UNK senior Mara Hemmer records a rare perfect score on dental school admission test

Mara Hemmer is a soon-to-be senior at UNK, where she’s studying biology as part of the pre-dental program. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)
Mara Hemmer is a soon-to-be senior at UNK, where she’s studying biology as part of the pre-dental program. (Photo by Erika Pritchard, UNK Communications)

KEARNEY – When Mara Hemmer saw the number, she nearly fell out of her chair.

The soon-to-be senior at the University of Nebraska at Kearney scored a perfect 30 on the Dental Admission Test (DAT).

“I was very, very shocked,” Hemmer said. “I studied really hard, but it was still very shocking to me.”

Her father Jeremy had the same reaction when she called him to share the news.

“He was shocked, as well,” Hemmer recalled. “He started crying and everything. He was super excited.”

A requirement for dental school admission, the DAT consists of four individual tests covering quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, perceptual ability, biology and general and organic chemistry. It takes about five hours to complete.

After three months of intense preparation, Hemmer took the exam May 23 at the Prometric Testing Center on the UNK campus. Her perfect score was verified last week.

According to the American Dental Association, she’s just the second person in the past five years to earn a composite score of 30 on the DAT. Approximately 12,500 dental school candidates take the test each year, scoring a 19 on average.

Hemmer called the accomplishment “a reflection of all the work that I put in.”

“It’s something that I can be really proud of, because I spent so much time studying for this,” she said.

A Fremont native, Hemmer has a history of academic excellence.

She graduated from Fremont High School with a GPA over 4.0 and was awarded the prestigious Board of Regents Scholarship to attend UNK. She’s also part of the UNK Honors Program and Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), which provides full-tuition scholarships, partial room waivers and other support for students who plan to practice health care in rural Nebraska.

Hemmer has a 4.0 GPA at UNK, where she’s studying biology as part of the pre-dental program.

Chemistry professor Allen Thomas describes her as highly motivated and incredibly intelligent, a great leader and role model for fellow Lopers.

“It is surprising to hear of perfection on such a challenging exam as the DAT, but Mara is one of those rare students who is obviously capable of getting a perfect score,” he said. “She works extremely hard to achieve perfection and is determined to know the material inside and out. Of course, she has a brilliant mind to allow her to understand the concepts so well.”

Thomas noted that this isn’t the first time Hemmer has aced a difficult test. She didn’t miss a single question on the comprehensive American Chemical Society (ACS) organic chemistry final exam, which covered material from both semesters of the course.

“She is the only student of mine in 10 years at UNK to have a perfect score on any ACS exam,” Thomas said.

In addition to her achievements in the classroom, Hemmer is a scholarship athlete on the UNK cross country and track and field teams. A distance runner, she had six times inside the top 10 in program history entering the 2023-24 seasons, including second in the indoor 800 (2:12.56) and 1,000 (2:55.19). She has numerous MIAA Academic Honor Roll, MIAA Scholar-Athlete, MIAA Academic Excellence and USTFCCCA All-Academic honors.

“She’s a pretty good runner, but she’s an even better student,” said head coach Brady Bonsall. “She’s as good of student as I’ve ever coached.”

Bonsall called her hardworking and detail-oriented while also recognizing her commitment to family, community and relationship-building.

“One thing that stands out about her is how much she appreciates those around her,” he said.

Hemmer was inspired to pursue a health care career by her mother Tonya, who works as a nurse.

She chose dentistry because of the close relationship she had with her late grandmother Rita, who started wearing dentures at age 29.

“When she was younger, she and my grandpa couldn’t afford all of the dental care that she needed to maintain her oral health, so the cheapest option for them at the time was to pull out all of her teeth and give her dentures,” Hemmer explained.

Hoping to help other people in similar situations, Hemmer started volunteering and job shadowing at local dental clinics during high school. She currently works as a dental assistant at Fremont Dental Group when she’s back home during breaks.

“I’ve just grown a love for the career,” said Hemmer, who’s also working at Kearney Country Club this summer.

She graduates from UNK in May 2025 and has a guaranteed spot in the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry in Lincoln through the KHOP program. That’s her No. 1 choice; however, she also applied to Creighton University, Harvard, Columbia and Penn to see what they offer financially.

Hemmer plans to practice in Nebraska after completing her professional training.

“I would love to be able to help those underserved people, those people who can’t afford dental care or don’t have access to it, because it’s something that everyone needs,” she said.