As applicants for the 2014 admission cycle to dental school tirelessly check classes and activities off of their mental checklists and study for the looming Dental Admission Test (DAT) in the hopes that their efforts will soon pay off, they may or may not be aware that their preparation will be far from over when they turn their applications in. Beginning in August, after holistic evaluations of each applicant on the merits of their GPA, DAT Scores, Shadowing Hours, Personal Statement, Leadership, and Extracurricular Activities, potential candidates for dental schools are invited for interviews. Interviews allow the admissions committee to assess each candidate’s interpersonal skills, giving key insight into how a candidate may interact with patients. The interview is also used to gauge an applicant’s “fit” with the mission, focus, and strengths of the particular school, which cannot be deduced solely from numbers alone. Schools differ across many criteria, ranging from emphasis on research or community service to the structure of their curriculum, which can be traditional discipline-based instruction, problem-based learning (PBL), or the diagonal curriculum in that students gain exposure to patients early rather than after the completion of coursework and labs. Hence, the interview is essential for assessing the applicant’s unique skillset and personality and whether or not they will fit in with the unique educational mission and environment of the school.
Because the interview is such a crucial step for gaining admission to dental school, it warrants time and practice, just like the DAT. To begin their preparation, students should first look up the common types of questions they may be asked in the interviews, which can range from, “Why did you choose a career in dentistry?” to those focusing on their personality or their actions should they face an ethical dilemma with a patient. “Such questions probe deeper into the personality of the applicants and paints a better picture of their success in dental school and as a dentist,” says Agnes Ho, a senior from the School of Biology who was accepted to dental school this application cycle.
After getting an idea of the types of questions they may get asked, students should next reflect on their interests, as well as the unique array of experiences they have mentioned on the dental school application. Examples of the types of experiences to mention include completing team-based projects in Problem Based Learning I/II, tackling difficult coursework in Biomechanics and the Quantitative Physiology Labs, taking on leadership roles in organizations, and involving themselves in internships, co-ops, or research experiences. Students can discuss making orthographic sketches, CAD renditions, and physical models for their engineering projects when asked to reflect on how they have developed their spatial abilities and manual dexterity. Afterwards, five or six experiences should be chosen for which the student could answer most of those common questions. It is important to highlight the key skills that will make you an asset to the school by tailoring your answers to the questions being asked.
The best way to become good at interviews is to practice, practice, and practice! To develop this skill, students should utilize the myriad of opportunities available on campus, which include mock interviews with Jennifer Kimble (Georgia Tech’s pre-health advisor), interviews with companies that participate in the mock interview program, and Open Forum sessions in the Clough Commons, in addition to interviewing for club leadership, research, internship, and co-op positions. Students can also practice in front of the mirror and with their friends and family. By becoming familiar with the experiences they want to highlight and practicing how to relate them to a variety of potential interview questions, students will learn to “think on their feet” and successfully answer the interviewers’ questions while marketing themselves efficiently.
Lastly, the applicants themselves should also be proactive about asking questions when they go for interviews. “The interview is not strictly for the applicants to be questioned, but rather a back-and-forth conversation”, says Joan Chung, another senior from the School of Biology who was recently accepted to dental school. During the interview, applicants should “show interest in meeting with the students who will be interviewing them and those already in dental school and ask them questions!” says Faraz Jamal, a recent graduate from the School of Chemistry & Biochemistry at Georgia Tech, who was also accepted to dental school in this application cycle. Applicants should come prepared with questions pertaining to the specifics of the dentistry program at that school. While doing all of these things, it is important to always stay genuine! Practicing for an interview does not entail memorizing the answers and just saying what they want to hear, but rather becoming proficient at articulating your thoughts, even for those questions which you may not have had a chance to practice. Ultimately, answering the question in a way that reveals their personality while maintaining a polite and friendly demeanor will give any candidate an edge against the competition for successfully completing the interview and getting accepted into dental school.