This post is one of the reasons I wanted to create this blog. It isn’t a definitive list, nor is it the best source of info in any respect. It’s just my take on a few of the important bits of any dental school application within the UK.
Even if it is helpful for just one person, I’ll be happy.
From the start I’ll say that this will definitely be one of the longer posts, as there is a lot to consider but all is important for young readers of this.
And I guess, if you are reading this then that means you’ve already started down the path that may eventually lead to you getting into one of the 18 UK dental schools.
I know that there are already plenty of useful sources of information, all intended to help potential applicants get an idea of what they need to do in order to have a successful application to dental school, but I think its always good to refresh this pool of info.
Depending on how thorough your own research has been before reading this post, you may or may not agree with me. Honestly, there really are SO MANY websites, books, YouTube channels and people you can speak to about any aspect of dentistry, what dental school is like, how to get accepted into a school – you shouldn’t ever feel confused or uninformed.
Many of those sources, for me at least, were the university websites. Don’t get me wrong, reading through exactly what the university dental school’s websites have to say is important, not only for knowing exactly what they want from applicants, but also to get a good idea of what the university is like! Don’t forget, you’ll be spending at least 5 years studying so your choice of uni is a big decision!
I should point out now, that I am specifically talking about UK dental schools – the process for applications in other parts of the world will be different.
– BEFORE APPLYING TO DENTAL SCHOOLS –
Actually logging in to the UCAS website to start filling out your university applications is by no means the first step of the process!
Your decision to apply to dental school will have started at least 2-3 months before this point, but probably a lot earlier than that.
Your First Thoughts about Dentistry
I remember the week when I had that light bulb moment – when dentistry first entered my mind as a possible option.
If you’re doing it right, it all starts a long while before the time when the UCAS online applications page is opened in September. Because unlike other courses where I guess you could just make a last minute decision to apply for, dentistry is a vocational degree meaning you only choose to do it if you want to work as a dentist.
For some it’s a personal experience related to dentistry (e.g. orthodontic braces), a conversation, a schoolteacher, a family member or perhaps after some deep thought about what you want to do with your life – but usually it’s a combination of many things. For everyone it will be different, but for all it will be the initial seed that develops into a desire to want to study dentistry.
Many will write about this in their personal statement, and in fact lots of people use this as their opening sentence. Just please try not to make it sound cringey, or worse yet to lie about it.
And please please PLEASE avoid opening with something like: “Ever since I was a little boy/girl, I’ve always wanted to be a dentist.”
Choosing the Right Subjects
It’s important that you’re studying the correct subjects because to be eligible to apply for dentistry, typically you need to have chosen the science combo of that must include Chemistry and usually also Biology and Maths.
Unfortunately if these three subjects aren’t taken, you wont be considered and the application with be fruitless.
The requirement is typically A grades – so basically that means everyone applying to dental school is bright. What will set your application apart and help you stand out is therefore not what grades you get but all the other positive bits that make up your application.
I don’t know much about the International Baccalaureate system so had to look it up but they usually want an overall score of 36/37 points, including 6, 6 in Higher Level Chemistry and one other lab-based science subject (Biology/Physics).
For some it will be different and subject choices isn’t an issue – eg. if you’re taking the .
NB: there are other past academic paths that some dental schools consider, such as the Welsh Baccalaureate, BTECs, Access to Higher Education. And of course for international students, the expectations will depend on what type of education system their is in your native country.
It’s also worth double checking on the websites for each dental school to see what their minimum requirements are.
I’m sure pretty much everyone reading this will already know that though so sorry for stating the obvious!
First and foremost, doing work experience is important for YOU personally. Don’t just think of it as something you need to do for the sake of being able to write about it on your personal statement.
I don’t know of anyone who’s done so but I’m sure people lie about shadowing dentists and write about it on their personal statements. Please don’t let that be you! The only person this will affect is you. Sooner or later, a lie about your work experience will bite you in the ass:
- In the short term: if you get asked to elaborate on your work experience in interview and aren’t able to then get rejected for lying
- In the long term: if you start training as a dentist and realise after a year that you absolutely hate teeth and the sight of blood.
Work experience is so important, it will make you feel confident that you know what dentistry actually is; what its like to be a dentist, the difficulties of the career, what happens on a day-to-day basis and the only way to really understand this is to get some first hand experience.
Most universities will expect all applicants to have spent at least a week experiencing some aspect of dentistry. I don’t think a minimum duration for your work experience is specifically stated anywhere, but it should be for enough time to have allowed you to get a decent idea of what dentistry is like.
Obviously the more you do the better, and the more varied your experiences, the better. So you get a well rounded impression of dentistry, because there are so many different paths a dentist can take with their career.
