The Successful Interview
For my first optometry school interview, I was naturally apprehensive. I, like many other optometry school applicants, had already graduated from college. And although I had set myself back a year, so to speak, by delaying my application, I had used the extra time to gain more shadowing experience in optometry, as well as to prepare for the challenging OAT exam. After performing successfully on the OAT, scoring a 400TS and 390AA (you can check out my OAT prep. articles right here on www.optometrystudents.com!) I was confident that I was a strong applicant on paper, but I wondered how I would perform in the all-important interview.
My first interview was, luckily, at one of my top choices, so I knew that if I were successful there, that I would not have to worry about attending a ‘wrong’ optometry school; check out our terrific article on how to choose the right school! The school at which I would be interviewing was the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, now under the umbrella of Salus University. I had a number of reasons for wanting this school. First, I had already visited the school, which is a move that I would encourage all students interested in a school to make, provided of course the school is close enough as to make this feasible. PCO has a large, diverse patient population, and the clinical setting of any school is a tremendously important consideration for any prospective students to weigh. The Elkins Park Campus is located in a wonderful suburb of Philadelphia, making it easy for students to live in a nice area that is close to the school. Another major consideration for me was that one of the optometrists whom I know and have interviewed, Dr. Robert Ruggiero, was both a graduate of PCO and a faculty member there for some time. He gave a strong appraisal of the school, including both the quality of the education that he had received as well as the overall experience he had there. I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Ruggiero through my volunteer work at the Stratton VA Medical Center eye clinic in Albany, NY.
PCO is roughly five hours away from Albany by car, so the first choice I had to make regarding my interview was, what would my travel plans look like? Would I drive down the morning of my interview, or would I instead want to drive down the night before, staying at a hotel? I decided to play it safe and drive down the night before, both because I wanted to be well rested during my interview, and because I did not want to chance having any unexpected delays cause me to be late. My next decision regarded what I should wear to the interview. I decided on a black full suit, with a white dress shirt and deep red tie. I believe this gave me a conservative, professional look. With those decisions out of the way, I needed to practice my interviewing skills! I wanted to make sure my posture demonstrated in myself a sense of confidence and experience. I also needed to prepare myself for handling difficult questions. I found the best strategy for me was to pause for a moment to contemplate my answer, and then to carefully deliver my response. I’m quite analytical, and this suits my personality well, but it may not be the best method for everyone. Therefore, the only advice I can give, is to find whatever works best for you, and to stick with it!
On the morning of my interview, I got up very early to ensure I’d be fully alert by the time my interview began. I also ate breakfast; not something I always do, but a good idea so as to ensure I had sufficient energy throughout the day. I arrived at the school, a bit nervous, yes, but the friendly attitude of the secretary helped to calm my nerves. I also chatted a bit with the other person interviewing that day, a nice young woman from the west coast who, like myself, had also not gone directly from undergrad into optometry, although her path was much longer than mine, hence she was somewhat older than me. It’s always good to know how diverse the applicant pools are, so that no matter your background, you shouldn’t have to feel out of place! After a considerable wait, my interviewer finally arrived, and led me to a small room. She sat directly across from me, which was nice, as it made it easier to maintain effective eye contact with the interviewer.
First she asked me a bit about myself. I talked about my general love of science, and described the long process by which I became interested in optometry. I should note here that at PCO, this first interview is closed-file, meaning the interviewer doesn’t see your academic records, and bases their perception of you solely on the interview. The exit interview at PCO is the open-file portion, where your academics are directly addressed. Take advantage of any closed-file situations by directing the interview in the direction you want it to go! You can talk about almost anything, especially since so many of the questions you will be asked are so open-ended. I even ended up mentioning my interest in history, and I briefly discussed with my interviewer my appraisal of the documentary films produced by Ken Burns. I feel I did an excellent job conveying my overall personality to my interviewer during this first phase. Later on, I got the more generic questions, such as “What is an optometrist?” Don’t underestimate these questions, however, as it is extremely important you can convey that you possess a deep understanding as to exactly what you are getting yourself into by pursuing a career in optometry. I was finally given an opportunity to ask any questions I had about the school, and I had correctly prepared a couple questions about PCO beforehand. Don’t ask questions that almost everyone else asks, such as ‘What are the strengths and weaknesses of your program?’ Rather, try to think of something unique. At the conclusion of this interview, I thanked my interviewer for her time, and then almost immediately afterwards had my exit interview.
The exit interview was very short for me, mostly because I did not have any particular weaknesses to my application. I was asked to address my one bad grade from college, a D from my first attempt at Organic Chemistry II, however because I received an A on my second attempt at this course, with the same professor no less, and also because I had even got a letter of recommendation from this professor attesting to my increased level of maturity, I was easily able to show that I could handle the material. My overall gpa was quite strong at 3.78, and again my OAT scores of 400TS and 390AA were excellent. This, when coupled with my extensive volunteer work and shadowing experiences, made me a very competitive applicant. For those of you with less than stellar academics, however, be aware that you would not have been invited to an interview unless the college was seriously considering you. The open-file portion of your interview would then be your chance to address any shortcomings of your academic record. You should take responsibility for your grades and your own mistakes and should not try to blame others, while still demonstrating your ability to handle the rigors of optometry school. This may not be easy for everyone to do, so be prepared to give some tough responses if necessary.
Following the interview, we were taken on an extensive tour of the campus, including the clinic in downtown Philadelphia, and we were able to ask the student tour guide any additional questions we had about the program. Finally, after this exhausting day (I had woken up around 4AM and didn’t leave PCO until just after 4PM) I drove home to rest. Shortly afterwards, I received my acceptance! Needless to say, I was ecstatic, and was so thankful that I had been accepted into such a terrific program. Starting next year, I’ll be writing articles for www.optometrystudents.com on my PCO experience to supplement Matt’s articles coming from SUNY Optometry. Also, now that my interviews are over and done with, my new OAT articles should be coming shortly. I hope this article has been helpful.
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