I'm Not Smart, It's Favor: How I Snuck Into Columbia Dental
Permit me this brief aside and allow me to deconstruct this notion of “sneaking in” before I even get into my post. In reality, one does not- can not- “sneak” into dental school. Professional schools are extremely competitive, and the case was no different for the incoming class of 2017, for which I applied. On average, a single dental school will receive about 2200 applications, interview 200 candidates, and select 80-100 (smallest class size is 30- Harvard and largest is 240-NYU, both of which I applied to and was not accepted). So, if you can accept these statistics to be true and relatively accurate (my source comes from ADEA’s Guide to Dental Schools), a single applicant has about a 9% chance of getting an interview, and 3.6% chance of gaining a spot, for a school like say, Columbia, which has a class size of 80.
So, when I speak like this, about “sneaking in”, I do a disservice in down-playing my accomplishments and the work of all the pillars of support that got me to where I am. However, it made for a catchy blog title, and in some respects, is true.
My journey to dental school has not been easy, simple, a piece of cake, or any of the other fallacies that may be out there. College was not- is not- easy for me, but I decided long ago that one day, I will be a happily married dentist, as I once candidly shared at my sorority’s Rush, in Fall 2010.
Perhaps I should backtrack to my senior year in high school when I decided that I might want to consider pre-health after all. I attended Western School of Technology and Environmental Science, a magnet school in the nation’s top 6%. There I studied Information Systems Management with the hopes of one day pursuing business. My mother, who I soon learned is annoyingly always right, without fail, urged me to consider the magnet in Health Science. I declined. I didn’t want to be the stereotypical “Nigerian nurse” and thought of health care as a basic career. Oh how wrong I was.
I did well in my magnet and overall in high school. I graduated third in my class and was awarded several honors such as Departmental Awards for Outstanding Senior in English and Foreign Language. By May, I had received offers from 5 out of the 7 schools that I applied to: A full ride to University of Maryland via the Banneker/Key scholarship, a full ride to UMBC via the Meyerhof scholarship, 50% tuition at Columbia University, John Hopkins University, and George Washington University, each. I did not get into Harvard or Georgetown, but must admit, that Harvard had the nicest, classiest rejection letter I had ever seen.
I was excited to begin what I knew would be an equally successful journey, already being recognized as the top 2% of my incoming freshman class at the University of Maryland. I thought I could just replicate my same study habits, not to mention throw myself into every extra-curricular possible, like I did in high school, and pow- 4.0 here I come. False.
I continued doing fashion shows, ran in the African Student Association’s pageant (and lost), attended every Black Student Union meeting, all while balancing an adventurous course load comprising Biology, Chemistry, Calc 1 for Life Sciences, and Black Masculinities (Honors seminar). I did NOT earn a 4.0 my semester, but instead a meager 3.2-something, which to me was failing. To top it off, that spring semester, I took on Organic Chemistry AKA the weed-out course AKA the reason most Bio majors switch to public health AKA the big bad wolf of Pre-health. I failed the course, but thanks to a very necessary curve, received a “C” in the course.
How I wept. After packing my belongings in trash bags, I hopped into my mother’s truck and drove away from Denton Hall after my last final. My mother, a professional student (more on this in my Shero: The Queen Mother post), cut off the music on my pity party and told me to get myself together. It was not until a sermon in church one day that I was able to identify my true issue not as the “maybe I’m just not that smart” or “maybe I’m just not cut out for dental school” that often floats through the heads of my fellow pre-health students in times like this but rather, fear.
More specifically, a fear of failure. Basically, I was so afraid of the big, bad wolf that instead of defending myself, and arming myself with resources, I let Organic Chemistry huff and puff and blow my pretty house down.
