New York Dental Education and The Steps to Apply

Syracuse New York Dental School OptionsIf you live in Syracuse, your New York options are:

  • NYU college of dentistry
  • Columbia University: college of dental medicine
  • Stony Brook school of dental medicine.
  • Touro college of dental medicine.

We’ll break this process into steps.

  1. Visit the Dental schools in New York as a freshman in your undergraduate studies. Don’t wait until you are applying to dental school to meet the folks in admissions.

    1. Guidance and Expectations: Every school has their own expectations, and you are at the mercy of any whim from the dental admission gods. They will tell you which prerequisite courses are required, which extracurricular activities and leadership positions they look for, the number of shadowing hours they want and what the average GPA and DAT scores are for the students they admit. These expectations should direct your course selection and prioritization of courses to achieve the correct GPA.
    2. This will also give you face time. Not only will familiarity with you breed trust, but admissions will want to see how committed you are to being a  dentist in Syracuse, New York . Frequent face time shows you are committed. Visit their website so you go in with informed questions. Every time you see admissions, it is an interview; you are being evaluated. Be on time and act and dress professionally during these visits.
    3. Examine the school to see if it’s worth its salt. Ask to visit their clinic where the 3rd and 4th years of dental school are conducted. First look at the clinical experience. Are there a lot of patients? Is there a good mix of restorative (crowns), and surgical procedures available for students or are they all referred to residency programs within the school? A good clinical experience should have a high volume of patients with a mix of challenging cases. Tough cases in school establish confidence which is critical for survival in private practice.
  2. Complete perquisites

    1. Many schools would like you to complete a full four-year bachelor’s degree in addition to a list of prerequisites. Usually, the type of bachelor’s degree is not specified. People with art history, film, business, or food science as their primary majors make it into dental school because the dental community values diversity.
    2. Most prerequisites are science based. The upside of choosing a science major is that the perquisites frequently overlap with the requirement for your major, this reduces the number of classes and amount of extra money you may need to spend on undergrad (got to save up for dental school too!). In addition, the junior/senior science hours for the bachelor of science degree will make the science classes in dental school look like cake.
    3. The downside is that when you get out of dental school, a business degree is infinitely more useful to a dentist who is supposed to be a small business owner. Advance microbiology and biochemistry courses are close to useless in the dental sphere unless you plan to conduct research.
  3. New York Dental schools have become very competitive. Good grades alone don’t cut it anymore.

    1. Schools require community service hours. Bonus if those community service hours are spent doing something dental related. Start by looking up free dental clinics in your area that may need volunteers. Check out Syracuse’s dental clinic for those in need at amausdentalservices.com and see if they have volunteer positions open. Check out other dental volunteer opportunities in Syracuse at http://www.5dds.org/cf-categories/volunteer-opportunities/or check in with http://www.nysdentalfoundation.org/ to find upcoming community service events in New York.
    2. Application packages will require 3-5 recommendation letters. Usually, the recommendation letters come from professors and another source that can comment on your character such as an employer, community service leader, or religious leader. Make sure the people you select know you well enough to write more than a generic letter regarding your work ethic, character, and accomplishments.
      1. Professors or employers with letters behind their name are even better, i.e., Ph.D., MD. DDS. Etc. For this reason, jobs that bring you into contact with these people are preferred. Examples include teaching assistant, dental assistant, or undergraduate research assistant. If you work primarily with a graduate student at your research or TA job, ask the supervising professor if they will sign a recommendation letter ghost written by your graduate student so that someone who has worked closely with you is writing the letter, but it carries the weight of a heavy hitter.
      2. Be a prompt and reliable employee or volunteer even if you are working for minimum wage or for free. Think of this as payment for the recommendation letter. The concept of work as “payment” for a recommendation letter is familiar to science academic employers. They notoriously have the lowest paying student jobs with the most work of all student jobs on campus because there is never a shortage of premedical, predental, and prepharmacy students who will work for free if a good recommendation letter is at the end of it.
      3. Dental schools require a number of shadowing hours. It can be a fairly significant amount, ~100 hours, so budget your time to get it completed by the time you apply in your third year of undergrad. Dental offices are typically not open on weekends or evenings, so spring or summer breaks can be a good time to knock these hours out. Again, present yourself professionally to the offices and make yourself likable. If you really click with a dentist that you shadow with, you may be able to ask them for a recommendation letter.
    3. The admissions team will want to see that you can be a leader. Take up a position in your school’s predental club. If you can’t spare time to be the president of the club, try for secretary, or historian, or treasurer. At minimum, this will show involvement in student body activities.
    4. Extracurricular activities that enhance your hand skills like ceramics, welding, and jewelry making courses are always looked upon favorably by admissions.
  4. Congratulations, you’ve been invited to an interview

