You’ve done your research. You weighed the pros against the cons. You’ve imagined what your future life will be like. And you made the commitment to become a dental hygienist.
You may think that was the hardest decision you would have to make about your future career, but maybe it’s not. Now you’re left with an equally challenging choice: Where to attend school?
There are many great dental hygiene programs across the nation. Which one is the best fit for you? Let’s take a look at some criteria to consider:
School accreditation Accredited schools have undergone a rigorous process to earn their rating. It begins with a comprehensive self-analysis and self-study report outlining its processes, practices, standards and curriculum. Once that is submitted, an on-site review is conducted followed by interviews with staff and students. After a detailed site visit report is submitted, it goes before the Commission on Dental Accreditation for a final decision. Follow-up site reviews are completed every seven years.
Length of program Dental hygienists generally need an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, which will take two to three years to complete. After graduation, all states require dental hygienists to be licensed to begin working clinically and treating patients.
Bachelor’s degree and master’s degree options Extending your education beyond an associate’s degree will allow for an expansion in career opportunities after graduating. Career options for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in dental hygiene may include not only working with patients in the dental office, but also areas of research, teaching, sales, management, and clinical practice in public school health programs.
Cost As with all degree programs, you’ll have to weigh the costs against future wages. In general, a dental hygiene associate’s degree program will cost slightly more than $20,000. Bachelor’s and master’s degree dental hygiene programs typically are more expensive. A dental hygienist can earn more than $70,000 annually.
Size Make sure you visit the campus of the dental hygiene program you’re considering. Often, you can tell right away if this is the place for you. Sometimes a school is too big and overwhelming. Other times it may be too small and restrictive to meet your needs.
Flexibility If you’re entering dental hygiene as a second career, you may need a flexible schedule to accommodate your family’s needs. You also may need to schedule classes around a full- or part-time job. Some schools offer the option of enrolling in day or evening dental hygiene programs to better suit their students’ availability. Inquire about the class schedule in advance of registration.
School reputation When seeking employment after graduation, an employer will tend to look at the quality of the program you attended. Employers, such as dentists, want well-trained dental hygienists who are willing to jump in and get the job done without much direction or assistance. A top-rated program demonstrates your ability to do just that.
Graduation rate You need to protect your education investment. A lower graduation rate suggests that your investment may be at higher risk. It may also indicate that the quality of the program isn’t as great as it should be.
Overall, a career as a dental hygienist allows you to make a good living with a flexible schedule. It is definitely a rewarding career for anyone who likes caring for people and educating them about their oral health.