Luckily, during the semester, I was introduced to a phenomenal, life-changing program called the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP). I could go on and on about the benefits of this program (and I will, later) but for now, I will say this: After acknowledging my issue as a fear of failure, I decided that I would do all that I could to figure out if this path was for me (hence why I attended the program) and if it was, make it happen. Simple. Dr. Dennis Mitchell, Dean of Diversity Admissions at Columbia University, where I completed my SMDEP, gave this advice during a Q&A. A student at the program asked if she should retake Organic Chemistry since she got a C in it the previous semester. At this point, I had perked my ears, widened my eyes, and thanked that little girl for asking the question that was burning in my heart but I was too AFRAID (smh) to ask. Dr. Mitchell answered, “No. Don’t retake Orgo. Take Orgo 2 and get an A in it”. Simple. Uhhh….
His reasoning was that retaking a course and getting an A is expected. It doesn’t show schools that you have mastered the content, but rather that it took you longer to do so. And God forbid, you get a B the second time around, that won’t speak well either. Taking the next course, and successfully completing it, shows schools that you not only understood that material, but the material, which you barely understood before. This cemented my decision, and gave me a new focus, a new lens, through which to look at my situation.
It was also during this time that I purposed in my heart to pledge my sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. Many people ask me how I knew or what made me do it, and I have several reasons, and I will share, perhaps at another time. What I will say is that for me, the decision was not which organization I would pledge, but IF I would pledge AKA. My decision probably could not have come at a worse time. After receiving a C in Orgo, during the spring semester, I was on probation for my scholarship. I had fell short of the 3.2 GPA requirements and now had one semester to pull my grades up. So, not only would I be battling the bigger and badder wolf of Orgo 2, but also I would do so all while pledging. Needless to say, my mother, my biggest supporter, was dead set against it. Still, I purposed in my heart to do it, and tried to assure her that it was a good move, and that I would not allow my grades to suffer. I am not certain that she bought it, but since I had chosen to openly defy her for the first time and she allowed me to live, I took it as a subtle acquiescence. For that, I am thankful.
Fall 10 was an extremely rocky semester, however, I completed the semester on the Dean’s list and received an A in Orgo 2. At the end of the semester, the professor sent me and several other students an email requesting that we apply to be TA’s for the course. Look at God. In November, I was initiated into the Sorority, and was given several different positions (Hostess, Step Mistress and later Vice President and President). This was all nothing short of favor and God’s grace.
With renewed passion, I collaborated with study groups, discussed academics and career aspirations with close friends, volunteered, took on internships, did study abroad, and a list of other extra-curricular activities I was interested in. There is no formula for admittance into schools, but the notion of the appeal of the “well-rounded student” will not soon die. I figured that I got a late start in solidifying my GPA, but as Dr. Mitchell explained, a 3.5 tells a different story from a student who started with a 4.0 and fell than one who started with a 3.0 and persevered. I would be the latter, I decided.
My personal narrative is not confined, even, by the words I write here, and I know that many events have influenced me. I am blessed to have my own personal tale of failing forward and eager to help as many people seeking the same as I can.
So the question I have yet to answer, how did I get into Columbia Dental? Favor. My grades and DAT score fell right around, and some below average. I interviewed well and had been keeping in contact with the staff at University of Maryland and Columbia University. I poured my heart out in my personal statement and had it edited by the most phenomenal, intelligent men and women that I know. I studied and prayed and studied and prayed for two months in preparation for the DAT using Kaplan and DAT Destroyer (fabulous book) but ultimately, I feel that God wanted to use me as a point of contact. And for that, I will always be grateful.
“I use the plastic bag to represent a form of captivity, because a lot of people have been held captive, and a lot of times, it is by themselves, mentally or otherwise. To some, the society held them captive, to others family, friends or even themselves. So there's that need to breakout, embrace a new world, new ideologies, explore and strive to be great because there's no limit to what one can achieve. So generally, that's what those paintings are talking about.”
Each of Silas’s pieces not only tell a story but it evokes emotion. It makes you think and ask yourself a thousand questions about the meaning of freedom and being enslaved in our society. His art is so beautiful, it's like nothing is perfect. He shows, struggl