Hi everyone! I’m Dena Colantino, and I’m a fourth-year student at UMSL School of Optometry.
Let me start by saying that I am in no way an expert in the admissions process of optometry school. I can only speak to my own experiences and information I’ve gathered from friends, classmates, and members of the optometric education community among schools. But if there’s any advice I can give to potential applicants, it’s this: start your application early, and then stop stressing about it.
OptomCAS application tips
First things first: it’s never too early to start your OptomCAS application. This year’s application cycle started July 1, and deadlines vary between schools. Even if the schools you’re interested in don’t have their deadlines until the spring, do not wait that long. The longer you wait, the faster the class will fill up, and you’ll be competing for fewer seats. I recommend having your OptomCAS application done by late fall. That being said, submitting and verifying your transcripts will take the longest, so start on that as soon as possible – even if you haven’t taken your OAT.
You can pay OptomCAS an additional fee to verify your transcripts for you, but I recommend doing it on your own for a faster result. When you’re ready to submit your OptomCAS and supplemental applications, save yourself money by only applying to schools you’re certain you would accept an interview. Learn from my mistakes: I made the mistake of over-applying and paying unnecessary application fees.
Building Your Resume
When it comes to building your resume and application, don’t sweat the small stuff. I wish someone had told me that it’s ok if you don’t have 10,000 hours of shadowing or if you got a below average grade in a pre-requisite. Think about your application as a whole; a slightly lower GPA may be balanced by a stellar OAT score, and a lack of leadership roles in undergraduate organizations can be equalized by lots of work experience that you explain in your essay. It doesn’t hurt to reach out to admissions offices or student services of schools you’re interested in applying to before you apply. It’s a good thing for them to recognize your name, or even your face if that’s a possibility.
Preparing for the OAT
If you’re stressing about taking the OAT, I can relate. I rescheduled my exam date multiple times (dishing out at least $100 each time) because I let myself become entirely too overwhelmed. This test is do-able. There are so many resources available to help you succeed. That being said, spend your money where it counts. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars rescheduling your exam because you don’t feel prepared, spend the money on one of the many review books or video courses available to you. And the single most important tool in preparing for the OAT is practice exams. They’re time consuming and sometimes overwhelming, but they are the single best way to determine where you’re at and how you need to prepare moving forward.
Wise Words from a Fourth year
Here are some parting words to those of you who have survived the admissions process and are a few weeks away from starting your first year of optometry school. You are agreeing to spend the next four years of your life completely committed to your education. There are times when it will come before your friends, family, and sometimes even your personal health. It’s not going to be easy; in fact, it can be downright painful. There will be nightmare weeks, even months, but it’s not all bad. The chaos tends to come in waves. When you’re faced with an unmanageable amount of work, take a deep breath. It will pass. Beyond the schoolwork, optometry school has been some of the best years of my life, even if it took me going out on my own for rotations to realize it. My classmates have become my family, I’ve grown a passion for patient care, and I’ve harbored a genuine love for the profession I will commit to for the rest of my life.
Final tip: Preparing, applying and interviewing for optometry school is stressful and scary, but don’t get overwhelmed. Once your application is in, you’ve done all you can do. It won’t do you any good to stress. Be yourself on interview day, and take solace in knowing you’ve done everything you can. And if things don’t turn out the way that you planned, there’s always the next admissions cycle.