January 30, 2021

UCLA or USC? A Guide to LA Dental Schools

USC? UCLA? Students from both schools share their experiences.


UCLA and USC are able to boast two of the top dental schools in the United States, with both schools sharing the sunshine of Los Angeles. With application deadline dates approaching for dental schools across the country, we asked students from both Los Angeles based schools about their experiences. 

UCLA School of Dentistry: 714 Tiverton Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90024

School Size: 376

Tuition: $47,623.74 (Resident), $58,266.74 (Non-Resident)

Average GPA: 3.77

Dental Admissions Test (DAT): “Scores of 20 and above are considered competitive for our program”

Pre-Requisites: 90 Semester Units/135 Quarter Units, All required courses must be passed with a grade of “C” or higher, DAT from American Dental Association

Application Deadline: January 1

Admissions Policy: Rolling Admission, Applicants informed of decisions between December and the end of April. 

To provide real insight from current students at the UCLA School of Dentistry, we reached out to current students to hear their stories and their experiences in Westwood.

(Kellie Lee [Top Left], Matt Rahnama [Bottom Left], Michelle Maciel, Chanel Calhoun)  

What did you have to do to get into UCLA Dentistry School?

Matt: High GPA and high DAT scores get you through the door but what gets you a seat in the class is your extracurriculars, research, personal statement and et cetera. UCLA is a really tough school and they do not necessarily want geniuses as much as they want extremely hard working people. That’s what’ll get you through long nights, a tough mindset and work ethic.

Michelle: I made sure I went above and beyond when planning my journey on how I would get there. My senior year in high school I enrolled in a course that allowed me to become a certified dental assistant. All throughout my undergraduate degree, I worked as a Registered Dental Assistant/ Oral Surgery Assistant.

Chanel: I was a non-traditional student in that I originally graduated with a BA in Social and Behavioral Science. I wanted to further explore the dental field so I volunteered at my dentist’s office and went on a medical mission to really broaden my perspective and gain new insight on dentistry as well as the healthcare field. My dentist really became my mentor and he showed me what the field was about and I loved how much of a positive impact he had on the lives of all of his patients. The medical mission gave me insight concerning the lack of access to care that greatly impacts vulnerable populations and very quickly became my motivation. These experiences reinforced my decision to pursue dentistry as a career and I completed a post-baccalaureate program to get my prerequisites for dental school and continued on with the application process. I am really thankful that my end destination was here at UCLA.

Kellie: I went straight into dental school at UCLA School of Dentistry after graduating from UCLA undergrad as a psychobiology major. I took my DAT at the beginning of my third year of undergrad, and had my whole application submitted by the end of my third year. Aside from completing the general class requirements, I was involved in various pre-dental programs (Pre-Dental Student Outreach Program, Basic Dental Principles, Dental Research), and I worked at the dental school as a student worker in the oral pathology department.  

What’s it like being a current student there? (Education, Life, Culture)

Matt: It’s great! The students are all really friendly and helpful, we all look out for each other when we can. Now that I’m a D3 I don’t see my classmates for 6-8 hours a day like I used to during D2/1 years; but we are still close as ever. Running impressions, assisting on the fly, bringing spare supplies/handpieces, and many more acts of kindness.

Kellie: Being a student at UCLA School of Dentistry is a great honor, and I always feel so lucky to get to be at this school.  My classmates are such amazing and accomplished colleagues, and they always inspire me with my personal and academic goals.  The faculty are all helpful and encouraging, and there are so many ways to be involved in leadership and extracurricular activities.  COVID has definitely affected the scheduling of classes and labs, but the faculty have done their best to ensure our safety while also continuing to teach us.  

Chanel: It has been a challenging but extremely rewarding experience. It gets really stressful at times, but I’ve learned not to shoulder the entire burden alone and ask for help when I need it. The faculty are so helpful and go above and beyond to work with us and help us succeed. With the challenges brought about by Covid 19, their hard work and dedication to keep us moving forward is even more evident. I am also extremely thankful to my cohort and everyone I have met since I began. The environment is very collaborative and we are all willing and eager to help one another. We are currently going through a very unique experience together and the amount of understanding and kindness shown by my classmates and upperclassmen has made me feel like I’m at a home away from home. Although we are extremely busy, there is time to have a life. It’s all about balance, but as long as you commit to making time for yourself, which is extremely important, you will definitely be able to.

Michelle: Life at UCLA School of Dentistry is like having a home away from home. From the faculty to my classmates, I couldn’t have asked for a better dental family.

Are there any distinguishing advantages to UCLA dentistry?

Matt: The quality of education and price. As blunt as that is, the sheer amount of loans you’re saving as opposed to going to a private school is huge. And yeah we have to do more lab work for cases and schedule our own patients and even sometimes find some out in the real world, but in my eyes that’s just better preparation for the future. Yes it’s “hard” but that comes with learning more than some peers might in other schools which is useful!

