Academics & Coursework

Before applying, dental schools expect that applicants develop certain competencies. Students develop some of these competencies through undergraduate coursework, while they develop others through experiences outside the classroom. Dental schools review your application looking for indicators that you have developed these competencies. They will expect you to complete certain coursework, maintain a certain GPA, and achieve a sufficient score on the DAT in order to gain admission.

Choosing a major #

For predental students, your major doesn't matter nearly as much as the competencies you build. While you need to complete certain science courses, you don't have to major in a science field.

Dental school admissions officials usually say that they do not have a preference for one particular major over another. In fact, most of them say they do not even prefer science majors over non-science majors. Dental schools seek to admit students from all majors who have developed strong abilities in the sciences, as well as other skills.

Regardless of your major, dental schools will expect you to complete a rigorous set of coursework in the natural sciences. Being a strong student in the sciences isn't enough though. You will need strong analytical and critical reasoning skills. Good dentists must be able to relate to their patients on a personal level. Communication skills are important too.

For these reasons, there is no one major that is considered the best for dental school applicants. You could become a strong applicant by majoring in a non-science field, as long as you excel in your science coursework and demonstrate that you are fully prepared for the demands of dental school. You could also become a strong applicant by majoring in a science field while taking advanced-level coursework in the humanities and social sciences to develop your communication and critical reasoning skills.

Predental coursework #

Before applying, dental schools will expect you to attain certain competencies through undergraduate coursework. Requirements vary by dental school, but common requirements include at least one year of college coursework (including both lecture and lab components) in biology, general/inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Additional requirements may include anatomy and physiology, additional upper-level coursework in biology, and biochemistry.

Dental schools have expectations that students who are building the necessary competencies should be able to excel in their predental science coursework, generally earning mostly A's and some B’s in predental science courses.

Research the requirements of the schools where you plan to apply. You can consult the individual dental school websites for information on admission requirements. The ADEA Official Guide to Dental Schools (https://www.adea.org/officialguide/) provides information on admission requirements for US and Canadian dental schools.

Indiana University offers a Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.) degree program on the IUPUI campus. Students planning to apply should complete the coursework below and review the requirements for admission to the D.D.S. program.

IU School of Dentistry Requirements1, 2 IU Bloomington course(s) that can fulfill the requirement
Biological Sciences3 (20 credit hours) Courses must include:
  • Anatomy or histology (lecture and lab): ANAT-A 215 or ANAT-A 464
  • Physiology (lecture): PHSL-P 215, PHSL-P 214, or BIOL-P 451
  • Microbiology or immunology (lecture): BIOL-M 250, BIOL-M 380, or BIOL-L 321
  • Molecular biology, cell biology, or biochemistry (lecture): BIOL-L 211, BIOL-L 312, CHEM-C 383 or CHEM-C 483

BIOL-L 112 is a prerequisite for BIOL-L 211 and contributes towards the 20 credit hour requirement.

Chemistry4 (12 credit hours) Courses must include:
  • General/inorganic chemistry (lecture and lab): CHEM-C 117 and C127
  • Organic chemistry (lecture and lab): CHEM-C 341 and C343

Select additional courses from CHEM-C 342, CHEM-C 118, or CHEM-N 331 to complete the 12 credit hour requirement.

Physics5 (8 credit hours) PHYS-P 201 and 202; or PHYS-P 221 and 222
Social Sciences (3 credit hours) Must include psychology or communication studies
Humanities (3 credit hours) Must include at least one of these courses: English composition, literature, philosophy, history, or foreign language

1A minimum of 90 credit hours of coursework must be completed by the time you enter the program. You must complete 30 of the 90 credit hours at a four-year college or university. Preference is given to applicants who have an undergraduate degree. If you have fewer than 60 credit hours, your application will not be considered.

2You should complete as many prerequisite courses as possible before applying. All prerequisites must be completed by June 30 of the year in which you plan to enter the program. You should take upper-level courses intended for science majors at a four-year college or university to fulfill the science prerequisites. Up to 4 credit hours of AP credit in a nonscience discipline may be used to fulfill prerequisites.

