during procedures by holding the suction, handing instruments, and more. The point of volunteering is to be hands-on and help the practice while gaining relevant knowledge in dentistry. This extracurricular activity is typically one that many students set 4-8 hours aside biweekly or 10-15 hours monthly. Based on your school and work schedule, you should volunteer as time allows, but keep in mind that many dental schools have a required number of volunteer hours. Hence, it is best to aim for a minimum of 120-200 volunteering hours, which is easily accomplished when spread over a longer period of time.


Research for Dental School Admissions

While research is not required for admission into dental schools, it is recommended and can help you stand out among the thousands of other competitive applicants. Many colleges and dental schools offer research opportunities for undergraduate students. These programs can help you gain experience in the scientific research process and demonstrate your commitment to the field of dentistry. Look for research opportunities in your school's science department or reach out to dental schools in your area to inquire about research opportunities for undergraduate students. You can also ask your professors about this as most professors have ongoing research projects or may know research facilities that are hiring.


There are various forms of research beyond the classic image that you must collect data in nature for a long period and then conduct both a published report and presentation. While that is highly impressive, it’s not the only way to get involved in research. Check with your academic advisor to see if there are any research classes offered at your institution. This is one way to conduct research and receive class/elective credit at the same time. Typically, research classes run 1-2 semesters long and involve data collection, teamwork, literature readings, data analysis, and more. Similarly, you may take research courses that are less involved, but still provide valuable skills and knowledge. For instance, these research classes may provide pre-collected data that you and your group are responsible for analyzing and conducting a presentation about your findings. There are also research-oriented classes that do regular seminars where researchers present their work and allow you to ask questions and learn about the research process from the sidelines. Lastly, you may look into research opportunities online from universities, medical and dental schools that are similar to an online course with activities.


Overall, there is not one perfect way to get involved with research. It is best to choose an approach that best fits your schedule and budget. The important thing is that you understand how research is done and is used to advance technology in healthcare industries.



Leadership for Dental School

Dentists are known as successful healthcare leaders and business owners. For that reason, dental schools are interested in applicants who have demonstrated leadership skills. This can include holding leadership positions in student organizations, serving as a mentor, or participating in leadership programs. Leadership is valuable as it builds a student’s skills of agility, creativity, decision-making, communication, and more.


Leadership opportunities can be found in various places including school, work, at home, organizations and more. As stated earlier, you may hold leadership positions in campus clubs such as the president, vice president, treasurer and more. Common responsibilities of these positions include organizing group meetings, fundraising, conducting informative workshops and more. Other on-campus leadership opportunities include assisting other students. This includes being a transfer or freshman student helper (peer leader) to help them easily transition to the campus by navigating them to campus resources and more. You may also choose to be a paid tutor for certain courses or be a teaching assistant (TA) for professors in lectures and labs for a semester (this is typically a leadership opportunity that is also a class/elective credit).


It is important to note that you can demonstrate leadership at work too by being a lead cashier, trainer, manager or other. You can also be a leader in personal ways. For example, being a first-generation student and eldest child requires one to solo navigate higher education and other aspects of life. Similarly, having immigrant parents may require you to lead your whole family in a foreign country. While paving the way for your younger siblings and parents may not fit into the classic leadership roles, these experiences certainly help shape your leadership skills. Hence, these skills and experiences are excellent to mention in the dental school essays such as personal characteristics and unique circumstances.


Shadowing a Dentist

Shadowing dentists is a great way to gain first-hand experience in the field of dentistry. Dental schools want to see that applicants have a clear understanding of the profession they are pursuing. This is similar to volunteering but involves more observational learning than directly helping. To make the most of your time shadowing a dentist, you’ll want to keep a diary with you for note-taking. You’ll want to record the procedures you’ve shadowed and how you helped. During or after dental shadowing sessions, you should ask questions to enhance your learning regarding the treatment steps, dental materials, instruments, technology, and more.


A common question arises: How do I gain dental shadowing experience? Reach out to local dental clinics or dentists in your area to inquire about shadowing opportunities. This can be as simple as calling or emailing local dental offices and requesting to shadow. Another way to acquire shadowing opportunities is to connect with pre-dental organizations as they often have a list of dental offices where you can shadow.


Similar to volunteering, dental schools prefer to see that you spread your shadow experiences throughout time, rather than completing it all at once. For example, obtaining 100-200 hours over 3-4 years shows your commitment and passion towards dentistry whereas 100+ hours from one summer may not. Furthermore, it is preferable to shadow more than one dentist. While shadowing specialists, such as orthodontists and oral surgeons, is not mandatory, it can help you gain a better understanding of the different dental specialties, and the complexities of different ailments, diagnoses, and procedures. In conclusion, shadowing a few general dentists and a specialist or two can provide you with the best learning experiences and help improve your dental school application.


