Category: dmd

the dental residency application process

Partner s presentation 1

Happy Sunday! I hope you’re getting some well-deserved rest today. I got a recent email asking about the application process  for residency and realized I got ahead of myself discussing the interview. Let’s start here instead: how to apply for programs.

1. PASS is the application service used by most residencies.

2. MATCH is what determines what program you go to. The program ranks the candidates. You rank the programs. Based on a computer algorithm, you are matched to your future residency program.

2a. Not all programs participate in the MATCH (though many do). The list of what programs are participating should be posted August 1.

2b. If you participate in MATCH, it’s a binding agreement. Do NOT rank a program if you have no interest in going there. Generally, there is a high statistic that you will get your first or second choice BUT if you do end up getting matched to a lower ranked choice you are still obligated to attend that program.

2c. If you apply for a program that does not participate in the Match and you get an interview there, you may get an offer post-interview, which gives you a conundrum if you are applying to programs participating in the MATCH. If you decide to accept an offer at a non-MATCH school, you must withdraw from the MATCH prior to the rank list submission deadline.

3. Start thinking about recommendation letters once you enter clinic. If you’re doing the Match, you’ll need at least 2 letters of recommendation (LORs) and 3 PPIs. You will submit a request to your evaluator through the PASS website.

4. What are PPIs? PPIs, also known as Personal Potential Index, are evaluations. However, it is different from a LOR. The PPI asks a set of questions regarding personal attributes. Something important to note is that there is a section where your evaluator can add commentary to the questions. It is preferred to choose an evaluator who will add more to the evaluation beyond just answering the questions.

If you are submitting a PASS application, access the PPI website via the ADEA PASS which will re-direct you to the PPI site where you submit a PPI request to your evaluator. The request will tell your evaluator how to sign up for the site and how to do the evaluation.

5. To find out more about programs, I would check the ADEA PASS search engine. Additionally, I would visit the individual programs websites and contact the program directors because the ADEA PASS website is not always up to date.

6. Here are additional documents that you should check if the program is requesting:

  • Unofficial undergraduate transcript
  • Official dental school transcript
  • DAT score
  • Official NBDE score
  • 2” x 2” headshot
  • Supplemental application

7. Here’s a very general timeline:

  • pre-OCT: Register for Match.
  • JAN: Talk to doctors about your interest in residencies and writing a LOR/PPI.
  • MAR: Confirm with doctors who are writing your LOR/PPI.
  • mid- MAY: PASS application opens
  • late OCT- mid NOV: Phase I rank list submission (ORTHODONTICS)
  • mid-DEC-mid-JAN: Phase II rank list submission (AEGD, GPR, OMFS, PEDS)

the dental residency interview


Happy Friday!

I’m in the midst of a packing frenzy but I wanted to pop by and say that I’ve gotten great feedback on my post about the board exams for dental school. I’m so happy that it’s been helpful! Prior to graduating, I managed to cobble together another senior panel with my own class. We had people that were entering GPRs and specialty programs like OMFS as well as those job hunting. It was informative but I’m sure still confusing. I want to place what we talked about that day into posts so that it could provide a future reference.

Today I’m going to touch on when you finally get that invite to the the program. There’s the introductions, the tour of the facilities but everyone is gearing up for the real meat of the visit: the interview. To prepare for any interview is stressful but it is critical to prepare. Below are some questions that are typically asked at interviews as well as questions that you should consider asking.


  • What sets you apart?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What have you done in clinic?
  • Where else have you applied?
  • Why would you pick this program?
  • What do you like to do in your spare time?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?
  • Why do you think you would be a good fit at this program?
  • What do you think was different between pre-clinic and clinic?

ALSO, prepare yourself for the occasional wacky ones where they just want to chat with you:

  • How would you fit an elephant into a fridge?
  • If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?
  • If you could be a fruit or vegetable, what would be and why?

Note: Be able to expand on anything on your CV. Know your numbers (i.e., GPA, rank, # of procedures done).

