Friday, January 12, 2007

The College Years (1-2)

If you go into college knowing what you want to do, your life will be much easier. Realistically however, most people really are not sure and some have no clue whatsoever. It is perfectly normal to be undecided for the first two semesters. Take a vast array of different disciplines, see what you like. The only real drawback if you decide upon dentistry is that the pre-requisite courses are much more manageable if you sequentially take them over the course of three years rather than cramming. I made my decision after my first semester and consequently missed intro biology (which I ended up taking my senior year). The plus to declaring later is that you most likely will get all of your general requirements out of the way so you can fully focus on your major. Oh and did I mention that getting ‘A’s in general eds are pretty easy? So starting off with a high GPA is always nice.

Ok, so you want to go to dental school, what major should you choose? In all honesty, many students claim it doesn’t matter, but I personally think there must be some correlation between the massive number of biology majors we see in dental schools. Sure I may be a biased biology student, but I think biology will provide a great foundation for all the basic sciences that dental schools teach. The bottom line however, is that you need to be happy with your major. I still would argue that if you hate biology courses, you will really hate dental school, but to each his own.

GPA is probably the most important aspect of the application process, and those first semesters of college seem to cripple a lot of applicants. Yea you are finally “independent” and you can make your own rules and have fun and all that jazz. However, part of this pseudo-independence also entails that you take on a few more responsibilities. I know it is hard to wake up for those 8 am classes but missing class is the first step towards screwing your future-self over. The entry level courses at most colleges are VERY manageable if you simply show up and have a pulse.

It is also difficult to stay focused those first two years. Even after I knew what I wanted to do, knowing the application process was so far away really made studying and staying on top of things difficult. So what should you be doing as a freshmen/sophomore pre-dent? Simple, put your grades first; I know that intramural volleyball team needs you for the big game, but sometimes you need to prioritize. In all honesty, you should be able to get pretty close to a 4.0 (during those first two years especially) while maintaining a rampant social life – college is not difficult if you manage your time correctly. More on time management in my next post.

Now would also be the time to start beefing up your future-application with all the little intangibles. Start shadowing a general practitioner (GP), it is also helpful to shadow specialties to see the many diversities that dentistry has to offer – but hit up the GP first. Call around, many dentists are more than happy to let you come in once a week for a few hours. Also find someplace to volunteer once a week. You don’t need to go to the Sudan and save lives, just help out the community a little. Tutor at your school, get a TA job after you ace the course. The options are limitless. This was the only aspect of my application that was really weak, and I wish that I could have had guidance during my first years because I ended up having to rush all this extra stuff towards the end. Don’t let that happen, it will make your life easier.

Most schools nowadays also have a pre-professional committee accompanied with a separate pre-health advisor. Utilize this advisor during those first years. Get some advice, get some motivation. If you think you are going to get an ‘A’ in a course, it might be a good idea to befriend the professor. I went to a small school, so it was very easy to get profs to remember me for letters of recommendation (LOR), if you got to a larger school, you may have to make more of an effort. You don’t need LORs right now, but you WILL in the future, so start planting the seeds of kiss-assery.

That is pretty much it. Those first two years are more about learning time management, and beefing up your extra curricular activtities. Most importantly, get as a high a GPA as you can possibly muster. You will find out that after two years of courses, the GPA will not move very much (unless you fail). So once you get stuck around that mediocre 3.3, you will have a hell of time bringing it up a good deal.

One last note about early college. You are bound to meet total idiots and burn-outs on your travels through undergrad. There is nothing wrong with going out to parties and having fun, but don’t be a total tool. Don’t go around breaking shit, stealing things, driving drunk, getting into brawls, having unprotected sex, ectera. More importantly, don’t get yourself killed by being a dumbass, because it happens. It is possible to have fun without being a jarhead. If you get a DUI, or any other sort of criminal record, you have just made getting into dental school twice as hard if not impossible. So go have some fun, but use common sense!

Application Summary for freshman/sophomore year:

Complete (and do well in): Bio I, Bio II, gChem I, gChem II, Ochem I, Ochem II (all w/ labs)

Extra useful courses to take during first 2 years: Genetics, Molecular Cell Biology

Start shadowing: GP and than specialists if you can

Start Volunteering: food pantries, hospitals, dental offices

Get leadership positions: TAing, tutoring, student council, ect.

Make sure some professors will REMEMBER you in another year

Don't be a total stroke