Purpose To gather background information about applicants to the dental undergraduate course, and ascertain the factors involved in their decision to study dentistry. Method Applicants attending for interview at Dundee and Manchester Dental Schools completed anonymous questionnaires. The useable response rate was 94% (n = 436). Results There were equal numbers of male and female applicants to the two schools as a whole. Although there was a much broader ethnic mix in the applicants to Manchester, the overall proportion of minority ethnic groups was considerably greater than in the UK population as a whole. Seventy-five per cent came from professional backgrounds, although marked differences were apparent between ethnic groups. A quarter had family relations who were dentists, and 30% were related to doctors. Over half (53%) decided to apply within the last year, with popular motivating factors including a general interest in dentistry, a desire to help people and to work with their hands. Dentistry was the first choice of career of 89%, with medicine the most popular alternative. Conclusion Valuable information was gathered from these prospective dental students regarding their backgrounds and the decision process involved in their career selection. This will prove beneficial when developing the recruitment process and allow appropriate tailoring to the target audience.