If you’ve decided to explore a career in dentistry, Western Michigan University has a four-year pre-dentistry study plan and medical sciences advisors available to help you create an individual program that will position you to apply to dental schools of your choice.
Dental schools increasingly want students with diverse backgrounds and a variety of skills and interests. A science major is not a prerequisite for dental school, although good training in chemistry, biological sciences and physics is expected. Dental schools are most concerned with the overall quality and scope of undergraduate work and want students to have well-developed communication skills and interests in the humanities and social sciences.
Nearly every dental school requires two semesters each of English, physics, biological sciences, inorganic chemistry and organic chemistry. Many dental schools may have additional requirements. You should consult the handbook, ADEA—Official Guide to Dental Schools, for specific requirements. It is also important to read the specific bulletins of the dental schools in which you are interested.
When choosing a major, carefully consider your interests, aptitude and alternate career goals. Remember that not everyone who applies is accepted into dental school. It is wise to elect a major that can offer preparation for other careers.
Majoring in a natural science may provide some advantages in terms of the pre-dental course requirements fitting more easily into degree requirements, but admission statistics show no clear preferences toward science majors. Most pre-dental students at WMU take a major-minor combination of biology or biomedical sciences and chemistry. Many pursue a second minor in a non-science area, which provides a broader base for personal and intellectual development.
Although GPA and DAT scores are very important, admissions committees carefully review all facets of the applicant's background before making a final decision. Such facets may include the nature and extent of extracurricular activities, life experiences, and demonstrated motivation for wanting to become a dentist. Activities such as sports, politics, the arts or community service can build skills in leadership, responsibility and cooperation. Other types of activities include debate, gymnastics, tutoring, yoga, canoeing, music and hospital volunteer service.
Ideally, gaining experience in a dental office is strongly recommended. Involvement through the dental office allows you the opportunity to interact with patients in a supportive role, to observe the day-to-day activities of a dentist, and to participate in a health care delivery system. Also, the dental office experience enables you to assess your interest in a dental career, and to develop your skills in interpersonal relationships.
Working in a research laboratory may also be a valuable opportunity to you. Hands-on experiences can be found by assisting in research projects with professors in their departments or through internships.
Involvement in extracurricular activities shows that you are a well-rounded individual concerned with your personal and academic development. Be careful, however, not to take on more activities than you can manage. You should not let your grades slip to take on outside activities. Aim for a well-balanced schedule of classes and outside activities.
While career opportunities for graduates of WMU's pre-dentistry program include dentists, dental hygienists and dental assistants, all students contemplating a career in the dental field should develop alternative career goals for two reasons. First, competition for entrance into dental school makes an alternative career choice a reality for some people. Secondly, as part of wise career planning, it is important to examine many fields to make sure that potentially rewarding occupations have not been overlooked.
Talents and skills can be used in many settings. For example, someone who enjoys working with people, a good salary, some travel and management responsibility might look into the fields of public relations, management, sales, law and engineering.
For those who want to stay in a health care setting, the opportunities are still excellent. Various health care careers require a range of education and training, from certificate programs to graduate work. The following is a small sample of alternate health care professions.
Sample health care professions
- Allopathic medicine
- Anesthesiologist's assistant
- Biomedical engineering
- Chiropractic medicine
- Clinical psychology
- Dental hygienist
- Dental assistant
- Dietetic-nutritional services
- Environmental health
- Health care administration
- Holistic/naturopathic medicine
- Medical assistant
- Medical economics
- Medical records administration
- Medical technology
- Occupational therapy
- Osteopathic medicine
- Physical therapy
- Physician’s assistant
- Public health
- Rehabilitation counseling
- Social work
- Speech and hearing therapy
- Veterinary medicine