OptomCAS is opening again in just a few weeks and potential applicants have to select schools to apply to. There are many different things to consider, making it a tough process. I certainly could not make up my mind for a while. So here are some tips to help potential applicants narrow down the search:
1. Check the schools required prerequisites
This is the first thing that should be done because if you cannot meet the prerequisite requirements when you apply, you will not be able to attend. This enables you to plan out the rest of your undergraduate career, or sign up for the appropriate courses in a timely manner. All schools require the following classes:
- One year of biology
- One year of general chemistry
- One class in organic chemistry
- At least one English class
- One college math class (usually Calculus. but Pre-Calculus or Trigonometry may suffice in certain cases)
Unlike medical or dental schools, optometry schools have much more specific class requirements and they can vary considerably between different schools. Some other required classes may include:
- General Psychology
- Microbiology with lab
- Another class of Organic Chemistry with or without lab
- Another English or writing class
- One year of Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Molecular Biology
- Public Speaking
Even if the schools do not require all of these classes for admission, many schools “recommend” or “strongly recommend” these classes. Successfully completing their recommended classes can only strengthen your application. Most schools require classes to be complete with at least a C-, sometimes a C or even a B depending on the optometry school or where the class was taken. If you do not have the exact classes, always email the admissions office of your prospective schools. They sometimes waive a course requirement if you have a similar or upper level classes in that subject or in a related area. They did this for me at Ohio State. You also do not need to have all of your prerequisites complete by the time you apply, a few can still be pending. This also applies to classes that are being retaken. Just make sure you make note of this on your OptomCAS application.
If you plan on going to optometry school after 3 years of undergraduate education, optometry schools may have additional class requirements. Usually this involves completing general education requirements such as arts and social science classes.
2. Look at the other admission requirements
There is more than just prerequisites to consider. Other requirements include OAT’s, letters of recommendation, and shadowing hours.
The OAT’s are required by all schools. In order to take the OAT, a student must apply to take the exam and have at least one year of undergraduate education completed. I advise waiting until most of your prerequisites are complete before applying to take the exam. This way you will be the more prepared and get the highest possible score. Some schools do have a minimum score requirement for admission and scholarships. Most schools require applicants to take the OAT before inviting them for an interview. Ideally, the OAT’s should be taken the summer one year before your expected matriculation date into optometry school. Once taken, your OAT’ score can be used as a guide to see where you may fall academically compared to accepted students. However, this should NOT be your only guide in choosing where to send your applications.
Letters of recommendation must also be considered. All schools require at least two letters of recommendation, and one has to be from an optometrist. Other acceptable sources include professors, research supervisors, employers, and other sources. For example, SUNY Optometry required a letter from the pre-professional or pre-med committee from an applicant’s undergraduate institution. Getting this letter requires a lot of time and advanced planning which may not be feasible if you are applying later in the application process.
Shadowing hours is another requirement of all optometry schools. The purpose of shadowing hours is to guarantee each optometry school that you have a basic understanding of the profession. Most schools do not have a set number of hours but some do. For example Ohio State requires applicants to complete 10 hours of observation in two different settings. Pacific University requires 30 hours of observation for admission. Ultimately, requirements vary from each school so always check prospective schools websites for information.
4. Read the school’s philosophy and curriculum
An optometry school’s philosophy or mission statement expresses what the school hopes to accomplish as an institution. This acts as a guiding force for everything that the school does and should be something that you agree with. One of the ways this is expressed is through the school’s curriculum. Since each optometry school has to be accredited you will learn all the essentials to be an optometrist but there are variations in class offerings. Some schools may be particularly strong in one area such as business or neuro-optometry.
During one of my interviews, I met another interviewee who had applied to two other optometry schools. He had been accepted to one of the schools and wait-listed at the other. He was concerned that he would only be accepted to the one program. He disagreed with this program’s mission statement and disliked this school’s curriculum. He felt as though he would have to feign interest if he went there. The important lesson is if you do not agree with the program’s philosophy or curriculum, you will not be happy at that optometry school and therefore should not even apply there.
4. Check how involved students are in clinic
There is some variation in how optometry schools structure the clinical curriculum. Some schools get students into clinic and seeing patients early in their first year, while others delay entry into clinic until third year. There is not a right or wrong way to be educated clinically. It is just the preference of that particular school. Even if a particular school does not have first or second years seeing patients, check the student organizations for outreach opportunities. Opportunities may exist to participate in vision screenings or other clinically related activities even as a first year. As a prospective student, determine what you would prefer for your clinical education then find schools that match your preferences.
5. Contact other students
The school’s web site can give you all the objective information possible, but you cannot get everything from the web site. Students can offer perspective, advice, and other tidbits of information about the program. All schools have designated students who help applicants by answering any questions about the program. They are also present at open houses and interview days.
6. Go to open houses when possible
The best way to see if you want to go to a specific optometry school is to actually visit it. Throughout the year schools hold open houses where you can learn more about the program, meet with faculty and students, tour the facilities, learn more about the admissions process, and see the area surrounding the school. One plus of visiting a school is that you will get a feel for its general atmosphere and whether you like it. This is also known as your “gut feeling” and it will be helpful. Always listen to this feeling because it will not steer you wrong.
7. Consider location and weather last
A few applicants use location and weather as their primary criteria in picking an optometry school. Although a school may be located in a tropical paradise or an urban playground, that does not mean that the school is the best one for you. Also do not be afraid to apply to schools outside your immediate area. Optometry school could be a time to experience a different part of the country. As I have learned from going literally cross-country to optometry school interviews, each part of the country is unique and offers a niche for everyone.
8. Pick at least four schools to apply to
Now that you have considered academics, prerequisites, clinical education, location, and feedback from students and faculty, you can now determine which schools to apply to. I would recommend picking at least four schools. This way you have a back-up schools if you do not get into your first choice program or should you change your mind about your top school.
Always remember that all schools are accredited or provisionally accredited and have to meet rigorous standards in order to offer an optometry program. This means you will get a good education no matter where you go. It’s only a question of what school meets your needs and suits you the best!