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Frequently Asked Questions for Pre-Dental Students

What are Dental schools looking for?

Dental schools are looking for candidates who have a strong academic background and intellectual potential as evidenced by excellent grades and DAT scores; qualities of leadership, character, and compassion; and a knowledge of and motivation for the field of dentistry.

There are many more people interested in dental school than there are places available.  The most recent data available shows an acceptance rate of less than half. Over the past decade our acceptance rate has been nearly double the national average.

What are the course requirements?

Dental schools require similar basic prerequisite courses as medical schools. Some dental schools also have additional course requirements in the sciences, math or social sciences, and many prefer more than two biology courses.  Swarthmore students typically take: Bio 1 and 2; Chem 10, 22, 32, and 38; Physics 3 and 4; Stat 11 and Math 15, and one year of English. 

Many dental schools require one semester of psychology. A studio art class is also recommended by some dental schools to develop manual dexterity and control.

The ADEA (American Dental Education Association) Official Guide to Dental Schools, provides detailed information about course prerequisites and admission criteria for all U.S. and Canadian dental schools. It is best to check if there are any for your state institution (where you have the best chance of being accepted) and other schools in which you may be interested. Many sections of the ADEA guide are freely available as downloadable pdf chapters, or you can purchase the entire book from the ADEA.

Can I use AP/IB credit to fulfill science requirements?

Dental schools have not developed a uniform policy regarding accepting AP/IB credits. At some schools you can use AP/IB credit to place out of an introductory science course, other schools will only allow applicants to use AP/IB credits for electives only and then there are schools which do not accept AP/IB credit at all. If you use AP/IB credit to place out of an introductory science course, you must replace it with an upper level course with laboratory in that department. The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools provides detailed admission criteria for all U.S and Canadian dental schools.

How can I obtain clinical experience?

Many dental schools require applicants to have between 50-130 hours of observation at a dental practice prior to applying to dental school. You can contact your family dentist to see if you would be able to spend time shadowing in his/her office during breaks from college. You can also search for alumni dentists through the on-line Alumni Directory which you can access through the Career Services website. Be sure to remember to set up a mechanism that will track your shadowing hours as you may be asked to submit documentation of your dentistry shadowing experience as part of your application.

What can I do AFTER Swarthmore to strengthen my academic credentials or to complete course requirements?

Many Swarthmore alums take undergraduate level courses after graduation to complete prerequisites or to strengthen their academic credentials. This can be done on an ad hoc basis at a local low-cost 4-year American college or university, as a continuing education student. Often, students get jobs at universities that give tuition benefits as part of their compensation, so they can take 1-2 courses/semester at a very reduced rate. Another option is enrolling in a formal postbaccalaureate program, either as a "career changer" to complete the science requirements or as a "record enhancer," to improve the science GPA. These programs are listed in the "Useful Websites" section of our Health Sciences website. (The listing is put together by the medical school association, but all are open to students interested in dental school.)

Which standardized tests are required?

All dental schools require the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is sponsored by the American Dental Association. The test is offered year round. You should take the test only when you feel fully prepared. The majority of applicants take the test in the spring or early summer before applying.

The test takes approximately five hours and consists of four parts; natural sciences (introductory biology, general and organic chemistry) perceptual ability; reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning. The DAT scores range from a low of 1 to a high of 30. The national DAT average of matriculated dental school applicants is in the range of 19-20 per DAT section.

Score reports are given directly to the examinees upon the completion of the exam. DAT scores are automatically reported in the AADSAS application, so there is no need to have them sent separately to dental schools.

The 2022 DAT fee was $510. There is a mandatory 90 day waiting period before one can retake the exam.  In addition, The ADA has implemented a life-time limit of no more than three testing attempts per applicant.

You can find helpful information about the test on the ADA website.

How Are DAT Scores Sent To Schools?

You will receive an unofficial score on the day of the test. In 3-4 weeks your official score will go to the dental schools you indicated when you registered for the test. These are included in the DAT fee, regardless of the number of schools selected. You will pay for each score report added to additional schools added after submitting your DAT application.

Fee Assistance Program (FAP)

AADSAS has a FAP for applicants with significant hardship. You must apply for the FAP prior to submitting your AADSAS application. The FAP becomes available in June with the start of the application cycle and closes in November.

Applicants are encouraged to apply early for the FAP as it is awarded on a first-come-first-served basis. Applicants who qualify will receive a fee waiver which will cover the cost of three dental school designations on the AADSAS application.

When do I apply to dental school?

It is important to apply early to dental schools. Your application should be submitted in late June to early July. The verification process can take approximately one month to six weeks or more in the peak application season. If needed, you will be able to update the AADSAS application at the end of the fall semester to report fall grades.

How do I apply to dental school?

The central, primary application used by the majority of U.S dental schools is the AADSAS (Associated American Dental Schools Application Service). The application opens in early June and the 2022 fee was $264 for the first school and $115 for every additional school. AADSAS is a web based application. Applicants are asked to provide demographic information, information about dental related activities, activities requiring manual dexterity, research, community service, honors and awards and a personal statement. You must request transcripts from all U.S colleges you have attended.

On the application you must list all your courses to the standards outlined by AADSAS. You will need your own copy of your transcript(s) to complete this section.

AADSAS will in turn compute various GPAs, combining all your coursework from all the schools you have attended, with a particular focus on your science coursework.

What are the Secondary/Supplemental Applications?

The policies for completing supplemental applications are posted on the AADSAS application portal. Some schools will invite you to complete secondary applications immediately after you submit your AADSAS, others schools wait until your application is verified. The supplemental applications often ask you to write additional essays, and to list courses you have taken that satisfy requirements. You will also be asked to pay another fee, this time directly to the school.

Where do I send my Transcripts?

Once you open an account with AADSAS you can print a Transcript Matching Form. You need to print out one form for every U.S. academic institution you attended. Send the form to each school’s registrar’s office and they in turn will send the form and your transcripts back to AADSAS. Remember to do this early, as AADSAS will not begin to process your application until all transcripts have been received.

When entering information on the AADSAS application, how do I handle my course units?

You must convert your course units to semester hours. Please use the following conversion table.

  • . 5 course unit equals 2 semester hours.
  • 1 course unit equals 4 semester hours.
  • 2 course units equals 8 semester hours.

How do I get a Health Sciences Committee Letter?

You must notify the Health Sciences Office ( or in December before the summer you will be applying.  You will be sent an Information Form which you must complete and return to the Health Sciences Office.

When you apply to dental school, you will need to have about five letters of recommendation from faculty and others who know your work, such as supervisors, coaches and the individual(s) who you shadowed. You will give them a signed waiver form, that they will return to the Health Sciences Office with their letter. Gigi Simeone, the Health Sciences Advisor, writes the Health Sciences Committee letter for all dental school applicants, which includes copies of your individual recommendations.

Directly after you open your account at AADSAS you can print out your Letters of Evaluation Matching Form. The Health Sciences Office will attach your predental committee letter to this form, and will send it to AADSAS, which will distribute it to the schools you are applying to.

What is the difference between the DDS and the DMD Degree?

There is no difference between a DDS and a DMD degree. DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) and DMD (Doctor of Dental Medicine) are the two degrees awarded to graduates of dental schools. Currently, the majority of dental schools award the DDS degree.