Off-road caution

Keys to achieving academic success in dental school after a career change
January 2nd, 2017

Street sign depicting a detour aheadThere’s a reason the majority of students enter dental school soon after college: It’s most practical in terms of time and money, and study habits are fresh, a plus for the science-heavy first year of dental school.

“We don’t have any hard and fast rule that an applicant can’t be a fine arts major, but the reality is that the majority of students who receive an admission offer majored in biological sciences,” says Dr. Barbara Miller ’83, executive director of recruitment and admissions.

“If someone has a non-science major, they’ll need to complete one or two years of postbaccalaureate work in upper-level science courses with a focus on biology and earn a 3.6 GPA or better to be competitive for admission. Applicants also have to have competitive scores on the Dental Admissions Test, which is science heavy.

“It’s important for them to be in college coursework a year before they would start dental school,” Miller continues. “Not only do they lose course information, they lose their study skills. You have to be able to hit the ground running as a first-year dental student.”

Some applicants who are not science majors are not competitive because they don’t have the right background academically and haven’t done the necessary activities, says Miller, who adds, “We’re focused on who’s the best prepared for success in our rigorous dental curriculum.”

The fact that nontraditional students may have used up financial aid pursuing their previous major can also make paying for graduate work at a university difficult. For some applicants it makes more sense financially to pursue a second bachelor’s degree in biology or a one-year non-thesis master’s degree in the biomedical sciences. These specialized master’s programs, designed for predental or premed applicants, are limited, but at least a couple are in Texas.

The three Texas dental schools give very similar advice to prospective applicants, with admissions personnel joining forces each year to lead a panel discussion at the Texas Association of Advisors for Health Professions meeting. Advisors from universities across Texas are invited to attend.

“Our nontraditional dental students are successful due to their maturity and effort to prepare well,” Miller says. “The important factor is seeking advice from the admissions website and following it. These students need to be efficient and effective with their time and effort to get on the right path.”

Dr. Ernie Lacy ’94, executive director of student development and multicultural affairs, entered dental school after a 17-year career as a high school math and science teacher and developed a mindset that helped lead to academic success.

“An older age and the life experiences and challenges that come along with it can be very beneficial in handling the rigor of dental school,” she says. “If it takes more time and energy to study and successfully negotiate the dental school curriculum, that’s fine. The only competitor should be oneself. Do your best, and get help early if needed.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer/Fall 2016 Dental Journal.

— Carolyn Cox