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Office of Pre-Health Advising



The Path to Becoming a Dentist

First, a Bachelor's Degree

To become a dentist, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have successfully committed themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or exercise science. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow preparation for a specific profession.

You must also complete specific prerequisite courses. Mastery of the material in these courses is confirmed by your performance on the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in dentistry to become a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD). Despite the difference in names, there is no difference between these two degrees.

To Gap or Not to Gap

A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning dental school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:

  • Allows more time to complete coursework necessary for the DAT (see below)
  • Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
  • Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during dental school
  • Provides a break from schooling!

If you are not taking a gap year, you need to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT) by the summer after your junior year. The DAT covers (along with perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning) material from courses on general biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry, so to avoid a gap year you will need to complete these courses by the end of your junior year.

If you are taking a gap year, you will typically take the DAT in the summer of your graduation year.

The Application Process

The application process typically begins nearly two years before you plan to enter dental school, in the Fall semester of your senior year (if taking a gap year) or junior year (if not taking a gap year). At that time, you let us know that you'd like a "committee letter" (the deadline is Nov. 30). A committee letter is a kind of summary of all the arguments in favor of your admission to dental school, written for you by faculty at Lehman. As part of the process of creating the committee letter, you will provide us with letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and answers to our supplementary questionnaire . We will also interview you. Note: this part of the process is not competitive! Everyone who takes at least five of their core pre-dental prerequisites at Lehman is eligible for a committee letter. The application and interview are so that we can understand you and your background better, and thus write a more effective letter on your behalf. This process will continue through the Spring semester.

In the summer following your senior (if taking a gap) or junior (if not) year, you will take the DAT.

You then apply through AADSAS, a centralized admissions system. Dental schools admit students on a rolling basis, so it's best to apply early in the cycle, perhaps in July.

After you apply to AADSAS and specify the schools you are interested in, you will usually be invited to complete "secondary" applications for those schools. These secondaries request more information, in part to make sure you are serious about that particular school.

Once your secondaries are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in the fall or winter prior to when you'll start attending dental school.

After interviews, you finally get to find out who accepted you--hopefully you'll have the happy dilemma of choosing between acceptances!

Dental School

Once in dental school, it is very likely you'll end up being a dentist. Most people accepted to dental school graduate, pass their licensing exams, and become practicing dentists.

The first two years of dental school are usually "didactic," meaning that you'll take courses. The next two years are "clinical," involving working with dentists and patients directly.

At the end of four years, you graduate as a dentist.

In order to practice dentistry, you need to pass the National Board Dental Examinations, as well as a clinical exam.

To practice in New York State, you are also required to complete a one year residency. While you are a resident, you are a paid, practicing dentist, but you're under supervision.

Prerequisite Courses

Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most dental schools. These requirements vary some from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health advisor.

Required by Nearly all Dental Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Chem. 1 CHE 166 + 167

MAT 171 or MAT 172 is corequisite

Gen. Chem. 2 CHE 168 + 169 Gen. Chem. 1
Organic Chem. 1 CHE 232 + 233 Gen. Chem. 2
Organic Chem. 2 CHE 234 + 235 Organic Chem. 1
Gen. Physics 1 PHY 166 or PHY 168 MAT 171 + MAT 108 or MAT 172 is prerequisite
Gen. Bio. 1 BIO 166  
Gen. Bio. 2 BIO 167  

Required by Many Dental Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Physics 2 PHY 167 or PHY 169 Gen. Physics 1
Biochemistry BIO 400 or CHE 444 Organic Chem. 2
Gen. Psych. PSY 166  

Required by Some Dental Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
A & P 1 BIO 181 or BIO 228

BIO 181 has no prerequisites

BIO 228 requires Gen. Bio. 2 and Gen. Chem. 2

A & P 2 BIO 182 or BIO 267 BIO 182 requires BIO 181
BIO 267 requires Gen. Bio. 2
Microbiology BIO 331 or BIO 230 Depends on course
Statistics Multiple courses fulfill  


Below is an example of a timeline for a hypothetical student, Maria. Maria is planning to take a gap year and decides to major in psychology. She entered without a strong math background. Your timeline will be somewhat different, because you're not Maria. (Or if your name is Maria, you're not this Maria.) You'll almost certainly take some different courses than Maria did. Be sure to consult with your pre-health advisor to decide what's right for you. Still, Maria's timeline should give you a sense of how it can all work out.


Semester Coursework Consult Pre-Health Advisor Regarding... Application Other
Freshman Fall MAT 104, BIO 166, PSY 166, ENG 111, LEH 100 Get to know each other    
Freshman Spring MAT 172, ENG 121, CHE 166+167, Gen. Ed. Choice of major, discuss shadowing    
Sophomore Fall CHE 168+169, PSY course, Gen. ed. Progress   Shadow a dentist
Sophomore Spring CHE 232+233, PSY course, BIO 167, Gen. ed. Gap or no gap? Begin investigating which dental schools to apply to

Shadow a dentist

Declare major

Junior Fall CHE 234+235, BIO 181, PSY courses Discuss additional courses for specific dental schools   Volunteer/shadow/work
Junior Spring CHE 444, BIO 182, PSY courses, LEH Progress   Volunteer/shadow/work
Senior Fall PHY 166, LEH, PSY courses Letters of recommendation, DAT, personal statement

Arrange for letters of recommendation

Request committee letter by Nov. 30


Plan gap year

Senior Spring PHY 167, BIO 331, PSY courses Personal statement Committee letter process; mock interviews


DAT prep

June after graduation       DAT
July after graduation     Application to AADSAS  
Fall after graduation     Secondary applications Gap year activities
Winter after graduation   Interview preparation Interviews Gap year activities
Spring after graduation   Inform pre-health advisor of acceptance Accept admission to dental school of her choice Gap year activities
One year after graduation     Begin dental school!