Chanel: Yes, I would say there are many advantages. The faculty I have worked with thus far are extremely knowledgeable and really care about helping you be the best you can be. They have very high standards for us and as difficult as it is to reach them, you can definitely see yourself growing and improving as you strive to strengthen your skills and knowledge. UCLA also offers a wide range of specialty programs if you’re interested in specializing. The pass, non-pass system is probably my favorite because I think it takes the pressure off yourself and puts you in a different achievement mindset. You work to understand why you’re doing something and the importance it plays in the future rather than working toward a numerical grade. I believe that system also contributes to the collaborative environment we have.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a prospective student who is considering UCLA dental school?

Matt: Reach out to a current student, ask any questions. Given its price location and ranking, in my eyes, it should be on everyone’s application list, even if it is a “reach school” for you. There’s always a chance!

Kellie: If I was giving any advice to someone starting dental school at UCLA, I would say to not get discouraged too easily, and try to maintain a strong support system outside of your dental cohort.  It was very intimidating starting dental school as a D1, and even move intimidating starting at UCLA with such accomplished peers. I felt very under qualified to be in my class, and I quickly became very discouraged at the beginning of the year. It became easier when I made friends in my class, but it was also very encouraging to have non-dental school friends to reach out to for support and encouragement.  A strong support system is what is going to get you through dental school.

Chanel: For anyone considering UCLA as their choice, just be your genuine, authentic self. They really see you for who you are as a person so let that shine through. Don’t try to be who you think admissions wants you to be. You are unique in your own way and that is what makes you strong and sets you apart. So, take your time and really get to know yourself, what you stand for, and what you want to achieve. Also, I know it’s extremely hard now because of Covid, but I found it helpful to go out and travel and experience dentistry, healthcare, and just life outside of your immediate area. I know every one of you is focusing hard on academics and that is very important, but don’t forget about the importance of real- world experiences and the advantages it gives you. Those experiences shape you and give you perspective and insight. It’s an opportunity to write your own story so you can tell it when the time comes.

Michelle: For students considering UCLA School of Dentistry, I would 100% recommend working in the field as a dental assistant. This will allow you to gain more confidence when performing simple lab activities or even speaking to patients in clinic! Please feel free to reach out to me with any pre-dental/ UCLA School of Dentistry related questions :)

Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC: 925 W 34th St #201J, Los Angeles, CA 90089

School Size: 575 DDS, 90 DH, 66 ASPID (International), 130 Post-Doctorate Specialty

Tuition: Tuition averaged across four years is $109,771.5, annually.

Average GPA: 3.59 

Dental Admissions Test (DAT): 20 DAT, 20 DAT PAT, 20 DAT science averages

Pre-Requisites: Minimum of 60 Semester Units with “C” or better grade,Two letters of recommendation from lecture-based science professors in biology, chemistry or physics, One letter of recommendation from a dentist.

Application Deadline: February 1 Deadline, Application Available June 1

To provide real insight from current students at the USC School of Dentistry, we reached out to current students to hear their stories and their experiences in South Central.

(Brian Jing [Top Left], Bridget Okwuosa [Bottom Left], Fujon Anayati)  

What did you have to do to get into USC Dentistry School?

Bridget: I worked as a dental hygienist for 3 years before applying to dental schools. During those 3 years of hygienist work, I was able to job shadow several dentists. This gave me a good handle on what is involved with Dentistry such that I became even more motivated to pursue this path. After work for about 3 months, I would study from 6pm-12am and all day on the weekends to prepare for the DAT. However, it was my prior experience that distinguished me as an applicant. Overall, I had to get a good GPA in college, do 3 years of dental hygiene work, obtaining experience within dentistry, and study diligently for the DAT to get into USC.

Brian: I took a 3 year gap year prior to starting dental school. I really wanted to utilize this time to grow as a person while also trying to improve my dental school application. So a few months after graduating from college in Minnesota, I picked up my things and moved toCalifornia by myself. During this period of time I studied for the DAT, worked at a dental manufacturing plant, and helped out at a dental office. But I also took a lot of time to experience new things and live my life as much as possible before taking on a grueling 4 years. I moved to Colorado working as a mountain guide for 6 months, worked at an outdoors store, surfed and biked a lot, and truly made a diverse set of lifelong friends.When applying for dental school, I would highly encourage you to not overwhelm your life with just academics. While yes, work harder than you ever have but take the time to enjoy the journey. Trust me when I say that who you are as a person and your maturity is worth more than your academic knowledge when you enter dental school.

Fujon: To get into USC Dental School, I had to take a bunch of pre-requisite courses before entering my first trimester. Because of that and having to apply to their hygiene program, I also had to apply to Ostrow and USC separately. You would have to be accepted to both the dental school and Ostrow Dental Hygiene Program to be granted admission. After applying, you must be selected and reached out by admissions for a group interview. During the group interview, we were asked to collaborate on a “patient scheduling scenario“. We all had to work together utilizing critical thinking tactics to figure out how to solve a patient’s problem. After the interview and receiving both school’s admission acceptance letters, I was ready to join the Class of 2019. 

