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Predental perspective: 2020 application cycle amidst the pandemic

It’s May 1. You’ve spent the past three months practicing limiting reactant problems and mastering the art of angle ranking to hopefully acquire all of your application materials just in time for the date engrained in every predent’s mind: June 16, the date the AADSAS application opens. Your test date is May 25, and you’ve never been more prepared for an exam in your life.

Then the dreaded Prometric email arrives, regretting to inform you that your long-awaited test date has been cancelled due to the restrictions of COVID-19. With an unclear future comes the inability to reschedule your date, and you’re left feeling hopeless, wondering if you’ll fall into the deep end of the applicant pool with an incomplete application. And have you even completed your shadowing hours? With all offices closed since mid-March (and all with varied reopening dates), did you accumulate enough experience to compete with the hundreds of hours other applicants may already have? With everything up in the air, is it even worth it to apply this year, or should you just push it all back and hope that next year offers you a better shot at your life’s dream? 

Nobody could have predicted the devastating, all-embracing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s unsettling to realize how much our world can change. In a matter of weeks, we experienced a contagion whose sweeping influence necessitated an unimaginable, widespread response on many levels. Balancing the need to preserve human life and the collapse of so many plans has been challenging, both practically and emotionally.

There are multiple factors to consider in the 2020-21 cycle, both on the applicant end and dental school admissions board end. First, what happens when you can’t take the DAT? After attending numerous dental schools’ informative sessions and conversing with current students, the consensus is that applying early is integral. Of course, this notion relies on the fact that when you apply, admissions committees will only view your application if it has all of the required materials. Therefore, if you are taking the DAT after the application cycle opens and there is a delay in your score, you will not be considered with the first wave of applicants. This creates a terrific inequity: Only the applicants with complete files will receive the interview requests, and thus their competition pool will be significantly smaller. 

As time passes, more applications will be completed as late DAT scores are submitted. Because early DAT-scoring candidates have already been interviewed and slotted into spots, the remaining applicants will potentially find themselves in a far larger applicant pool, enduring closer scrutiny and fiercer competition.  

Therefore, many prospective students are left with no solution except to wait patiently for testing centers to reopen, and perhaps stretch their previously fixed study schedules to accommodate an undetermined testing date. Exasperated late-test-takers may consider waiting until next cycle to hit a proverbial restart button on their application process and present a stronger, complete profile by next June. 

According to ADEA’s COVID-19 Update for ADEA AADSAS Applicants, schools such as University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine are recognizing that prospective students had no control over the current situation and are reviewing applications “with the information available at the time of submission,” giving every applicant a fair chance. Hopefully, more and more dental schools will follow suit, amending their admissions protocols in the wake of these unprecedented circumstances.

Another application factor that the pandemic pressed pause on was the ability to obtain dental-related experience. With a minimum of 100 shadowing hours recommended by most dental schools, many applicants strive to exceed this number to showcase their dedication to the profession and to hopefully strengthen their application. But this recommendation may be difficult to meet in light of office closures due to COVID-related government orders. Assisting and shadowing became, at best, unfeasible and, at worse, illegal. And lost time is a factor for which there is no compensation. If schools do not take this factor into consideration, applicants may again be deterred from applying in this cycle and waiting until they can finish and enhance the unfinished parts of their application.

At the end of the day, it is up to the applicant whether or not they still want to apply this cycle, but there may be a cost for not submitting an application as strong as they anticipated. 

Though this cycle may not be ideal, it will always be one to remember. When we can analyze the data on the number of applicants between this cycle and next cycle, then we will truly know the strength of the influence COVID-19 had on predentals’ application decisions and school acceptances.

~ Lauren Brown, University of Delaware ’22

Lauren Brown

Lauren is a sophomore at the University of Delaware, majoring in nutrition and medical science, dedicated to pursuing a career in general dentistry. She is passionate about helping others and maintaining all aspects of health, and hopes to implement these ideals into her future practice one day.

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