3You must complete the equivalent of 20 credit hours in the biological sciences. Only biology courses intended for science majors will count toward fulfilling this prerequisite.

4You must complete the equivalent of 12 credit hours in chemistry. Only chemistry courses intended for science majors will count toward fulfilling this prerequisite.

5You must complete the equivalent of 8 credit hours in physics (lecture and lab). Only physics courses intended for science or engineering majors will count toward fulfilling this prerequisite.

Academic record and GPA #

Your undergraduate GPA is one of the primary ways dental schools will evaluate your application for admission. What is a competitive GPA for admission to dental school? In 2021, the average cumulative GPA for students accepted to dental schools nationally was 3.58. The average cumulative GPA for IU Bloomington students accepted to at least one dental school in 2021 was 3.74. The average cumulative undergraduate GPA among matriculants to the IU School of Dentistry in 2020 was 3.54. A good benchmark for admission is to maintain an average cumulative GPA of 3.5 or higher.

Dental schools pay attention to grade trends and ranges also. A student who had a difficult first semester as a freshman but went on to earn A’s in rigorous science courses in future semesters could still be viewed favorably.

GPA calculations #

Dental schools do not just look at your GPA as shown on your IU transcript. Applicants apply to dental schools through a centralized application service, called AADSAS. The application service has its own method for recalculating your GPA. This allows the schools to more easily compare applicants, regardless of the grading system used at the student's college or university.

When you apply to dental school you will type information onto the application from the transcripts of all colleges and universities you have attended, including the title of each course, number of credit hours, and the grade earned for each course. Each course will be classified according to the subject matter of the course. This information will be used to calculate an overall cumulative GPA for you, as well as a science GPA, and other types of GPAs.

Science GPA

AADSAS calculates a special "BCP" GPA based on coursework classified as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, and physics. AADSAS provides a chart in the application instructions that explains how coursework in different subject areas is classified, since courses are not always classified the way one would expect according to the department at IU that offers a given course.

What is a competitive science GPA? The average science GPA nationally for students admitted to dental school in 2021 was 3.5.

Course retakes #

Generally, many dental schools advise that students should not retake coursework, but rather proceed into higher level coursework where they can show improvement. Still, some students may consider whether or not to retake a specific course in order to earn a higher grade.

If you are considering retaking a course to enhance your application to dental school, you will want to carefully consider the impact of IU Extended-X policies, policies of the centralized application service (AADSAS), and the likelihood and impact of obtaining a higher grade in the course. Make sure to consult information in this Guidebook on Repeated Coursework and Impact of ‘Extended-X’ Policies on Application to Professional Schools.

Before re-enrolling in a course, you will want to create a plan for success, including such elements as devoting additional time to the course, developing new study skills, attending instructor office hours, and using tutoring services.

Building a strong transcript #

Building a strong transcript requires careful planning, excellent time management skills, and dedication. Make use of resources such as instructor office hours and tutoring. Tracking your study time and devoting about 25-30 hours per week to preparation outside of class times can enhance your success!

Parallel planning #

What is parallel planning? It's a smart strategy to ensure your success. There are many possible paths to your goal of a healthcare career! Some predental students convince themselves that the only way to achieve their dreams is by becoming a dentist – but the truth is that you could potentially be successful in a wide number of fields. A parallel plan is a plan you create that you can pursue right alongside your first choice of a career. Predental science courses can be challenging, and parallel planning allows you to efficiently change paths at some point if you discover you do not like or no longer want to pursue your primary career path.

How could you create a parallel plan? Explore your interests, goals, and values. Meet with a career advisor. Think about other goals you would like to achieve alongside being a dentist – for instance, would you like to encourage good nutrition and healthy lifestyles, improve access to dental care, or work in research? Your answers to these questions may help indicate additional career paths through which you could find meaning.