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What High School Students Need to Know About Applying to Direct Dental Programs

Two dental students work on dentures in lab

By Rod, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

Direct dental programs allow high school students to apply to and, if successful, be admitted into an undergraduate institution and a partner dental school simultaneously. These programs are referred to by several different names such as accelerated dental or BS (BA)/DDS (DMD) programs. Regardless of the nomenclature, the program typically allows students to complete an undergrad and dentistry degree at the same institution, although in some cases these two degrees must be completed at two separate but partner institutions. Direct dental programs can range in duration from five-to-eight years; however, the more accelerated the program, the more intensive and condensed the undergraduate portion usually is.

Things to Consider About Applying to Direct Dental Programs

The main advantage of a direct dental program is that a student gets to bypass the hassle of completing dental school applications as an undergrad. Dental school applications are long, complex, time-consuming, and stressful, so a direct dental program will allow students more time to focusing on academics and leverage their undergraduate experience to the fullest. This could allow for more time spent on research, shadowing dentists, and getting involved in other extracurricular activities. Additionally, there are significant tuition savings associated with accelerated programs.

Direct dental admission does not mean that a student can simply coast through their undergrad experience, however: acceptance is usually contingent upon meeting minimum GPA and DAT (Dental Admission Test) requirements. Despite the advantages of these programs, direct dental plans are not for everyone. Participating in a direct program – especially an accelerated program – can limit both the majors you are allowed to pursue as well as your social experience. Needless to say, you should not make the decision to apply to such programs lightly.

Positioning Yourself to Be Competitive for Direct Dental Admission

All direct dental programs are competitive, but selectivity varies widely from program to program. Despite less competition than direct medical programs, direct dental program applicants will still need a strong record of academic performance (including test scores, if applicable), meaningful clinical experience, substantive extracurricular activities, and stellar recommendations to be competitive.

Academic Record

An excellent academic record is the foundation of a successful application for a direct dental program. Competitive applicants are usually expected to be A-students and take the most rigorous courses offered, especially in math and sciences. Programs do not always advertise this information, but there are usually minimum thresholds you must meet to be considered for admission. These thresholds can be based on your math progression, the rigor of your science courseload, and your grades and test scores. A good rule of thumb for a competitive direct dental program application is that your academic stats should comfortably rest above the 75th percentile data for the incoming class of the school whose program you are applying to. This applies to both GPA and test scores.

Clinical Experience

A commitment to dentistry and an understanding of what a dentist does are essential aspects of a direct dental program assessment. You must be able to show admissions committees that you have explored the field of dentistry enough to understand what it is you are committing to. Shadowing dental practitioners is a great way to gain exposure and make a compelling case that your choice to apply to direct dental programs is an informed one. Research experience is usually not required to be a competitive dental applicant, but it can further differentiate you from the pack and highlight your passion for the sciences.

Extracurricular Activities

For the sake of this piece, we won’t be treating research and shadowing as extracurricular activities even though they typically fall under the same umbrella. The most successful direct dental applicants are able to highlight involvement in a variety of extracurricular activities through which they can showcase sustained commitment, initiative, and leadership. When it comes to extracurriculars, quality is always better than quantity. It is better to be a part of two clubs that you are very committed to and have a high impact on, rather than be in five clubs on the periphery.

Recommendation Letters

Even if this is not required for the program to which you are applying, you should aim to have both a math and science teacher provide you with recommendation letters for direct dental applications. You should aim to strike a balance between prioritizing math and science teachers and also getting recommendation letters from teachers that know you best and can comment on your qualities as a student, classmate, and community member. Most students that enroll in a direct dental program will be significantly younger than their entry cohort in dental school. It is thus important that your recommenders can speak to your level of maturity as well as some of the qualities that would make you a successful healthcare professional. If you have shadowed a dental professional or conducted research in high school, asking your mentor to submit an additional recommendation can be invaluable.

Is Direct Dental Right For You?

Direct dental programs are a great fit for competitive students who are fully committed to a career in dentistry before they enter undergraduate studies. These programs offer students a chance to increase their focus and intensity in a less-stressful environment; however, for students who may be interested in dentistry but are unsure if a career in the field would be the best fit, it makes more sense to follow the conventional path of a traditional undergraduate experience and the opportunity to apply to dental programs after their junior year. It is important to thoroughly weigh all the factors before deciding to apply to and enroll in a direct dental program.

At IvyWise, our team of former admissions directors know how college applications are read, including in special situations like direct dental programs. If you are interested in pursuing a career in dentistry and think a direct dental program might be right for you, contact us today to see how we can help.

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