In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks shadowing dentists/technicians is worth it, because the result is going to be you spending 5 years doing a vocational degree before then going on to spend the rest of your working life looking in people’s mouths!
As for work experience itself, I’ll keep it brief here, as I plan to write a separate post specifically about work experience (go check it out!). In that post I’ll talk about how best to secure work experience, what to expect from it, how to make the most of it, and why its important in more detail.
After you’ve done it, you can then write all about your own work experiences in your personal statement. I’d say ~40% of your PS should be related to your work experience and I’ll talk more about personal statements in a separate post.
Choosing Which Universities to Apply to
Everyone will have different priorities and reasons for why they want to apply to certain dental schools. There aren’t that many in the UK to choose from, and they are pretty much all as good as one another in that you’ll come out after 5 years with the same qualification.
At most UK dental schools you will qualify as a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS). But at Leeds Dental School its slightly different as you qualify with a MChD/BChD, Oral Science BSc.
When making a shortlist of universities you want to apply to, I would highly recommend you do your research.
- Visit their websites and read through the content on their dental school landing page.
- Order a hard copy of the prospectus or download an e-copy of it to read through
- Look them up on Youtube and watch videos (I found that there are virtual tours for most dental schools and lots of other video content related to dentistry you can view).
- Send messages to current students and ask them what its like, how you can strengthen your application to their specific uni etc.
- This can either be done by contacting people you know who study there, or do what I did and just search through Facebook/LinkedIn/Instagram, add random people who study there and message them.
- Go and actually visit the university!
- Apply online to attend an open day for the university as a whole
- Apply online to attend an open day for the dental school specifically
- Just go to the university in your own time, walk through it with a friend/family member and explore the place
- If visiting the university, don’t forget to also spend time exploring the town/city that it’s in – you’ll be at university training for 5 years so lots of time will be spent at bars/restaurants/parks in the area.
There are 18 UK dental schools to choose from: 12 in England, 4 in Scotland, 1 in Wales and 1 in Northern Ireland.
- Barts and The London
- Kings College
- UCLAN (Lancashire) – graduate entry course available only
- Peninsula (run jointly by Exeter and Plymouth Universities)
- *Eastman Dental Institute (UCL) – only for postgraduate courses
In Northern Ireland:
Take the Entry Aptitude Exams
Most UK dental schools require you to sit the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT).
It’s not easy, but it’s not so difficult either (if you’re well prepared)!
You’ll have to book it online and pay for it yourself to sit it at an exam centre. There are plenty of centres that let you do the UKCAT, most of them are the same centres where you sit the practical driving test and there are many locations around the country to choose from.
Preparation is key:
- There are books you can buy from Amazon.co.uk with practice questions and mock exams.
- The one I had which was good is the 600 UKCAT Practice Questions book.
- Another great way to prepare is to pay for access to the Medify website which is another huge source of practice questions and exams, with an advantage it has over the book being that you do the prep online, in a format almost identical to how it will be like with the real UCKAT you sit at the test centre.
The main difficulty with the UKCAT is time pressure, so the practice is so important for preparing you mentally so you know how best to approach the test and answer the questions as fast as you need to.
You will have to guess the answers for some questions, don’t worry, everyone feels the same pressure and even you make a blind guess, it still gives you a 25% chance of the right answer.
I just had a look online and it seems that the fundamental format of the UKCAT changed this year (in 2016) so it was different from when I did it. So to avoid me writing any inaccurate details for it, why don’t you read all about it here: http://www.kaptest.co.uk/ukcat/what-is-ukcat
Although you can book to take the UKCAT anytime between July and October, if you’re at school, my recommendation for the UCKAT will be to book it for around late August. This means you’ll still be on your summer break before starting your final year of school when you take it, therefore you’ll have plenty of time to practice for it without having to juggle the UKCAT prep with your school work.
As soon as you finish the test you get given your results which are calculated automatically at the test centre. Don’t fret if your mark (out of 900) doesn’t seem great, and don’t let it be the reason you don’t apply. It varies year on year, but:
- Very few people get 800+, these people are either very lucky, or have extraordinarily fast working minds (good for them)
- A great mark would be 700+, if you achieve this bravo!
- Getting a score above 600 is what the vast majority of applicants will have
- If you get 650+, you should feel very confident
- Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you won’t be considered, remember the UCKAT score is one in a combination of factors that are considered for each applicant.
- If you have a really strong application then you might be ok to apply with a low UKCAT score
- Don’t let a relatively low UKCAT score put you off applying, especially if your score is at the top end (i.e. 570+)
But if you score <500, it’s probably worth emailing the university and asking what they say. Worst case scenario you wait a year, take a gap year to work and travel the world then re-apply next year.
