Updated: Apr 10, 2021
If you’ve been following along with us throughout this application cycle, we’ve provided thorough advice on each timely step as it pertained to your journey in gaining acceptance to dental school.
If you are a current applicant that has not yet received dental school acceptance, we’ve still got our fingers crossed for you. Admissions are not truly over until every seat has been filled in a class. In fact, a handful of my classmates gained admission into UCSF in September of the matriculating year (literally days before the first day of class). This goes to show that anything can happen, even in a time as unprecedented as the COVID pandemic. Pictured below is the UCSF Class of 2022 and 2020, 90 strong as a reminder that no matter what day, month, or year you are accepted, you are so welcomed and supported into the profession of dentistry.
Nevertheless, as the new 2021-2022 cycle quickly approaches in the coming months, one important factor is the consideration of reapplying to dental school. To provide tangible and authentic advice, we have interviewed current UCSF dental students that were reapplicants and compiled their critical pieces of advice.
Follow along this post to see how reflection, due preparation, and perseverance can make all the difference from zero dental school acceptances to a handful of nationally ranked programs to choose from the following year.
*Disclaimer: This blog compiles advice from reapplicants who found success coincidentally by both doing a post bacc program. The post bacc program is one of several options to create a more competitive application and by no means is a requirement. For more options on how to improve your chances of gaining dental school admissions, please scroll down to the resources portion of this blog post.
Can you describe your undergraduate and experience applying to dental school?
Dental student 1: “When I was in college, I was supporting myself so I found myself working at a dental office. And in hindsight, my priorities weren’t in order, I was distracted between my responsibilities and naturally, my academics took a downfall, and ultimately, I applied late in the cycle. The following year, I continued to work as a dental assistant and got one interview and didn’t get in. With two attempts to apply to dental school, I knew something had to change and I decided to do a post-bacc program where I found mentorship, a program that supported me, and applied the year after. Upon completing the post bacc, I applied to dental school, this time applying to 12-15 programs. Having previously experienced rejection, I didn’t know my worth but this time I felt very confident in my application. My DAT and personal statement went much better for me the second time around. I received over 10 interview invitations and attended 6-7 interviews. Then, I was accepted to every school, especially my dream school UCSF.”
Dental student 2: “For me, it was a rough transition from HS to undergrad. The first year was the hardest. I needed to relearn how to properly study which came to be a rude awakening in addition to being away from home for the first time. My academics suffered. It’s safe to say I didn’t start off great but looking back, this slow start hurt me in the long run. My science GPA was very borderline to the minimum requirement after struggling in some prerequisite courses like physics. I did apply to dental school right after graduating college. The first time, I applied to 23 schools- 0 interviews. After talking to advisors and admissions, I realized it was my academics that needed to improve. I applied to CSUEB and started during the winter cohort and in January, I had been declined from 10 schools. At the same time, I was also working as a DA and I enrolled in 1 2 unit classes in post bacc but I was hoping to hear back. Winter quarter ended and no interview quit a job, enrolled full time in post bacc. I took on a crazy course load- 4 science classes. I was so hell-bent on reapplying to dental school and earned a 4.0 GPA. And then the interviews came in. ”
What was the biggest difference you noticed between your first attempt and a successful reapplication?
Dental student 1: “There are so many differences and it was multifaceted. It took a drastic change to wrap my mind around the idea that this was a goal that I wanted. It required a mental change where I could make decisions that could help me get into dentistry. Before, I was focused on school, EC, making money, etc. but having a level of conviction. Part of this was physical changes, I moved to SF, applied to post bac, and it was deliberate in trying to understand dentistry more.”
Dental student 2: “The 2nd time around, I made it a point to be in the “early” batch by the end of June. I was still taking Post bac classes in the fall quarter while receiving interviews. I thought about not completing it, but in hindsight, dental schools want you to complete the program. I applied to 15 schools (I wouldn’t apply to more than 15- law of diminishing returns), and received 6 interview invitations and 3 acceptances, and 3 waitlists. From there, the rest is history. It’s UCSF.”
How did you overcome feelings of self-doubt?
Dental student 1: “I first want to make sure that people understand that those feelings are normal. This is true for every applicant doing something big in their life for the first time. It just means that you care enough about the profession. It was important for me to recognize why I felt this doubt. So I identified parts of my application that I can improve upon. I was always concerned about being able to show academic competency but then after doing post-bac and DAT, I used this as motivation to move forward.”
Dental student 2: “This is why I do so much pre-dental outreach. Talking to dental students that were previously in your shoes. It can get really stressful considering post-bac, money, time for a shot of getting into dental school. In December 2016, we had 6 UCSF CSUEB that came to do a panel and they shared the stories of their failures. This really got me hyped up on having a plan. I realized it was still possible to get into dental school.”
How did you address the reapplication journey in your personal statements, LOR, and interviews?
