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Pre-Health Advising
Pre-Health Advising

Applying to Dentistry School

There are two dental degrees offered in the United States that one to become a licensed dentist, the DMD (doctor of medicine in dentistry) and the DDM (doctor of dental medicine).  There are no substantial differences in the schooling between these degrees as indicated on the website of the American Dental Association.  “The DDS and DMD are the same degrees. Dentists who have a DMD or DDS have the same education. It’s up to the universities to determine what degree is awarded, but both degrees use the same curriculum requirements.”

The process of applying to dental schools begins with determining the schools to which you are most likely to apply.  Because schools vary in their required and recommended prerequisite coursework, it is important for you to understand the requirements at your target schools early in your undergraduate career.  This will ensure you can develop a plan to take the courses your schools indicate are necessary.

Applicants are encouraged to apply to the public dental school(s) in their state of residence.  At most publicly supported dental schools, there are significant financial and admission preferences extended to in-state applicants.  For example, Indiana University School of Dentistry (IUSoD) in 2020 had in-state yearly tuition of $38,973 and out-of-state yearly tuition of $86,798.  The IUSoD out-of-state matriculation rate for the class entering in August of 2020 was approximately 4.5% (44 students matriculated out of 975 out-of-state applicants), while the in-state matriculation rate was 42% (61 matriculated out of 145 in-state applicants).  It is also worth noting that in-state applicant status at IUSoD cannot be established by attending college or university in Indiana if you were not already an Indiana resident.

Extending your list beyond the in-state public options requires finding a fit between your personality, your preparation profile and a medical school.  A tool to help in finding this fit is the ADEA Dental School Explorer.  Access to this data base costs $25/year and allows a prospective applicant to find information on tuition, prerequisite coursework, an indication of the public vs private nature of the school, in-state vs out-of-state acceptance rates, average DAT and GPA statistics for accepted students, school mission statements, along with much other information.

Prerequisite Courses

Typical Dental School Requirements (Students should double check required courses for specific schools):

  • General chemistry with lab (CH105 and CH106, or CH107)
  • Organic chemistry with lab (CH351 and CH352)
  • Introduction to Biochemistry (CH361) or Biochemistry 1 (CH362)
  • Introductory Biological sciences with lab (BI210 and BI 220)
  • Microbiology with lab (BI438 for biology majors, BI325 for non-majors)
  • Immunology (BI323)
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology (BSHS 334/335) or Principles of Physiology (BI 411) or Vertabrate Biology (BI 307)
  • Physics with lab (PH201 and PH202 for Physics majors, PH107 and PH108 for non-majors)
  • Psychological Inquiry (SW 250-PS)

Recommended Courses for Additional Preparation for Dental School:

  • Elementary Statistics (MA162 or equivalent)
  • Biochemistry II (CH462)
  • Additional Biology Courses

Recommended Courses for Additional Preparation for Dentistry Careers:

  • Ethics
  • Additional courses that hone fine motor skills (musical instrument performance, jewelry making, etc.)
  • Business courses

DAT Exam

Students wishing to pursue dentistry are required to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) prior to admission into a professional program. The DAT is composed of eight sections that cover general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information, and the perceptual ability of the applicant. A DAT score of 19 or higher is desirable (scoring ranges from 1 to 30). The Dental Admission Test (DAT) can be taken when all preparatory coursework is completed, which can be as early as summer after the second year of undergraduate work at Butler. DAT preparation is typically started after completion of organic chemistry. Based on current admission trends, an acceptable score on the DAT is >19 overall average.   

Application Process

The application process to dental school begins in May of the junior year and the primary application should be submitted to the American Association of Dental Schools Application Service (AADSAS) no later than June 30. Texas applicants applying to Texas Dental Schools are required to utilize Texas Medical Dental Application Service.  Secondary applications begin to arrive in August or September of the senior year and they must be completed and returned immediately. For more information on the application process see the American Dental Education Association website.

Building your Resume

The need for exposure to the field of dentistry is important. You should plan on extensively shadowing dentists (keep a log!) and also volunteering in ways that build your people skills. Developing and demonstrating your manual dexterity is also an important part of your preparation. You may consider taking an art or music course or take up hobbies which require careful manipulation of hand tools. Whatever you choose, make sure you're continually processing the activity and asking why is this beneficial and how will it help you become a better dentist.

Personal Statement

The AADSAS personal statement is a one-page essay (not to exceed 4,500 characters, including spaces, carriages, numbers, letters, etc.). This statement should cover two main themes: 1) describe yourself, and 2) state why you want to pursue a career in dentistry.  Admission committees want to learn information about you that cannot be gleaned from transcripts and exam scores. Your statement should demonstrate that you are more than a conscientious student, explain your motivation for entering your chosen field, and confirm that you have the maturity to succeed in their program and as a health-care professional.

