You Want to Apply to Dental School, Now What?

By: Dr. Bri Torgerson

Hi! I’m Dr. Bri Torgerson and this month, I wanted to touch base with those applying to dental school.

My background in applying to dental schools is that I applied three times to dental school.

Now, I ended up getting in on my second application cycle 10 days before orientation, but my advice will remain the same even if I had gotten in traditionally on the third cycle. 

Be Strategic in Your Application Selection

Let’s be honest, dental school is expensive. Even applying to dental school is expensive.

I’m very blessed with parents who love me and encourage me to follow my dreams but our reality is, that financially, my parents were not in a position to hold open their wallets and pay for me to apply to every dental school in the nation to give me more opportunity to get in and pick and choose a school that I wanted to go to.

I was in charge of paying for the general application and each secondary application after that.

I learned quickly that I needed to be strategic in my application selection and decide which schools gave me the best chance of admission acceptance.  

What To Consider When Applying

My strategy was multifaceted:

  1. Look at average GPA (both overall and science)
  2. Look at average DAT score (AA and PAT)
  3. Look at the out-of-state acceptance percentage from the year prior

All of these things are available on schools’ websites for your disposal.  

Looking at GPA

I started out looking at GPA because, at the time of applying, this was really all I had.

I had no idea about a DAT prior to applying to dental school. I googled the application and read through it in order to get a sense of the application itself when I read that I needed a “Dental Aptitude Test” aka DAT score.

Looking at the DAT Score

More googling ensued and that is when I started to read about it.

Multiple subjects in science, a comprehensive reading, an expansive math section, and a sub-test that was a “Perceptual Ability Test” or PAT were all going to be included in this all-encompassing test.

Next month, I’ll go more in-depth on the DAT, but for this month let’s really focus on the application itself as a whole. 

Look At Schools Where You May Want to Live

Again, knowing which schools you would most likely be able to attend based on your scores, in my opinion, is pertinent. Sometimes I wish I would’ve shot for the stars and applied to my dream schools, but financially for me it didn’t make sense.

I would say if financials are not part of your restrictions, apply for the schools that not only fit where you land academically, but look for schools in an area in which you feel like you would want to live, but also which schools are the cheapest.

I wish I could’ve done this because my life after dental school would look drastically different, and maybe if I had done a Master’s program to strengthen my application I could’ve but, this is all in hindsight. I was pioneering a path to recommend to those who came after me…Hi!! That’s you all!

Tips When Applying to Dental Schools

The Secondary Application

I would also say, don’t be turned off by how long or grueling a secondary application might be.  I feel now that most admissions offices probably do that on purpose, to persuade many applicants from applying to their schools.

I specifically remember the University of Minnesota’s secondary application being something like 22 pages long with multiple short answers and essay questions.

It deterred me from applying, but I wish I had just applied. The school was beautiful, the tuition was cheap, and it was close to family in a place near where I had already gone to undergrad. Again, hindsight.  

The Personal Statement Portion of Application

Another recommendation I have is in regard to the personal statement portion.

As I have already stated, I applied to dental school three times and I finally changed my personal statement the third time around.

Although I ended up getting accepted for the second round, I  wish I had changed my personal statement sooner.

The first personal statement I wrote portrayed a lot of pride. Why I wanted to be a dentist and my journey academically was at the forefront. I always believed in telling the truth, but I definitely had a mask on even in my personal statement. It was more of a desperate plea more than a true statement.

When I decided to change my personal statement, I decided to really strip down and bare my soul. I really spoke about things I had done wrong in my life and in my journey and how it had shaped me into who I was.

I explained that, regardless of whether I was a dentist or not, I was proud of who I had become through my hardships, my mistakes, my upbringing, and how God used every ugly piece of my past to mold me into who I needed to be at the time.

Everything which I still believe to be true to this day because we are ever-changing beings and through pressure, we should be able to morph and adjust into more mature humans with a broader, more comprehensive view of life.

Whenever I spoke with applicants as a student ambassador at USC, many had questions about if they couldn’t get in, what should they do?

I always recommended taking a second look at their personal statement and asking if it really shows who they, uniquely, were, or if it was a generic “pick me” essay.

Ask How You Could Improve Your Application

On that same note, when I didn’t get in on the first round, I called around to each of the schools that I’d applied to and I asked them what I needed to do to improve my application in order to be more competitive and get in.

At this point, I had my dream school laugh in my face, over the phone. The woman in admissions laughed and said, “You will never get into our school with your GPA.”

Mind you, I graduated undergrad with a 3.5 GPA, and without my freshman year, where I absolutely did not do well, I would have graduated with a 3.8.

I was President of the Chemistry Club. I volunteered, shadowed, and I worked in a dental office.

I took multiple hand-skill courses in undergrad as well as two languages.

I played college lacrosse and was active in my community. I played cello and was invited to be on Minnesota’s Junior Symphony and I was a published poet.

I wasn’t always confident in my abilities in academia, because I really messed up and wasn’t focused my freshman year, but overall I felt as if I was a well-rounded and strong applicant, so to hear that because, of what I was under the impression was a stellar, GPA was so “low” that it was not only laughable but it would also be keeping me out of dental schools (much less my dream school), I decided to change that. 

Masters Programs Are Beneficial to Your Application

I began to look into Master’s programs and found that Global Health, Public Health, or really any health-related Master’s program would be highly beneficial to my application.

This is really a great option for people I would say if you don’t get in the first two times, then decide to really take that next big step in strengthening your application.

I also found out about basically “pre-dental days”. I was at USC when I found out that they essentially invite applicants and pre-dental students into the school to tour and do skills activities as a “camp”.As an outsider, it felt a lot like an NFL combine. All the draft picks just combined into a room to see how they do. Had I not gotten in, both of these things would’ve been the first major changes I would do.

I had actually already applied to an Arizona State University’s Masters Program, was accepted,  and met with a counselor before I inevitably got into dental school prior to starting my Masters.  

I Got Accepted into Dental School!!

I ended up getting into school because I ended up calling each school back and asking them when their first day of orientation was.

Some schools asked why I wanted to know and I let them know that my plan was to call on the first day of orientation and see if anyone hadn’t shown up.

I made these calls about a month before orientations were supposed to begin.

Two weeks later, I was sitting in a monthly meeting for work when my boss asked everyone if they would pray for me, that I would get into school. I walked up front to my desk after the meeting and saw I had a missed call from a Los Angeles phone number with a voicemail.

It was USC. USC called and offered me a spot in the Class of 2020; I had to move to Los Angeles and begin school within 10 days. I cried, I threw up, and I accepted their offer. 10 days later, I started the wildest journey and truly the rest is history.

I was told many many times that I wasn’t going to get into dental school. I was laughed at multiple times. By faculty, by family, and so many people.

My advice, wholeheartedly, would be to pray about it and to realize that it does not matter what anyone thinks about you and your future.YOU have to believe in yourself and put yourself out there.

Never give up on your dreams, even if it looks bleak. What is meant for you will always find you! Next month, I’m going to go over the DAT prep strategy and interview strategies!

Best of luck this application season!

Photo by Alex Green

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.