    1. They will ask, “tell us about yourself.” Practice something that is warm, funny, and memorable. If you received a low GPA one semester, or you have a C in any course. Own the mistake, but prepared to explain lessons and how that experience shaped you into the superstar you are today.
      1. For example: you partied too hard freshman year in college and got B’s across the board and one C.
      2. When interviewers ask about it, you should have an explanation ready along the lines of:
      3. “I lost focus my first semester in an effort to immerse myself in a new environment, but, when I received my grades at the end of the semester, I sat down for a minute and asked myself what I wanted to do with my life. I realized I wanted to help people, like the doc at the community center I volunteer at does. That’s when I became laser focused and worked hard to reach my fullest potential. I received a 4.0 the next semester.”
    2. You turn a question about bad grades into an opportunity to boast that you want to help people, you volunteer at a community center, and you received good grades the next semester.
    3. Is it sappy? Is there an amount of storytelling? Yes. Absolutely, but interviewers will always want to hear that you want to help people and that you have a good heart. If you ever mention that you are going into dentistry for the lifestyle, the money, or the stability, you can kiss your dreams of being admitted goodbye.
    4. While they are interviewing you, you should be interviewing them. In the fortuitous event that you are accepted into multiple schools, you should be prepared to make a selection. What percentage of students pass the National Board Dental Examination (NBDE) part I and II during their first try? This will give you an indication as to how strong the school’s academic courses are. If you haven’t visited their clinic, you should see how busy the clinic is and if you will receive enough experience to gain confidence in private practice. Are the clinical professors experienced in private practice, are they lifetime academics, or foreign unlicensed dentists? You can ask the school for this information. Each kind of professor provides value to the school, but a good dentist with forty years of private practice experience is a rare find and a good person to learn from.
  5. You’ve been accepted. Now what?
    1. To be licensed in the state of New York, you will need to complete four years of dental school and pass NBDE I and II. In addition, New York requires one year of residency after the four years of dental school before you can receive a license. Most other states require a clinical exam like WREB or NERB, the extra year of residency is optional. New York does not accept NERB or WREB. Instead, the extra residency year is mandatory. While some of these residencies provide a stipend, they are unlikely to provide a stipend high enough to begin paying back your student loans, so budget accordingly and make sure the sources that you borrow money from will give you a grace period on your loans during that fifth year.
    2. If you plan to attend a residency out of state (if you want to specialize or want to attend a competitive GPR or AEGD, it is a good idea to apply to numerous schools outside the state to increase your odds). Almost all schools will require that you pass the WREB or NERB. These clinical exams are extremely costly (in the thousands) and require numerous live patients that you must screen, and ensure attend your examination by providing transportation or monetary incentives. New York dental schools are unlikely to host or facilitate these exams.
    3. Make a game plan to pay back your dental school loans before you begin school. East Coast students typically end their four years in dental school with approximately 500,000 of debt. This kind of debt can put an incredible amount of pressure on new dentists to produce more than their skill level can realistically produce right out of school. It is an ideal circumstance for shortcuts, fraud and generally unethical behavior to “sell” treatments to patients to make payments back to school. Student loans of this amount can take anywhere from 10-30 years to pay. There are loan forgiveness programs available. These stints usually require a four-year minimum commitment and can be a stable opportunity with steady pay while you work on increasing the speed of your work in the first few years. The military has an excellent scholarship that will pay your full tuition and give you a stipend during school for housing and books. Public health in rural areas or Native American reservations typically provide loan replacement programs as well. Consider these opportunities before you begin dental school. Some of the opportunities require that you commit to them prior to the start of your dental education and are no longer viable options after completion of school.

It is a long road to be a dentist, but it is a very rewarding profession. If you have a heart a heart to help others, it will be well worth it for you.