How do I apply to dental school?

If you are reading this: congratulations! You have probably decided that dentistry is the career for you and you are ready for the next step: applying to dental schools.

The decision to apply to dental school takes a lot of thought and consideration, and the application process is no different. I want you to remember though: applying to dental school is a marathon, NOT a sprint. Just to give you an idea, I decided in the fall of 2018 that I wanted to apply to dental school and I submitted my complete application the first week the application portal officially opened in June of 2019 (so, just about 9 months to prepare my application materials). I was a non-traditional applicant who was working and taking some prerequisite courses at the time. You might need less or more time depending on your situation.

The best applications are ones prepared in advance with lots of care and attention to detail. Consider applying to dental school as the first set of trials on your journey to becoming a dentist. There are a lot of moving pieces when applying, and I have outlined the essential few for you below. It can be hard to keep track so I encourage you to keep notes on which steps you have done.

Before you get started I highly encourage you to use an email that is professional and dedicated to your dental school communications. In other words, you might not want to use your hotmail address from 2009 that is “crazykid42069.” I recommend using an email that is simply your first and last name. If that email is taken, consider using a different email provider or adding your middle name initial or a period between your first and last name. It will look professional, and it will be dedicated to your dental school applications and communications so important information about your application doesn’t get lost amongst all of your Amazon marketing emails!

Enough chit-chat, Meredith. Tell me what to do!

1.) Register your DENTPIN.

The DENTPIN is a special identification number you will need to apply to take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT) and for the rest of your dental school application. Think of it like your dental driver’s license number. You will have to provide some biographic data including your name, birthday, and address. It’s not hard to get it, but you may have to wait a day or a few days for approval to use it to apply to take the DAT.

You can register your DENTPIN here.

2.) Apply and take the Dental Admissions Test (DAT)

The DAT is an exam administered by the American Dental Association. It is analogous to the “MCAT” for medical school admissions. The DAT has several different sections including biological sciences, reading, quantitative reasoning (math), organic chemistry, and perceptual ability. (Don’t worry, I will delve into the DAT more in a different post!). The DAT helps dental schools decide if you have enough background and capabilities in these fields to be ready for dental school.

It costs approximately $600 to take the exam, and you can only take it three times so it is important to be prepared! Unfortunately, you can’t just sign up and pay to take it, you must apply to take the DAT. Don’t worry though, it’s not a complicated application to take the exam. You will need your DENTPIN and a good idea of when you plan to take your exam.

I highly recommend that you read the ADA’s official guide to the DAT for your application year for current information on the exam sections, fees, how it is scored, etc. Here is the guide for the 2022 DAT.

Once you are approved to take the DAT, you must schedule an exam date at a testing center within 6 months. I recommend taking the DAT early enough to know what your score is BEFORE you decide to apply in a cycle. For example, if you plan to submit your application the first week of June, consider taking the DAT no later than the end of May.

If you are feeling unsure you will be happy with your score the first time and you have concern you will need to take it a second time, then plan to space your exam dates at least three months apart to account for additional preparations. (I will cover planning and preparing for the DAT in another post.)

One special thing about the DAT compared to other entrance exams is that you will receive your official score directly after you take the exam and before you even leave the testing center! It can take several business days however for your official score to be uploaded to your applications.

You can apply to take the DAT here.

3.) Create your ADEA AADSAS account.

This is your American Dental Education Association Associated American Dental Schools Application Service *BIG INHALE* central application. This is the core of your dental school application where you will upload all of your biographic data, your shadowing hours, volunteer experience, personal statement, and many more. It serves as the primary application service for most US and Canadian dental schools. (Notice how I wrote “most?” Sorry Texan applicants, you will have to apply through your own Texas Medical and Dental Schools Application Services here.)

Everything you include on your AADSAS application for submission will be submitted to all schools you apply to instead of applying individually to each and every school. Don’t think your work is done there though. Many schools have supplemental application items like additional essays and questions within the AADSAS. Plus, once you have submitted your applications via AADSAS, many schools will typically send you a secondary application and will ask for secondary fees. (Hey, don’t shoot the messenger.)

The ADEA AADSAS application opens every year around the middle of May, but definitely don’t wait until then to get started! The ADEA AADSAS application from the previous cycle is typically open until the end of January/beginning of February, so I encourage you to make a free account and take a peek at the application to get familiar with how it looks and all of the components you will need to prepare.

There is no penalty for having an account from a previous cycle and you can use the same login once the new application opens. (Remember that fancy professional email you made just for applications?) If you make an account early, I don’t recommend filling anything out yet though because some things will reset once the new cycle starts. It would be great though if you prepared a folder on your desktop labeled ADEA AADSAS and started a few documents in there where you can pre-prepare some of those application materials. *wink wink*

Just for quick reference, your first dental school application will cost $259 and each additional an extra $112 paid to ADEA AADSAS. This doesn’t count all of the secondary and individual school fees which can range from $30 to over $100 per application paid to each school itself. So start researching which schools you are serious about applying to. If you need assistance, there is a Fee Assistance Program where you can apply for help here.

If you really want to stand out, have all of your stuff ready to submit the week the application opens! Don’t believe me? I submitted mine the week it opened and had an interview invite a week later when a lot of people probably hadn’t even written their personal statement. Trust me on this one!

Get your ADEA AADSAS account started here.


Alright, just 3 bullet points. So, what’s the “big whoop,” Meredith?

Well, these are just the steps to get your application off the ground. Taking the DAT is it’s own beast; If you are doing it right, there is a lot of official preparation involved including maybe taking a DAT prep course. (I’ll tackle that in another post though.)

The AADSAS is also nothing to take lightly. It has a LOT of sections that need well-thought-out responses if you are going to secure an interview. This includes (but is certainly not limited to) the personal statement, extracurricular activities, shadowing experience, individual school essays, oh my! (Oh, and you will have to type in LITERALLY every course, course code, grade, and number of credit hours for EVERY college course you have ever taken--otherwise you can pay even more for someone at AADSAS to do it for you.)

What I’m saying is, even the stuff you don’t have to think hard about takes a long time to input. So, get ready to queue up ALL the seasons of Game of Thrones to play in the background (okay, yeah except the last season).

If you made it this far through this post, I think you are taking your application seriously and are trying to do your best to prepare, which is a great sign! :-) Let’s get you going! I also want you to remember that you are not in this alone. There are many applicants just like yourself, and people like me who survived, and I want to urge that YOU WILL TOO! Stay posted and feel free to write me using the “contact me” form in the sidebar.

Until next time, and happy pre-denting!