Joining Organizations Related to Dentistry

Participating in extracurricular activities that are directly related to dentistry can also help you stand out as an applicant. Joining pre-dental clubs or participating in dental outreach programs can demonstrate your commitment to dentistry. Typically, each university or college has a pre-dental society that students may join. This is a great way to connect with pre-dental students and share and receive advice. Another benefit of being a member of your university's dental society is to access valuable volunteering and shadowing opportunities. Oftentimes, these pre-dental societies host informational seminars and workshops where guest speakers, dentists, and admissions professionals speak at to pass on valuable advice and information. Joining these organizations also gives you the opportunity to take on leadership roles. Overall, it is rewarding to join relevant organizations and it can enhance your dental school applications. It is also a great way to make the best of your university experience.


Employment in the Dental Field

So far, we’ve discussed the experiences related to volunteering, shadowing, and research. While those are valuable and most times required, these experiences are relatively common among applicants. However, being employed in the dental field is a rather unique experience and can help you stand out when applying to dental school. In this section of the article, we'll discuss the pros and cons of dental employment for a pre-dental student.


The first positive aspect of employment in dentistry is that it allows you to build a closer relationship with the dentist, patients, and clinic staff which is essential for acquiring both memorable moments for your personal statement, and letters of recommendation.


The second positive aspect is that with more responsibilities as a staff member, you are likely to learn more than a volunteer or shadower in terms of dental terminology, technology, instruments, procedures, and more. The more you learn, the more confident you become that dentistry is the right career path for you, while gaining a foundation you can build upon in dental school.


The third positive aspect is that you will be paid while you learn and gain experience, which is desirable for any college student to help pay tuition and other bills while improving your personal and professional skillset.


However, becoming employed as a dental assistant often requires you to take additional schooling, coursework, or training. The training required to become a dental assistant and become employed is a process that requires both a financial and time investment. It can also be difficult to find a job that fits with a college schedule.


Now, let’s discuss a few options for employment within dentistry:

  1. Dental Assistant: The primary role of a dental assistant is to assist the dentist during procedures. This includes handing instruments to the dentist as needed, setting up rooms for various treatments, taking vital signs of patients and explaining treatments to patients, taking dental x-rays, impressions, and more.

  2. Dental Lab Technician: Dental lab technicians are responsible for examining dental images, impressions, and using specialized tools to create tooth replacement, and alignment tools. This includes making dentures, partial dentures, retainers, crowns, night guards, and more.

  3. Dental Sterilization Technician: Sterilization technicians are responsible for disinfecting treatment rooms and dental instruments. They do this by using chemical cleaning solutions, autoclave machines, and other machinery.

  4. Dental Receptionist: Receptionists are responsible for using dental software to schedule patient appointments, collect payment, process paperwork, handle insurance matters, and oversee other business matters.


Sports and Other Hobbies

While it may not seem directly related to dentistry, participating in sports or hobbies can demonstrate your ability to balance academic work with extracurricular activities. It also shows that you are a well-rounded individual, which is important in the application process. Additionally, it conveys your interests and passions which can help you stand out. This is especially true if some of your hobbies are better preparing you for dental school without you realizing it. For example, manual dexterity is defined as a person’s ability to control and coordinate hand-eye movements. This is an incredibly important skill for dentistry that is enhanced in dental school. How may you already be practicing manual dexterity skills before dental school? If you practice sewing, painting, sketching, woodcarving, jewelry-making, and other hands-on activities, you’re already building your manual dexterity. You can mention such activities in the dental school application.



Conclusion

In summary, dental schools are looking for applicants who have a passion for serving others, are committed to the field of dentistry, have strong leadership skills, and are well-rounded. Participating in volunteer work, research, leadership opportunities, shadowing, extracurricular activities related to dentistry, and sports/hobbies can help you stand out as an applicant and increase your chances of getting accepted into dental school. It’s important to research the requirements of a dental school you’re interested in beforehand to properly plan. Planning and exploring opportunities early on is important to gradually build your knowledge, experience and skills that you can discuss in your essays and dental school applications. Participating in activities also helps you build other skills such as time management, communication and leadership.


Overall, extracurriculars are meant to lighten academic stress and expose you to adventures and experiences. It’s important that you get involved in various activities to demonstrate that you are well-rounded and can manage both school and other activities. Furthermore, your extracurriculars play a critical role when it is time to write dental school essays and in your dental school application. For utmost success and dental school admission, be sure to consider extracurriculars in both undergraduate and gap years.


What extracurriculars are you already involved in or plan to join? Do you have any suggestions, comments or questions? Let us know in the comments below!


Meet one of our Predenting authors: Nidhi Tanwar!

A headshot of Nidhi, the author of this article.

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.

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