Friday, March 30, 2012

Historic Philadelphia row houses

TGIF lovelies. In two days, it will already be April!!!

I called up my landlord this week to discuss specific points in our contract. Philadelphia is saturated with renters due to a constant influx of Penn, Drexel and University of the Sciences students & employees. In our case, being two graduate students with verifiable acceptances was enough to be guaranteed an apartment. But we still had to pay an application fee and go through the application process.

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My landlord patiently answered all my questions until I was satisfied. Enough for me to send in the most expensive check in my bank account history. “Okay, I am looking forward to living in a row house!”

“Um”, he replied, “This isn’t a row house.”

It’s not that row houses are difficult to identify architecturally. I didn’t realize this place was not a row house because I’ve never seen this place in person.

There is an entire Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual published by the city of Philadelphia. Among historic facts and classification of row houses, the manual goes through each component of the row house (windows, porches, garages) and suggestions for house modifications. I have been dreaming of living in a row house since I drooled over brownstones every day in Boston. And saw them in a music video I’m obsessed with. I get house envy like others do for purses or shoes. Sometimes I browse through real estate listings and floor plans...

Even if I’m not really living in a row house, I'll probably walk by seven of them every day in the city. Besides, this is probably the oldest building I’ve ever lived in. (Now let me go and rip up all my crayon drawings of me and my roommate eating cupcakes in our lovely row house.)

Anyone else have major house envy?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dental application timeline (junior year to acceptance)

Good morning! My breakfast today is a yogurt pancake with a side of oranges and chocolate. Let’s get started with the dental school application timeline.

Although my undergraduate institution only had a few pre-dental students, we had Dr. McD, the most amazing advisor to walk the humble roads of this planet. I adapted my timeline from the Predental Timeline at American Student Dental Association and our pre-health advising guide. This timeline is for those applying the summer between junior and senior year.  If you are taking a gap year like I did, add a year.

Junior year is really the toughest. If everything goes as planned, you will be done with most of the application process by the start of senior year.

Junior Year Fall
-Inform Letter of Reference writers about intent
-Find a dentist to shadow and establish a weekly schedule (Aim for 20+ hours)
-Study for and take the DAT during winter break (This gives you time to take it again if needed)
-Think about where to apply
-Write your personal statement

Junior Year Spring
-Submit necessary information to the health advising office
-Drop off a personal files folder to your Letter of Reference writers
-Continue shadowing your dentist
-Finalize your dental school list
-Make final polishes on your personal statement

The Summer
-Apply through AADSAS (ASAP when it opens early June)
-Study for the DAT and take again if needed (you can apply through AADSAS without a DAT score)
-Send in supplemental applications
-Check pre-requisites to take senior year as needed

Senior Year
-Check application status
-Wow them at interviews
-Hear back from schools on December 1st

Whew! Then hopefully you can look forward to starting dental school in the fall. Until then, you have the entire summer to celebrate and relax.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to get into dental school as an international applicant

I dropped by the international office last week to chat with my advisor because I need my records transferred out. The advisor enthusiastically congratulated me on getting into dental school. "That's four internationals we've sent to med school since I've been here!" That seemed awfully small for Rice. A third of our incoming freshman is pre-med.

At my first session with my pre-health advisor Dr. McD, we reviewed my statistics. GPA, DAT score, great, great. But what state was I a resident at? "Um, I'm not a U.S. citizen." "Oh, we need to come up with a game plan for you." 263963_10150296327025169_694830168_9343282_2050593_n
I'll be the first to admit this. Being an international student trying to get into dental school sucks. First, you can't even apply to some state schools. For others that prefer their state residents, international students come last after other U.S. residents. Some schools even charge a higher application fee for non-U.S. citizens. That little blip at the end- "Oh, I am international"- often resolves puzzled looks when you tell them you haven't gotten any interviews yet.

But there are private schools that do not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens, at least not officially.

In addition, there are few financial resources for international students. There is no option of Health Professions Scholarship Program, no subsidized loans or FAFSA. This makes the application process more of a family affair unless you have 500k tucked away somewhere.

But couple of notes, from my personal case:
- Check dental schools' admission policy on international students. Pore through the admissions page. You don’t want to drop $80 on the application fee to find out that they do not accept non-U.S. citizens.

- Stop whining. Digging a pity hole and burying yourself in it doesn't achieve anything.  I filled many Kakaotalk family chat rooms whining. "Oh, I wish I was a citizen so I could apply to X." "Can I become a U.S. citizen in four weeks?" I think my family simply turned off their phones whenever I went on my rants.
- Don’t worry about post-graduation plans. You haven't gotten in anywhere. Why sip on the soup when the party hasn't even started? (Korean proverb) You have four years to figure out what you are going to do once you earn your degree. Relax.

