Have you ever had the feeling that you were the exception to the general rule? Throughout my life, my specific circumstances have always seemed to result in my position as an outlier on a proverbial line graph. In this particular instance, I am an outlier as a dental applicant. I am part of a group of applicants known as “non-traditional applicants.” We are defined by a variety of characteristics, such as being older than 25 or working throughout our undergraduate career. I was actually unaware that I was categorized as such until this previous year. I imagine there are currently many more out there like me. Thus, I wanted to share my experience to let others know that they are not alone and how our unique experiences in fact enhance our capability to succeed as both a dental student and a practicing professional.
After graduating from high school, I began working for an event company, where I’ve been employed for the last eight years. I assumed a leadership role that demanded many hours of work and a very flexible schedule. I frequently worked upwards of forty hours on top of my regular course load. Furthermore, the closest university was an hour away, so much of my time was spent commuting between work, school and home. Given that the majority of my work involved manual labor in the Texas sun, I was exhausted before I even began the commute to school. This was especially true during the semester when one of my labs required me to be on campus three to four times a day, which coincided with busiest months at work. I distinctly recall a few mornings I would leave my house at 3 a.m., arrive at campus at 4 a.m., drive an hour back, work from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. and then return to school for class until 9 p.m. If you want to truly test your commitment to a goal, this is definitely an effective method.
Though I would never wish to relive that period of my life, I appreciate those tribulations, as I learned how hard I am willing to push to achieve my goal of becoming a dentist. If I didn’t possess true passion for becoming a dentist, I don’t believe I would’ve had the drive or stamina to complete my studies. From shadowing a dental student here in Houston, I have learned that stamina is key to success in the dental program. When I graduated from college, I did so with a competitive GPA. Later, I earned an equally competitive score on my DAT.
As a non-traditional applicant, it is easy to become discouraged when you compare yourself to others who were able to attend college and focus solely on their studies. This is a disservice to yourself, so I highly advise against it. Each applicant has a unique story to tell, and diversity is necessary for the dental profession to grow. The ultimate factor in your success is possessing a passion for the profession. If your heart is in the right place, then your mind will be too, and this will translate into your success as an applicant, a student and a dentist. One final piece of advice: don’t look at your scores, volunteer hours and shadowing hours as though they are quotas to be met. Rather, find a cause or group you would like to serve as a dentist and seek out coursework, volunteer opportunities and shadowing experiences that will enhance your effectiveness in serving that cause. This “tailor-made” method will help you grow as an applicant and as a person.
~ Coby Tumlinson, University of Houston ’18