Tip: Have good cases to use as clinical examples. Ex: A case that was difficult, either in its treatment plan or patient management, and how you dealt with it. A case that showcases why you want to be in dentistry.


I’ve split the questions into those to ask the interviewer and residents. Many of the questions you ask the interviewer I would also ask the resident since residents would have a more definitive answer on some questions (i.e. How many procedures do you do on average?).

Note: The questions I’ve included are geared for a person entering a general practice residency.

To ask the interviewer:

  • Do you have an assistant?
  • Is there tuition? How much?
  • Is there a salary? How much?
  • Where do most residents live?
  • How many residents are there?
  • Are you allowed to “moonlight”?
  • How many patients do you see a day?
  • Do you have to do your own lab work?
  • How many hours do you work per week?
  • Where are the graduates of the program now?
  • Are you certified for ___? (ex: IV sedation, etc.)
  • How often are you on call after hours for emergencies?
  • Are there outreach opportunities and/or requirements?
  • Do you have lectures? How often? Are they mandatory?
  • Is there a specific dress code? (ex: scrubs vs. business casual)
  • Do I get my own chair or do I share a chair with another dentist?
  • What is the patient mix? (ex: type of insurance, type of cases, etc.)
  • How many sick and vacation days do I get? Can I schedule my vacation days?
  • If I wanted more experience in (specialty), could I gain that experience here?
  • What are the benefits? (ex: educational reimbursement, health insurance, etc.)
  • Do you do rotary endo? Surgical extractions? Implant placement? If so, how much?
  • What have you done in regards to ___? (ex: surgical extractions, implant placement, etc.)
  • Is there continuity of care? Will I be able to follow through on a patient from start to finish?
  • What is the breakdown of what you do procedure-wise in a day (ex: hygiene, operative, prosth, etc)?
  • To what extent do residents manage patients? (ex: will I handle preauthorizations and scheduling?)
  • Are there other specialties at this hospital? If so, will many of the cases be transferred to specialty programs?

To ask a resident:

  • What would you want changed?
  • Do you feel supported in the program?
  • What do you like and dislike in this program?
  • Do background work on the program.
    • Some of the questions above could be answered on the website.
  • Dress in business professional.
  • Bring a portfolio for notes.
    • Also include in it a copy of your CV and business cards.
  • Arrive ON TIME.
    • In order to help with that, scope the location prior to the interview date so you know your traveling logistics.

all the BIG exams in dental school and how to pass them


Screen Shot 2016 02 29 at 10 27 52 PM

I am licensed to drill, my friends. I can finally say to you that I have taken all the board exams in dental school and passed them. Now let me tell you what I did.

Let’s break this down:

Take the NBDE Part I.

Take the NBDE Part II.

Decide if you want to take the Northeastern Regional Board (NERB) or the Western Regional Board (WREB).

The NERB is now known as the CDCA so I’ll be using both terms interchangeably.
The CDCA consists of three parts:
1. The ADEX multiple choice exam
2. The clinical manikin exam consisting of  endodontics and prosthodontics
3. The clinical live patient exam consisting of two operative procedures (class II amalgam/composite + class III composite) and perio

The WREB consists of:
1. A free response treatment planning exam for three cases, including one pediatric case
2. A clinical section consisting of operative, endo and perio

I am taking the NERB. The WREB seems to be a much more relaxed exam. The most significant reason licensure-wise to taking the WREB is if you plan on practicing in California- among  a few other states-where it only takes the WREB.

Other notable differences:

  • For the NERB, you must do a class II amalgam/composite AND a class III composite.
    For the WREB, you can do a class II amalgam, class II composite OR a class III composite. The class III composite is not required.
  • For the NERB, you must access, instrument and obturate a plastic central incisor and access a plastic molar.
    For the WREB, you must access, instrument and obturate a single rooted extracted natural tooth and access, instrument and obturate one canal of a multi-rooted natural tooth.
  • For the NERB, you must prep a central incisor for an all-ceramic crown and a three unit bridge in which a premolar is prepped for a PFM and the molar is prepped for an all metal crown.
    The WREB does not have a prosth section.


