Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Application Process - Part I, the final preparations

You’ve made it this far, now prepare for the ultimate test in patience, humility, frustration, and anger-management. The application process is not something you will want to repeat, so hopefully you have been slowly building a very solid application as opposed to sloppily slapping one together this last semester. This post will be geared towards schools with a pre-professional committee. These committees write a composite LOR so you need not worry about mailing millions of copies from all your separate letter writers. I’ll explain details momentarily.

Now, you have just taken the DAT. Ideally you scored no less than 18 in any section as many schools have cutoffs around there. Obviously the higher, the better, but don’t let people with higher scores make you think that 18s are no good. Assuming you are solid everywhere, 18s WILL get you into a school. Still, if you think you could hit 20+, you have plenty of time to retake, go nuts – which is another great reason to take it before you start applying.

The aforementioned committee will require several things: first, your curricula vitae (CV) which is pretty much an academic/e.c. resume. You will list your GPA, any extra curricular activities you are involved in, your volunteer service, job experience, shadowing, and so forth.

The committee will also want a copy of your personal statement (which you hopefully have been working on for a few months…DO NOT RUSH IT). I had my PS revised about 18 times before submitting the final copy. Have it read by English majors, your family, friends, hobos on the street, GET FEEDBACK. What sounds great to you may sound horribly contrived and arrogant to someone else.

Remember those LORs? The committee will require every letter and will assimilate them into a single composite letter that pretty much every dental school will accept in lieu of separate LORs.

My committee also requests a ‘vision statement’ which pretty much had me predicting my own future. However, I have not heard of other school’s requiring this. All of the above items will have deadlines that your advisor should have told you about. If not, be proactive and figure out when things need to be done so that you don’t have to rush.

So throughout your spring semester, you will undoubtedly have to interview with members of the pre-professional committee at your school. I personally had two interviews: the first was about 20 minutes, one on one; the second was the same length but two on one. I went to a small school, so I was familiar with two of the three interviewers (which probably made things less stressful). These interviews are meant to assess your competence, genuine interest, and practicality regarding your chosen career path. Prepare to address issues that will most likely come up during dental school interviews such as: Tell me about yourself? Why dentistry? How are you unique? What would you do if dentists were no longer needed? Tell me about a time in which you had to overcome adversity. I could go on and on. Do some additional interview research and you will get the idea.

Fortunately, my pre-health advisor has her students practice in mock interviews prior to any official business. I would recommend practicing at least once before going into any committee interviews.

So why go through the committee? Well, first off, they conveniently condense your separate LORs into a single composite letter which will make your postal tasks a mite easier. Secondly, most schools really prefer that composite letter and look favorably upon applicants who have the letter sent. The committee is also less biased than individual LORs, and in fact, will not recommend an applicant for professional school if they have poor grades, interview horribly, ect. You will have the option of signing away your rights to read the letter as well – which I would recommend doing. Schools will put little emphasis on a letter they know the applicant has read to make sure everything is flowers and butterflies. They want facts, unbiased facts – untampered by YOU.

Scared yet? Hah, no reason, if you have been a good student, done even a little reading about dentistry, gotten good LORs, the committee will not put you to the flame. Just please, for the love of god, don’t go into an interview knowing little-nothing about dentistry. Yea your knowledge will be understandably limited, but there is no reason to not put forth some effort. Read some journals, keep up to date on health breakthroughs, and know something recent. Just basics, there are plenty of health-related websites meant for the common public. Get going.

I could rant on and on about this but there is no need to lecture. Note that I am not trying to intimidate anyone either, I have simply seen so many of peers completely broadsided by the gravity of applying to professional school. Notice how every freshmen you meet is ‘pre-med?’ How many are still in that boat at this point?

The entire application process- including all your prior preparation is one giant weed-out fest. It requires jumping through hoop after hoop to see who wants it most. Eventually, these hoops get set on fire, further increasing their difficulty to cross. If you have the drive, you will make it to the end – which in fact, is just another beginning.

Up next, AADSAS, your new best friend/worst enemy.