Getting into dental school is hard, but not impossible. Dozens of international students get into dental schools every year. Besides, if you are not a U.S. citizen, you are a citizen somewhere else. For me, a summer visit to Korea reaffirmed that this is home.

Deciding to apply to dental schools after a gap year

My decision to take a gap year came from hours of chatting with dental students and current dentists. Here are some important advice I learned while making this decision:

1. Objectively evaluate your dental application.
If you application is ready, apply. There is a reason people love University of the Pacific's 3-year program. You are losing your first (or last) year’s salary by starting your career a year later. Rolling admissions is a tricky game, but schools do save spots for late applicants who have stellar applications. On the flip side, do not apply if you are not ready. It takes time to bring up your GPA, take the DAT, or finish the required shadowing hours. Look through the many dental resources online and compare yourself to other applicants who got into your dream school.

2. Consider your senior year workload.
Applying does not end with your AADSAS application. Dental schools require interviews as part of their admissions process, so you will miss school. I have seen applicants emailing in their lab reports during interview lunches and panicking at their spotty 3G connection. GPA is a part of your application too. Make sure you can handle the application process while keeping your grades up.

3. Start studying for the DAT early.
Especially the Perceptual Abilities Test. It took me some time to get used to this particular way of thinking and visualizing.

4. Don't worry about filling your gap year with something "meaningful"- yet.
You probably have to make this decision early on in the year. Do not not take a gap year because you don't know what you will do next year. Many things can happen between now and graduation. Also, this is not as important as you think. See 5. (Or you can browse through thrift stores for beautiful things in your spare time…)
5. Push through your senior year.
Your senior year matters much more than your actual gap year because application process occurs so early. Most of your application material will come from your activities senior year. Finish your senior year with a bang. Finish your community service project. Ace your classes and submit that publication. I was asked about my gap year exactly twice at my interviews and both times because my interviewer was doing related research.

What factors did you consider when (if) deciding to take a gap year? And please solve the decade-old puzzle: is it your first year income or last year’s? (See 1.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

More online resources you should know (and some offline)

In addition to the three online dental resources I talked about, here are some more  helpful websites to get you familiar with the application process.
Short for "Associated American Dental Schools Application Service", you will start calling it "add-sass" and know it a little too well by the end of your process. This is the Common Application for dental schools. AADSAS greatly simplifies the application process so you can submit everything to one place. AADSAS sends out your transcripts, reference letters and basic applications (some schools require supplements).
Website of American Dental Association. This is where you will sign up for the Dental Admission Test, or DAT, by first getting a DentPin. There is a great variety of resources that will be helpful in a few years when you are a dentist, but for now, I like to read through the ADA news.
Website of American Student Dental Association. There is quite a bit of information about the organization itself than resources for dentist-hopeful's, but the basic Getting into Dental School should be helpful in getting you started.

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Get out there!
And of course, don't forget to use your offline resources. Your school may have a pre-health advising office or a pre-dent club (if not, look at nearby schools or consider starting one). Call up your dentist and ask if you can ask her a few questions. Or is your neighbor a dentist? Or your volleyball teammates' mom?

One helpful resource may be your school's career resources center. They may keep a list of alumni or community members you can contact for informational interviews.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dental Notebook: staying organized and sane through application process

Today is the most beautiful day in the history of humanity. Except I can hear two boys crying outside my window with a third yelling: "I didn't do anything!"

Now that my application process is over, I have one strategy that have kept me sane throughout the application process: centralizing all dental progress to one "Dental Notebook". And I mean a real physical paper notebook.

I didn't like taking my netbook on interviews (I've dropped my laptop while catching a cab). It is such a hassle on airplanes with rules about electronic devices and the seat-table. For most of my interviews, I ended up carrying my Dental Notebook plus a clipboard with my AADSAS application and supplemental materials.

Here is my page for University of Pennsylvania. I kept a list of Quick Facts at the top with basic information about the school including the application due date, and a Correspondence section where I kept track of emails, mails, and phone calls. The rest of the page was for Brainstorming: facts about the school, questions I thought up, plus any other relevant comments about the program-school-location.

On my way back from interviews, I also used the back to centralize my notes from the trip. I would leave it on my lap, scribble a few notes, fall asleep, wake up to eat the free peanuts, repeat. By the time my plane landed in Houston, I had a whole page of notes from the interview in one place, organized while the information was still fresh in my mind. I also had my dental school Happy Points here to refer back to.