  • What I did: NBDE I Mastery App
  • What others did: Dental Decks, First Aid
  • Note: Some people took it over winter break. I waited until after finals and it was horrendous. I would have rather sucked it up, studied during the break and taken it either at the end of break/in the first few weeks back.
  • UPDATE: I almost forgot. These videos online for dental anatomy were a godsend. BUT review third molar anatomy as well because that is also on the exam.

The NBDE II and ADEX exams contain similar information so I would advise taking the exams in a row and knocking it out while the material is fresh on your mind.

  • What I would recommend: I used a ton of materials for NBDE II and ADEX. I read through Mosby’s (esp for Practice Management) and First Aid. I also used the Tufts Pharmacology Study Guide, which can be found online and provides a good overall review. The Pearls in the back of the ADEX/CDCA Boards Busters is especially helpful too.
  • What others used: Boards Busters, Dental Decks, NBDE II Mastery App

The only thing you can do to prepare for this exam is to practice. Prior to the day of the exam, I would write out all the materials you need so that you can get it all at once and not have to continually run up to the dispensary and wait in line. Also, if there are certain disposables that you like to use, prepare a week or so prior to the exam and BRING YOUR OWN. On my exam day, certain dispensaries didn’t carry some materials (i.e., 10 K-file, Enhance burs, etc.)

  • (ENDO) Be careful when heating your instruments. Although this is supposed to simulate a real endodontic procedure, these teeth are plastic and can burn.
  • (PERIO) Be careful of nicking the adjacent teeth. Use Interguards as a preventative measure.
  • (PERIO) Watch out for undercuts.


Most common failures are due to:

  • patient issues
  • improper paperwork
  • open contacts/margins

Tips + tricks:

  • Patient management is number one. Without a patient, you’ve failed.
    • Be upfront with your patient about the amount of time this will take. The average amount of time is 3 hours from patient approval to final check BUT this varies depending on wait time. My first patient arrived at 6:45 AM and didn’t leave until 11:30 AM.
    • Compensate your patients to ensure their arrival and emphasize it. What is a few hundred dollars (going rate per patient is $50-100) versus the price-and stress- of taking it again?
    • Thank your patients. You literally could not do it without them.
    • Note on patient selection: Choose patients that are timely, mild-mannered and ROOTING FOR YOU. If your patient has a history of being late, of being anxious during injections, of complaining while waiting for faculty to come by, THEN DO NOT USE THEM FOR BOARDS. My own patient had a great Class 2 lesion, confirmed on Wednesday, did not pick up her phone the two times I called her on Thursday OR the morning of my exam (Friday). This was no Cinderella story and my Prince Class 2 did not arrive to save me in the nick of time. THANKFULLY, a classmate found me a lesion. Otherwise, I would have had to re-take my Class 2 in April.
  • READ THE MANUAL. It is tedious and repetitive but very, very informative.
  • When in doubt about your next step, ask your CFE. Really, before you take any important steps (i.e. prepping or restoring), confirm with a CFE that you may do so. They aren’t your enemies! All the ones I interacted with were encouraging and helpful.
  • Find an assistant for the big day. An assistant makes the process more efficient and, more importantly, keeps you calm.
  • TRIPLE check you are prepping the right tooth. That sounds obvious until you’re in the thick of it.
  • Know beforehand if you are doing conventional or slot prep BUT be prepared to switch from slot to conventional.
  • When prepping, if you are concerned about nicking the adjacent tooth, use Interguards.
  • It is better to ask for a modification than not. You can fail due to a prep that is too conservative or has remaining caries.
  • For the same reason, when in doubt, go bigger.
  • You aren’t graded on your rubber dam placement but make it look nice. You could be asked to replace it before it can be evaluated. THAT WASTES TIME.
  • Also remember to include a periodontal probe when sending your patient to the evaluation station. It isn’t asked for in the manual but was asked for on the day on the exam.
  • Know how to handle a pulp exposure. (Direct pulp cap- Place dycal/vitrebond.)
  • Wedge the HELL out of your tooth. Perhaps try one of the wedging techniques like double wedging or wedge-wedging.
  • Check your contacts tactically (with floss) and visually. You don’t want to think you got contact but actually got caught on an overhang.