Some UK dental schools may be less interested in your score for the UKCAT, and instead be selective based on what decile you score within (usually within the top 3 deciles).
There is a different test that you might need to do as opposed to the UKCAT so do your homework.
If you are a graduate, like me and thinking of applying to Plymouth University Peninsula Dental School, you will have to do the GAMSAT. But if applying directly from school then you need to do the UKCAT for Peninsula.
This may have changed but if I recall correctly, I was required to provide one referee with my application. This simply involved me providing the name, their relationship to myself, contact email and phone number for someone.
This can be anyone who knows me well, not necessarily my academic tutor from school/university but it cannot be a relative.
I thought about this for a while and decided to ask one of my final year university tutors if he’d be happy for me to use him as my reference – he kindly accepted. I would strongly recommend that you do the same and ask the person if they don’t mind before you submit their details on the UCAS application.
Don’t just ask them to be a reference, take some time to talk to them and explain why you are applying to dentistry – express your interest and passion for it. You need to convince them that you are genuinely keen for dentistry so that they can then transfer this if they get asked to provide a reference.
It can be anyone. If you’re still at school, your best bet is to ask one of your favourite teachers, someone who knows you well and visa versa. If you’re a school leaver on your gap year I’m sure you can still ask one of your old teachers, or perhaps if you’re working somewhere ask your boss? Then if like me you’ve been to university once before and studied another scientific course, ask one of your lecturers/tutors.
I was lucky to have such an awesome pharmacology tutor who helped me out. But you know what, I’m not even sure if they actually ever contacted him to ask about me!
This will be different depending on which university you have applied to.
It could be:
- A “classic” panel interview
- The more modern MMI style (multiple-mini interviews).
Both styles are very different but both can be prepared for and should be if you want to do well and impress the interviewers.
I’ve written a separate post for dental school interviews in which I’ve discussed the process in much more detail.
For me personally, I experienced 3x MMIs and 1x traditional panel interview.
For most people, this will be the most daunting single experience of the whole application process. Even for individuals, who like me, have had many interviews before there will be some nerves beforehand. But once you’ve been through them I hope you’d agree that they are not scary or difficult at all and in fact, you might find it to be a very pleasant experience (I really enjoyed all of mine!).
The interviewers are generally members of the teaching staff at the dental school – and very friendly people. They don’t deliberately want you to feel uncomfortable or ask you difficult questions without reason.
There will be plenty of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) that are used year after year that you shouldn’t be surprised to hear if they get asked of you – these are questions you can prepare for by thinking about ahead of the interview.
I wouldn’t recommend preparing a specific, monologue-type answer for, but think about it and perhaps try answering it out loud whilst looking at yourself in the mirror, or to a friend. Each time you answer, it might come out a little different but these questions don’t have a right/wrong answer. The more you think about it the more confident you will become in your thoughts on what you might say in an interview.
Try not to be generic, or include clichéd, unoriginal phrases in your answers. Keep it honest and genuine, not only will this honestly come across, it translates into passion that interviewers can pick up on.
Be yourself, not a robot, especially don’t try to be someone you think they want you to be. Don’t forget to smile and give eye contact – these little details always help.
The handshake is not as important as people make it out to be, of course, a nice firm one helps but don’t spend lots of time stressing over it or practising it. If you’re nervous on the day and when waiting for your name to be called for interview feel like your palms are a little sweaty (that’s normal!) just wipe them dry on the chair or your trousers and crack on!
After The Interview
When you’ve had all your interviews, all you can do is wait to hear back from them with the outcome of your application.
It’s easy to stress out during this time and let the anticipation get the better of you. Try to keep the whole thing out of mind, focus on your studies because after all even if you get given offers, most of the time they will be conditional on you achieving high grades (usually A grades all round).
Most universities contact applicants within 2 weeks after interview unless they say otherwise. When you’ve received emails back from all the universities you interviewed at, or have received a notification from all on the UCAS website, all that’s left to do is make your decision about which school’s offer you’d like to accept!
If you’ve managed to secure just one offer, that’s fantastic and of course, you just need to firm the offer to let the uni know you want to accept it. If you’re an absolute boss and have got two or more offers, then the power is now in your hands and you will need to decide which offer to choose as your 1st choice (firm) and which offer you want as your back-up (2nd choice).
For more details about aspects relating to dental school applications, like your Personal Statement, or the Interview in more depth – read my other posts that compliment this one!
I’m also happy to help you in person, with some one-on-one guidance and support, so, get in touch!
Hope this was informative/helpful – thanks for reading 🙂