For me, this was a simple and effective way to keep track of everything in one place so that I didn't go crazy. I'm very visual and hands-on, so it helped to be able to play with different colors, add on post-its, and highlight certain points. I'm sure all this can be done on the computer if you are more tech-savvy than I am, especially with one of those beautiful tablets.

How have you kept organized through the application process? 
Did anyone use Excel or OneNote to keep track of application statuses?

Deciding where to apply for dental school

There are currently 61 dental schools in the U.S. That's every second in the minute plus one. Choosing where to apply (considering the pretty pennies they cost) is not easy.

Before I decided where to apply, I pulled up my handy Dental Notebook and brainstormed up Happy Points: characteristics my ideal school would have. I wrote them all down, no matter how wild they were. (Snow and beaches?)
For me, good public transportation and an active performing arts scene ranked high on the list. These will be different for everyone. This is why I don't think StudentDoctor is the smartest place to gather advice, because who knows what makes you happy better than you do?

Next step was to go through the ADEA Official Guide, school by school and evaluate each school objectively against my criteria to determine if I would enjoying being a student at the school.

Some simple guidelines about where to apply:

1. Apply to your state school.
Even if you would rather eat tablespoons of cinnamon than stay home, do it. It will be easier to get in & often times much much much cheaper. You don't know how you will feel in six months, especially after some scary financial aid sessions. You don't have to go if you don't want to. But if you don't apply, you won't even have this option.

2. Apply to safeties. Apply to reaches.
Compare your application to those from accepted students. Apply to a few safeties, but also apply to a few where your statistics fall on the lower end. Since the published statistics are from a previous year, the statistics for this application cycle may be different. Don't be surprised in a bad way. Cushion yourself on both sides.

3. Don't let one factor turn you off.
There was no one dental school that fit all of my Happy Points. Some schools fit most points except for a crucial point, such as having no direct flights to home or being in a must-have-car city. You may find that there are simple solutions to your un-Happy Points. (An hour's train away from a major global hub. An active car-sharing program for graduate students.) Keep an open mind and let your Happy Points serve as a guideline not TSA regulations.

4. Better safe than sorry.
This is what my parents told me for every school I was on the fence about. I applied to more than a dozen schools and shed many tears paying thousands in application fees. But here's a fact: you won't get into the schools you don't apply to.

How did you formulate your list of dental schools to apply to? 
What factors were important in your decision?

Friday, March 23, 2012

Top ten dental schools

Happy Friday, everyone! Whew. Let's talk dental school rankings.

What is the best dental school in the nation?
What are the top ten dental schools?
Is Dental School X better than Dental School?
What is the ranking of this dental school?

In case you are curious, there are dental school rankings. From more than a decade ago. For the 1997 U.S. News and World Report, American Association of Dental Schools refused to send out the peer surveys, claiming the assessments were "flawed". Dental schools were rated on reputation alone through assessment by peer schools. Both lists are from My Kidz Dentist.

Here are the 1997 rankings:
  1. San Antonio
  2. North Carolina
  3. Iowa
  4. Michigan
  5. Washington
  6. Buffalo
  7. Alabama
  8. UCSF
  9. Indiana
  10. Maryland
  11. Minnesota
  12. UCLA
The dental schools were also ranked in 1992 by the Gourman Report:
  1. Harvard
  2. UCSF
  3. Michigan
  4. Columbia
  5. UPenn
  6. UCLA
  7. Ohio State
  8. Tufts
  9. NYU
  10. Minnesota
There is no current official ranking of dental schools, nor do I think there should be. Each dental school is different in its strengths and weaknesses. To start off schools can have problem-based versus lecture-based learning and a focus on research or clinical education. Saying one is better than the other is like saying ketchup is better than barbecue sauce. Everyone's Happy Points for dental schools are different. There is not a best school (sauce) for everyone (every meal), but there is a school best for you. You should find it yourself instead of relying on a rankings list to tell you where to go. (What kind of food are you? What sauce would best complement your culinary highlights?)

On the other hand, if you are in search of such lists because you want to attend a "prestigious" dental school, that's your prerogative as well. But you should not clutch to the list as your reason for applying to School XYZ. If going to a name-brand school is important to you (not your friends, not your parents, not your neighbor's niece's piano teacher), you should.

Did anyone else google "top dental schools" during the application process?
Do you think prestige is important when it comes to dental schools?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Useful online dental resources you should know

Let's start with resources every dental student should know. There are a ton of resources online to help you in your dental admissions process. Here are some that I've found useful.

This website is seriously the PreDents is a data-driven site which collects statistics on applicants who submit their relevant info (DAT, GPA, extracurriculars, school, personal information) and where they applied, interviewed, and got in. You can click through specific schools or applicant profiles. (Note to applicants: Post your stats for the next round of applicants. Extra points to whoever finds me on PreDents!)

