Because this is a small profession, it is usually difficult to find other pre-optometry students at most colleges. In fact, until last year, there was not even a pre-optometry club at my university. The lack of pre-optometry students can sometimes result in a lack of pre-optometry advisers, so this article is directed to anyone in pre-optometry who wants to see a recommended path to acquiring acceptance into an optometry school – a path that you might not have been exposed to yet.
I have included a potential guideline for all four years of college below, but please be aware that this is only a basic structure – it is fine to deviate from it due to certain circumstances (prerequisite conflicts, etc.). Also, I only included the main courses to take, omitting electives. In addition to what is stated, I recommend shadowing (or even working for) optometrists as much as you can during your summers; I have found that this works best because you normally have more free time during your summer (with or without summer school). Do not forget to record what you observed and how many hours you shadowed each optometric physician (this is necessary for your résumé!). On that note, begin constructing your résumé in your freshman year or as soon as possible, as this will save you time before your application process, and professors usually want a copy of it when they write your letters of recommendation.
Take your basic science courses and really concentrate on learning the material and boosting your GPA. Actually learning the material in these courses will tremendously help you with your future courses and the OAT (Optometry Admissions Test). Typically, your first semester GPA is lower because it takes some time to adapt to learning on the collegiate level. After your first semester, really strive to make A’s, since it is usually a bit more difficult to achieve those A marks in higher-level science courses.
I took two semesters of organic chemistry this year along with microbiology and genetics. The sophomore year is usually a good opportunity to get involved in campus organizations and volunteer opportunities, and as always, make sure you include volunteer hours on your ever-growing résumé.
I recommend completing two terms of physics as well as organic chemistry lab (if required for your degree or optometry school). Taking the organic chemistry lab this year will help keep the subject fresh in your mind, which is important because OAT is quickly approaching. The main biology courses I recommend taking now are biochemistry and cell biology. In the spring semester (at the latest), gather letters of recommendation. As a side note, most pre-med students have a deadline for recommendation letters around May, so make sure your professors understand that your deadline is July 1, as they will be more apt to write you a letter with the extended time.
Summer after junior year:
May – Finalize your résumé and write your personal statement. If you feel ready, take the OAT this month. If you take it in May and do not feel comfortable with your score, you can retake it in time before your interviews. Unless it has been changed since I last researched it, the waiting period between test dates is 90 days, so you can retake it in August.
July 1 (usually) – Your application is available via OptomCAS. Submit the application whether or not you have taken the OAT or plan to retake the test. Most optometry schools operate on a “rolling application,” basically meaning, “first come, first served.” Therefore, it is important to send in your application as early as possible, which is why I recommend constructing your résumé and personal statement beforehand, so you can just “copy and paste” it into OptomCAS. Again, when I was undergoing the application process, you were not required to have already taken the OAT prior to submitting the OptomCAS application; however, you may be required to provide an expected date when you will take the test.
Do well in your interviews and get accepted. Then enjoy the rest of college!
Let me finally say that if you are an incoming freshman and read this article, please do not freak out! You have four years to do all this! I hope this prospective roadmap lends some direction and lays out a basic plan for college; however, you will still need to research optometry schools too. Each school has different requirements in terms of which undergraduate courses to take, amount and types of recommendation letters, etc. Lastly, this timeline is admittedly debatable, so feel free to comment below to offer suggestions or corrections. Good luck in your collegiate career!
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