“Start fast. Finish strong.” These are the words around which my college career revolved.
My 5 a.m. alarm frequently came as a scare to me Monday through Friday. My nights were spent falling asleep while reviewing lecture notes from organic chemistry and physiology as well as our football team’s weekly game plan installed that week.
Our wake-up call was followed by a mandatory 5:30 a.m. breakfast with the rest of the team. By 7 a.m., when other college students were just waking up, we were already working out. Classes started at 9 a.m., and after that, we had to make it to the fieldhouse for game/practice film review by 2 p.m. Most of our days between classes were spent at the fieldhouse watching film or meeting with our coaches and tutors. At 4 p.m., we were released from film review for live practice, which usually went until 7 p.m., and then we had a mandatory team dinner at 8. I would be back at my dorm by 9:30 or 10 p.m. (after watching more film) and would muster up some energy to study for my science classes.
I repeated this routine every day for five years during my football career at Georgia State University. I loved playing football more than anything, so my life revolved around the sport during college.
After five years of having football come before academics at GSU, I realized I needed to get serious about my dreams of becoming a dentist and began working on my application to dental school. After researching dental schools, I quickly realized that my GPA was not as competitive as other students applying. I decided to give it a shot anyway and apply that year, but was discouraged to learn I was denied from each one. During that application cycle, Midwestern University at Illinois sent me a follow-up email after my denial, urging me to apply for their master’s program. Knowing that I needed to increase my GPA to be a competitive applicant, I applied to the biomedical science master’s program.
I was accepted into the 18-month program in 2016 and was excited for this new opportunity in a new state and to begin an academic career I was 100% focused on. My master’s program was demanding, which I was prepared for, thanks to my busy football schedule during undergrad. My mornings still began early, often at 6 a.m., and ended late into the morning hours, but this time, my time was occupied by a workload of research projects and studying for exams, rather than football workouts and watching film.
In undergrad, as a linebacker and fullback, I would have never guessed I would end up doing medical research and publishing a thesis, which I was able to do through my master’s program. A glowing difference between my undergraduate and master’s program was the schedule. During undergrad, I had a set class schedule but would have to fit in time for football workouts, meetings, practice and games. During my master’s, I again had a set schedule of classes, but now had to fit in running multiple research projects in the lab and being on top of my classes.
On Dec. 1, 2018, all of those sleepless nights throughout undergrad and my master’s program finally paid off when I was accepted to my No. 1 choice and state school, The Dental College of Georgia. I remember being so ready to start fast and finish strong on the first day of my D1 year. I was eager to finally be hands-on learning about dentistry and teeth, but instead, it started with an entire eight-hour day of a biochemistry lecture only. *Cue the instant regret of spending the last six years of undergrad and a master’s just to sit in a classroom all day.* But as we all know, soon the hand skill classes came plowing in. On top of labs, suddenly we had head and neck anatomy and treatment planning, and I got all I could handle and then some.
Thanks to my time at Georgia State as a student athlete and then as a master’s student at Midwestern, I was prepared for these long days. Yet dental school is still unlike any feat I’ve faced (and I’ve played football against Alabama and Clemson).
Compared to football season and throughout my master’s program, I don’t think I have ever been so content in being frustrated, stressed and happy all at the same time, like I am in dental school. One of the best descriptions of school is that “it’s the best thing you’ll never ever want to go through again,” and as a D3, I completely understand now.
Overall, I can say that my undergraduate experience of being a student athlete, mixed with the struggles of a master’s education, really prepared me for the long, grueling and demanding days we know so well as dental students. During school, the days are long and the weeks are short and times do get rough, but I have had the best times of my life, made 93 best friends and accomplished more than I ever thought I would.
~Sean Jeppesen, Georgia ’22, Chapter Treasurer