How to choose a Dental School
The General Dental Council (GDC) in the UK produces a prescribed set of learning outcomes for all dentistry courses but the way that universities achieve these outcomes differs from institution to institution so it is important that you do your research and choose the universities that you feel will best suit you. Studying undergraduate Dentistry is a five-year commitment so getting it right is very important. There are many factors to consider including:
It is important to submit an application to an institution that you think you have a good chance of getting into. If a university that you would like to apply to considers UKCAT results and you have underperformed, then it might be better to reconsider your choices, work hard to prepare for the BMAT and apply to a university that will take this score into account. All students will need to ensure that they apply to universities whose entry requirements are the same or lower as their predicted A level grades.
Tip: It is possible to succeed in a dentistry application as an A level retake student. However, some universities are more open to resit applications than others so research this carefully before you apply to ensure that all four of your choices will seriously consider you.
Broadly-speaking, there are two main types of teaching style for dentistry. It is important to note that both will achieve the GDC’s learning outcomes and so choosing between the two is mostly down to personal preference. The traditional method of teaching is lecture or tutorial-based. The second method is problem-based learning (PBL), sometimes called enquiry-based learning. This aims to develop independent thinking and problem solving skills as well as subject knowledge; rather than being given information lecture-style, students use libraries and discuss issues with their peers to arrive at an understanding.
Many dental schools teach using a mixture of different styles but it is a good idea when you are attending university open days to bear teaching techniques in mind and make sure you have a clear understanding of what to expect on each course.
Tip: Some universities run 'taster courses' for students. They are a good opportunity to get a better idea about what undergraduate dentistry will be like and possibly to experience a different teaching style than you might be used to at A level.
All Dentistry courses teach clinical practice. Some do this right from the start of the course, allowing students to develop clinical skills alongside subject knowledge. Others wait much longer before exposing students to the clinical side of the profession to allow students a solid understanding of the science behind dentistry before building on this knowledge. Neither approach is right or wrong in terms of teaching. However, in terms of personality some students might feel excited and ready to get started from day one and relish the opportunity to get ‘stuck in’ immediately. Others might prefer the chance to feel more secure in their subject knowledge before meeting patients. Make sure that you feel comfortable with your university’s approach.
Some universities will allow you to complete an intercalated degree. This is an additional year of study and effectively it means that after your second year (usually), your dental studies are postponed and you spend a year at university studying something else. Students usually study a related subject and take the opportunity to further explore a field of particular interest. At the end of your intercalated year, you will graduate with a BSc. You then resume your dentistry degree at the start of your fourth year.
The advantages of intercalation include earning an extra qualification from only one year of study; exploring an area of interest in more depth; taking a break from dentistry which can be quite refreshing halfway through the course; and using the opportunity to learn skills beyond the dentistry course. The disadvantages are that you will be at university for an additional year, which will cost you in terms of both time and money; you will graduate a year behind your peers; and it is hard work to squeeze three undergraduate years into one.
It is a good idea to consider in advance whether you would like to study an intercalated degree and to ask questions about this whenever you get the opportunity. Not all universities offer intercalation so if this is important to you then make sure you research this before choosing where to apply.
There are two primary factors to consider in terms of location. The first is where the location is in relation to your family home. Some students prefer to live in reasonably close proximity to their family; others are not phased by moving quite far away. It is a personal decision and one which students will need to consider.
Secondly, what is the city itself like? Can you see yourself living there? Birmingham is the UK’s second largest city, home to four universities and is a busy and vibrant place. Some students will find this exciting whereas others might feel overwhelmed and prefer to live somewhere a bit smaller and more relaxed, such as Plymouth.
Tip: Try to attend open days for all of the universities you have applied to, and get to know the university itself as well as the town. Imagine yourself living there and see whether you would be happy to do so.
The importance that students place on each of these factors will vary according to personal preference and circumstance. Considering them all to some degree or another will help you to consider your decision holistically and you will hopefully be able to choose a city and university that you will be happy to live in and study at for the next five or six years.