Your statement must be well-written. Proving your ability to communicate is essential as you embark on a career in which interpersonal skills, including being able to work with colleagues and connect with patients and clients, are vital. Above all else, you should be sincere. The statement should be an accurate reflection of your experiences, aspirations, and motivations. In combination with the in-person interview, if required by the program, your personal statement will give admission committee members a window into what type of student, colleague and practitioner you will be.

Getting Started

It is often difficult to write about yourself. You do not want to come across as boastful, nor do you want to seem insecure or incompetent. Yet, you must be specific about yourself. General statements, such as how you have always wanted to help people or that you will strive to live up to an idealized version of a healthcare professional, are unlikely to sway the committee in your favor. To begin getting personal, you can list out what experiences, both positive and negative, led you to want to enter your chosen field. You should also write out your career goals and what type of preparation, including coursework, internships, shadowing and mentoring opportunities, and volunteer work, in which you have engaged. You can ask family, friends and colleagues what traits best describe you and what examples make them think of you in that way. Keep in mind not everything you list will make it into your statement. However, these lists can help you see connections between the activities you have chosen and the person you have become. They will also provide you with some ideas regarding on what theme or experience to focus your statement. The more cohesive the statement is, the better it reflects on you.

While looking over your lists, look for common themes. Is there any particular experience that will allow the admission committee to understand you and your motivations better? Is there an experience that demonstrates that you can empathize with others? Committee members rather know one or two things about you that define you as a person and the type of professional you will be than a laundry list of experiences and accomplishments. When writing about yourself, it is best to demonstrate your abilities and motivations through an example or story and not just through a declaration. For example, instead of stating you are well-organized or love working with people, provide an example of how you organized a complex event or volunteer regularly to work one-on-one with people. Even a negative experience, if it provided you with a lesson, can demonstrate your ability to self-reflect and grow as a person.

Keep Writing

Once you begin writing, keep in mind that your statement will likely go through many drafts. You should ask friends, family, professors, advisors and supervisors to review and comment on it. Is it an accurate reflection of you? Does it move them? Does it answer the questions asked on the application? Is it well-written? If the answer is no to any of the above questions, keep working on your statement. As you edit, the below lists will help guide you.


  • Answer the questions asked
  • Follow any formatting guidelines
  • Use a consistent theme or tell a story to make your statement cohesive
  • Self-reflect on your experiences and motivations instead of just reiterating them
  • Demonstrate your abilities with examples
  • Vary subject of sentences to avoid the overuse of I
  • Include relevant information about the program to which you are applying
  • Have others read your statement
  • Edit, edit, edit

Do Not:

  • Write your autobiography
  • Write your résumé in prose form
  • Use clichés
  • Be too general
  • Be gimmicky
  • Be funny
  • Be overly dramatic
  • Begin with a quote
  • Write about someone else
  • Spend your entire statement recounting information found elsewhere in your application

For more information, consult the American Dental Education Association website.

Letters of Recommendation

The process for requesting individual letters is outlined below. However, check with the specific school’s website to determine if letters need to be sent directly to that school (becoming relatively rare), as opposed to merely submitted through the AADSAS service (more common). You should request the letters in February or March of your application year (usually your Junior year).  

In general:

  • Identify at least two science professors and at least one non-science professor that might be willing to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf.  AADSAS will generally have you submit four letters of recommendation, and while all four may come from professors, three from professors and one from a dentist you have extensively shadowed is also good.   These professors should know you well (had for more than just one course, you stood out among your peers, they had extensive contact with you outside of the classroom, etc.) and should have observed your academic skills in the classroom as well as a laboratory, recitation, or co-curricular activity.
  • Schedule a meeting with the professors to directly ask them to write the letters.  Don’t just drop in as the request might get shuffled off and forgotten.  Be intentional about asking.
  • Bring a list or short narrative of the work you completed in the classes taken under the professor (more important).  Professors see many students over the years and don’t always remember specific course assignments or course experiences like you will.  Remind them of these experiences.
  • Provide an estimated date for submission of their letters.  Both AMCAS and AACOMAS “go live” and begin accepting applications in June.  Faculty should upload letters in June or July.  Give your professors enough time to write a thoughtful letter.
  • Understand that no professor is required to write a letter of recommendation for you.  If they do not feel that they know you well enough (or in some cases maybe know you too well?) or do not feel that they can provide you with a strong endorsement relative to your peers, then it is best for all parties involved if they decline.  Refusing to write a letter of recommendation because you refuse to waive your right to see the letter, thus making the letter non-confidential, is within the professor’s rights.
  • When you submit your application materials to the online application service, you will need to fill in the professor’s information and email.  Be sure you get the correct email address!  The application service will send the professor instructions on how to upload the letter.  We suggest you waive your right to see the letter of recommendation.  Check with the professor by email or by appointment to ensure that they received the request from the application service.  Don’t be pushy, but be firm...this is important!
  • You can check on the status of your application and the submission status of the letters at any time (though you cannot read the letters - they are supposed to be entirely confidential) by following the instructions on the application service website.