Things to consider when choosing a dental school

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Students meeting with senior hospital staff in Tanzania. Dental school is a big investment. Not only will you be spending four years there, but you will also be spending thousands of dollars. It is important to select a school that most suits your needs. Once you select the schools you are interested in, check out their admission requirements. Make sure you have or will meet the academic standards the schools have set.

Also, determine school costs. This includes both tuition and your living expenses. You don’t want to have your sights set on a school and then realize it is way too expensive for you to attend. Even if you are taking out student loans to pay for school, you may still want to set a limit for costs.

Another important thing to consider is location. Even if a school has a great reputation, it might not be a good choice if you aren’t excited about the location. You don’t want to be miserable living somewhere you don’t like for four years.

Consider several key points

When you are deciding where to apply to dental school, there are several additional things you should consider. 

Determine what the student to faculty ratio is. If you don’t mind large classes, this may not be an issue. But if you are someone who prefers fewer students and more individualized attention, class size may be a deciding factor. Information on student to faculty ratios can often be found on the school’s website. 

Find out what the schools grading system is. Are letter grades used or are students graded on a pass/fail system? Some students prefer one system over another. You can ask about the grading system by speaking to an admissions representative.

If you are interested in earning another degree in addition to your dental degree, make sure you know if the school you are interested in offers combination programs. For instance, some dental schools offer options for student who want to earn their Ph.D. or a master’s degree in public health along with their DDS.

Check out the type of classes offered. Although many dental schools offer similar classes, such as anatomy and restorative dentistry, there may be some variations. If you are interested in a certain specialty, such as periodontology, determine if there are opportunities to take classes in that area of dentistry.   

Clinical considerations

In addition to classroom work and lectures, dental school includes hands-on experience. Some schools have their own clinics where students learn and practice their skills. In other cases, students are assigned to clinics and dental practices affiliated with the school. Some schools may use a combination of both onsite clinics and outside clinical rotations. If possible, talk to dentists or dental students and determine if one type of clinical experience is better than the other.

It is also helpful to determine what types of patients will be served. Will you have the opportunity to see a variety of patients with various dental problems? The more varied clinical experiences you have, the more you will learn.

Ask about the level of laboratory work you will be required to complete in your dental clinic assignments. Schools vary on what they require students to do in terms of dental lab work. Laboratory work involves performing tasks that are often done in a dental lab, such as working with dental materials.

Some schools have students focus briefly on dental laboratory work while others may require more time. Learning how dental crowns and bridges are made can be educational, but you may also want to spend most of your time focusing on patient care.     

Student life

Attending dental school involves more than going to classes and dental clinics. You will be spending four years of your life at school. You want to make sure it is somewhere you can feel comfortable.

Look into housing opportunities. Most dental schools offer student housing, which will vary widely in regards to the type of accommodations and the price. You may also choose to live off campus. Look into the cost of living in the area and decide if you can afford to live there.

Don’t overlook the importance of activities outside of class. Dental schools usually have a variety of clubs and organizations for students to participate in. Make sure the schools you are considering have plenty of opportunities for students. Clubs provide a chance to network, study, socialize and provide community service. 

Narrowing it down?

Where you attend dental school is a very big decision and one that takes a lot of thought.  Make sure you do your research. There are plenty of guidebooks and websites that provide information about dental schools, such as the average dental admission test score and G.P.A of students accepted. You may be able to rule out certain schools just through an internet search. The American Dental Association is a good place to start. They publish a dental school guidebook every year.

One of the best ways to get an idea of what a school is like is by talking to dentists and dental students. Find out what they think of a certain school or what advice they have for selecting a program. Admissions reps may only tell you the positives about a certain school, but dentists and dental students may tell it like it is. 

Universities sometimes have dental and medical school fairs where students can speak with admissions representatives from various schools. A school fair will provide you with the chance to learn more about dental programs, admissions requirements and what different schools have to offer. If your university does not have one planned, check with other nearby colleges.

Another way to get a feel for the school is to see it firsthand. Schedule a tour of the campus. Visit the clinical facilities, classrooms and labs. Decide if they appear to have modern equipment. Ask yourself if the environment feels right.  

When narrowing down your list of dental schools, don’t rule out your dream school at first glance. A dental school may seem out of reach due to its academic standards or cost, but it may be attainable with further research and a little luck. 

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