Tips for Dental School Applicants

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If you aspire to be a dentist, this fact sheet will give you some background information about the requirements you must fulfill to apply to dental school, and how you can meet those requirements at Elmira College.

Admissions Requirements

Most dental schools have the same general requirements for admission.  Check with yours for other required courses they may wish to see on your transcript.

Pre-requisite courses – you must take these courses

Freshman Composition/Communications
General Biology with labs (major’s level)
General Chemistry with labs (major’s level)
Organic Chemistry with labs
Physics with labs
Calculus (as a pre-requisite for physics, not necessarily required by the dental schools)

Other courses that our alumni have found to be extremely helpful

Cell Biology
Molecular Biology   
Animal Physiology
A business course or two
Art courses (for manual dexterity)


You may major in anything, as long as the pre-requisite courses are taken.  Most applicants choose a science major because there are quite a few science pre-requisites and most students have a strong interest in science, although having a major in another area is not discouraged.  Successful applicants have a wide variety of majors, so choose a major you are truly interested in rather than one that you think will look good on an application.

Test scores and GPA

The exam that dental schools require is the DAT (Dental Admissions Test), taken spring of junior year.  It has four sub-sections that examine skills in natural sciences, perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.  As an example of the kind of score you should strive for, the average DAT score for successful applicants to dental school in a recent application year was a 20 nationwide.  There is a range of scores for successful applicants, and the average score is not the only factor that is considered.  Be aware that the Canadian Dental Association has developed their own version of the DAT for Canadian students who plan to attend Canadian dental schools.  Check out their page at

The GPA (grade point average) that is typical for a successful applicant is generally 3.4 or higher. 

Development of Personal Attributes

While a high degree of academic success is necessary, it is not sufficient for admission to dental school.  For example, some students with extremely high academic strengths, such as a 4.0 GPA and a 25 on the DAT, may not gain admission.  Dedication to duty, altruism, interpersonal skills, and integrity are all part of developing what you need for a strong dentist-patient relationship.

Cultivating outside interests and activities is critical.  It is less critical what you spend your time doing, but much more critical that you show passion for something.  Length of time invested, depth of the experience, and lessons learned are three key criteria for evaluating outside activities.  For example, one week of shadowing experience with an oral surgeon will be less developmentally useful than reading to children in a daycare once a week for 4 years, perhaps.  Your passion does not have to be science-related but should be something you care about deeply.  Active involvement versus passive resume-building is always more instructive for your own growth and learning as well as others with whom you have interacted.  For dentistry, development of fine-motor skills is critical, so pursue hobbies or coursework that cultivate these skills.

Experience in a health care setting

Successful applicants have experience in some type of health care setting.  Experience may include assisting or shadowing, paid or volunteer work.  Obviously, most students do shadow dentists.  Some students volunteer at their local nursing home, public health clinic, community hospital, dentist’s office or orthodontist’s office.  As you can see, a wide variety of experiences can be useful.  You need to explore the various professions and be educated about your decision to become a dentist versus another member of the health care team.  Experience in a health care setting is expected of successful applicants.  At Elmira College, this requirement can be met through community service or the internship experience, although you are advised to seek out more than this minimum amount of experience.

Research experience

While not necessarily a requirement at dental schools, research can give you an academic edge.  Some colleges do factor research experience into their admissions formulas to a greater extent than others.  Regardless, research can give you insight into how science works outside the classroom setting.  In addition, your professors can get to know you better and thus be able to write meaningful letters of recommendation.  Students can conduct research at Elmira College during the academic year or can apply for the summer undergraduate research program.  Many deadlines across the country for research internships close in early February.


The American Dental Education Association
This association has a central distribution, collection, and processing service (AADSAS) for applications to dental programs.  Many colleges require that you use this service when you apply.  There is a vast amount of information for students interested in dentistry and the application process.

The American Dental Association
This is the professional association of dentists that sponsors the DAT (Dental Admissions Test) that every applicant to a U.S. dental school must take.

Elmira College Division of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Pizza Lunches

Attend as many as you can.  Important information that can help with the application process will be shared at pizza lunches.  These sessions also educate you about various health care professionals you will be working with some day. 

Special Articulations

We have an agreement with Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine (LECOM) whereby we can recommend students for early admission to dental school.  Students can gain early admission while still in high school, or within the first two years of attending Elmira College.  For details, visit 

Common Questions

How competitive is dental school?

Dental school is as competitive as medical school, but in slightly different ways.  DAT scores, grades, the letter of recommendation, the application essay, personal attributes, relevant experience, and the interview are all weighed in making the final decision.  In a recent application year, there were over 12,000 applicants for just over 5,400 spots.  At that time, there were 65 US dental schools, and 10 Canadian dental schools.

Must I be a resident of a particular state to go to a public dental school there?

The answer is usually yes.  Most schools have a very few slots for non-residents, and competition is fierce, as well as often having higher tuition for non-residents. Always check the specific schools you are interested in.  Private schools have a wider geographic base, but are more expensive.  Check their scholarship programs, if any.

How do I choose a dental school?

Borrow a copy of the ADEA Official guide to dental schools from Dr. Gillie.  You could purchase your own through the ADEA.  Research their admissions data to see if your profile fits within their range of applicants.  Find out what their mission is and if it fits your own goals and aspirations for dentistry.  For example, some are dedicated to serving rural and underserved populations, others have a mission to serve a particular geographic region, others have a research-focused mission.