You can get a great education at plenty of schools and colleges of optometry, but to really make the most of it, you’ll need to look beyond the brochures. Ask yourself what you need to succeed in the career you are envisioning for yourself and what factors are most important to you when you think about how you’ll be spending the next four years. Your answers will lead you to the school that is the best fit for you.
Reid Cluff, now a second-year student at the University of the Incarnate Word Rosenberg School of Optometry (RSO), chose what school to attend based on his three primary criteria, which were the institution’s reputation and the affordability and family-friendliness of the surrounding area. “As much as I was attracted to some of the schools in bigger cities, they weren’t an option for me because of their high living expenses,” he says. “For me, being married with three kids, RSO has the whole package. It’s a mission-driven school with great faculty and excellent class size in an affordable yet fun city in which to live,” Reid says.
For Lauren Fereday, choosing the MCPHS University School of Optometry had a lot to do with how the school approaches clinical experience and interprofessional care. “MCPHS prides itself on getting students into the clinic in the first year, which was really a huge selling point for me,” she says. “In addition to allowing students to work with patients in the school clinic early on, they explained during my admissions visit how they were establishing more clinic sites around the city to give students more time with different types of patients.” MCPHS is also home to other health professions programs, which appealed to Lauren. “I like the idea of having different cohorts to interact with,” she explains. “The way healthcare is going, we are going to have to work closely with different providers, and this gives us the opportunity to start sooner. I was also ‘wowed’ by the phenomenal technology available at the school and in the clinic because the program is relatively new.” Cost of living was important for Lauren too. “It’s very different in Massachusetts than in my home state of Louisiana, but the school was generous with scholarships and able to point me to reasonably priced, nice housing options nearby.”
Weighing the Tangibles and Intangibles
Lauren and Reid also talked about the questions they asked and what they paid attention to during their campus visits that helped them figure out where they would feel most comfortable. “I gathered what details I could about each school ahead of time,” Lauren notes. “Then during my visits I asked about the resources available for students, especially online library access and resources in case I needed help in a certain class. I also asked about extra activities the school offers because I knew I’d want to get involved with something other than my classwork. Finally, I asked about the surrounding area and my safety. I knew my parents were eager to know about this as well!” Lauren says applicants can learn a lot about a school or college of optometry during their one-day visit to campus. “You can see how all the students interact and ask them their opinions about the school. Alumni can give you some insights, but because schools continue to change, the students are closest to the current dynamics.”
Reid applied to nine schools, was invited to interview at eight, and accepted five of the invites before settling on RSO. He always asked admissions officials how they would define success in training optometry students. “I wanted to make sure I found a school that coincided with my own personal goals so I could ensure my best chance for success,” he says. “The biggest things during an interview that made me want to attend a school were feeling like the school cared about me as an applicant and was a competitive, successful school that was going to be a great investment.”
Some Parting Advice
Reid says if he were going through the process of choosing a school or college of optometry again, he would narrow his list of choices sooner. He concludes, “That would have been more efficient and saved me some money on application fees and travel costs.” And according to Lauren, “Don’t choose a place because someone else really likes it. You are the one who has to spend the next four years there so make sure you are choosing a new home for you, not someone else.”
Both students moved quite a long way from home to attend their chosen schools — Lauren from Louisiana to Massachusetts, and Reid from Utah to Texas. Both miss friends and family back home, but don’t regret the change. Reid sees it as “a great opportunity to experience a new culture and location.” For Lauren, “The toughest thing to get used to was missing holidays, birthdays, family events, weddings, etc., but so many other people in my class are in the same situation, so it has been an opportunity to get to know each other better and celebrate with each other like a family. I’d never change my decision to choose optometry as a career or my school choice. It is a perfect fit for me and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
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