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University of Colorado Denver College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

 

Health Careers FAQ's

What will Make me the Ideal Candidate?


 

Nothing. There is no such thing as the "ideal" candidate. The things that will make you a very viable candidate and greatly enhance your chances of getting into dental school include the following things. Remember that there are many different ways to accomplish these goals. You do not have to do what other students do.

  • Make sure you have a strong academic record. That includes the best grade point average you can get overall, in your science courses, and in your last 30 credit hours. A strong grade point average is anything 3.5 or greater. Obviously the higher the better. But also keep in mind that every year there are students with 3.9 or 4.0 gpa's who do not get into dental school. So although gpa is important, it is not the ONLY thing that is evaluated as part of the admissions process.
  • As part of your strong academic record, make sure you have taken a variety of courses, and have not taken primarily "easy" courses. Many individual members of admissions committee's will look at what courses you have taken to get your good gpa. If they are all lower division or 3000 level courses, this could work against you. This doesn't mean take a large number of courses that are very difficult and you are likely to do poorly in. You know your limits. Stretch them, don't break them.
  • Make sure you have done extremely well in all your science and math courses. Virtually every dental school or graduate school looks at the gpa you have attained in all your science courses. This is often given a bit more weight than your cumulative undergraduate gpa. It is crucial that you do VERY well in all your science courses. This does not mean if you get a "C" in something that you are out of the running. However, you cannot afford very many "C's". It is also strongly recommended that if you should get a "C" in something, you repeat that course. Admissions committee's, in evaluating your transcript will look to see if you repeated science courses that you received less than stellar grades in.
  • Try your very hardest to make your senior year your best year. Many schools look at the last 30 credit hours and calculate a gpa for those courses as well. Some schools give this the most weight of all the gpa calculations done. Others will look at what is called a "best year" which is a traditional academic year (Fall/Spring). This can be your freshman year or your post-bac year. It doesn't matter what year, and it doesn't matter in general what courses you take. Obviously, if you take nothing but very easy courses, this will not work for you, but will rather work fairly strongly against you. Use common sense. You are trying to show the dental school admissions committee's that you have the academic ability to succeed in medical school. You do that by taking rigorous courses and doing well in them.
  • Obviously, you must do well on the DAT or GRE or whatever admissions test you need to take. Well is generally defined as 19 or better on the DAT.  Keep in mind that 15 on the DAT is considered the 50th percentile +/- a few percent. You need to show them you can perform at a level greater than this. A score of 20 or better is generally very competitive for the DAT.  If you have a very low gpa (3.1 or less) these numbers need to be higher in most cases.
  • Experience is crucial. You must show them you know what you are getting into. The more experience, the better. Your experience has to be something that is patient related. In general (but not always!) the more varied your experiences the better. However, if you have LOTS of experience in one area that will often be OK as well. Research experience is also useful, but should not be used to substitute for patient contact experience. You need to be able to talk about your experiences with patients as part of your personal statement and in your interviews. Often times you will be asked to recount an experience with a favorite patient, a difficult patient, etc. If you have not had these types of experiences, it could make things difficult during an interview.
  • Community service is also useful. It is not required. But keep in mind the admissions committees are looking for the well-rounded candidate. They are looking for somebody who has a broad world view. Show them you can do something besides go to school and get good grades.
  • You must do very well on the interview. Be yourself. Don't try to BS them.

The bottom line is this. You must have a strong OVERALL record. Academics alone won't get you into dental school. Experience alone won't get you into dental school. A good interview alone won't get you into dental school. You must have the entire package. Approach things from this point of view, and you will do well.

Questions? Please email Dr. Charles Ferguson

How Important is Experience

As was noted above, experience is critical. The way things are going in the health care industry, experience is going to play a bigger and bigger role as time goes on. You MUST be able to show admissions committees that you know what you are getting into. You need to be able to demonstrate a knowledge of today's health care delivery system. This includes not only the technical and professional aspects of health care, but the social and political aspects as well.

The most important thing you should get out of your experiences is not simply that this procedure is done for this disease but rather how today's health care providers have to work within a very complex system that involves many other health care professions and providers, as well as many business aspects. You must be able to talk about and delineate how your personal value system and ethics integrates into the current health care delivery system. If you aren't able to do this in your personal statement and/or during an interview, you will most likely not be successful at getting into dental school.

There is no good answer to whether you should have tremendous experience at one place or a breadth of experience at many places with less time at each. The bottom line I think is this. You need consistent experience. If you can only commit 2 hours per week, but you do that over a year, that will be much better than 40 hours per week for a month. Time teaches. The more time you have, the better.

Do I have to have a degree in Science or Biology?

No. The dental schools do not care what your degree is in. What they care about is how well you did getting your degree, and how well you did academically on the required pre-requisite science courses. It does no good to get a biology degree, and then if you don't get into dental school, have a degree in something that you hate.

The question you should ask and answer is this. What would you be happy doing for a living if something happens and dental school is no longer in the picture? The answer to that should guide your decision as to what your degree should be in. Many students get biology degrees only because it is the quickest way to complete both a bachelor's degree and the pre-requisite science courses. However, and I want to stress this, DO NOT get a biology degree if you hate biology. It makes not sense. Get a degree in something you would be happy doing for a living in the event dental school does not work out for whatever reason.