Below I have included pictures of the checklists that I wrote in my manual for my setup and for when sending the patient to the evaluation station. Prior to the exam, I prepared baggies containing the disposables I needed for each of the procedures. My numbers for the disposables were high but better to be more prepared if you’re farther from the dispensary!


20160313- CDCA Checklists (1 of 5)


20160313- CDCA Checklists (4 of 5)

OPERATIVE SET-UP CHECKLIST (with checkboxes for Class II and Class III)

20160313- CDCA Checklists (3 of 5)


20160313- CDCA Checklists (5 of 5)

Take a deep breath because these exams are milestones to getting that dental degree! Good luck!

job questions to ask as a dental school grad

I know I d do it all again even if it waswrong

Throughout dental school, we have a number of “Lunch and Learns” where people provide a free lunch in exchange for an opportunity to talk to future dentists. The food, even if it’s pizza again, is a huge draw for poor dental school students. (It’s also an hour where you can day dream about that long-awaited graduation day.) Once you hit third year the recruitment evolves into happy hours and fancy dinners. We aren’t being wined and dined every night but it’s always nice when we are. These events are primarily to discuss one of four things: dental products, financial planning, insurance and JOBS.

In order to consider the first three things, we need that last one the most.

It’s overwhelming because everything sounds great, especially when there is an open bar. To guide you, here is a list of questions to consider while looking for that first job. I have included questions for all types of clinic models from practices with one owner/dentist to dental service organizations (DSOs)/“corporate dentistry”. As of last week, I matched into a general practice residency so I can put off the stress of job hunting for another year; however, I have been to a number of these events to prepare nonetheless. Good luck in your search! Let me know of any other questions you would add to this list!


  • How do you advertise? Do you actively market or do you depend on referrals/word of mouth?
  • Who supplies the patients? Am I required to build my own patient pool or will patients be supplied to me?
  • Tell me about your patient base.
  • What is the average number of patients I would see in a day?
  • What are the most common types of treatment?
  • How often do you refer cases out?
  • Do you have specific specialists you refer to?
  • How many operatories are in the office? How many are hygiene chairs?
  • What type of equipment do you use in the office?
  • How would you describe the clinic’s culture?
  • What personalities flourish here?
  • What is the staff compose of currently (i.e., how many receptionists/hygienists?)
  • Do you have an office manager?
  • Who manages billing?
  • What is the staff turnover?
  • How is conflict managed in the office?
  • Who has left in the last five years and why?
  • Where do you see the clinic in 5 to 10 years?
  • What goals do you have for the practice?


  • How long have you owned this practice?/How long have you worked here?
  • What is your treatment philosophy? Do you expect your associate to have the same philosophy?


  • What is the average age of dentists who work here?
  • What would be expected of me as an employee?
  • What are you looking for? Ann associate dentist, a partner, a dentist who will buy the practice?
  • How do you define your ideal job candidate?
  • Are you expecting a new associate to bring in anything in particular to the practice?
  • Will I have any administrative responsibilities?
  • What are the greatest challenges of this position?


  • Will I have to work under another doctor’s treatment plan? If so, when can I start making my own treatment plans?
  • Would I be limited to certain types of cases (i.e. only doing operative)?
  • Who makes the decision in regards to the type of materials and  brands of materials used in the office?
  • Who decides what lab we use?
  • Are there opportunities for growth or advancement within the practice (example: If I work under a lead dentist, what is the progression rate for an associate dentist to become a lead dentist?)
  • What is the typical career path for this position?


