How to Come Back from a Rocky First Semester of Dental School

Posted by Amy Carbone on Feb 1, 2021 9:00:00 AM

If your first semester of dental school was a bit rocky, the second semester or next year can seem daunting and overwhelming. However, just because you had a rough go of it at first is no reason to believe the entirety of your student experience will be the same. In fact, having a difficult first semester is surprisingly common in dental school. 

Consider the following tactics that may help your next semester be better than your first:


Analyze Your Mistakes

First, take a step back and evaluate what you did well and what challenged you in your first semester. 

If you aren’t sure what mistakes were made and don’t know how to analyze the experience yourself, consider asking a mentor to walk alongside you through the process. Their experienced perspective could prove invaluable to you as you evaluate your first semester of dental school.

Allow Emotion

Once you have identified where your semester went off the tracks, you have a better understanding of how to keep it on the tracks next semester. Now is the time to plan out your next semester. However, it’s okay to be a bit down about a rocky first semester, emotionally. 

That’s only human and completely understandable, especially in light of everything else that hasn’t been right about this year. Process those emotions of disappointment, embarrassment, uncertainty or even frustration, but then move on to the planning stage. Don’t allow yourself to wallow in it too long.

Write Down Your Goals

Once you have a plan in place and have defined goals for your upcoming second semester, write them down. According to various study results shared in an article entitled The Psychology of Writing Down Goals, actually taking pen to paper and writing out your goals can have a great impact on your subsequently achieving them. 

Simply taking the time to define and then document your goals and/or plans for your next semester can actually help you reach those goals. In addition, according to this article, when you outline your goals by writing them down, it allows you to evaluate the validity of those goals and gives you the chance to alter them for the better.

Find Appropriate Resources

In many cases, finding appropriate peer study partners, tutors, seeking office hour time with your instructors and/or finding a mentor can make all the difference in your dental school experience. If you don’t already have these resources in place, find them. 

Although this is your education, you aren’t on the journey alone. There are many who have gone before you who would love to serve as a mentor for you during this season, and your peers are likely feeling exactly the same thing you are in terms of being overwhelmed and confused. 

Forming a study group can be a great help both in terms of academic benefits as well as mental health simply knowing you aren’t alone in the fight.

Create Life Balance

While you do want to commit yourself to work hard throughout your educational career, you don’t need to neglect everything else. Good grades shouldn’t come at the detriment of your health and overall wellbeing but are of course necessary to graduate dental school. 

Balance your schoolwork with self-care by making physical activity and/or exercise, mental breaks and social interaction a non-negotiable part of your schedule. It also may be a good idea to put some stress management exercises in place that you can draw on when things once again get testy as you enter your second semester.


If you had a stressful first semester, don’t panic. All is not lost. What’s happened has happened, but there is no reason to let it throw off your remaining dental schooling career for the next several years. 

One semester is not everything. As long as you stay calm and organized, there is no reason you can’t still achieve what you set out to do this year. 

What Happens after Dental School?

To guide you as you complete your education and move into your dental career, check out this free ebook called Post-Dental School Survival Guide. This ebook covers important topics like understanding the decisions you will have to make post-graduation, learning what additional skills might be valuable, understanding your career goals, knowing your insurance options and more.

Learn More about Life after Dental School

Treloar & Heisel and Treloar & Heisel Property and Casualty are divisions of Treloar & Heisel, LLC.

Insurance products are offered through Treloar & Heisel, LLC.

This content is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as advice.


Topics: Dental School Tips