So You Want to Be a Dentist, Now What!?

By: Dr. Bri Torgerson

Last month, I introduced my untraditional path into Dentistry with you and this month I want to chat about prepping for dental school as far as:

  • What major should you have?
  • What extracurricular activities should you include in your application?
  • When should you apply?
  • When should you take the DAT (Dental Admission Test)?

I remember being so confused. My undergrad didn’t have a Pre-Dental Advisor, only Pre-Med and I don’t remember them being very helpful.

He was a very nice guy and a talented professor but I don’t think he knew how dentistry correlated with medicine in terms of schooling and preparation.

I’m a first-generation doctor, so I didn’t have much help in terms of knowing the journey that lay ahead of me.

My hope is that I can forge a path for others who also don’t have much help and maybe answer some questions you didn’t know you had.

Prepping for Your Application to Dental School

Prepping for an application to dental school seems straightforward but the reality is, there’s a  lot you can do to prep yourself to create a unique application that forces admissions  counselors to stop and think, “Wow, this is who we need here.”

I was a student ambassador for The Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC for nearly all four years I attended USC (University of Southern California) and I was named my class’s “Exemplary Student Ambassador” so I’ve seen firsthand some amazing applicants.

I’ve also applied to dental school three times so I have plenty of experience prepping and completing the applications, ha!

As far as the application and the prep itself, all I can give you is my personal experience and incorporate things that really stuck out or that I noticed during the interview process and things that each applicant had, that I watched get accepted, in their arsenals. 

1. Choosing Your Major

First, I would say that the number one thing I tell myself and anyone I talk to is that I wish I had gotten my Bachelor’s in Dental Hygiene.

Actually, I wish I would’ve gone to a community college to save money, then applied to a University with a Hygiene Bachelor’s option.

One hundred percent this is my top regret that I have in my professional life.

This, to me, has  endless benefits, in my opinion, but I’ll list only the few that come to my head in terms of applications:

  1. You have your foot in the door of dentistry.
  2. In my opinion, it would make sense that if it came down to it if they had to choose between someone who had already proved they were capable of passing dental boards of any kind (hygiene boards included) and someone else, they would pick the hygienist.
  3. Say you don’t get into dental school during the first application cycle, you can work as a hygienist gaining valuable knowledge of the dental world, working with patients (which will help you immensely in a clinical setting), working on dexterity and indirect vision, and make great money while you’re at it!
  4. You have to take Anesthesia as a hygienist, and at USC, this meant you did not have to take it again in dental school. How amazing is that!? I was so jealous of the RDHs (Registered Dental Hygienists) in my class because while I was studying for 7 exams, they only studied for 6, still crazy, but anything helps! This could differ depending on the school but that’s how USC did it when I attended.
  5. Once you’re in school, you can work or moonlight as a dental hygienist in your “free” time for some extra cash and further experience.

There are so many more benefits, these are just the top five that I explain to people in high school who are thinking of being a dentist.

By getting a Bachelor’s in Hygiene instead of the 18-month/2-year courses (which you can absolutely still do, I just think why go to school and pay for more school than you have to) you can still knock out the required courses for dental schools and also get great experience.

It’s the biggest win-win!

Choosing a Major (Other than Dental Hygiene)

Now, say you decided to disregard all this information and go for a more traditional major.

When I was wanting to be a dentist, my major was Biomedical Sciences and Chemistry. I was under the impression this was the only major possible for dentists or people in healthcare.

I was SHOCKED to find out, when I got into dental school, that people were:

  • Sociology majors
  • Philosophy majors
  • Communications majors

Y’all…what?! I had no idea, but here I am, sharing this information with you all and letting you know, you can be whatever major you want!

As long as you satisfy all the course requirements for dental school, which is available I believe on the application page, but for sure available on each dental school’s personal pages.

Had I known this, I would’ve been a communications major.

You absolutely never know what is going to happen in life and had I not gotten into dental school, I would’ve been up a creek without a paddle with a Biomedical Science Major with no interest in being a  researcher at the time.

If you have not noticed yet, the idea is to give yourself options. I’m not saying to give up on your dreams, but I do think setting yourself up for success in case extenuating circumstances, is not a bad idea.

It is, in fact, incredibly important. This is not to say, I regret it because obviously, things worked out for me, but if I didn’t get into dental school, or changed my mind about my career, I wish I would’ve given myself a better foundation to pivot into something else.

Again, this is not to say it is impossible to do, or that it’s wrong to get a sciences degree, just offering insight that, when I look back, wish someone would’ve given me these options, too.

2. Stack Your Application with Items to Show Longevity & Loyalty 

Another piece of advice I like to share is to stack your application with items that show longevity, and loyalty and creates an image of being well-rounded.

Everyone thinks you have to be a member of 18 different clubs and also be involved in the symphony orchestra and have 10 years of volunteer experience.

While all of these things would certainly be appealing, having a few categories of things I did is what I put emphasis on.

I focused on a few things that were different but showed:

  • I can work with people
  • I am involved in the community
  • I had an interest in things outside of dentistry.

I do think they want people to be well-rounded. There will always be opportunities to volunteer and my advice would be to pick something and go with it. Doesn’t have to be dental-related, although, again, I’m sure it would help.

By picking a few things, I was also able to get some really great letters of recommendation. 

These people knew who I was because I wasn’t spreading myself so thin that no one had spent enough time with me to really write anything of substance. You also don’t want to burn yourself out before you even get in.

💡 I will explain exactly what I stacked my application with and tips on the personal statement portion of the application in a future post so be on the lookout for that soon!

3. When Should You Apply & Take the DAT (Dental Admission Test)

I would plan to study for the DAT for about 1 – 3 months and I would focus on doing this the summer between your Junior and Senior year if you do not plan on doing a gap year.

If you want to finish schooling ASAP (which is possible and ideal), you can always wait until after graduation to give yourself plenty of time to study and take the test in time to apply when applications open up at the beginning of June.

💡I plan on chatting more about studying for and strategy for the DAT and gap years in future posts so hold tight!

In Summary

All in all, I hope this helps you realize that you have options!

I thought the path into dentistry was so linear and restricted, a one-way path that I figured everyone trekked, but, in fact, you have so much freedom in your choices and you shouldn’t be short-sighted or feel confined to one of them.

Have fun exploring and really think about your future self when you make these life-altering decisions!

Thank you for prepping an application with me! I’ll see you next month for a discussion on “What to do When You’ve Graduated Dental School”, where I talk about all things associate positions;  what to look for, and what options I’ve encountered.

See you next time!

Photo by Ivan Samkov

Dr. Bri Torgerson

Dr. Bri Torgerson

Hi! I’m Dr. Bri Torgerson. I’m a General Dentist and I’ve had a long journey to dental school, through dental school, and life after dental school. I graduated from undergrad at Minnesota State University, Mankato in 2014 and dental school at The Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC in 2020. I love my Faith, traveling, baking, cooking, volunteering, coffee, and being with my family including my basset hound, Wilbur. My favorite teams are the Minnesota Vikings, the St. Louis Blues, and the St. Louis Cardinals. A career goal I have is to do a mission trip once and year. One of my life goals, outside of my career, is to visit every National Park in the United States.