Updated: Jan 20, 2021
A period, typically an academic year, taken by a student between undergraduate education and dental school as a natural consequence of submitting his/her dental school application any time after graduating college.
This is in contrast with “traditional applicants” who apply after finishing third year when the Associated American Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) opens early June.
Now you may ask: “Why would anyone do this? And how should I spend my gap year?” By taking a gap year, you gain some interesting opportunities to:
1. Optimize your application. During a gap year, you can work on addressing any areas of weakness in your application. For example, if you feel as though you didn’t get enough shadowing hours with a dental professional, you can use the additional time to explore the many different facets of dentistry and talk about those experiences in your application or during your interviews. This was the case for my own application. Towards the end of my third year in college, I realized I lacked a true understanding of general dentistry, even though I had shadowed dental specialists extensively. With the extra time during my gap year, I connected with a successful general dentist to gain a better perspective about private practice. Not only did it further inspire me to pursue dental school, but it also broadened my professional network.
2. Focus on upper division courses. Instead of juggling to write your application (both primary and secondary), schedule interviews, and request LORs on top of school, you can hone in on truly learning and performing your best by taking a gap year. With the extra time, I prioritized my education, and eventually I even became TA for a biochemistry class. Such academic accomplishments will prove to admission committees your ability to handle the rigors of anatomy, biochemistry and microbiology.
3. Maximize your preparation for interviews. Presumably, your schedule post-graduation will allow you greater freedom in accepting and choosing interview dates. In addition, you can spend more time participating in mock interviews to improve your skills in this area. Personally, I used the extra time to reach out to a myriad of dental professionals and students, both in-person and on the phone, so that I could ask them questions and hear the whole spectrum of how people talk about dentistry in preparation for my own interviews. The interview is arguably the last obstacle you must overcome before acceptance, so why not use your time wisely during the gap year to give this step of the process the respect and effort it deserves?
*Be sure to check out our other posts regarding preparing for your dental school interviews!
4. Explore your passions outside dentistry. Some people choose to travel, learn a new instrument, or even obtain a master’ degree. After having spent four years earning a degree, I wanted a chance to experience the world beyond the classroom. Ironically, I was always interested in teaching, and this interest led me back into the classroom when I was hired as a Kaplan DAT/SAT instructor. I happily joined a local choir and performed at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco. Finally, I decided to take my fitness and health to the next level because I won’t be able to practice dentistry without a functionally sound body. I gained a new perspective on life, one that was perhaps not totally clear to me when I was a full-time college student. The inevitable self-growth will surely aid in your ability to “stand out” amongst thousands of other applicants.
5. Reconnect with people. Life as a pre-dental student can be hectic and leaves us little chance to enjoy the company of family and friends. As you can imagine, dental school will continue to occupy your time and energy. During the gap year, you will get a unique chance to re-forge past friendships, reach out to old mentors, and meet new people who share similar interests. This will remind you of your roots and the “little things” in life that matter most.
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