Preparing for Dental School

Dental schools use a process called holistic review to weigh personal factors, academic preparation, and professional experience when reviewing an applicant’s “readiness” for dentistry. Put together, these create a picture of you as a whole person. 

In addition to having a clear motivation for the field,completing required coursework, experience in clinical and community settings, participating in research, hobbies and interests, and completing the DAT are common admissions factors for dental schools.

Requirements vary from school to school, so it’s always necessary to consult program websites. Pre-requisite courses may include:

Dental School Required Coursework

TopicCredits/SemestersUW-Madison CoursesIs AP Accepted?
Biology8-10 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Zoology 101-102 and an additional bioscience course with lab such as Botany 130, Anat&Phy 335/435, OR Anat&Phy 337 AND 338)

Biology 151-152

Biocore 381-382 AND 383-384 satisfies Intro to Bio requirements

*Biocore: Students must apply to enroll in Biocore. For more information, visit their website.
If you have AP credit for Biology, plan to enroll in additional advanced Biology (see Advanced Biology section below) once you've finished your intro Biology sequence.
General Chemistry8-10 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Chemistry 103-104
Chemistry 109*
Chem 115-116 (intended for Chemistry majors)

*Schools may accept Chem 109 as equivalent to two semesters of inorganic chemistry; some may ask for a letter from the UW-Madison Chemistry Department describing the condensed nature of Chem 109. See Pre-Health Advising for more information if you have taken Chem 109
Schools may accept AP credit for Chem 103. It is best to check the policy of the school.
Organic Chemistry6-8 credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.

Some schools will accept 1 semester of Organic Chemistry with 1 semester of Biochemistry.
Chem 343 Introductory Organic Chemistry
Chem 345 Intermediate Organic Chemistry
Chem 344 Introductory Organic Chemistry Lab
Physics8-10 Credits or 2 semesters

Usually labs are required.
Choose one of the following sequences:

Physics 103-104 (algebra-based)
Physics 201-202 (calculus-based; recommended for Engineering majors)
Physics 207-208 (calculus-based; recommended for Life Science majors)

* If physics is required for your major, select the sequence recommended by your major. If physics is not required by your major, physics 103-104 is an appropriate choice
Most schools will accept AP credit for at least one physics course.
Math/Calculus3-5 credits or 1 semesterChoose one of the following:

Math 171-217
Math 211
Math 221
Very school dependent!
Note, not all programs require calculus.
BiochemistrySome schools require 3 credits or 1 semester.Choose one of the following courses:

Biochemistry 501
Biochemistry 507-508 (intended for Biochem majors)
Social ScienceThis varies widely across programs from courses being "recommended" up to 24 credits.If you have AP credit for Social Science, you should enroll in additional Social Sciences course(s) in college.
HumanitiesPlan on taking 6 credits of English.Learn more: English Requirements for Health ProgramsIf you have AP English, you can take more interesting English classes.
Statistics3 credits or 1 semesterChoose one of the following:
Statistics 301
Statistics 371
an introductory statistics course in your major department
Schools are more willing to accept AP stats IF you have at least one math class at the college level
Advanced BiologyRequirements vary depending on the program Anat/Phys 337
Anat/Phys 335 or 435
Microbiology 303-304

Working or volunteering in dental clinics and other healthcare settings gives you a chance to work with patients and healthcare teams. Experience like this is extremely valuable for pre-health students. Most dental schools require 40-80 hours of shadowing, which is easier to do if you are working in a dental clinic. 

Explore Jobs Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Dental programs look for applicants who demonstrate a sustained commitment to serving others in healthcare and community settings. Learn more about service opportunities by visiting our Volunteering page and choose opportunities and organizations aligned with your interests!

Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Research is an important way to develop skills that help you hone your capacity to learn and begin to contribute to the generation of new knowledge in fields of inquiry. Working in a research lab also gives you the opportunity to cultivate relationships with faculty who can serve as letter writers when you apply to a health professions program.

Explore Research Opportunities

CPHA is here to help with the DAT! Enroll in CPHA’s Applying to Health Professions self-paced course to learn more about the DAT.

What is the DAT?

The Dental College Admission Test (DAT) is a standardized content exam designed to assess your content knowledge in areas of biology, chemistry, and social science as well as your ability to reason through scientific research, evaluate data, and analyze writing from a broad range of topics. You are not penalized for guessing and raw scores are converted to scaled scores to adjust for differences between exams. Scaled scores are reported within a range of 1-30, with 19 being “average.”