  • Is continuing education offered?
  • If there is, what is offered?
  • Is there a contingency for the continuing education? For example, do I need to sign a contract for number of years prior to taking courses?
  • Can I decide what I would like to take?
  • If there is no continuing education offered, do you provide an amount for me to use for continuing education?


  • What is the average salary of dentists who work here?
  • What is the salary? Is it a base salary or is it based on a percentage of production or collections? Average for percentage is 30-35%. 
  • Is there a draw? A draw is an advance against estimated future earnings. 
  • Is there a guaranteed salary for the first few months of employment?
  • Who takes care of lab costs?
  • Is there a signing bonus? Are there any other bonuses based on the clinic’s profits?


  • How much paid time off is there?
  • How many vacation days are there?
  • What about leave (i.e. emergency, maternal, etc.)?
  • Are there medical benefits? What does it include? (Think medical, dental and vision.)
  • What about insurance? (Think malpractice, disability and life.)
  • Do you provide a 401-K or other investment opportunities?
  • Is there a buy-in option?
  • Are business expenses covered? (i.e. licensing, travel, moving expenses, etc.)


  • Why do you like working here?
  • What frustrates you the most about the people you work for?


_20140509.White Coat.1

There is a new addition to my closet. It’s crisp white, has my name emblazoned on it and whispers to me you are now a dentist. I enter clinics the day after Memorial Day.. mere hours away!

When the first years- now second years!- arrived, they came to us with anxious questions about professors and classes and I…drew a complete blank. All I remember now is a whirlwind of emotions and activities and absolute certainty that my head was going to fall off from the confusion of it all.

It’s funny because I have run across notes to write a post about first year.. and then another later on to write about second year.. I wrote scraps of thoughts here and there but never posted anything up. So here are post snippets from yesteryears:

From first year:

Two words: absolute confusion.

Biochemistry and histology were heavy courses. Restorative dentistry was the course where we began to peek into what dentistry was all about. We learned all the intricacies of our teeth, how they were shaped, etc. It was also paired with a lab where we finally got to do something interactive. It was mass chaos but fun. On the first day, we were given a nub of tooth, told to bring out our instruments and wax and build a tooth. That is all. If you feel like you’re overwhelmed and should just drop out within the first month, don’t worry. There are others just like you. Take reassurance in it like I did. Keep going.

Second semester brought cadavers and restorations (aka gross anatomy and restorative dentistry two). Location was difficult in anatomy but perhaps the hardest part of anatomy was learning the origins and insertions of muscle. Otherwise, anatomy wasn’t quite so bad.

Summer session for us only included physiology since our pre-clinic is in renovation over the summer.

And that was first year! Very loosely.

What did I learn first year?

Ask intelligent questions. Questions are generally appreciated so long as it isn’t a question that was answered in class or could be found in the literature. If it was, fear the wrath and scorn of your professor.

Be organized. This applies to academics and in the pre-clinic. You will need to keep on top of readings as well as projects, which are all apt to change. Lucky for me, I have the most supportive class. We receive constant reminders through Facebook from each other. One of our classmates even updates a Google calendar of all our classes for everyone. In pre-clinic, we were given a box of equipment on day one. I did not know what anything was but thankfully I was able to snag an  upperclassman to help me out.

Don’t listen to upperclassmen. Hah! I say this due to my own personal experience. Yes, upperclassman can tell you better ways to hold your instruments but, for us, the curriculum changed so information about teachers and their teaching methods was useless because they changed. So, take the advice with a grain of salt.

Finally, make friends with your classmates. This group of people are with you for the next four years. Yes, they will remind you when deadlines are changed and paperwork is due; they will give you their extra tooth when the store is closed, but, most importantly, they will understand what you’re going through in a way no one else will. They will get your frustrations with financial aid and feel that same level of sheer joy when that cumulative RD final is over.

All in all, first year wasn’t quite so bad. However, upperclassmen have all claimed the worst of it is to year.