Dental student 1: “Personally, I wasn’t asked in any of my interviews if I was a reapplicant but it's something I proudly shared. You shouldn’t be ashamed to share it, it's a celebration of your commitment to dentistry. To prove that you deserve a seat- showed your growth. In terms of the personal statement and LOR, with every year, our conviction and passion change for the better as we learn more. Within the year, you need to be able to show what you’ve done to improve yourself. For personal statements, it should change to some degree. It's an opportunity for you to address your downfalls and what may have been questionable and address it head-on. For LOR, confirm that it was an excellent strong letter of recommendation. If there was a change in their relationship within that year, then no change. If you are planning to reapply, have a letter that reflects on the past year.”
Dental student 2: “The first time I applied to dental school, I had reached out to one of my science teachers at Davis and requested an update. For my second science letter, I wanted to secure a better relationship so I took two different science classes with the same professor. I attended every office hours and I would ask questions but even more, get to know her. This professor was instrumental in my letter of rec. Advice: you need to build that relationship and when you ask, you need to have your PS, resume and set up a time to meet with her to talk about your ambitions. In terms of personal statement, I redid my entire personal statement. There were so many things that changed for me that I could share my reflection upon. I started brainstorming. The theme was similar. Everything else I used in my body paragraphs were different. It’s important to state that you are a reapplicant and your notable improvements.”
What advice would you give your past self during this process?
Dental student 1: “You’re gonna get in and you’re gonna reach your goals. Don’t let a specific timeline in your head define what you think is a success in life. My word of encouragement is that everyone needs to start somewhere, but never give up. I say this with my life experiences that it’s normal to feel pressured but we can do it if we choose to dedicate our time and priorities. Find the right people to surround yourself with and support you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”
Dental student 2: “When you say you’re retaking the DAT, do this with thought. You want it to be done before the application opens to give yourself the highest chance. I took my first DAT summer after sophomore year and I felt I could improve in bio and chem. When I applied to dental school the first time, I told myself I’d retake the DAT. Even though I submitted the first week in July, it was not going to be reviewed until July. I ended up pushing my DAT until August and schools didn’t read my application until September. As a borderline applicant, this was already a disadvantage.
Academic update: I don’t think I would have been accepted to UCSF if I didn’t send updated transcripts. I was waitlisted and committed to another dental school. If you don’t send that information, they won’t know. After I finished my last quarter of CSUEB, I sent transcripts personally to the remaining schools I didn’t hear back from. Private schools LOVE THIS.
Interviews: Don’t freak out at pre-December interviews. All my acceptances happen post-December. Your chances aren’t less when you get an interview after December.”
Finally, how has your unique path to dental school defined who you are today?
Dental student 1: “Everything happens for a reason. There’s a reason why I faced so many challenges so I came into dentistry with a unique background. I worked as a front side manager, I've seen the clinical and business side of the profession and it really solidified my passion for dentistry. At this moment, you may think you were a failure but looking back now, I’m so glad all those things happen. I’m so glad everything happened the way it did- I’m at my dream school where I’m passionate and can institute change for my school. In terms of being an older applicant, my non-traditional background helped me become who I am today who is more confident and sure about who I am. This has translated into me being more understanding and eager to learn more to be a part of the dental community. Your experiences in the past shape you into who you are now. If you do have some obstacles to overcome to get into dental school, that’s perfectly fine. Take them as opportunities to grow and better yourself- it has helped me to shine more in dental school. Take those hardships as mini victories.”
Dental student 1: “I like to use my story to help people realize that no one applicant is perfect. Imperfection is ok because it’s what distinguishes you from other people. You have your own trials and challenges that make you unique as an applicant. I encourage everyone else to share your story to resonate with this.”
Here are some resources you may consider if you are reapplying:
Meet with a trusted pre-dental or pre-health counselor to decide if this reapplying is the best step for you. If so, decide what you will do in the year.
Consider pursuing a Master's program in the sciences. If you need to improve your science GPA, doing a master's in anatomy, physiology, biology, etc. would be more advantageous than a Master’s in Public Health.
If you feel academics were deficient, consider a one-year post-bac program. Programs that are known to successfully support their students to dental school the following year are:
CSUEB Post Bacc: https://ce.csueastbay.edu/ce/programs/pre-professional-health/
UCSF Post Bacc: https://dentistry.ucsf.edu/programs/post-bac
SF State Post Bacc: https://prehealth.sfsu.edu/content/formal-post-bac
Consider retaking DAT and create a thoughtful plan with time and study resources.
If dental experiences are limited, gain dental experience by shadowing (virtual/in-person), attending free webinars online to learn more about the technical aspect of dentistry.
If dental experiences are limited AND you need a job: gain employment as a front desk staff or dental assistant at a local dental office. (This is great for obtaining that LOR later on as well).
As co-author of The Pre-Dental Guide, I’d like to express appreciation for our guest interviewees and openness in sharing their unique journeys to dental school. We will leave you with this image as a gentle reminder that success is never linear. I am honored to work alongside my friends and colleagues who have walked diverse paths in life. In fact, it is our unique stories that pull our greatest strengths together to foster a community of professionals and self-development as we step into the generation of practicing dental providers.
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