Pre-Dental Planner: Senior Year

You have probably heard back from most, if not all, of the schools that you applied to and may even know where you are headed. So everything is set, right? Wrong! You still have a year left, don’t mess it up! You have worked too hard to let it all go to waste on a bad case of senioritis. It would be a shame to tarnish your transcript (which dental schools may review) or to have to postpone graduation in order to stay an extra semester to take classes. Besides the courses that you have to complete to graduate, there are some other things you should be concerned with.
RELATED: Pre-Dental Planner — Freshman Year — Sophomore Year — Junior Year ]

Should You Take A Year Off?

Some students, for various reasons, opt to take a year off before entering graduate school. However, this is not usually the case with dental students, who generally go directly to dental school. Still, deciding to wait is a personal choice and thus there is no right or wrong decision. The most important thing is that you ask yourself exactly why you want to wait.
After 4 years of college and hundreds of stressful tests, papers, and projects, most students say they are exhausted and need some time off from the world of education. This is both a normal and understandable sentiment.
But the summer might be able to cure this malaise. Remember that you still have 3 to 4 months before school would start, which could be a substantial amount of time to recuperate. Depending on your financial situation, you could travel a bit and only work part time somewhere far removed from academia or your field of study. If you are certain that dentistry is for you and your only reason for delaying dental school is that you are tired, it is probably best to attend following your senior year. Dental schools expect that everything you have learned as an undergraduate is fresh in your mind. The longer you wait, the fainter the material will grow.
Nonetheless, there are some good reasons to postpone entry. If you did not get into any schools that you would seriously consider attending, using a year to improve DAT scores, gain experience, or enhance your resume may be a good idea. If you are unsure about your desire to pursue the career or field altogether, this also may warrant some time off to contemplate your decision.
Dental school requires a ton of personal motivation and commitment. If these elements are missing and you are not completely devoted to your studies you may find it hard to succeed. Perhaps a year to reflect will revive your passion for dentistry, help to clarify your goals, and fuel the needed effort.
If you do chose to take a year off know that you should be prepared to explain the reasons for your decision, what you learned during your year (or more) off, and how it enhanced your knowledge, experience, and candidacy.
Taking a year off is a big decision. Don’t make up your mind before you think about your reasons for wanting to do so. Weigh your options carefully and do what is best for you.

A Whole New Ball Game

Grad school is definitely a change from undergraduate life. Don’t fall for the popular fallacy that grad school is just like undergrad, only harder. They are completely different and your first year can be a big adjustment.
You will have to get used to working more independently and with constant self-motivation. Professors will not waste time going over the basics, which you will be expected to know inside and out.
You will need to train yourself not merely to memorize material, but to truly understand it. There is no time for slacking off or just “getting by.” Professors assume that you want to be in class and have a genuine interest and dedication to learning every aspect of the field. A great deal of your learning will come from outside the classroom through research, attending seminars and conferences, and talking with professors and fellow students.
With all of these added responsibilities comes an array of new and exciting opportunities. You will delve deeper into specific topics, partake in more hands-on learning, and work closely with numerous accomplished professionals. You may also have the chance to pursue research in a topic of your choosing.

Advice From A Grad

Allison Berger graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she majored in History. She then attended New Jersey Dental School, where she obtained her DMD. She is currently studying to become a specialist in Periodontics.

Why did you major in history?
I wanted a well rounded education and found it interesting.
Do you feel that this puts you at a disadvantage in comparison with dental school students who majored in a science?
No. I still took the required science classes for dental school admission and they provided a good background, but I don’t think that majoring in a science is absolutely necessary. You are going to get a lot of science after you graduate. I think I would have been burnt out if I had done science for eight years straight.
Is anyone in your family a dentist?
No, but I always had good experiences with my dentist as a child. I never had any cavities. Plus, the waiting room had great toys and games!
Did you always want to be a dentist?
Actually, I was originally premed. I volunteered in a hospital emergency room after freshman year and that made me realize that it wasn’t for me. Plus, I found out that dentistry has a lot of advantages. I had wanted to be a surgeon and liked to work with my hands. With dentistry I could still work with my hands, but would also be able to enjoy a better lifestyle than a surgeon.
What was your most beneficial experience pertaining to dentistry as an undergrad?
I shadowed a family friend that was a dentist for a few weeks. It was really helpful and allowed me see what I would be getting myself into. I mainly just watched, but some of my friends worked as assistants to dentists, which is also a good idea since it has the added plus of hands-on experience. Even if you don’t shadow or work as an assistant, try and talk to a dentist. It can be anyone, but it is good to hear how they like it and what they see as pluses and minuses of the career.
Is it hard as an undergraduate to balance the challenging classes required for dental school admissions with other interests?
I think it depends a lot on your personality. It can definitely be pretty competitive, especially at a big school. I was probably a little more overwhelmed than the average student but once I decided to switch from premed to predental some of the stress was taken away.
Did your college have a pre-dental or pre-health advisor and did they help?
Yes. I found the pre-health advisor through the Career Services Center at Penn. She helped out because she knew a lot about the DAT, classes, various dental schools, and so on. Talking to your pre-health advisor is a good idea because it helps you plan your undergrad courses and organize the material for your dental school application.
Did you participate in any extracurricular activities that were not related to dentistry?
I wrote for the course review, was a UPENN hospital volunteer, and was very involved in Hillel. Dental schools love well-rounded students so being involved in things outside of academics is a good idea. I also worked in a soup kitchen. Schools always like to see community service.
I did an independent study with a surgical oncologist too. It gave me a great feel for what doing research is like and gave me a chance to look at one small area in the health field in more depth. The individual I worked with actually ended up writing one of my recommendation letters as well. Oh, and now that I think about it, a technique I learned while doing the independent study just came up on an exam.
Did you go directly to NJDS?
I chose to go straight from Penn to dental school…I just wanted to get it over with and get started.
How many schools did you apply to and how did you choose NJDS? Did you visit the schools?
I applied to 5 schools. When you go for interviews you get a tour of the school. But you have to be careful, they put on a show because they want you to pick their school. It is important to try to talk to students. They are usually candid since they weren’t recruited or trained to give you a tour. I chose NJDS because it was close to New York City and they offered me a scholarship.
How did you find the transition from undergrad to grad? How was the type of work different?
NJDS was a big change for me because there was no real campus life, unlike my undergraduate school. As far as workload, you are in school a lot more. There is less down time. There is also much more lab work.
What asset do you think is most important for any prospective dental student or dentist to possess?
I would say an eye for detail. You are dealing with, and have to work in, extremely small areas. I think having some general business knowledge is important as well, especially so that you can understand how a practice works and how to set one up. It would probably be a good idea to take a class or two in some aspect of business as an undergrad.
What do you like most about the profession?
It feels really good when you know that after you have treated a patient the person will feel better and be healthier than they were before. I also think that a great bonus of the profession is that there are so many options. You can have an academic career, do something with research, teach, work in public health there are tons of opportunities. You can even combine them.

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