Sunday, April 25, 2010

Academic Course Load

When I was in the process of interviewing, I tried to create this image of a perfect applicant. What was it that made the adcoms go “OOOH, We NEED this student.” In retrospect, I realize there is no such thing as a perfect student, nor is there a right type of a student. Thinking of my classmates, I am humbled to realize that there are many ways in which one can be extraordinary.

That said, there are a few key features that all adcoms like seeing. Of course, during the process of myself being an interviewer, I realized that even within one school, views vary between members of the admission committee. Now, let’s look at several key things that every student should strive to have in her/his portfolio.
Let’s begin with academics. The higher the GPA, the better you look. This is a no brainer. Also, the higher DAT score you get, the better – also not rocket science (for those who are not D-school applicants, the DAT is the Dental Aptitude Test, which is a universal dental school admission test, similar to MCAT). The point that does carry some variation of opinions is course load. I have heard plenty of questions along the lines of what is the right amount of science classes, which electives look better, should I take a given class over the summer or during the main academic year, or how do adcoms look at “fluff” classes. So this looks a good amount of questions to present my opinion on. And yes, it is just my opinion.
The right amount of science classes – funny one. First of all, make sure you know in advance which classes your future dental school requires you to have. This way you’ll avoid situations like the one I had, where the last semester of college, the golden time for any student who is already accepted in to D-school, I found out that Harvard required 1 year of calculus (I will need a whole new blog just to begin to surface the depths of my hate towards math). Thus, because I was not prepared, I spent 2 miserable weeks in an accelerated Calc 1&2 course. Then my UCSF acceptance came and I dropped that course in a heart beat. Now that we have required courses dropped, the remainder should be taken based on 3 principles – 1) requirement for graduation, 2) personal interest, and 3) ability to deal with course load. That’s it. Remember, you are getting a degree in this, which means you did enough science to be worthy of that BS!

Next, and this one is even funnier, is which science classes look better. The truth is mostly as follows – it doesn’t matter. Yes, it doesn’t matter if you take virology over histology or mycology over microbiology. I mean, clearly if you want to be a doctor and you take 15 botany courses and completely ignore the fact that your school offers human anatomy that might raise an eyebrow. But, like in my case, it mostly doesn’t matter. My degree is officially BS in Biology, but I basically shaped it to be zoology/field bio by taking classes like vertebrate zoology, evolution, marine biology, mammalogy, ecology, etc.

Timing of a course - make sure you have taken the majority of your prerequisites by the time you apply. As for summer vs school year – it doesn’t matter. The school gets accredited for every class based on the syllabus, which should have the same amount of taught material regardless of when it’s taught.
Finally, a few words on “fluff” classes. Obviously, taking film appreciation or PE for ½ of your electives is absurd. That aside, there are no fluff classes, and you are disrespecting the department and the professors who teach those classes. That’s all I have to say on that matter.

This is already a pretty significant post, and I have a huge midterm tomorrow. So, let’s continue this discussion tomorrow.

P.S. Someone asked me about the reasons for the people mentioned in the previous post leaving D-school in the first year. All I know is that some had a late realization that this was not their cup of tea, a couple failed out (it's a pass/FAIL school, after all), and one student wanted to finish her/his Master's degree. The latter student did so and is currently a D1.

-Because I can.


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  2. Hi! First off, thank you for blogging your experiences at UCSF. I appreciate your insight about everyday life as a dental student. I'm currently a pre-dental student as well. I was wondering if you have any advice for people who will be re-applying. As I will be an older re-applicant, do you have any ideas/checklist of things I need to keep in mind to make sure I accomplish to be a successful applicant on my 2nd round? I've been told so many things in passive from fellow classmates/SDN, and I'm just confused.

    Thank you and keep it up!


  3. I think it's wise to only take as many courses as you casn handle. Get White Teeth