What You Should Look for When Choosing a Dental School, Academically and Clinically

20/01/20224 minute read
What You Should Look for When Choosing a Dental School, Academically and Clinically

Today, there are 68 accredited dental schools in the U.S. How do you even begin choosing which is right for you? Here’s a breakdown of things to look for in a dental program.

Location, Location, Location

For four years—at least—you’ll be making your home where your dental school is located. It’s important that you’ll be happy there. Is it close to your family? Close to social activities? Location will also affect your clinical training, as it determines your patient pool. If you’re in an urban environment, you’ll see lower-income patients from the surrounding city. In a suburban setting, are there enough patients? Is there sufficient need among the population for dental services?

Size and Structure

Dental classes can be as small as 40+ students per class and as large as 200+ per class. Chances are, you’ll get more personalized attention at a smaller school, and even get to know your classmates better. A large school, however, can offer more diverse social and networking opportunities. Whichever size you choose, the deciding factor should be the faculty-to-student ratio. That will determine your ability to interact with your faculty—and that’s key to learning your craft exceptionally well.


The first two years, you’ll be studying the biological sciences, the last two, you’ll delve into clinical coursework. The Voice of Dental Education offers these questions to consider:

  • What is the basic biomedical science coursework like?
    • Do dental students take classes alongside other health professions students?
    • Is there opportunity to interact with medical, nursing or pharmacy students in an interprofessional setting?
  • How are courses delivered?
    • Are classes traditionally lecture-based, or is there opportunity to engage in a “flipped-classroom” model, such as team-based learning or problem-based learning? (In flipped-classroom settings, students prepare outside of class, and come to school ready to work as a team through cases and faculty questions.)
  • Is the curriculum pass/fail, or are there letter grades?
    • At schools with grades and class rankings, there is greater opportunity to stand out from your peers, but it may add a competitive element to your overall dental school experience.
    • What is the pass rate on the Boards? Licensing exams?
  • When do students see their first patients?
    • At some schools, students start seeing patients as early as their first year, while at other schools, students don’t start seeing patients until their third year.
    • How are patients assigned to students? Are they triaged centrally to each student? To a group practice? During shifts in an emergency clinic? Is it easy to get patients?
  • How are students evaluated in the clinic?
    • Is there a point system per procedure?
    • Are there competency exams?
    • Are there minimum procedural requirements?
  • Is the facility state of the art?
    • Do they teach digital dentistry? Cerec or E4D? 3D printing? Digital lab work?
    • Do they have an updated didactic, pre-clinic and clinical facility? Lecture capture? Digital dissections?
    • Do they teach specialty work? Ortho? TMD/Occlusion? Sleep? Esthetics?

Dollars and Cents

Financially speaking, public schools tend to be significantly less expensive than private schools. Here’s a money saving tip: even if you may be paying out-of-state tuition your first year, some states allow you to declare residency after your first year and qualify for in-state tuition for the next three years. Some public schools also offer regional tuition to students from neighboring states. Better yet, you may qualify for a scholarship.

  1. ADEA Scholarships, Awards and Fellowships for Students
  2. Chinese American Medical Society Scholarship Program
  3. Dental Trade Alliance Foundation Scholarships
  4. Hartford Dental Society/James McManus Fund: Student Scholarships
  5. Hispanic Dental Association Foundation Scholarships
  6. National Hispanic Health Professional Student Scholarship

Do Your Homework

The above pointers provide a good foundation for selecting a dental school. Also do your homework on any school you’re considering. Check out the school’s website, make a visit in person and speak to students. Also consult your “gut.” Are you comfortable there? Does it feel right to you? With all this considered, you should be on the right road to dental success.