Harvard School of Dental Medicine

Is ranking calculated? No
Is honors status awarded? Yes


How is honors status granted?

Latin honors (Summa, Magna and Cum Laude) are granted for all-around scholastic excellence in the course of study over four years. Cum Laude in a specific field is granted for research. All awards are determined by the Committee on Promotions and Examinations and, for the research-related honors, in conjunction with the Research Committee.


How is competency in a course determined?

Competency is measured by the course director during the first two years of attendance at the medical school. During years 3 and 4, diagnostic and clinical competency is measured using formative and summative assessments in addition to structured comprehensive examinations. These examinations occur at strategic points in the curriculum. Case completion requirements determine benchmarks for clinical competency and treatment planning as well as overall patient care/management. During these comprehensive years of interdisciplinary clinical training, students reach a solid level of competency in all areas of clinical general dentistry, including: endodontics, operative dentistry, oral diagnosis, treatment planning, pain control, periodontics, pediatric dentistry, orthodontics and prosthetics (including complete, fixed and removable). Complete (100%) competency is required for degree conferral.

The Committee on Promotions and Examinations (Promotions Board) is a standing committee of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine (HSDM) faculty charged with monitoring D.M.D. student performance across the four or more years of dental school. Its members are appointed by the dean and include faculty representatives from the preclinical and clinical courses, as well as senior tutors and the director of predoctoral curriculum. The committee meets at regular intervals throughout each year, with additional meetings scheduled as needed. The progress of each class is reviewed at least twice per academic year in order to ensure that each student fulfills the requirements for graduation and abides by the rules governing promotion. All courses in the curriculum of the Harvard School of Dental Medicine are required, and students must complete all coursework in a prescribed sequence. All required preclinical and clinical courses or their equivalents must be completed successfully prior to graduation. 


How is the language in Deans’ letters crafted?

HSDM considers dentistry as a specialty of medicine. Therefore, during the first two years of the preclinical component of the curriculum, dental students study the preclinical basic science and pathophysiology curriculum at the Harvard Medical School (HMS). The grading system at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Harvard Medical School is based on both objective and subjective criteria, and numerical grades are not assigned. No distinction is made between medical and dental students, and dental students are held to the same academic standards as their medical school classmates. Dental basic science and preclinical courses are graded Pass (P)/Fail (F). Clinical dentistry courses are evaluated on an Honors (H)/Pass (P)/Fail (F) basis or for Credit (CR). A student must be competent and meet all departmental standards to earn a grade of Pass, and Honors grades are given only for work of exceptional merit. HSDM also does not determine class rankings for students in the D.M.D. program. This policy is based on several factors. First, the school accepts only the most qualified students in the applicant pool, as evidenced by the high overall GPAs, science GPAs, and DAT scores of our entering students. These scores have traditionally been the highest in the nation, and our students consistently maintain this standard of performance on the National Board Dental Examinations. Second, class sizes are very small; only 35 students are accepted into the entering class each year. Students must complete an undergraduate-level baccalaureate degree as a requirement for admission consideration. These factors, combined with the philosophy of an Honors/Pass/Fail grading system, preclude the ranking of students.  


What else should program directors know?

Courses taken during the first two years are graded Pass/Fail at the dental school and Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory at the medical School. During the clinical portion of the curriculum in years three and four, courses are graded Honors/Pass/Fail. Marginal performance by a student will be noted by the course director on the grade sheet and in the promotions committee’s review of student progress but will not appear on the student’s transcript. The faculty prepares narrative assessments on the performance of each student in smaller tutorial groups.

During years 3 and 4 of the dental curriculum, students are assessed on formative and summative procedures that are captured in the student logbook and in axiUm dental software. These evaluations assure timely feedback to students and the best possible clinical care for patients. Periodic competency exams assess students’ ability to work in an independent, time-efficient manner, contributing toward the determination of final grades in a particular discipline. In addition, the exams are used to determine whether a student is making satisfactory clinical progress.

Students who fail a final examination (primary failure) are required to take a re-examination. For each examination that a student has failed, the course director will provide a single make-up opportunity for all students. The make-up examination will not be the same examination that was previously given but will be equivalent to it.

Until the student takes the re-examination, a grade of Failure or Unsatisfactory will be recorded. If the student passes the make-up examination, the grade will be permanently recorded as Pass or Satisfactory. If the student fails the re-examination, a final grade of Failure or Unsatisfactory will be reported for the course and must be made up before the student may graduate. In this case, the D.M.D. student is referred to the Committee on Promotions and Examinations, which may require the student to take the same or equivalent course as approved by the course director.

All Unsatisfactory grades in years one and two must be made up before the beginning of the next academic year.

Students must pass all coursework and competency examinations in preclinical courses before proceeding to clinical coursework. The Committee on Promotions and Examinations may grant deferral of this rule in cases where it believes that extenuating circumstances exist. Students must satisfactorily complete the required clinical coursework in year 3 before beginning the externships and elective rotations of year 4.

Prior to graduation, students must:

  • Complete all program and discipline-specific patient care requirements before graduation.
  • Pass the National Board Dental Examinations, Parts I and II, before graduation. The performance of students who fail Part I or Part II will be reviewed by the promotions board, which may dictate a plan of study for continuing clinical work and/or retaking the exam.
  • Pass all components of the Final Comprehensive Examination before graduation. The performance of students who fail this exam will be reviewed by the promotions board, which may dictate a plan of study for continuing clinical work and/or retaking the exam.
  • Successfully complete and present an approved research project prior to graduation.


For questions, please contact:

Sang Park, D.D.S.
Assistant Dean for Dental Education
sang_park@hsdm.harvard.edu