When it comes time to choose a dental school, you should pick wisely. It costs you money to have your scores sent and to submit the applications, so you don’t want to be wasteful. If there’s a school you really want to go to for whatever reason, certainly apply there and set your sights high. This is a big step in your career and you should go for what you really want. At the same time, at the end of the day, your main goal is to become a dentist. If that’s truly the case, you’ll go to dental school anywhere you can if that’s what it takes. If this is your way of thinking, which it should be, you need a strategy beyond your number one pick.
Remember, dental school is dental school. The programs are extremely similar throughout the country. It’s not law school or an MBA program either, where it kind of really matters where you went if you want doors to open up for you. Where you went to dental school shouldn’t have an effect on your ability to find a career opportunity or a residency if that’s the path you choose. To your patients, it’s not much more than a curiosity, either. Once you pass the boards and get your license, you’re a dentist no matter which program you attended. Here’s some thoughts on what to pick.
1. In State is a Safe Bet. If your state has a school or more than one, certainly apply to these! Most state schools, both public and private, favor residents from their state. I know this is generally true, I’m not sure if it is true in every case. Even if you don’t plan on living in the state you officially live in now forever, you should apply to your in-state school.
2. Apply to a Few That You Know Will Work. Ask your health careers guidance counselor which schools are the easiest to get into. Don’t be afraid to seek this information out! Even if you’re an outstanding candidate, you should apply to at least one or two dental schools that you are certain you will get into, just to be safe. I asked my counselor, “What dental schools besides MCG did UGA grads get into in recent years, and they gave me a list. That’s where I applied. I figured if they could do it, so could I. Not the most scientific approach, but hey, it was something.
3. When choosing out of state, look at the numbers! Generally, if you’re looking out of state, private schools are going to be more likely to take out of state residents. You’ll notice that many state schools take very few out of state residents. If you live in Texas and your dream is to go to the state dental school in North Carolina, you should apply, but don’t forget to apply to all of the Texas schools, too! North Carolina takes very few out of state residents into the program, so keep that in mind. The data for the breakdowns on the composition of all of the dental school classes is readily available information. Even if you’re an awesome candidate, don’t underestimate the competition! Getting into dental school is very competitive.
Cost is obviously a consideration when evaluating dental schools, but it shouldn’t be the most important factor. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you get into your state school, and the cost is relatively low, but you also get into a private school that you really like and the cost is significantly higher. That’s a tough choice. My first thought is, be thankful you have a choice, not everyone has one! My second thought is less debt coming out is better than more debt, but that’s really a private decision. I could sit here and tell you that in the grand scheme of things the debt difference won’t be significant, but with the rising costs of education, that might not be true. Do what’s right for you.
Here’s another cost dilemma. You didn’t get into the state school which is somewhat inexpensive, but you did get into a private school that’s super expensive. Do you wait it out a year? Heck no! Go to school where you get in! Whatever calculations you do about saving money and all of this and that by waiting out a year doesn’t matter. It won’t work. You’re better off going to school.
So that’s it. In summary, apply to your dream school, your in-state school(s), and whatever schools at the time have a reputation of being relatively easier to get into for any number of reasons. I’m sure that group is constantly changing, so ask around. Hopefully you’ll get into your dream school, state schools provide the best bet, and then you’ll hopefully you’ll have a guaranteed school just in case plans A and B don’t work out. That’s my logic!
I followed the guidelines I explained above, so thankfully I was in the fortunate position of being able to make a choice about where I would attend dental school. I was accepted by three schools. I chose Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine. I got a really good vibe when I visited and I just envisioned myself there and not at the other schools that accepted me. One school that accepted me was very expensive, which scared me off a bit. If it was the only school that accepted me, I would have gone, no doubt about it. Living in South Florida really appealed to me at the time, and it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made in my life to go there. I’ve met dentists from all over the country that have been to almost every dental school in the United States. They all speak glowingly of their school and the times they had there. My point is, you can’t go wrong once you’ve been accepted, so just go where you want to and where you envision yourself succeeding and being happy. If cost or lifestyle or being close to family is important to you, consider it. If it isn’t, don’t. Whatever you do, don’t turn down your only option because you had your heart set on one school or something. Every dental school in the U.S. is a great choice to bring you into this profession that we cherish.