At some point, you’ve probably wondered to yourself, “Is there more I could be doing?” Maybe your friend Flossy Phil was always in lab doing cool research on dental pulp regeneration but still has time to volunteer and maintain a 4.0 GPA and work two part-time jobs. Or maybe your friend Gingiva Georgia got a stellar internship position at Dream Dental Office where she’ll work with the latest dental technology while getting thousands of shadowing hours by assisting dentists. As an ambitious predental student, you want to have spectacular experiences, too.
Remember that every predental journey is unique, and it’s OK that yours looks different from others’. Of course, there are ways you can further develop your story.
Here are some lessons that I’ve learned over the years that can help you maximize your undergraduate experience and become the best version of yourself for dental school.
1. Know what you value, and let that be the cornerstone of your life. Every decision you make starts here. What makes you happy? What makes every day worth living? How do you define success? These are important questions that you should spend time reflecting on. Knowing what you value will guide how you spend your time and effort. This applies to all areas of life: your personal goals, your professional aspirations and even the people you choose to invest your time in.
Ask yourself why you decided to pursue dentistry. Becoming a dentist should be your dream, not someone else’s dream for you. And if you don’t have a complete answer yet, that is fine as long as you are willing to learn more.
2. Explore everything you can about dentistry with an open mind. If you’re interested in something, you want to learn as much about it as you can. Join your local predental chapter. Volunteer at a local oral health event. Watch one of ASDA’s Predental Month webinars. Do something that will help you confirm your interest in dentistry.
Common questions I get include: What activities should I join? Do I need research? How many volunteer hours do I need? While these are good questions to ask to make sure you are moving in the right direction, exploring dentistry should not become a checklist. What’s more important than what you do is why you do it. Exploring allows you to grow and expand your interests so you find your purpose, the reasons that set you on fire for dentistry.
3. Take care of yourself, keeping the five dimensions of wellness in mind. As ASDA President Roopali Kulkarni puts it, “Nothing is worth pursuing if your health and happiness suffer.” Let’s be honest: Predental students are busy! We are driven and high-achieving. It’s part of the package when we made the decision to pursue a profession that requires a certain level of background knowledge, a big heart to serve others and the ability to balance a lot at once. If you have Type A personality, it can be hard to say “no” to taking on more. While these opportunities may be amazing, they may not necessarily be worth pursuing if they increase your anxiety and force you to compromise on the things that matter most (bringing it back to Tip No. 1).
Spend some time reflecting on your wellness in these five dimensions and, if they are out of balance, make an action plan to improve one or more areas.
4. Plan ahead, but be flexible. The dental school application has many moving components: grades, shadowing, activities, leadership, service and more. Planning ahead lets you have a concrete plan to meet your goals and also provides buffer time to create Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work out. Spend time reviewing admissions requirements for dental school, and make a plan for what you want to accomplish. Here are some links to help you get started:
- Get Into Dental School (ASDA)
- Preparing for Dental School (ADEA)
- Tips for Preparing to Enter Dental School (ADEA)
- Dental School Admissions (ADA)
5. Find a community that wants you to succeed. Pursuing dentistry is not meant to be a solo journey. Surround yourself with people who support you and want to see you become the best version of yourself. These people will cheer you up when you’re down and support you when you struggle. This community can doesn’t have to be dental-related, but if you want to get plugged into a community of students passionate about dentistry, learn more about ASDA, and if you are not a member, consider joining.
If there’s one thing you take away from this article, remember this: Meeting requirements for dental school applications shouldn’t be your end goal. Your focus should be on figuring out why you’re on fire for dentistry. With hard work and passion, you are on the path to accomplishing more than you could ever imagine.
~Hilary Wong, Northeastern University, ASDA Predental Consultant