For many pre-dental students looking to apply to dental school, one large hurdle to admissions is a low GPA. In fact, I faced this very issue going into my application cycle. While many schools are taking a holistic approach to application evaluation, GPA still is, and always will be, a major factor in application evaluation. In this article, I will discuss three different strategies for overcoming a lower GPA. For reference, the average GPA for matriculation is around a 3.5 for both cumulative (cGPA) and science (sGPA). Therefore, we will define a “low” GPA 3.0-3.3 and a “very low” GPA as <3.0.
High DAT Score
This is first, and most obvious, way to overcome a low GPA, and to an extent a very low GPA. In general, the DAT and GPA are weighted about equally for most dental schools in the US, and each gives admissions committee’s different information about your academic abilities. Your GPA describes your ability to perform academically over a long period of time, while the DAT describes your ability to retain a large volume of information at one specific point in time. Hence, a high DAT will offset a low GPA.
This is the option that worked out for my application. I had a cGPA of 3.3 and sGPA of 3.4, which was on the lower end of competitiveness. However, I scored a 25AA on my DAT, which I believe allowed me to get 5 acceptances to large state schools.
If you have a low GPA, you will want to aim for a 21+, ideally 23+. The closer you are to the average GPA for matriculation the more leeway to have in terms of DAT score. However, for those with very low GPA looking to offset with the DAT, a 23+ is the minimum you need to have a shot, and that still might not be enough. Therefore, I would not recommend this option to those with very low GPA. I do recommend this for those with low GPAs, especially as a first option. If you have a low GPA and you do not score optimally on the DAT, begin preparing for a retake, but also consider the other options in this article.
This option is particularly for those with very low GPAs and those with low GPAs and a lower DAT score (<20AA). There are many programs designed for pre-health students with low GPAs that offer the opportunity to take more upper-level science courses to demonstrate their ability to perform academically in professional school. These programs are called Post-bac or SMP programs. Many of them are certificate programs with some offering a master’s degree. In addition to these programs, traditional master’s programs also offer the opportunity to demonstrate academic ability. In fact, there are many master’s programs designed for pre-health students needing to boost their GPA.
The choice to do a master’s or a Post-bac/SMP ultimately depends on individual circumstance; however, both options are great opportunities to boost one’s GPA. The main drawback to this option is the cost of attendance. Most likely, you will be taking loans, which will be added to your total debt burden post-dental school. Therefore, take some seriously time to think about if this option is for you.
Another important point for this option is that it is essentially a “last shot” at getting a competitive GPA. Underperformance will be a large red flag to admissions committees. Therefore, if you have a borderline low GPA, it may be best to only consider this option after you take your DAT and had one unsuccessful cycle (if you do this, plan to apply for these programs during your application cycle so you can start immediately). Unfortunately for those with very low GPAs, this is your main option and high performance is a must.
Strong Extracurriculars, Shadowing & Personal Statement
This final option is for both low and very low GPA students as a supplement to the above options. With more wholistic approaches to application evaluation, one can really shine if the rest of their application outside of the DAT and GPA are stellar. This is evident in the many stories you hear of applicants with low GPAs and DAT scores getting accepted. However, the reason these students are successful is not solely from the number of hours and activities they have. These students with less than competitive applications can write a compelling and moving narrative around why they want to be a dentist and why they deserve a shot. This is where your personal statement comes in. With this strategy, you need a stellar personal statement that ties your entire application together into a strong narrative. By using your personal statement as a framing tool for a strong application narrative, you can shift admissions committees in your favor. To do this, you will need to spend time reviewing your entire application, plan a narrative, and then begin to weave your high-quality shadowing/extracurriculars with in that narrative. This advice applies to all applicants regardless of GPA/DAT competitiveness; however, for those looking to overcome a low GPA, this is crucial.