The ultimate guide to choosing a dental school

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Daunting. Exciting. Important.

These three words describe the school selection process. Below you will find the factors I considered when making this life-changing decision. Remember, you're already on a beautiful path and you will land exactly where you are meant too.

Consult the ADEA handbook

This is a starting point. You can make sure you have your shadow hours, extracurriculars and pre-requisites in line. You can compare historical average GPAs, DAT scores and demographic for previous classes and see where you would rank.


While some students may receive scholarships or financial aid from parents, this is not the case for everyone. Be aware of the debt (and that accumulating interest!!) and remember that everyone gets the same degree. Go to the cheaper school if stuck between a couple of options.


The city is your new home. Think about what will is critical to your lifestyle; it might be community, culture, diet or the general sociopolitical atmosphere. Be sure that the people and the infrastructure can cater to your overall well-being.

School culture

Ask students about the relative competitiveness or camaraderie in the school. Choose an environment that you can handle.

School diversity

Maybe it’s important to you that your cultural or religious background is represented within you school's infrastructure. Think about this deeply and look into the student groups and diversity protocols utilized in the admissions office. Also look into the school's policies for discrimination and inclusivity. You want to be in a safe space.

Reputation and teaching facilities

Google or ask prior students what they think about the school. How does the school manage a crisis? What is the leadership mantra? What is the faculty-to-student ratio in the clinic? Is it easy to seek out help or guidance? Your teachers are your mentors and a vital networking resource.


Some schools have unique features. Perhaps the school emphasizes digital dentistry or maybe they teach all methods to create dentists that understand the evolution of dentistry. How does the school provide resources for understanding the business of dentistry? What opportunities exist for dual degrees like a JD-DDS, DDS-MBA, or DDS-PhD?

Grading Schematic

Maybe you’re looking for a pass/fail school to manage stress levels. Perhaps you want the traditional A-F system. Maybe you want the education to be case-based with group discussion mediation. Maybe you prefer lecture halls or online recordings. Think about what the environment will help you become the best dentist.

Patient numbers and population demographics

The school may emphasize aesthetic work or may attract an older patient population that requires dentures and extractions. These are just two examples. Find out the demographics and ensure that there is a sufficient and consistent stream of patients. Be sure that you will be able to learn what you need to learn. Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

External opportunities

International exchange programs, community outreach in new locations, mission trips to new countries are all interesting things to consider when choosing a school choice. Look into how active student groups like ASDA or ADA are as well. These groups could play a key role in networking and job hunting.

Research opportunities


What research does the school emphasize? Is it built into the program or do you need to seek out opportunities? How competitive is the research setting? What topics are studied at the school? Some schools have trips associated with a research project or even have research programs that commence before D1 year.

Specialization and Job Hunts

If you want to specialize you would want to figure out the school’s match rate. It would be wise to enter a dental school that also has a program for your desired speciality. This way you can shadow in that department during your downtime. 

Look into the methods utilized to bring you in contact with local and national job recruiters. This includes private corporations or smaller practices. This can be facilitated through lunch-and-learns (mmmmm, PIZZA!) or through an online portal. This may be the place where you find your next job.

Standardized Exams

Where do you want to practice after dental school? A key component of this is getting the right type of accreditation. For instance, if you'd like to practice in Canada, you might want to attend a school that provides the option for taking the Canadian Boards. Different states have different requirements. Make sure your school has the resources to guide you in the right direction.

Bottom line

No patient asks or discriminates about where you come from. They want a caring, qualified dentist. No patient ask about your GPA. I don't believe it's a stretch to say that every school will make you a competent dentist. They all ensure students pass the standardized tests to practice and meet nationwide standards. They type of dentist you become depends on your work ethic and motivation.

The location can hinder or amplify both.

I leave you with this:

To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom - Socrates

Happy Dentisting and may the odds be ever in your favour.

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