Finding the Right Optometry School
The decision to become an optometrist is not one to be taken lightly. You'll have to commit to several additional years of school, you'll have a heavy course load, and once you graduate, you'll literally be responsible for one of the most important aspects of people's lives—their sight. And you'll most likely be taking on a considerable financial burden until you graduate.
On the other hand, optometry can be incredibly rewarding. If you go into clinical optometry, you'll get to interact with a tremendous variety of people. You'll be dealing with patients, colleagues, and other health professionals. You'll be responsible for making sure your patients are getting the optimal treatment. And if you decide to go into research, you'll be interacting with highly intelligent colleagues from a wide range of scientific fields. In either case, optometrists tend to be both well-paid and well-respected—a rare combination.
What Does It Take To Succeed?
To be effective and successful, optometrists must have certain traits that help them with their position. First, and most crucial, they definitely need to have the ability to pay attention to detail. Judgment and dependability are essential for this job as well. Since you'll have access to potentially dangerous substances, you must have high ethical standards and maintain reliable records. Finally, you'll have to be knowledgeable about and keep up with the constant stream of new products and treatments on the market.
So is it right for you? Ultimately, that's a decision you have to make. Optometry school is a serious time and financial commitment. But if you have specific career goals and apply yourself, the payoff can be extraordinary.
How To Evaluate Optometry Programs
Once you've made the decision to pursue graduate studies, your next step is choosing the right school. This decision will have a major effect on your daily life for the next several years and can influence your academic and career paths. Choosing the right school for you involves many aspects. Among the many factors to consider, concentrate on the following:
- Reputation — What schools in your field have the best reputations? Will a prestigious school really be the best one for you?
- Curriculum — Which schools offer the specific programs in which you're interested? What are the prerequisites?
- Workload — What's expected of the students in those programs? There are often big differences between programs. Will you be able to keep up?
- Location and Size — Are you interested in moving to a new locale? If so, do you prefer a school in a large city or in a rural area—or somewhere in between? Which will serve your needs?
- Cost — Should you consider public universities over private ones? What are the differences in the cost of living at the schools that interest you?
To Which Optometry Schools Should You Apply?
The trick to assessing your chances of getting into a particular program is knowing where you stand with regard to the various factors that programs consider when making admissions decisions. A good way to get a sense of how optometry schools perceive you is to create a fact sheet with your OAT scores (or projected scores), overall GPA, and GPA in your major (and minor, if applicable). Relevant outside activities, work experience, internships, publications, etc. will also contribute to the overall strength of your application.
Compare yourself to the median.
The next step is to find a current source of information about optometry programs. There are several guides published every year that provide rankings of schools, as well as data about acceptance rates and median GPA and OAT scores. In addition, some rank schools according to their reputations among students, professors, or prominent people in the field. Put your OAT score and GPA alongside the median numbers of schools that interest you. The comparison will give you a rough idea of where you stand. But remember, OAT and GPA are not the only criteria for admissions. Many other factors like recommendations and "intangibles" like activities and relevant experience can factor prominently into the admissions equation. Once you have some idea of where you fall in the applicant pool, you can begin to make decisions about your application strategy.
A Sensible Application Strategy
A sensible application strategy will include schools in three general categories:
- Dream schools – places you'd love to attend, but where your chances of acceptance are up in the air or even unlikely
- Good possibilities – programs you'd like to attend and where your grades and OAT score are close to the median
- Safeties – schools where your numbers make acceptance likely
Most prospective grad students apply to between four and seven schools. How many you should actually apply to, though, is best determined by your strength as an applicant, the difficulty of admission at schools to where you're applying, and the general difficulty of getting into any program in your specialty. If you're applying to five or six optometry schools, pick a couple of dream schools, several in the "likely" category, and one or two safeties.