Your Dental School application from start to finish
Dentistry is a competitive discipline with high numbers of applicants per place. Prospective dentists will need to start preparing their application as many as three years in advance of their UCAS form. In this article we explore the different stages of the application timeline and how to make the most of each.
Year 10-11: the GCSE grades you need to study dentistry
Year 12: the obligatory work experience
Year 13 (October): the personal statement
Year 13 (June-November): the entrance tests
Year 13 (February/March): interviews
Year 13 (end of March): offers
Year 13 (May): decisions
Year 13 (August): places confirmed
Working towards a Dental School application starts in year 10 as university admissions tutors will look at GCSE as well as A level grades for prospective dentists. Students will need a minimum of five A/A* or 7/8/9 grades and ideally more. It is particularly important that students perform well in Maths and Science GCSEs in order to progress to A level study in these subjects with a solid foundation of knowledge (and also because some schools will set minimum GCSE grades in order to allow advancement to A level in a particular subject).
Students applying to read dentistry at university need to have a minimum of two weeks’ work experience in a dental setting. It need not be a continuous fortnight. The most obvious thing to do would be to observe your dentist at work (incidentally this is also often a straightforward way of securing work experience as your existing relationship with the dentist can make it easier to ask for help than it would be approaching someone new). Students could also consider work experience in a dental laboratory or the maxillofacial department of a hospital. Although two weeks is the minimum work experience, obtaining more than this is likely to strengthen your application. Try and experience more than one dental setting, for example visit an NHS practice and a private clinic to observe the similarities and differences of each.
It is important to note that your reflections on your work experience are what make the experience itself so important. Noting down what you have learnt and anything you found interesting, surprising or exciting, will enable you to comment intelligently on your experience when you come to writing your personal statement and at interview. Bear in mind that many months might have passed between your work experience and your interview so you will probably be grateful of some notes to jog your memory by that time.
In addition to dentistry-specific work experience, students need to complete voluntary work or, if they can find it, relevant paid work. The most useful types of voluntary work will have transferrable skills linked to dentistry, for example volunteering at an old people’s home allows you to show your empathy, your ability to communicate with people of a different generation to yourself and your patience. It is a good idea to volunteer over a long period of time; an afternoon per week over a year demonstrates your qualities and commitment far more convincingly than a week of volunteering immediately prior to the UCAS deadline.
As with a personal statement for any subject, when applying to read dentistry you need to be able to demonstrate your genuine enthusiasm for the discipline as well as your ability to succeed on the course. You can do this by communicating your interest in your A level subjects (go beyond the syllabus where possible) and through mentioning your work experience. When talking about work experience, consider what you learnt from it and what it was that you saw that affirmed your desire to study dentistry. An admissions tutor wants to know what you got out of your work experience, not simply that you have done it. The same is true of your voluntary work.
Applying to read dentistry is different from other courses because in some ways it is a job application as well as a course application. Admissions tutors are looking for students who have the potential to be dentists so consider what qualities are necessary in order to succeed in that career and then explain how you fulfil those, with examples. Your extra-curricular activities will probably be useful here, so think about how to make them work for you. Although your interest in football doesn’t seem related to dentistry, playing for the school 1st team indicates commitment, reliability, determination and teamwork.
Finally, close your personal statement with a short, snappy ‘conclusion’ of no more than three sentences, summarising what you have said and reminding admissions tutors how much you would like the opportunity to study at their institution and what a success you would make of that.
The UKCAT and BMAT are preadmissions tests that all prospective dentists, medics and vets are required to sit as part of their application. Universities use the results of these tests to differentiate between applicants as the vast majority will meet or exceed the standard A level or equivalent offer. Although the tests are designed in such a way that students are often told they ‘cannot revise’, this is not the same as not being able to prepare so do expect to put some effort in.
Both tests involve numerical and verbal reasoning; an advanced version of the sorts of questions asked at 11 and 13+. In addition to this, the BMAT includes questions on GCSE-level Maths and Science, as well as an essay section. Students taking the BMAT will usually be at least one year away from studying GCSEs, so brushing up on syllabus content before the examination is a good idea.
Sample questions are available online for both the UKCAT and the BMAT so use this resource to familiarise yourself with what to expect and practice responding. Both examinations place students under time pressure; familiarity with the questions and the thought processes required to respond will help students to complete more questions, and likely with more accuracy, in the time available than someone to whom the examination is completely new territory.
If you submit a strong personal statement and receive high marks in the entrance tests, you might be lucky enough to be invited to interview: the final hurdle. An interview is your best chance to impress an admissions tutor so it is important to take the time to prepare and make sure that you are ready. Reading through your personal statement is essential and so is the ability to reflect upon everything you have found out and learnt from your A level study, wider reading and work experience. For more detailed information on succeeding at interview, read our tips on how to prepare.
The deadline for universities to respond to UCAS is the end of March. Your UCAS Track should update and let you know which universities have accepted you by then.
The UCAS deadline for responding is in May. If you are holding offers, by this point you will need either to accept or reject them. Students can select a firm choice (the university they would most like to go to) and an insurance choice (their second choice university, usually with lower grade entry requirements). Only put an insurance choice if you would be happy to go to that institution.
Once you have responded to the universities through UCAS, your application is complete. There is nothing more to do than work hard to achieve the grades that your first choice requires and achieve your dream of studying dentistry at university.
On Results Day, if you have achieved the results required for your firm or insurance choices, UCAS Track will update and show that you have a place at that institution.
If anything other than this happens on results day, then seek advice. Dental Schools do accept retake applications so this is an option for you and there are sometimes Dentistry places available through Clearing so it is not the end of the world if you have underperformed. It is important that you speak to someone well-informed about what to do next: a form tutor or Head of Department at your school is usually a good choice. On Results Day, MPW Directors of Studies and Heads of Department will always be available to speak to students (including external students) so if you need any further advice about A level retakes then contact us.