Applying to Dental School: Non-Traditional Paths

The road to dental school isn’t always so straight forward and according to the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) an increasing number of students are entering dental programs later in life perhaps after a career in a different field prior to deciding to pursue dentistry or just after taking a few years to work after undergraduate studies before applying.

A non-traditional path to applying to dental school may seem daunting but rest assured it’s NOT impossible!

Dr. Jonathan Meiers (second from left), professor and chair of the Division of Operative Dentistry, assists second-year dental student John Walsh. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Center Photo)

Dr. Jonathan Meiers (second from left), professor and chair of the Division of Operative Dentistry, assists second-year dental student John Walsh. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Center Photo)


Required Coursework

Keep in mind the classes all dental schools require you to complete (including corresponding labs)

-two semesters of biology

-two semesters of general chemistry

-two semesters of organic chemistry

-two semesters of physics

The ADEA shares that some schools will let you substitute one semester of organic chemistry for one semester of biochemistry, and many schools are now requiring biochemistry. Some schools have additional requirements, such as writing seminars, calculus or psychology courses.

It is imperative to research schools’ specific requirements to be certain of the correct course required.


Make Your Application Stand Out

-Letters of Recommendation

Your experiences leading up to dental school are unique and it’s important to highlight them in a way to best demonstrate your proven abilities that have prepared you for the dental world. Letters of recommendation from former employer even though not in the dental field can be beneficial if they illustrate qualities that reflect those of the program your are applying to. More on reference letters here.

-Personal Statement

This is your time to shine. Besides the interview this is the only place in your dental school application where you can sell yourself in your own words. Make it clear how and why you are committed to the dental field. Create a comprehensive story of your experiences and coming your decision to pursue dentistry. More on the personal statement here.


The American Student Dental Association (ASDA) held a webinar of a panel of current non-traditional students discussing different roads that led to dental school and it is available below.

A non-traditional path to dental school may be a daunting one but it can be achieved!


DAT Breakdown: Introduction Guide to the Dental Admission Test!

This is Part 1 of a series of breakdown posts that will outline the Dental Admission Test. First off we’ll focus on the specifics of the DAT itself and then in upcoming posts we will discuss each of the four sections 1) Survey of Natural Sciences, 2) Perceptual Ability, 3) Reading Comprehension, and 4) Quantitative Reasoning. The Dental Admission Test is designed by the American Dental Association (ADA) to assess your readiness for dental school and is used by all U.S. dental schools in the application process as a factor in their decision. It’s a monstrous marathon of an exam with a wide scope of topics tested and clocks in at around 5 hours! The DAT has been around since 1950 and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Basically: Unavoidable & not to be underestimated. So let’s take a closer look shall we?



Before you can do anything, you need to get your DENTPIN. It’s your unique personal identifier for many things throughout the U.S. dental education system including the DAT, your ADEA AADSAS, the TMDSAS, etc. Get it here.


Applying to take the DAT

With your DENTPIN you can now apply to take the DAT here. Important: once you have been approved to take the exam you have a six month window to do it after which you’ll have to reapply. If you wish to retake the DAT you have to wait at least 90 days and if you feel the need to take it more than three times you have to gain special permission. Plus with each retake you’ll have to reapply to take it and pay the test fee again. Speaking of test fee…


$ Cost of taking the DAT $

Currently the test fee is $385 and that includes sending official score reports to all the schools you specify on your DAT application. If you want your official DAT scores sent to an additional school you didn’t list on the application it’s $33 each. The $385 fee is non-refundable and non-transferable so pick a date and stick to it! If you must reschedule, well more fees for you:

Rescheduling Fees


Scheduling a test date

Once your DAT application is approved you’ll receive email confirmation and only then can you schedule your test with Prometric. You can take the test year-round at Prometric Test Centers in your area. Prometric administers quite a few different computer-based tests like the DAT, GRE, MCAT, etc. and depending on the size of test centers, the day you wish to take the DAT can fill up so schedule ASAP.


What’s on the DAT?

As mentioned earlier, there are four sections to the Dental Admissions Test and we will discuss each in detail in upcoming breakdown posts. There are as followed:

1) Survey of Natural Sciences (100 Questions)

2) Perceptual Ability (90 Questions)

3) Reading Comprehension (50 Questions)

4) Quantitative Reasoning (40 Questions)


How long is the DAT?

Total test time is technically 4 hours and 15 minutes but there’s an optional 15-minute tutorial (to get you familiar with using the test interface), an optional 15-minute break, and an optional 15-minute survey after the test so could be 5 hours. Here’s the test schedule:

Test Lineup

If you really need an additional break the timer on your test will not stop so don’t! With proper practice and a goodnight’s sleep you can handle no extra breaks no problem!


Can I use scratch paper?

The test center will provide two note boards and two fine tip markers to use during the test. Scratch paper, pencils, or markers that have not been provided by the testing center are prohibited. The note boards cannot be used as measuring devices and cannot be folded, bent, distorted, or mutilated in any way and you can’t touch the monitor during testing with the boards (i.e. during the Perceptual Ability section). All items must be returned to the test administrator before leaving the test center.


DAT Scores

Your scores are based on the number of correct responses, which means you’re not penalized for guessing so that means don’t leave any question blank! You will get an unofficial score as soon as you finish the test and official scores are available about 3 weeks later. DAT scores on made on a scale from 1-30 so there’s no passing or failing. The average score is 17 and some schools require a specific score so be sure to check with them and aim high!


This breakdown to the DAT is really an outlined introduction the official ADA DAT Guide that you should definitely check out in full here. Remember the best way to prepare for this long and dense exam is with practice. With DAT Cracker you will get practice with the look and feel of the real thing plus you’ll get plenty of exercise with the timing of the sections.

Onward, practice, and conquer!