What’s it like being a current student there? (Education, Life, Culture)

Bridget: USC is PBL (problem based learning) where we literally teach ourselves with guidance from facilitators. You will find yourself studying late nights with your classmates and doing many group assignments. Life at USC offers very close proximity to Los Angeles and many different extracurricular activities. There are always social events and things to do, provided you have the time. They also offer a big buddy program that allows for mentor/mentee opportunities from the upperclassmen. As for culture, Herman Ostrow is not as diverse as I want it to be. However, they are currently working to bridge that gap. We find most of our diversity within the patients in our clinical setting. This exposure provides us with a unique experience of interacting with a variety of patients which is invaluable in teaching you “the stuff that is not taught in dental school.”

Brian: I am incredibly thankful to have chosen USC for my dental school education. There is no school in my opinion that provides a better work-life balance than USC. While theProblem Based Learning education system to learn didactics is definitely a transition at first, it has actually proven to be very effective for me and sounds much more enticing than sitting through biology classes for 8 hours a day. Pre-clinic wise, I grow more and more confident in my hand skills each day. The faculty here are really meticulous about teaching you how to improve your hand skills and the school offers a lot of extra time to practice. When I was deciding on a dental school, it was very clear from all the dentists that I worked with that USC truly makes you into a fine and confident clinician. I can now support all those statements. In addition, the resources here at this school are endless – you only need to ask for it. I have been fortunate enough to volunteer virtually with a Los Angeles County grant during the pandemic, take the role as academic chairs for two different organizations, and even publish a journal article.

Fujon: Being a student at USC was nothing but amazing. With very detailed courses from Head and Neck Anatomy to Patient Education/Communication, USC definitely knows how to make learning interesting. The campus life was and always will be something exciting to experience. Everyone on campus, whether it be in the dental school or on the USC main campus in general, is welcoming and will always treat you like family. If you’ve ever heard the phase “Trojan Family”, you’d definitely know what it would mean. 

Are there any distinguishing advantages to USC dentistry?

Bridget: I truly believe we have the best clinical experience due to the challenging clinical education provided at Ostrow. There are several hidden experiences within the clinic i.e. scheduling our own patients, prioritizing treatments, and organizing our schedule to finish each treatment on time. Doing these over and over again will certainly help you in your dental practice. We also have the advantage of working with different expert faculty members that have tips and tricks that can help students in clinic. USC is also renowned for our community outreach efforts. We provide oral health services and education to thousands of people in need here in LA and across international borders. Caring for the less fortunate not only gives aid to vulnerable populations but also provides us students with valuable clinical experiences and inspires a lasting dedication to service.

Brian: Perhaps what’s the greatest thing about this school is the community here. Our culture at this school revolves around everyone helping and supporting each other. So many of my peers have allowed me to stand on their shoulders and I am just as willing to allow others stand on mine.There is also so much school pride here at USC. Though I am a graduate student, I feel am able to immerse myself in the culture here through tailgates and other campus activities. Proud to be a Trojan – Fight On!

Fujon: There are a lot of advantages of joining the USC Dental Programs. USC has a legacy with opportunities of a lifetime. With their ability of elite networking, being an alumni of this dental school really makes a difference. As stated before, “Trojan Family” opens doors and new beginnings whenever it may come by. For hygienists specifically, USC is one of the most popular schools to attend. The dental hygiene faculty are unique and very well known in the dental field community. So to be taught by them directly is no doubt a blessing. 

What’s one piece of advice you would give to a prospective student who is considering USC dental school?

Bridget: Use your time wisely and try to get involved in some of the extracurricular clinical activities thatUSC has to offer. You get out of USC, what you put into it. Getting involved will expose you to more resources and allow you to get to know other students in your class and upperclassmen.You cannot get through Dental School by yourself. Getting to know your fellow classmates, professors, and even external contacts is a must if you want to truly excel.

Brian: One piece of advice I’d give to a prospective student considering USC would be to consider what involvements you have outside of the classroom. Here at USC, there are so many ways to be engaged with the community and be active with public health. We have so many different kinds of volunteering experiences both within LA and abroad. Asa student here, you also have a voice – you have the ability to create your own opportunities. Faculty here are eager to help your goals become achievable. You really have the opportunity to make your mark.

Fujon: One piece of advice I would give to any prospective student that is considering USC Dental School, whichever program it may be,  is to apply to USC’s Dental Explorers Program. Ostrow provides a 2 week summer course of dental school and student life at USC. I joined this program a year before applying to USC to familiarize myself with the dental field and be more knowledgeable about what USC Dental Programs have to offer. There are no words to describe how great USC Dental is. But with all that has been said, I truly appreciate everything that USC has taught me in becoming a professional and knowledgeable dental clinician. And remember, always Fight On!

Thank you to the dental students from both schools for being so helpful and sharing their experiences!

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