I would also add to this list:
Don’t complain (unnecessarily). You may have an issue with a professor’s style of teaching. You may dislike the way things are scheduled. There is nothing wrong with voicing your opinion but you have to recognize what fights are actually worth it. Your complaints have a repercussion on your class and its reputation.

Note: If you want to fight professors for points, more power to you. Go for it but be respectful.

From second year:

Exams are done! I have a week to gear up before the October storm of exams. Thankfully there is only a practical this week. It’s amazing to remember the times when I used to be so scared of practicals. Now, with practicals every week, I’m definitely feeling more unfazed by the entire prospect.

Our class has been struggling with learning what materials to use for our preps. The general materials in use are: Jet acrylic, Snap and Trim, MaxiTemp and VersaTemp. There’s also the option to do the provisionals intraorally or extraorally. If you decide to do it extraorally, you’ll need alginate, Mach and Blu Bite. Man, dentistry is expensive. Even at student discounts, Snap and Trim comes out to $30, Mach and Blu Bite are around $55, MaxiTemp prices at $80 for a box of three cartridges and the gun and Versa Temp I believe is $80 for a box of three cartridges and $80 for the gun. I’m shuddering remembering giving up my student ID when I bought the Snap and Trim and the Mach and Blu Bite.

I do remember being stunned at the amount of money we were shelling out second year for materials, especially with professors reminding us that these are the reduced prices.. Restorative always swallows your life because you feel like this is where you need to excel. We were especially brutalized by the back to back exams first semester.

If you are in dental school or are pre-dental, feel free to ask me any questions! If you would like to add advice or your own personal experiences, I would welcome it as well!

a motley crew

At dinner a few weeks ago, one of the girls said “Can you believe we’re going to be dentists?” It’s a funny thing to say but we all nodded knowingly. Sometimes, especially during the start of a new project in pre-clinic, I’ll get gripped with a sharp sense of fear and am struck by an image of myself dropping my hand piece and shrieking as I run out of the lab, hair streaming wildly behind me and arms flailing. Then the increasing volume surrounding me breaks my reverie; I hear the frantic edge to the voices around me and.. I am calm. Because I’m not alone.

The greatest gift I have received in dental school is this community. We are a motley crew, a grab bag of backgrounds, personalities and beliefs.

I love it.

We bicker and tease; we rage and commiserate. (Commiserating is key because you’ll find that there is nothing a class likes to do more than complain and have someone vehemently agree.) But it’s always we.

Perhaps it’s because I’m out of state so I feel more inclined to love this ragtag bunch. That could be why it warms my heart to see classmates help each other by sharing resources or stopping their own work to help others. But it doesn’t deny the fact that I am happy to be surrounded by such a group.

the beginning


For the past few days I’ve been wanting to write here but my mind has been challenged daily with new things that it has been wrangled into a silent stupor. Long dreamy posts are a thing of the past, friends, but with some luck posts will still be had.

See, my class of one hundred and twenty eight has been scooped up and tossed into an ocean of material and I, dear readers, am treading furiously to keep afloat. What has flustered me the most has been the overwhelming assumption that we should just know. Complaints are useless, rebutted with stories of someone who had it worse and how first year is the easiest. They are wearing us down with three hour lectures and constant testing so that we crumble and can be remolded into their liking; professional schools must be the geniuses behind hazing.

While the complaints are there, the excitement is as well. Perhaps not in the sixth hour of back-to-back lectures but, when I hunch over a nub of a plastic tooth, spending hours building it up, tearing it down, tweaking and fixing, taking two days to complete it and wait, petrified, for a particularly difficult professor to grade it.. When he signs off and praises me, I am electrified.

*The picture above is of my glass terrarium atop a latticework furnace hugging my small bay window; it holds two things: a marimo and a tiny boxwood tree.

solace, always


Did I really spend twenty-six hours in a SUV with my worldly possessions, four people and two dogs? The trip seems surreal now: a hazy memory of caffeine-spiked driving, numerous pit stops courteous of my small bladder, and dreamy sighs at the verdant dips and peaks of the landscape.

