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Coursework & Experience

Pre-Dental Coursework and Experience

In general, the following coursework satisfies the required and recommended courses for admission to dental school. Note this represents general guidelines and requirements vary from one school to the next. It is your responsibility to verify the requirements of individual schools by visiting their websites.

The prerequisites for the University of Washington School of Dentistry can be found here.

Here also is a full list of dental programs and their requirements.

If you are a student currently enrolled at a community college and are considering transferring to PLU, we recommend that you consult the following  interactive equivalency guide to ensure that you are taking the correct courses for your intended major. For example, BIOL 211,212 and 213 at Pierce College in Puyallup is equivalent to BIOL 225 and 226 at PLU.

Biology Courses

Take the following two introductory courses:

  • BIOL 225: Molecules, Cells and Organisms
  • BIOL 226: Genes, Evolution, Diversity and Ecology

You might also consider taking some of the following upper division courses:

  • BIOL 330: Genetics
  • BIOL 341: Developmental Biology
  • BIOL 342: Microbiology
  • BIOL 352: Comparative Anatomy
  • BIOL 357: Histology
  • BIOL 442: Cell Biology
  • BIOL 453: Mammalian Physiology

Often dental schools require you to take a course in microbiology, anatomy and/or physiology. Please make sure you look at the requirements of individual schools.

Physics Courses

Choose one of these two introductory sequences:

  • College Physics I: PHYS 125 (with 135 lab) and College Physics II: PHYS 126 (with 136 lab)
  • General Physics I: PHYS 153 (with 163 lab) and General Physics II: PHYS 154 (with 164 lab)

Social Sciences, Humanities and Art Courses

Most dental schools require at least one semester of psychology.

We also recommend that you take a course in 3-dimensional art, such as sculpture or 3-dimensional design, to help with hand-eye coordination and/or dexterity.

Chemistry Courses

Take the following two course sequence in General Chemistry:

  • CHEM 115 (General Chemistry I)
  • CHEM 116 (General Chemistry II)

Take the following two course sequence in Organic Chemistry:

  • CHEM 331/333 (Organic Chemistry I + laboratory)
  • CHEM 332/334 or 346 (Organic Chemistry II + laboratory)

Some dental schools require one semester of biochemistry. Please make sure you look at the requirements of individual schools.

English/Public Speaking Courses

Most dental schools require applicants to take two English courses prior to matriculation. The English requirement is intended to demonstrate competency in grammar and composition as well as comprehension and analysis of written work. In general, the English requirement is met by taking courses that dental schools would recognize as writing or literature courses.

In addition, some schools recommend that you take a course in public speaking.

Mathematics Courses

There are only a handful of dental schools that require math and/or statistics.  We recommend that you take at least one math course and one course in statistics. Note the MATH 140 is a pre-requisite or co-requisite for CHEM 115.

Experience

Clinical experience is paramount to a successful dental school application. After grades and DAT scores, dental experience is one of the most important areas of the application. Volunteering, working, or shadowing in a dental practice allows you to determine if dentistry is truly the right profession and demonstrates to dental schools that you have made an informed choice. It is important to note that dental schools evaluate each of your experiences by length/time of commitment,  depth of experience, and lessons learned from the experience. So just don’t go through the motions; consider long-term commitments.

Dentist Shadowing
Shadowing a dentist is probably one of the best means to get direct exposure to the dental field and learn what it really is like to be a dentist. Many students are able to arrange shadowing experiences initially through a family dentist. Ask your own dentist about potential opportunities. Maybe your dentist has a colleague from dental school who practices in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Alternatively, if you do not have any personal contacts with dentists you may wish to send a letter and resume to a number of them in the area asking for the opportunity to observe them in their practices.

Shadowing is more than “following a dentist around,” but instead provides an opportunity to begin the learning process that will extend throughout your education as a dental student and your career as a dentist. It is  also important that you consider what you’ve learned during your time shadowing. When you complete your application, you will need to be prepared to discuss your experiences with dentistry in detail as well as communicate that information during your dental school interviews. Thus we recommend that you keep a journal throughout your undergraduate years in which you record your experiences as this will help you prepare for this crucial stage of the application process.

Dental Mission Trips
Many students are also interested in participating in missions trips.  These are trips that are taken by health care professionals to areas of the world where access to care is severely limited.  While these trips are a wonderful experience, it is not recommended that this be your only type of clinical experience.  Because you will primarily be practicing dentistry in the US, it is important that you gain exposure to the US dental system as well.  Missions trips are usually considered an excellent way to supplement your clinical experience.

General Community & Volunteer Involvement
As a dentist, you will serve the needs of others, and community or volunteer involvement indicate that you are devoted to that cause. Consider some type of volunteer experience, such as helping out at a food bank or soup kitchen. There are endless opportunities for you to volunteer your time, many of which you can find out about through your college, local churches, community newspaper/bulletin, or personal acquaintances.

Academic Research
Academic research experience is not required by most dental schools, but it is certainly valued.  Undergraduate research  will undoubtedly enhance your critical skills in communication, independent thinking, creativity and problem-solving.

Whichever route you take to getting your experience, start early.  Squeezing your experiences into the few months before the application looks more like resume padding than a true interest in the dental profession. Also, if you shadow or volunteer with a dentist on an ongoing basis, you may receive a letter of recommendation from him or her, and you the earlier you start, the better the dentist will know you before they write the letter.