Anyone familiar with the optometry school admissions process would say it’s more like a marathon than a sprint. One of the mileposts, by the way, is actually submitting the application to one or more schools through the online Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS), which opened for the 2016-2017 cycle on June 29. But there’s more to the process. Dr. Mark Colip, who is currently Vice President for Student, Alumni & College Development at Illinois College of Optometry, chaired the college’s Admissions Committee for 23 years. During that time, he reviewed more than 25,000 student applications. He recently told Eye on Optometry, “The application process is designed to help you best prepare for matriculation and success in optometry school as well as to prove yourself worthy of the seat.” Dr. Colip recommends that instead of taking a “what do I have to do to get admitted?” approach, students should ask themselves “how do I best prepare myself for success in the application process and at the schools to which I’m applying?”
Dr. Colip shared the following five tips for applying to optometry school. Tips six through 10 were provided Jessica Blank, Associate Director of Admissions at MCPHS University School of Optometry. Tips 11 through 15 were provided by Dr. Maryke Neiberg, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the Chicago College of Optometry at Midwestern University.
1 Apply early. Never wait until application deadlines are approaching.
2 Proofread your application. Everything counts, including spelling and grammar.
3 Truthfully represent yourself. Honesty is best regarding all aspects of your application, including the weaker areas.
4 Visit campus(es). Contact the schools you’re interested in early and try to visit each one. They’re all interested in helping you succeed with your application.
5 Realize that application to optometry school starts long before you begin filling out the online OptomCAS application. Always strive to do your best and prepare yourself the best you can for applying, but also for the rigors you’ll face once admitted and starting optometry school.
6 Create a timeline. Develop a timeline for your application process – and stick to it! Don’t wait until the last minute to apply. On your timeline, identify schools that have rolling admissions. Those schools review applications as they come in and notify students as soon as they’re accepted rather than on one set date. Throughout the entire admissions process, be sure to rely on the admissions office as a source of guidance.
7 Understand the requirements. Create a spreadsheet or “cheat sheet” that includes all of the requirements for the Doctor of Optometry programs you’re considering. Make a note if a program allows you to apply in-progress courses to prerequisite requirements, or if it allows you to complete some prerequisites after you’re accepted.
8 Study smart. Think about your study schedule for the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) ahead of time. Ideally, you study for the OAT at a time when the course material is fresh in your mind, but you don’t want your OAT study time to overlap with your mid-term or final exams. Plan for study time when you can solely focus on the OAT, so that you can set yourself up for success.
9 Gain critical exposure. Though it’s not necessarily a requirement for application, gaining exposure to the optometric field can strengthen your application. By shadowing an optometrist, or several, you’ll gain important insight into the field, which will be beneficial if you’re granted an admission interview. And, there’s no better way to discover whether the optometry field is right for you than by experiencing it first-hand.
10 Ask questions. This is an exciting time of exploration and discovery, and the best way to gather information is to ask plenty of questions. To prepare for your interview, write a list of questions ahead of time. Be sure to ask your interviewer if you can connect with a current student who can share his or her perspective on the program. Also take the time to ask questions of the optometrists you shadow. The more information you have at your fingertips, the better prepared you’ll be as you take the next step toward an exciting future in optometry.
11 Follow up. Work with admissions to guide your application through the process. They have a wealth of experience and their dedicated team will help you every step of the way.
12 Consider your OAT scores. If you think you probably should retake the OAT, study hard and retake it as soon as possible so you have the best possible scores to represent your abilities.
13 Plan and leave enough time. Take the time to plan each step of your application. A potential challenge, for example, could be to have your letters of recommendation submitted on time. Have a backup plan and allow time for unexpected delays. Plan to be sure you meet all the prerequisite coursework requirements.
14 Present your professional self. Once you’re invited to a school to interview, you’ve made it through the most competitive part of the application process. Present the best you by dressing professionally, and be prepared to ask questions about the school or college. Put your mobile device away, make eye contact, and be in the moment.
15 Decide which school is best for you. Make sure the schools or colleges of optometry you apply to are a good fit for you. Start by studying their websites. There you’ll find the most important and up-to-date information. Some things that may be important to your decision could be class size, licensing pass rates, research opportunities and community service activities. In addition, many of the schools have areas of concentration or features that make them unique. Consider your interests and strengths when looking for a match. Make sure that you would generally fit in well and feel welcome. Talk to current students about the culture and extracurricular activities.