The winter months in the year preceding optometry school can be an exciting time for many students. By this time, many optometry school applicants have completed their applications and have already gone through the stressful interview process. Now they are faced with the very difficult decision of selecting which school they will attend for the next 4 years. Once students have decided which optometry school they will attend, they are often unsure of the timeline for finding their new school’s Facebook group to meet their future classmates, looking for potential roommates, and filling out financial aid paperwork. Optometry school may still be many months away, but there are some important steps to complete to ensure you get there smoothly. I know this because I just went through these very experiences myself. As I mentioned in my previous article about the fall months in the year preceding optometry school, I recently decided on the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University and sent in my matriculation form and deposit. In this article, I hope to offer a timeline of my experiences in the winter months in the year preceding optometry school.
Accepting an Offer
The first step after receiving your offer of admission to optometry school is to accept it. Each school has its own process for securing a seat in their program after your acceptance, but generally a matriculation form and deposit should be submitted by early January. After mailing in your matriculation form and deposit to the school of your choice, you should kindly notify any other schools that you received an acceptance from that you have chosen to attend another optometry school. Not only does this show respect for other schools, but once a school knows that they aren’t waiting on a deposit from you, they can extend an offer of acceptance to another anxiously waiting student. While your deposit does secure you a seat in the program, it is important to complete any outstanding requirements you may have if you received a conditional acceptance. For example, you may have been accepted into a program before completing all of your prerequisite courses. Schools may set a date that they expect these prerequisite courses to be successfully completed by. Failure to complete your courses by this deadline may put your acceptance in jeopardy.
Meeting Future Classmates
Once you have decided on your future optometry school, it is time to meet your future classmates! Meeting new classmates is an exciting time for everyone. Most schools have a Facebook group set up to help you get in contact with your classmates. At the Pennsylvania College of Optometry, our upperclassmen set up a Facebook group for my class. I didn’t discover this Facebook group until February, but many students had joined several months before. January and February are good times to start looking for your school’s Facebook group, because most students have made a decision on which optometry school they will be attending by this time. The hot topic in our Facebook group is housing. The upperclassmen are happy to offer advice about when and how to look for apartments, where to live and where not to live, and even offer to show us their apartments when we visit. Personally, this has made researching apartments much less stressful for me. The upperclassmen help us with more than just apartment hunting tips in our Facebook group. They answer questions about classes, professors, finding and managing part-time or work-study jobs, student organization opportunities, sports and intramurals, food, fun, and so much more. The upperclassmen at PCO are truly a wonderful resource for new students, and it is nice to know how much support we will have when we make the transition to optometry school in August. Optometry school classmates become like a family over their 4 years together, and I’m sure many other optometry schools have a strong support system like we do at PCO. Your school’s Facebook group is a good place to look for potential roommates. At PCO, we also have a housing site through the school’s website. This is useful for students who may not have a Facebook account. It also allows us to find potential roommates in other professional programs at Salus University, such as the Audiology or Physician’s Assistant programs. Depending on where you want to live, January, February, and March may be too early to actually sign a lease at an apartment complex for the upcoming academic year, but it is not too early to start talking with potential roommates. I found my future roommates through our Facebook group in March. I will be living with two other students also in the Pennsylvania College of Optometry Class of 2017. We’re looking forward to looking at possible apartments later in the spring. Choosing roommates a month or two before you start looking at apartments gives plenty of time for you to talk to each other beforehand to make sure you will be compatible living in the same space. It also gives you time to sort out exactly what you are looking for in an apartment and time to talk with current students/tenants living there.
Getting Finances in Order
Another very important step to complete in the winter months in the year preceding optometry school is submitting financial aid paperwork. While this isn’t nearly as fun as meeting classmates and looking for roommates in your school’s Facebook group, it is very important. The first financial aid document is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA). There are federal and state deadlines for the FAFSA, as well as school deadlines. The FAFSA is completed online. If possible, I would recommend completing your FAFSA at the same time you file your tax return. You will need some of your tax return information when completing the FAFSA, so it makes it convenient to fill them out together. You will also need to fill out the Institutional Financial Aid Application. This allows you to apply for any campus-based financial assistance or work study. These forms should be available through your school. Students requesting Stafford Loans must also complete and sign a Master Promissory Note and Entrance Counseling for graduate students electronically. Your school should provide you with this information when it becomes available. Stay on top of deadlines! Financial aid paperwork can be very confusing and overwhelming for students who have never filled it out before. Your school’s financial aid office can answer any specific questions you may have about the financial aid process, and often can provide you with tips to make the process go as smoothly as possible for you. I highly recommend completing the forms as soon as you can, that way you won’t have to worry about missing a deadline. I submitted the various financial aid forms in February and March.
As I continue to write “Eyeing the Future” articles for OptometryStudents.com documenting my experiences in the year leading up to optometry school, I am hopeful that these timelines will be useful to future optometry school applicants. I look forward to sharing my experiences with other students interested in pursuing the rewarding profession of optometry. If you haven’t already, please check out my first article, What to Expect in the Year Preceding Optometry School: Eyeing the Future – Part 1, about the fall months in the year leading up to optometry school. Look for upcoming articles about the spring and summer months, which will include tips for apartment hunting and getting ready to move to a new city.