COVID19: Dental School Admissions During a Pandemic

The COVID19 pandemic poses unique challenges for students applying to dental school in the 2020 admissions cycle. Many colleges and universities have made the unprecedented decision to change course grading to pass/fail. Prometric Center closures have resulted in thousands of DAT test dates being postponed. With the closure of many dental offices and limitation of visitors to hospitals and other medical sites, shadowing experiences have also been limited.

All of this makes applying to dental school this year all the more stressful. However, it will also undoubtedly change the way dental schools conduct their admissions process this year. In this post, we will address some of these likely changes and hopefully alleviate some of the concerns you may have.

Many of the changes that will inevitably occur to the admissions cycle this year are unclear at this time, both to the students applying and the dental school administrators themselves. We have reached out to dental schools across the country seeking information on changes they’re planning to make to their admissions process this year in response to COVID19, and presented them here for your reference.

We spoke to dental school administrators from Columbia University, Harvard University, University of California San Francisco, University of Nevada Las Vegas, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, and University of the Pacific about what kind of changes they’re planning to make to the application process this year.

Here’s what we found out:

1. Applications will continue to be viewed holistically.

It’s long been established that the idea that dental schools choose their class based on scores and GPA alone is a myth. Dental schools have always considered the entire application, including extracurriculars, research, shadowing, and the personal statement in addition to DAT scores and GPA. It seems like schools will be using an extra-holistic approach this cycle, taking into consideration whether students were forced to take prereq courses as pass/fail, take their DAT behind schedule, or miss out on shadowing experiences.

2. Dental schools are aware that things will be different this year.

Dental school administrators are very familiar with the changes and delays happening in education right now. Many of the same administrators that will be conducting admissions are grappling with how to make sure their current students graduate on time. Just like DAT test dates and shadowing experiences have been delayed or cancelled, there have been delays and cancellations to licensing exams and externships. Dental school administrators are aware of the challenges that students are facing right now, and they will not hold them against you when reviewing applications.

Things you can do:

1. Try to take your DAT as soon as you are able.

Test date postponements are unavoidable and out of your control, but do what you can to be able to take your DAT as soon as testing resumes. Try to get ahead of postponements by rescheduling your exam through Prometric’s website.

We suggest scheduling your exam for June or later to be safe. Keep in mind that with many students’ test dates being postponed, exam dates are getting filled up quickly – for this reason, we recommend scheduling your exam sooner rather than later.

2. Keep up your knowledge until you can take your exam

If your test date has been delayed significantly, try to avoid losing the progress you’ve made by continually reviewing the material. There is so much information to be learned for this test, it’s easy to forget a lot of it if you don’t study for a while. Try to stay fresh by keeping up with practice questions.

Practice questions are one of the best ways to prepare for standardized tests like the DAT, because they help you retain information by requiring you to use recall. Retaking practice tests, redoing question banks, and using the PAT question generators is a great way to keep up your knowledge until you’re able to take your test. You can also use these tips for reducing stress and staying focused while studying in quarantine.

3. If you have the choice between pass/fail and regular grading for prerequisite courses, regular grades are better.

In general, most schools prefer to see non-pass/fail grading for prerequisite courses. However, some schools we spoke to, like Columbia, indicated that they would not hold it against students who took pass/fail prereq courses, regardless of whether the pass/fail was self-selected or enforced by the school. Above all, you should do whatever you need to get through this time. If you feel you need pass/fail grading in all your courses to get through this semester, do that, and don’t feel guilty about it – you can always explain that choice to schools who ask about it later, and they won’t be able to say you were wrong for doing what was best for you during this difficult time.

4. Make the challenges you faced known to schools.

You can use the “Disadvantaged Status” entry box on your AADSAS application to tell schools about the effect that COVID19 might have had on your application – whether that is having your DAT delayed, missing out on the summer shadowing experiences you had planned to have, or personal struggles related to taking care of a family member who was sick with COVID19. According to administrators from Harvard, ADEA will also be adding a COVID19 question to the AADSAS application, intended for students to provide this information.

You are not alone.

Keep in mind that many, many other students are dealing with the exact same issue as you are. The COVID19 pandemic has been highly stressful for everyone, even people who are not dealing with the already incredibly stressful process of applying to dental school! During this time, take what you need in order to maintain your mental health, and have faith that your plans for dental school will play out as you’ve always planned.

When this is all over, you will be able to take your DAT, apply to dental school, and follow through with your journey to becoming a great dentist. The entire 2020 application pool is in the same boat, so any delays or alterations to your application timeline is not uniquely putting you at a disadvantage. We are always here for you if you need any help or encouragement. Keep on working as hard as you always have, and stay safe!

You can find the detailed specifics of what we heard from the schools listed in this document.

Need tips for how to stay motivated and sane while studying during quarantine? Check out our blog post here.

Wondering when to schedule your DAT in light of the COVID19 closures? Check out our blog post on that topic here.