We arrived at a little past midnight in a silent street: a bit frightening honestly to a Southerner from the suburbs. Yet it’s a week since my arrival and I’m steadily growing accustomed to the old city. I haven’t felt the longings for home but have been wrapped in a whirlwind of interior decorating and found solace, always, in the kitchen.

Eats here have revolved around a mini-baguette, basil and a selection of cheese- mozzarella, goat gouda and a mild bleu to be precise. Real meals outside of a hastily stirred egg fried rice and spicy ramen have been the panzanella salad above and the pesto spaghetti below. 20120824-life-7

A panzanella salad is perfect for that day old baguette, especially when it’s been toasted and allowed to meld in a balsamic vinaigrette, while pesto blends my favorite things- herbs and garlic- into a full-bodied nutty paste. This particular pesto is festively flecked with sundried tomatoes; it has been slathered on thick slices of kalamata olive toast and, as seen, coating slippery noodles.No recipes yet; I’m a foundling believer of having them thoroughly tested before presenting it to you.

Tomorrow marks the first official day of dental school and, thus, the end of summer. Here’s to fall.

Oh! And, by the by, if you’re looking into furnishing your place, I would recommend the following sites that have been quite enthralling-but treacherous for the wallet- to browse: Joss and Main, One King’s Lane, and The Foundary.

government versus private loan

Dental school is “an investment in my future.” For those interested in how I will be financing this investment, read below. Forewarning, it is a lengthy-and dry-post.

To start, my current cost of attendance- including living expenses- for first year is estimated at $89,300. I’ve been awarded $42,722 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans, which means that I would need an additional $46,578. This is the maximum I would be allowed to apply for in loans and I most likely will not-and should not-need the full amount. Since I won’t be having any financial support from family or a job, I evaluated my loan options. For me, this came down to the Direct Plus Loan and the Discover Health Profession Loan. (Although other financial institutions offer private loans, Discover seemed to offer the best rate.)

To compare whether a government or private loan would better suit my needs, I created a chart based largely off of this one.

Direct Plus Loan Discover Health Profession Loan
Fixed Interest Rate 7.9% 6.79%-7.89%
Variable Interest Rate N/A prime index +0.00% to
prime index +2.50%
(currently 3.25% to 5.75% APR)
Origination Fee 4% of loan principal Zero
Has Income-Based Repayment Yes No
Cosigner option Borrowers with adverse credit history may be required to apply with an endorser May improve your likelihood for loan approval and may lower your interest rate
Auto-Debit Reward 0.25% 0.25%
Graduation Reward No No (fixed rate loans)
Yes (variable rate loans)
Early Loan Repayment Penalty (?) No No
Public Service Loan Forgiveness Yes No
Grace Period 6 months 9 months
Deferment and Forbearance Options Yes Yes

I initially started out with Direct Plus but, based on my research, I’ve put in a Discover fixed interest loan application with my mom as cosigner. Here’s why:

Fixed Interest Rate– Discover has a better fixed rate overall and, if you have a cosigner, you could possibly receive a lower interest rate. My mom has an excellent credit history and should be able to help make that happen.

Variable Interest Rate (& Cosigner Option)- The prime index is currently at 3.25%.  Assuming no additional interest added, at half the Direct Plus loan’s fixed rate, it’s a very tempting offer. Additionally, Discover offers a Graduation Reward for those who have a variable rate loan with the institution. However, keep in mind that the variable rate is subject to change during the lifetime of the loan so you’re taking a gamble. The highest prime index on the July 1, 2007 to July 1, 2012 chart was 8.25% in July 2007, a pronounced difference in five years. Assuming the prime index doesn’t sky rocket, a variable rate loan is the way to go. However, the key word is “assuming,” which is why I decided to stick with a fixed rate loan for peace of mind.

