SIXTH FORM: University challenge

Getting into university is more competitive than ever this year as colleges clear last year’s deferrals and worry about being oversubscribed. The two founder members of the RGS Young Dentist Society, who have been accepted on dentistry courses, reflect on the challenges they faced

Dan Bruce, 17, from Harrogate, has been offered a place to study dentistry at Newcastle University

Q: How have you found the process of applying for dentistry courses and what were the challenges you faced?

The process of applying for dentistry starts long before the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) deadline.

You need to build up a portfolio of experience and skills. Although it wasn’t as important this year due to Covid, work experience is key. I was fortunate that I set my goal from early on. I knew I wanted to apply for dentistry and did my Year 10 work experience in a dental practice.

A: It’s important to be proactive and not just rely on teachers or parents for help. Among other things, I joined the NHS Youth Forum in year 11, attended a dental taster day at the University of Leeds and did a six-week Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Discovery Dentistry.

I was also sure to take advantage of all the help I was offered. Teachers in school supported me in writing my extended project qualification (EPQ) on teeth whitening.

One thing that I noticed was that you don’t have much of a summer holiday after Year 12 or, in fact, have any breaks at all in sixth form. Much of my summer was spent preparing for the university clinical aptitude test (UCAT) which is hugely important as universities only interview candidates who have performed well on the test. I was also working on EPQ as well as juggling my part-time job and playing football.

As with all university courses, this year has been especially hard as many places had been taken by deferring students. One university which I applied to had to narrow down their filter by the changing the criteria due to the shortage of places left for 2021 entry.

Q: What advice do you have for younger students considering applying for dentistry courses in the future?

A: The main advice I would give for anyone considering applying for dentistry is do as much as possible to boost your application, whether it be playing for a sports team, doing part-time work, or engaging in activities related to dentistry.

Q: How can students benefit from the Young Dentist Society?

A: Together, Conor Pickering and I set up a Young Dentist Society where we used our time to support other aspiring dentists by sharing our experiences, as well as doing interview preparation and wider reading ourselves. We really hope this will continue now we have left the school.

Conor Pickering, 18, from Ripon, has been offered a place to study dentistry at the University of Leeds

Q: How have you found the process of applying for dentistry courses and what were the challenges you faced?

A: Applying for dentistry, like many other courses, has been very challenging this year because of Covid19. Dentistry is a very competitive course with most universities having over 1,000 applicants for approximately 70 places.

You must sit a university clinical aptitude test (UCAT) when you apply to study dentistry and the University of Leeds is the only UK university which requires you to sit a biomedicals admissions test (BMAT). The universities consider your application based on a strong personal statement and your score in the UCAT and BMAT exams.

Before the pandemic, if you were lucky enough to get an interview you attend the university for multiple mini interviews (MMI). With other dental applicants, you attend six to ten short interviews at different stations in a room, it is like speed dating! But of course, this year because of Covid 19, MMI interviews did not happen. Instead, I had practice Zoom interviews with Miss Anderson, a current dental student who went to RGS and my family before my four Zoom dental interviews with the universities I applied to. The practice Zoom meetings greatly prepared me.

As many students had deferred their place from 2020, I was informed that because of the pandemic many dental schools were taking between 30 to 40 fewer students this year. So, I felt there was a lot more pressure on me to obtain a place at any university. I was really pleased when I got the offer from Leeds as I am a big Leeds United fan. Also, the University of Leeds has an international reputation as a leading dental school, and it is the only UK university to offer a joint master’s and bachelor’s dentistry degree.

Q: What advice do you have for younger students considering applying for dentistry courses in the future?

A: Firstly, I would encourage anyone interested in dentistry to speak to your own dentist as this provides a greater insight into what a dental career entails. Also, try to get work experience in a dental practice, dental technicians or any other healthcare environment as it gives you more experience in a dental setting and it can be used in your personal statement to show universities your passion for the course. For A-levels, you need to study chemistry and biology and another subject and obtain a grade ‘A’ and above in these.

Finally, I would recommend attending a dentistry taster day at a university. The RGS careers office has a list of university taster days for various careers. In 2019, I attended a dental taster day that was hosted by the University of Leeds. I carried out various dental-related practical activities which tested my manual dexterity skills. I would thoroughly recommend going to university taster days if you are considering studying dentistry. It gave me an excellent insight into the world of dentistry and confirmed my choice of dentistry as a career.

Q: How can students benefit from the Young Dentist Society?

A: The Dentist Society was one of the many student-led RGS societies held on a Wednesday afternoon. As there was no dental society, I started it along with another student. The objective was for students to learn as much about a career in dentistry as possible. We discussed our own experiences of why we wanted to apply to dentistry, the process involved applying to dental schools, the different career paths and recent dental news. I would like to become an Army dentist and I talked about how I would need to attend an Army officer selection process to be considered for a place at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. Also, we had hoped to invite local dentists and other related healthcare professionals to give talks to our society but unfortunately because of Covid19, this was not possible.

*Photograph: University of Leeds School of Dentistry