Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Dental School Admissions Work


Dental School Grades and Courses

It's difficult to get into dental school without some kind of bachelor's degree (it's technically possible, but highly unlikely). Your undergraduate major doesn't really matter -- there are science course requirements for getting into dental school that vary from school to school, but you can major in philosophy, history or anything else you'd like to study. In fact, most dental schools like to see some variety in an applicant's coursework, although they'd like to see a few more science courses sprinkled throughout the transcript. The application requirements for the University of Pennsylvania's Dental Medicine program provide a good example:

  • One year (two semesters) of biology or zoology with corresponding laboratory training. Advanced courses in anatomy, microbiology and physiology are recommended.
  • Three semesters of chemistry with corresponding laboratory training, including inorganic chemistry and at least one semester of organic chemistry. Additional work in organic and physical chemistry is recommended.
  • One year of English leading to competence in the use of the English language. Acceptable courses include speech, composition, literature, technical and business writing, and other writing intensive courses.
  • One semester of mathematics, preferably calculus.
  • One year of physics that covers the subject's basic principles.
  • One semester of biochemistry [source: University of Pennsylvania Dental School].

Many undergraduate schools have advisers who can help students learn about and meet the requirements of the post-baccalaureate degrees they plan to pursue. There are even a few programs that combine undergraduate coursework with dental school into one seven-year package. You'll be working toward either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD). The two degrees are functionally identical in every way. Some schools simply use different terminology [source: ADA].

Getting into dental school is so competitive that a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) is the minimum you'd need to even have a chance. A 3.3 GPA or above would set you apart, and you should aim for the same GPA in your science courses.

Getting into dental school isn't just a matter of grades, however. You also need to participate in extracurricular activities that show you're a well-rounded student. Try to volunteer, join an academic group, organize campus activities or lead a campus organization. That said, the best activities you can put on your dental school application should relate specifically to the dental or health care fields. Shadow a dentist for a few weeks or volunteer at an office. That kind of experience will give you a major edge over other applicants.

Even if you have the right classes and good grades, there's one other hurdle to dental school admissions: the Dental Admission Test (DAT). We'll cover that next.


More to Explore