Consider this the College Confidential of dental school.The Dental Forums are useful if you have specific questions you want to ask to the general pre-dent audience. There are some admission gurus on this forum but you might want to take some advice with a grain of salt (and maybe a chill pill). On the main website are also useful articles to flip through. I especially like the Dentist Profiles. There is also an Interview Feedback page for each dental school with comments from applicants (similar to Predents).

American Dental Education Association publishes an Official Guide to Dental Schools- a must-have. If your pre-health advising office does not have a copy, you can order the 2012 guide for only $35. Put this on your birthday list. This book is the bible of dental schools: your one source for looking up deadlines, requirements, average GPA/DAT scores, tuition and incoming student profiles.

What online resources have you found useful? Did anyone else harbor an unhealthy Student Doctor addiction during the application process?

Moving to Philadelphia: the apartment search

This afternoon my co-worker asked me about my plans for the fall. Well, I just signed the lease for the upcoming school year. I told him that the place doesn't look too big but it is only a couple of blocks away from campus. And pretty. At least on Google Street View.

He stopped me. "Wait, you've seen this place right?" I said, "No... But I saw pictures of it online. And my roommate's seen it."

Him: "Good, you have a friend that's living in Philadelphia?" Me: "No, I met her online. I've never seen her in person."

By this point my co-worker was laughing in disbelief.

This is how my apartment search went in Philadelphia: entirely online. I spent a week monitoring Craigslist and searching apartment databases. Some real estate agents told me March was too early to start looking. Some told me every unit was gone but I could be on the waiting list. Not knowing too much about Philadelphia except that Philadelphia has a much higher living cost than Houston, I was feeling overwhelmed until I was contacted by my now-roommate. She had already found an apartment- did I want to live together?

Home is where the heart, or your favorite snuggle-buddy, is:

I found this Philadelphia County Safe Map on which was pretty useful. University of Pennsylvania is in West Philadelphia, and we all know how dangerous West Philadelphia is. According to this map, I am in the safety zone. I guess I will see in August if I need to start drawing faces on potatoes or invest in some high-tech rat traps.

Have you roomed with a "stranger"? Or seen your apartment for the first time on move-in day? How did it turn out for you?

Why I took a gap year from dental school

I decided to attend dental school somewhat late in the game. My original plan was to get a PhD in genetics and go into academia. After a quarter-life crisis I decided that I wanted to switch routes and go to dental school. This was September of my senior year.

As soon as I found out that dental schools use rolling admission, I panicked. I still had to take the DAT, shadow a dentist, gather up letters of reference and put together my application. Some people have an entire lifetime's desire to become a dentist. I would have to convey this overnight. Every minute I was having this debate in my head, dental applications were being submitted and read. I thought about applying to graduate schools or even taking a fifth year. This is how much I wanted to avoid having an "empty" year.

Taking a gap year is not an easy decision since a year off does not guarantee anything. A "gap year" may not turn out to be a gap year if it marks the beginning of your adult life. You might not get in. Or you may change your mind. Or you may enjoy making money too much to go back to being a student.

I decided to take that gap year. It was the hardest decision I'd made, but one that I made for myself.

The rest of my senior year I shadowed a dentist weekly. I studied for the DAT and took it over winter break. I took time off to think about my career plans. I attended senior events and made memories with my friends. I gathered some important advice on making this decision and what to do during such a gap year. I still had some moments of panic in my suite (three of us were taking a gap year), but cupcakes and frozen yogurt saved us many times.

And by the time May rolled around, I was ready to apply bright and early.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

New chapter, new blog

Hi, welcome to my blog, D is for Dentist.

I'm Yesle. I've been in Houston for the last five years and loving it: Buc-ee's, cheap and colorful restaurants, the sunny weather, Rice University. This fall, I will be moving to Philadelphia to work on my DMD degree at University of Pennsylvania.

For those who've never been down to this vibrant city, this is Houston in the Texas map mural by Austintacious Artists. You can go to 23rd and Guadalupe in Austin to see it in person if you'd like (then stop by H-town).


I blogged for a few years about sciences/Houston/ inspirations at my potpourri blog Bigger than Yesle. With this new chapter in my life, I wanted to shift gears. Start a new blog. Keep writing. Because being a college student feels like a lifetime ago. This is from my college graduation (only three quarters of our family-pie) where David Brooks from the New York Times bestowed his wisdom upon us new graduates.


So here it is. I'll be writing a couple of posts a week about being a dental student in Philadelphia. Expect posts about dental admissions and dentistry news as well. If you have specific stories you'd like to see here, please contact me at

Hello and welcome.