Tips for handling awkward dental school interview questions

Congratulations! Your hard work and perseverance have landed you a dental school interview. Now you have the daunting but exciting task of preparing. You spend your days reading about the school, reviewing your experiences and finding the perfect words to explain your passion for dentistry.

The day has finally come, and you are now in the interview room. Over the next several minutes, your interviewer asks all the questions you expected: “Tell me about yourself.” “Why do you want to be a dentist?” Suddenly, they ask, “What other schools did you apply to?”

You weren’t expecting this question, and now you feel like you’re in an awkward position. You’re worried that if you don’t answer the question, the interviewer will view you negatively, and it will impact your chances of admission. At the same time, you don’t feel comfortable sharing the fact you’ve applied to eight other schools. As you frantically think about how to answer this question, you wonder if it is even allowed. 

The reality is that as you attend interviews, there is a possibility that you could be asked a question or two that feels invasive. Personally, I did not feel comfortable when asked to actually list out the names of other schools I applied to and was even less comfortable when asked to rank my top choices. In other instances, interview questions may actually be illegal, and you should be aware of them. These can include questions regarding race, religion, citizenship, gender, sexual preference, disabilities, age and marital status. Some examples include:

  • What is your ethnicity? Where were you born?
  • Describe your parents. What do your parents do?
  • Do you have children?
  • Are you married? Will moving here affect you and your spouse?
  • Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?

Being prepared with tactful strategies or responses to address such questions can help you avoid being blindsided in an interview. If you feel comfortable sharing the information, you could simply answer the question. But what if you do not? Another strategy is to answer in a way that brings the focus back to your ability to succeed as a dental student, without revealing information that is personal to you. Frame your response in a way that highlights your capabilities and experiences. Here are a few examples:

Interviewer: “What other schools did you apply to?”

Interviewee: “Since I am passionate about helping the underserved, I applied to schools with strong community involvement. One of the reasons your program is at the top of my list is because of the success of your urban outreach program.”

Interviewer: “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?”

Interviewee: “I’m in a committed relationship with my studies. Since I also work part-time, shadow my community dentist and maintain a social life, developing time management skills has allowed me to stay dedicated to my coursework.”

Finally, you can always choose to decline to answer. According to Missy Shelton, assistant director of admissions at the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, “A candidate should never feel they have to answer a question just because an admissions member asked it. I would suggest if any candidate experiences this situation, they simply respond that they ‘choose not to answer.’”

While most interviewers will be professional, the occasional question might catch you off-guard. However you choose to answer, Shelton recommends notifying the admissions dean about the question(s) as soon as possible so they can follow up appropriately. “If it happens to one person with a particular interviewer, I’m sure they’ve not been the only one to experience it,” she says. “It would help an admissions office to be made aware of situations such as these so they don’t continue.”

Dental school interviews should be fun. Being prepared for all types of questions goes a long way toward making it a great experience.

~Alwilleed Kalout, Ohio State ’24

Alwilleed Kalout

Alwilleed (Will) Kalout obtained his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Cleveland State University before deciding to pursue a career in dentistry. He enjoys playing basketball, writing and traveling around the United States and the world. He is a member of The Ohio State University’s DDS class of 2024.

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