Dental School Requirements: What It Takes to Get Into Your Top Program

The field of dentistry is among the highest paid jobs in the country.  The median salary for a dentist in 2020 was $164,010, with dental specialists, like orthodontists and prosthodontists earning an average salary of $208,000 or more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics

The job outlook for dentistry is positive, but becoming a dentist requires attending school for eight years or longer. You’ll also need to meet specific dental school prerequisites to have a shot at acceptance into a post-grad dental program. Requirements and costs vary depending on the schools that interest you. 

Keep reading to learn more about dental school requirements, what attending school might cost and how to pay for dental school. 

What are the requirements for dental school? 

Getting into dental school isn’t an easy task. Each institution’s dental school application and admissions committee is unique, requiring applicants to meet specific standards and coursework. However, most accredited dental institutions in the United States share many of the same dental school prerequisites.

Undergraduate degree

Getting accepted into a school of dentistry and its postgraduate program requires at least a bachelor’s degree at most dental schools. You’ll also need to have completed certain prerequisite science courses. 

Various programs are available at dental schools depending on your interest and whether you want to specialize in a particular area. You can find Masters and Doctorate level programs and beyond at most dental schools. 

Prerequisite classes 

Students who’ve earned their undergraduate degree will also need to complete several prerequisite courses before applying. Prerequisite requirements might vary depending on the school.

Common prerequisite courses may include: 

  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • English
  • Human anatomy
  • Microbiology
  • Physics
  • Physiology
  • Psychology
  • Sociology

Most dental schools list their program’s required prerequisite courses on their website. If you’re thinking about attending dental school, take time to look over course requirements at your desired schools. 

Dental Admission Test 

Another requirement for admission to dental school is to take and pass the Dental Admission Test (DAT). The comprehensive test covers four specific focuses:

  • Survey of the Natural Sciences
  • Perceptual Ability
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The DAT tests an applicant’s potential for success in the dental field and takes 4.5 hours to complete. The test is offered throughout the year at Prometric Test Centers throughout the US and Canada. Schools consider your DAT score during the application process. 

GPA

Grade point average (GPA) is another factor dental schools consider when determining whether to accept an applicant. Again, each school sets its own dental school admission requirements regarding what’s acceptable, but most schools require a competitive GPA. 

For example, the University of Ohio State College of Dentistry requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 to be considered. However, meeting the minimum requirements of a school might not be enough to gain admission. 

The average GPA of individuals accepted into the University of Michigan’s DDS program in 2020 was 3.73. The University of California-San Francisco’s DDS class of 2025 carries an average GPA of 3.65. 

Looking at the average GPA of a school’s recent class gives you a better picture of where you need to be with your grades. In 2020, the mean total GPA among US dental school applicants was 3.44 and a science GPA of 3.32. 

Other dental school admission requirements 

In addition to ensuring that your transcripts and test scores meet at least the minimum requirements, many schools also require individual letters of recommendation. Depending on your school, you might need to submit up to three or four letters of recommendation, including one or two letters from college science faculty members. 

Shadowing a dentist before applying to dental school, might be another component of dental school admission requirements. The University of Michigan, for example, requires 100 hours of dental shadowing. Also, you’ll undergo an interview as a part of the application process. 

Dental school acceptance rates

In 2020, 10,965 individuals applied to US dental schools. Of those students, only 6,257 (57.1%) students enrolled in dental school. Unfortunately, those stats don’t show how many students were actually accepted into US dental school programs.

With 66 dental schools in the US, acceptance rates often vary. Some schools are harder to get into than others. Below is a snapshot of acceptance rates at higher-ranking dental schools in 2021. 

University of North Carolina

University of California, San Francisco

University of California, Los Angeles

Many of the top-ranked dental schools have low acceptance rates. Those programs are extremely competitive, and only the top applicants are accepted. That doesn’t mean that every dental school is as difficult to gain admission. The following dental schools have some of the highest acceptance rates in 2021. 

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Regardless of where you decide to attend, make sure you meet the school’s requirements (and beyond) to improve your chances of getting accepted. 

Dental school costs 

One look at dental school costs could also make you rethink your career path. The reality is that dentistry, like most post-graduate programs, is a significant financial commitment. 

Dental school costs vary between schools. It’s possible to leave dental school with more than $200,000 in student loan debt. Using the schools mentioned above, here’s a look at dental school tuition costs for the class of 2021. 

First Year Resident Tuition

First Year Non-Resident Tuition

Total Resident Tuition (4 Years)

Total Non-Resident Tuition (4 Years)

University of North Carolina

University of California, San Francisco

University of California, Los Angeles

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri, Kansas City

Dental school can be pricey, and the costs above only account for tuition. The cost is even higher when you factor in other expenses such as:

  • Housing 
  • School fees
  • Books and other supplies and equipment 
  • Living expenses
  • Transportation 

You should also consider that published dental school costs might not be accurate

Cost isn’t the only factor to consider when choosing a dental school, but it’s probably the primary concern of most prospective dental students. 

How do you know if an expensive school is worth the higher cost? Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that everything will turn out OK, financially, if you attend an expensive dental school. The same can be said about attending a less expensive school. If attending a high-tuition school provides more opportunities for a brighter future, the value might be worth the added cost.

You can consider the higher cost like an income tax for attending such a school. If you end up growing a profitable dental practice, you might pay off your loans in no time.

Paying for dental school

Regardless of where you attend dental school, you’ll likely leave school with a large debt bill. However, you have options when it comes to paying for dental school. 

Scholarships

You might qualify for scholarships that help alleviate some of the costs associated with dental school. You can find several available dental scholarships through the American Student Dental Association

Private loans

You might hit your federal borrowing limits by attending dental school. Another option to bridge the gap is taking out private student loans. Many private lenders allow students to borrow up to the total cost of attendance. 

Borrowers must meet credit and other requirements to qualify for a private loan. You might need the help of a cosigner with strong credit to qualify for a private student loan or secure a lower interest rate. A cosigner assumes financial responsibility for your loans if you can’t make payments so make sure you discuss a repayment strategy with your willing cosigner.

Refinancing

One way to better afford the added cost of dental school is shrinking your existing student loan payments. By refinancing your undergraduate student loans, you might qualify for a much lower interest rate than your current loans, depending on your credit and other factors. A lower rate can help you save tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your loan. 

If you refinance federal student loans, you’ll lose access to helpful benefits and protections like income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness, and loan deferment options. Make sure you’re in a good financial position before refinancing your loans. 

Student loan forgiveness

Qualified federal student loan borrowers might be eligible for student loan forgiveness. It’s unlikely you’ll qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, but that’s not the only way to get your loans forgiven. 

Borrowers can also pursue forgiveness via an income-driven repayment (IDR) forgiveness. To qualify, you must be on a qualifying IDR plan. Depending on the plan, the remaining balance is forgiven after making qualifying monthly loan payments for 20 to 25 years. 

Unlike PSLF, though, the forgiven amount is considered taxable income, and you can expect a sizable tax bomb when your remaining loan balance is forgiven. 

Finding the best path to pay off dental school loans

Student Loan Planner advises more dentists than anyone in the country. We can help you find the right strategy for tackling your student loan debt. For a one-time flat fee, we walk you through a customized repayment plan which considers your unique circumstances.

If you’re still at the start of your dental school journey, we can also help you create a pre-debt strategy. Feel confident and prepared for repayment after leaving dental school by contacting a consultant today.






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