Origination Fee- According to the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Corporation, an origination fee is charged for each Federal Direct PLUS Loan made. This is reason alone to consider alternative options since 4% of the loan principal is a sizeable amount. Assuming a $40,000 loan each year, you would have to pay an additional $1600. That money then gets compounded with interest which can amount to an additional $10,000 after 4 years. Yikes.

Income-Based Repayment (& Public Service Forgiveness Program)- Direct Plus does have a very appealing Income-Based Repayment, or IBR, which is great for the recent graduate because it will alter your payment amount based on your income and family size. Plus once you’ve initially qualified, you can continue making payments under the plan even if you later no longer have a partial financial hardship. I would also like to highlight that under IBR:

1. If you repay under IBR for 25 years and meet certain other requirements, your remaining balance will be canceled.

2. If, while you are employed full-time for a public service organization, you make 120 on-time, full monthly payments under IBR (or certain other repayment plans) you may be eligible to receive forgiveness of the remaining balance of your Direct Loans through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. (Federal Student Aid)

However, there are also negatives. One being that you may have to pay taxes on the amount that is forgiven or canceled.

Lastly, something not mentioned on the above chart is that loan consolidation is an option for government loans as well as private loans. My college loans- all government- are now consolidated under Direct Consolidation Loans, which only handles government loans. My Direct Unsubsidized Loans will also later be consolidated under Direct Consolidation; if I had taken the Direct Plus Loan, those would have as well. However, private loans can also be consolidated. According to,

Since most private education loans do not compete on price, a private consolidation loans is merely replacing one or more private education loans with another. So the main benefit of such a consolidation is obtaining a single monthly payment. Also, since the consolidation resets the term of the loan, this may reduce the monthly payment (at a cost, of course, of increasing the total interest paid over the lifetime of the loan).

However, since the interest rates on private student loans are based on your credit score, you may be able to get a lower interest rate through a private consolidation loan if your credit score has improved significantly since you first obtained the loan. For example, if you’ve graduated and now have a good job and have been building a good credit history, your credit score may have improved. If your credit score has increased by 50-100 points or more, you may be able to get a lower interest rate by consolidating your debt with another lender. You can also try talking to the current holder of your loans, to see if they’ll reduce the interest rate on your loans rather than lose your loans to another lender.

IBR is advantageous and the options for loan cancellation/forgiveness should be considered but I believe that I’ll be able to make my payments without too much struggle. And, if necessary, Discover, like Direct Plus has deferment and forbearance options.

So that was my thought process through the financial aid ordeal. I’m now just waiting on the school to provide verification. I’ve heard that loan money doesn’t come in until late August/early September so I’ve been saving up through the summer for the initial move-in but it would be a pleasant surprise if my bank account was suddenly replenished by orientation. Wishful thinking, I know…

backwards glance

Currently, my wisdom is limited to my college years. So to start I’ll share my pearls on being a pre-health student. We’ll play a game called, “I wish I…”

I wish I..

1. I wish I…Stayed a biology major- There’s a reason a high percentage of pre-health students are science majors: because the path works. If nothing can sway you from being in the health professions, stay in sciences. If you must stray, engineering is the next best thing.

2. I wish I…Had been another major- I was in business- but taken more advanced science classes and do well- You can be that black sheep in liberal arts or business  but to prove yourself worthy you need to take more than the prerequisites for pre-health. It’s a more strenuous load-combine the time-suck of group projects with the hours dedicated to labs- but worth it if you 1) want to keep your options open 2) have a desire to become a doctor and, say, manage your clinic’s finances.

3. I wish I…Picked a more useful major (i.e., one that will get you a job)- I’ll admit it now. Management is fluffy. As one professor said, it’s only useful when paired with a niche. If dental school had not worked though, I would have applied to graduate school for healthcare management. Accountants make me cry a little inside but at least they are stable! After nearly two years of odd jobs, I’ve come to appreciate the stability of a good, old-fashioned job.