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Top 10: Questions You Should Be Asking Dental Schools

What should you as an informed pre-dental student be looking to ask when you have a bunch of dental schools to pick from? Not everyone is in this situation, but knowing what things to look for in a dental school can be useful information to know. You may end up with more than just a handful of interviews and instead of being grateful about getting in anywhere, you might wonder about which dental school is best for you. Here are the things you should find out about the dental schools that you are applying to! Bear in mind that generally you will get better and more truthful answers if you ask random dental school students walking around instead of the faculty or selected tour guide students (who are usually class officers expected to be on their best behavior.) These questions go beyond the basic information you can find on each dental schools' website, such as tuition and fees. Keep in mind that I believe tuition should be a primary factor in your choosing a dental school.

Top 10 Things That You Want To Know When Interviewing at Dental Schools

1. Do students have to share lockers? Manikins in the simulation labs? Clinical chairs?
Sharing is caring right? No, and definitely not in the dental school arena. Dental school can be a stressful environment, and everything that you have to share with other students results in less access for you. This is especially true at crunch times when every student around you wants to make use of the same facilities. Find out how many resources the dental school can furnish for you as a student individually. This is especially true in regards to operatories in the clinic, school lockers, and pre-clinical simulation manikins.

2. Is patient swapping allowed in the clinics between students?
Although this results in poorer overall care for patients, patient swapping can help dental students in their clinical years accomplish their requirements more efficiently. You should consider this in your line of thinking in terms of what you are looking for in a dental school. Do you want to learn a lot in dental school and absorb as much information as you can? Perhaps a dental school that allows swapping isn't for you. If you're looking to get in and get out of dental school fast, you might want to go for a dental school that allows this type of practice.

3. What kind of housing options are available? Is it affordable to live around the school?
Students may be able to give you a heads-up about unique housing opportunities that you may miss if you end up hunting for apartments on your own prior to your first day. They can also let you know about student run housing lists online or through email. Other benefits include potentially finding roommate opportunities through informal referral networks that the dental students may be privy to. This is all important if you intend on being frugal as a dental student. Also, what areas are unsafe areas? What about nearby restaurants? Which areas are most convenient? You certainly don't have to waste time asking these questions and collecting this information on the day of your visit, but you can try to collect a few phone numbers or email addresses instead and ask at a more convenient time.

4. How much of your own laboratory work do you do in the clinics?
This is a double-edged sword. It may be quite a learning experience to have significant laboratory requirements such as fabricating dyes, casts, and doing your own flasking, but it can also fill up your day with tedious work. Are you seeking a full and enriching clinical experience? Are you instead looking for a patient oriented clinical experience? If the dental school has only basic laboratory requirements, understand that you may end up missing out on core knowledge that would have eventually allowed you to critically understand how laboratory restorations are made.

5. Are patients hard to come across? Is the school able to offer enough patients to students to allow them to complete their requirements? Do students generally need to find their own patients?
This is important because it is difficult to find your own patients and deal with the rigors of dental school at the same time. If the school is not able to successfully supply patients to its students, then consider that you may not graduate on time, you may have difficulty obtaining a dental license (due to qualifying exams requiring patients), and that your overall experience may be much more stressful.

6. Do the faculty generally try to improve their courses based on feedback and evaluation from students?
It is one thing to go to a great dental school, but it is completely refreshing to attend a dental school that will respond to their students' arising needs. The one caveat with this is that you as a student should be willing to deal with changes to your curriculum on-the-fly if you choose to attend a dental school with an active system in place to adapt to student and faculty evaluations.

7. Are students provided time off to study for essential exams such as the Board exam (NBDE Part-1)? Are exams from classes given in a block week of exams or spread thin over the whole semester?
Some dental schools give their students a summer off with a deadline to complete their board exam at the end of the summer. Other dental schools have a full semester with a deadline to complete the board exam in the middle of such a semester. Some dental schools have one or two exams a week for their lecture classes, and other dental schools have all of their exams bunched up at the end of the semester. Think about what kind of a student you are, and what kind of an exam schedule you would prefer!

8. If a student is caught up in a situation in which he or she has not completed requirements by graduation time, does the school actively assist the student to graduate more efficiently by providing necessary resources?
I would imagine that every potential dental student wants to know the answer to this question. If the dental school cannot provide a straight clear-cut answer, then it should be evident that no clear-cut system exists to help lagging students out of the door when it comes to graduation time.

9. How do students obtain chair time in the clinics?
Do students have to line up to obtain operatories in the clinics? Is there an online booking system? Are there separate operatories for every student? As you can imagine, the answers to these questions will sort of guide you in the direction of... less sharing, and easier access is the best scenario.

10. What kind of things does the dental school furnish in terms of reducing the competitive environment and fostering a collegial environment?
This is important because when we compared dental students' satisfaction of their dental schools, a majority of students who were happier mentioned that there was little to no competition between them and their classmates. Dental schools can help to foster collegial environments with policies based on: non-competitive grading systems, mentoring programs, upperclassmen 'big brother/big sister' programs, and school planned social events.

I hope that this list of questions will help to prepare you as a future dental student be more informed of your choices. Good luck with the admissions process!

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