What things were you looking for while searching for a graduate or professional school program?
The first thing I looked at was location. I was looking for schools in areas where I felt I would enjoy living and that offered the types of activities I enjoy doing. After I narrowed it down to about 15-20 schools, then I looked at the statistics of the schools – what’s the average class size, GPA/DAT score, % in vs. out of state students accepted, etc. I also looked at what the program itself had to offer me, how long has it been around, what % of students pass their boards or enter into specialty programs, and what sort of reputation does each program have?
What advice might you give to an undergraduate about their graduate or professional school search or application process?
- Although the application process does get expensive, apply to as many schools as you feel is appropriate. The only way to really get a good feel for if a school is right for you (remember, you’re not only trying to show schools that you’re a good candidate, you want to make sure they are a good match for you as well) is to visit the school (like during an interview) and see the campus, talk to people and ask questions.
- Get your app in as early as possible!
- Be organized throughout the application process. You will be getting multiple forms of correspondence from a lot of different schools once you start applying, and it is important to keep them straight. Check your email every day, and ALWAYS check your spam folder – I had a few emails from schools in there. You will also be getting mailed letters from other schools, so make sure if you get your mail sent to your parents house or something like that, that they check it every day. Frequently check and recheck each school’s website for each step of correspondence that is included in their specific acceptance process. Develop a way to keep track of each of these steps for each school. Some students use an excel spreadsheet, but for people like me who are completely terrible with excel, I used a large poster board. Check off when you get a letter/email saying they have received your application, and pay attention to when they say you should be hearing from them again. If you don't hear from them by that time, contact them. Check off when you’ve paid your application fee, when you’ve received and submitted any secondary apps that schools may have. Just keep track of everything. It makes it a lot easier to handle the overwhelmingly large list of things you have to do for each program and the variations in each one.
- Get involved in as many unique extra curricular experiences as possible (almost everyone is in the pre dent/med/PT/etc. club, do something interesting on top of that).
- Don’t throw in the towel if you don’t get in your first time around! Coming from someone who did not get accepted the first time I applied - it’s not the end of the world. I started a masters program and reapplied the next cycle and am now a D3 at U of M dental school. If you need a higher DAT score, take it again, if your GPA needs work, take some more classes or start a masters program. If your application lacked in outside experience, spend more time volunteering, job shadowing, working, etc. Show your schools of choice that you are still motivated and are a stronger applicant the next time around.
What opportunities did you take advantage of to help prepare yourself for graduate or professional school?
- I job shadowed frequently. During one summer I felt like I almost lived at the general dentistry practice I shadowed at. This not only gets you familiar with how a private practice runs, but it allows you to become familiar with some of the basics of the profession, which are important when you begin to see patients.
- I also took extra classes that I thought would help with the first two years of school, which are heavily didactic. For example, I took a few immunology classes, some extra physiology classes, and being a Spanish minor, took Spanish for health professionals. Things outside of the prerequisite list that you feel could be beneficial. I felt that this helped immensely when it came to studying for such a heavy course load.
How did you distinguish yourself from other candidates applying?
- I was on the e-board for the pre dental club, and very involved in that organization. I also found outside organizations to get involved in, I was a service and survivorship committee chair for GVSU’s colleges against cancer organization. This was something I was passionate about, even though it was not related to dentistry.
- I also held a job throughout all four year of undergrad, working for a behavior health organization. The home I worked for was an all-male, locked facility with diagnoses ranging from schizophrenia to OCD to bipolar disorder. I gained more real-life experience working that job than any class I could have ever taken. So that’s something to keep in mind as well, unique, interesting experiences will set you apart far more than a 4.0 GPA.
What were the main factors you considered important when comparing grad/professional schools?
Well first, like I have mentioned in other areas of this questionnaire, I looked at their stats; did I feel that I was a strong enough applicant for each school and would they think that I was a good fit? Then I looked at location. I am from SE Michigan, and I enjoy being close to friends/family so that put the two Michigan schools at the top of my list, as well as any other schools in the Midwest that I was considering. Then I looked at experience – how soon from the time I start do I get to interact with patients. After all, that was the ultimate goal right? I found that U of M and a few other schools on my list were getting students into clinic semesters sooner than other schools, so that, again, moved them up my list.
Was there a process or strategy that you used to narrow down your top schools of choice?
The ADEA guide to dental schools was a resource that was a huge help to me throughout the application process (When I was at GVSU, the resource room in Mackinaw had a copy). The book has every statistic you would want to know about each school, and it helped me narrow down a pretty large list. From there I talked to classmates, the doctors in the community I knew, as well as online forums, like student doctor.net (however, take what you read on this website with a grain of salt – not every applicant has a 4.0 and 20 interview offers, even though some people make it seem that way). But it is a good resource to hear from people who have interviewed or attend certain programs and read through the pros/cons of each.
What approaches and techniques did you use to prepare for a standardized test? How often? Did you find that successful?
When I was studying for the DAT, I took a live online class from Kaplan, which included study materials as well. I felt this helped in my case because of the structure the class offered. It was one 3-hour session every Saturday, but since it was online I could participate from anywhere that had an Internet connection. It was the sort of structure I needed to really buckle down and study, and it helped that they would give us sections of the books to go through throughout the week, so again, it was more structured than having to 100% motivate myself with just a bunch of books on my own. But it all comes down to your study habits. If you can get yourself to consistently study on your own and really learn the material, then a class like that may not be worth the money for you. Overall I probably studied anywhere 3-5 nights a week for about a month and a half.