Learning from others’ experience is a great way to learn to master yourself and get ready for the upcoming CAAPID cycle.
We had the privilege to talk to Dr. Kat Mascardo, a dentist from the Philippines, who graduated in 2013 and is currently a US permanent resident. She shares with us her success story where she applied only to 2 dental schools in the CAAPID cycle, didn’t have to take a bench test and got accepted at both. We really appreciate Dr. Kat for giving us this interview that would be helpful for the international dentist community.
What does your profile look like as a CAAPID applicant?
Nothing fancy. NBDE Part 1 and Part 2 / GPA 3.37 / TOEFL 114/ No Masters, but I did post-graduate programs in Orthodontics and Implantology (both in the PH)/ US Experience: 6 months clinical observation and 4 months paid employment as DA at the time of CAAPID submission / PH Clinical Experience: a little over 1 year experience as a dentist / Teaching experience part-time/ NO research experience except for one research paper thesis (as required by the dental school)
Could you please tell us about your USA experience and what did you do to gain the USA experience?
I volunteered/shadowed at a dental office for 6 months while preparing for NBDE Parts 1 and 2. I was officially hired as a Dental Assistant (DA) at the office soon after passing Part 2. I am not a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) because I did not see the need for it, nor was I inclined to take another set of tests for something that was not my goal. Getting an RDA license can be costly and time-consuming, plus I believe schools don’t prioritize RDAs over DAs when deciding on admissions decisions. I also didn’t do any preceptorships/school-based programs. However, I believe preceptorships/post-grad programs in US schools are a fantastic way to boost anyone’s resume, especially if it is done at the same dental school you are applying to.
Who did you get your letters of recommendation from?
1.) Dean of my dental school in the Philippines
2.) Professor/Department Head from my dental school in the Philippines
3.) Dentist/Employer here in the US
I would advise applicants to get letters of recommendation from people who know them best and are willing to take the time and effort to write good LORs. Do NOT ask an LOR from someone who doesn’t really know you, even if that person is a famous US dentist or US dental professor. The last thing schools want to read is an LOR that feels rushed and uninterested.
What factors do you think from your application helped you stand out as an applicant?
I truly believe that my extracurricular activities and the way I wrote my application made me stand out as an applicant. I have been active in sports since high school and I was also part of the school paper in my undergrad years. Additionally, I won several contests in school and placed 6th in the Philippine Dental Board Exams. But more than academic merits (which I’m sure many people also have under their belts), I believe what convinced schools to invite me for interviews is how I presented my application. I wrote everything myself, with my own voice and passion in every word. I understand that some people may need help with writing essays (which is totally great for polishing up an application), but I urge them to get involved every step of the way because only they can tell their stories best.
If you can do this process all over again, which things would you have done differently?
I did my research on Advanced Standing Programs many months before actually starting the CAAPID application. SDN (Student Doctor Network), CAAPID groups on Facebook from previous years (2015, 2016), and many other websites through Google searches (including International Dentist Central) have been particularly helpful. I believe for the most part, I did many things right but if there’s one thing I could change, I would have started filling out my CAAPID application on the first day the cycle opened (March 1). I suggest future applicants to do the same because filling out the online application can take some time.
Is this your first cycle? If not how many times have you applied to CAAPID before? What have you done to improvise in the subsequent cycles?
First cycle. I applied to only two schools: University of Pennsylvania (UPENN) and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I was interviewed at both and got acceptances from both as well. Ultimately, I chose UPENN.
How do we know that a particular dental school is the right one for us to apply?
In my case, I had my eyes set on UPENN from Day 1. Through many months of research, I studied what UPENN was like and what they were looking for in their students. I read up on every little thing I could find about the school’s class statistics and admissions process to the point that I have memorized it all inside and out.
For students who are not sure about where to apply, I would suggest going through the websites of each individual school to see which ones “feel” right for you. For example: If you are religious/spiritual and are happy to be in a conservative environment, then Loma Linda would be a perfect choice (regardless if you are Catholic/Muslim/Jew/etc). Location matters too. If you hate the snow and are quite liberal, then UCLA and USC would be top picks. Do you want an intimate school setting with more personalized attention? Look for schools with small class sizes. Do you want to be near family or do you want a completely new experience in another city? Do you want a prestigious school or is the name of the school important to you? These (and more) are all factors you have to consider.
Remember that when applying to dental schools, QUALITY always trumps QUANTITY. Applying to more schools doesn’t necessarily mean better chances of getting interviewed — unless you can give your 100% with every school. Also remember that many schools require supplemental applications with multiple essay-type questions, so make sure to allocate time for that. Focus on the application first, and make it the best application you’ve ever done. Hopefully in the process, you’ll discover more about yourself and realize which schools are the best fit for your unique qualities.
How did you practice for your bench exam and interview?
No bench exam for both UPENN and UIC. I just researched usual dental school interview questions online and made several drafts of my answers which I reviewed in the days leading up to my interviews. However, the sample Q & As are not meant to be memorized. They should just get your juices flowing to give you an idea of the possible questions you might be faced. I believe the best answers should come from the heart first, and edited with the mind later.
For applicants who are not confident in their verbal communication skills, I would suggest doing formal interview coaching. And for those who will undergo bench exams, doing a formal bench prep course is a MUST for people who were NOT taught ideal preps in their home countries or those who have not done ideal preps in a long time. Yes, it can be costly, but the rewards far outweigh the financial strain.
How important is the Visa status of an applicant, according to you, to be called for an interview?
For UIC, only permanent residents and citizens can apply. For UPENN, they welcome non-residents and non-citizens but I’ve heard they do not accept people on tourist visas (B1/B2). Other schools have their own sets of rules too so it’s best to research on each one first before applying.
If you can give 3 tips to the international dentist community for the CAAPID cycle what would it be?
1.) Apply early. Prepare your application materials even before the cycle starts. Research on schools months before. If possible, talk to current students in the programs you’re interested in (Pro tip: you can easily find them on Facebook through CAAPID groups). The more research you do and the earlier you apply, the better your chance at scoring interviews.
2.) Give yourself enough time to write your application. To give an estimate: a good CAAPID application should take at least two weeks to finish (if you hold a full-time job). Never rush in filling out sections of the application. Check and double check. Review over and over again. Also, be sure to give a description of your experiences/volunteer work/post-grad courses/CEs/etc. NEVER submit a lazy application. A lazy application is money wasted.
3.) Always have something else to offer other than Dentistry. Schools want well-rounded professionals, so let them know that you are more than just a dentist. Make sure to mention your hobbies, interests, and extra-curricular activities whenever you can. Community involvement (both dental and non-dental) is also very important. Remember that grades are not everything, so you have to present yourself as a “total package.”
We congratulate Dr. Kat for her success and thank her for this wonderful interview. Hope this gives a bird’s eye view about the nuances of the CAAPID process for our readers. We wish you the best of luck and we hope to bring you more in the success story series for you.