  • Natural Science (100) includes (40) questions about biology, (30) questions about general chemistry, and (30) questions about organic chemistry. 
  • The Perceptual Ability Test (90 items) consists of six subtests that assess your ability to perceive dimensions and mentally manipulate objects in space. This includes, for example, the ability to differentiate among angles, or imagine how three-dimensional objects appear when viewed from different angles.
  • Reading Comprehension (50 items) contains three reading passages on various scientific topics.
  • Quantitative Reasoning (40 items) includes algebra, data analysis, quantitative comparison, probability, statistics, and math word problems.

DAT Exam Overview

SectionNumber of QuestionsTime Allotted
Optional Tutorial10 minutes
Section 1: Survey of Natural Sciences10090 minutes
Section 2: Perceptual Ability Test9060 minutes
Optional Break30 minutes
Section 3: Reading Comprehension5060 minutes
Section 4: Quantitative Reasoning4045 minutes
Optional Survey15 minutes
Total Content Time4 hours, 20 minutes
Total Test Time5 hours, 15 minutes

Before the DAT: Recommended Coursework

The DAT is a content based exam meaning you need certain courses before taking it. The courses you should complete before taking the DAT include:

Pre-DAT Coursework

SubjectCourse Options at UW-Madison
Introductory BiologyZoo 101 & additional intro bio such as Botany 130
Bio 151 & Bio 152
Biocore 381 & 383
General ChemistryChem 103-104
Chem 109
Chem 115-116
Organic ChemistryChem 343 & 345
*Chem 344 lab is not required, but helpful for the DAT
BiochemistryBiochem 501
Biochem 507-508
Helpful courses - NOT REQUIRED

You might take one of these to strengthen your knowledge in an area
Introductory Statistics
Math through pre-calculus
Physiology 335
Genetics 466
3-D Art or modeling

DAT Timelines

After completing the DAT, you get an unofficial score and you will receive an official score within a month. For students who are applying as juniors, many students take the exam during the summer of junior year. If you need to complete coursework, take the DAT by April of your junior year since this allows you to receive your score before you submit your application. The DAT is offered year-round at Prometric testing sites across the country so finding a test date typically is not a problem. 

If you apply as a senior or later (and take a gap year), many students prepare for the DAT over summer of their junior year and take it in August. 

Studying for the DAT

There isn’t one “right” way to do well on the DAT, but people who are successful do these things:

  • Assess yourself! You need to be honest with yourself about:
    • Your attention span and the breaks you need
    • Your test stress – you will need longer to prepare if you have high test stress
    • The types of resources that work for you. It’s okay to try new study techniques and tools, but you cannot use all of them. If you convince yourself that you must complete everything in one section before you can move on, you will not make progress. 
  • Carve out regular time to study. You must build this into your schedule. If you study during the regular semester, treat the DAT like a difficult 3 credit class and block time for it like class! 
    • If you have HIGH test stress, carve out 16 hours/week over 20-24 weeks
    • If you have LOW test stress (exams are your superpower!), carve out 16 hrs/week over 8-10 weeks
    • If you have NORMAL test stress, carve out 16 hrs/week over 16 weeks
  • You might take a course if you know you need the structure of a course and want some tutoring that often comes with it. However, you do not need a course to do well on the DAT if you can structure your time. 
  • Practice reading online so you get faster at reading passages; practice math word problems
  • Take practice exams! Taking a practice exam before you start studying shows you your strengths and weaknesses and allows you to prioritize content. 
  • The module “Prepare for the DAT” on “Applying to Health Professions” has more information on study plans, resources, and tips. Enroll in CPHA’s “Applying to Health Professions” course – it’s free!

Application Process

Dental schools use a central application called AADSAS, similar to the Common App, to collect biographical information, academic information, experience, and letters of recommendation in one place for schools to review. Applications open in May and it is important to submit by early June since many schools fill their seats on a rolling basis.

Most schools give you a chance to submit additional essays that are specific to their school called secondary essays. These essays are a chance to “speak” directly to a school about your interest in their program. 

Interviews for dental programs can begin as early as August and go through December. In February and March, you can attend second-look weekends if you have been offered a spot at a school. Schools (and applicants) finalize their decisions in March/April, and you begin dental school in July or August. The entire application process takes a full year!

Learn more about Applying