Whether you want to focus on the clinical practice, research or teaching branches of optometry, you’ll need to get your doctor of optometry (O.D.) first. The application process for a four-year optometry program is similar to that of many other graduate programs. In order to be considered for an accredited program, you’ll need to have completed your undergraduate degree at a four-year college or university, as well as provide scores for the OAT (Optometry Admission Test).
Let’s take a deeper look into the Optometry School Admissions Process.
Optometry School Admission Requirements
The first step in applying to optometry school is finding out all the admissions requirements for each program to which you are applying. Expectations may vary from program to program. For example, if you are applying to a clinical optometry program, the admissions office will most likely be looking for experience in a “people-helping” profession. On the other hand, if you are pursuing an academic career via optometry school, the admissions committee will be more interested in your publications.
Some admissions requirements tend to be common to most grad school admissions offices. They include your undergraduate GPA (especially in your major), your OAT scores, letters of recommendation, and your personal statement.
As a medical practice and course of study, optometry is grounded in the sciences. Though you don’t have to be a general science major in order to be admitted to an optometry school, many programs require courses in mathematics, physics, biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. Furthermore, much of the content on the OAT admissions test will be found in these science classes. Some schools also require English language courses as part of your curriculum.
Admissions boards are looking for well-rounded candidates as well as those with dedicated science candidates. Augment your transcript with electives such as a foreign language, psychology, philosophy, economics and history. These courses will not only enhance your communication skills, but also indicate to admissions boards that you have the intellectual curiosity and academic discipline to succeed in optometry school.
After having decided where and when to apply, your next step is to obtain application forms from the various schools that you’ve selected. Call the admissions offices around July and have them put you on their mailing lists. Also check the school’s Web site. Many have downloadable applications. Once the applications begin arriving, you’ll notice one thing quickly: No two applications are exactly alike. But despite their differences, most follow a general pattern with variations on the same kinds of questions.
When it comes to applying to optometry school, think of yourself as “the product.” Your application is your marketing document. Marketing yourself doesn’t mean that you should lie or even embellish the facts. It simply means that you need to make a lucid and convincing presentation. Everything on your application should contribute to an overall picture of yourself that clearly demonstrates that you belong in the class and will make a solid contribution to the learning of your peers. Sell yourself.
Your Optometry School Application Essay
Essay…Personal Statement… Statement of Purpose… Candidate’s Admission Statement… These terms bring a shiver to the spine of many a potential grad student. You should think of the personal statement, however, as an opportunity to show admissions officers what you’re made of. They want to know why you want to attend their optometry program and this is your chance to tell them as clearly and compellingly as you can.
Your application essays can serve two basic purposes. First, they show whether or not you can write a clear, coherent essay that’s logically and grammatically correct. These days, students’ writing ability is often presumed deficient unless proven otherwise.
Second, they provide you with the opportunity to present the admissions committee with more of a “three-dimensional” portrait of yourself as a deserving candidate than GPA and OAT numbers possibly can. What you choose to write sends clear signals about what’s important to you and what your values are. You can explain why you really want to pursue optometry work and the career path it will enable you to follow. Your essay also enables you to explain things like a bad grade or term in an otherwise creditable record.
Essays are the best way for admissions officers to determine who you are. So, don’t hesitate to go beyond your current experience for essay topics. Feel free to discuss other events that help define who you are. If you have overcome significant obstacles, say so. If you were honored with an award, describe the award and what you did to achieve recognition.
It behooves you to do a good job here. So start early. Go over your goals and aspirations, write several drafts, talk to students and professors. Then give some thought to your goals. How will you accomplish them? What can you contribute to the optometry school community? What can you contribute to this particular school or program? If you can answer these questions in a clear, concise manner, the statement will be a relative breeze.
A Few Final Tips…
- Answer questions.
- Follow directions.
- Match yourself with the school.
- Be your unique self.
- Tell stories and make your essays interesting.
- Start with a bang.
- Ask other people to read your essay and give you their impression.
Getting Recommendations for Optometry School
Recommendations rank among the most important items in your admissions file. In many cases, they are the most important, making or breaking many an application. So start thinking about them as soon as possible. The whole process of identifying good recommenders, lining them up, and then making sure they follow through with winning letters can take a lot of time.
If you’re still in college or a recent grad, your college professors will likely make the best references. This is especially true if you’re going on to study the same subject in grad school.
Choose people who like you, and who think you’re good at what you do. Choose good writers who can express their opinions clearly. If a potential recommender seems less than enthusiastic in any way, keep looking. That person’s ambivalence is likely to come through in the letter.
The more personalized and detailed your letters are, the better. So invest the time to make your recommenders’ job as easy as possible. Try to set up an appointment or lunch interview to discuss your grad school interests with each letter writer. At these interviews, review your academic performance and see what other information they’d like. Providing copies of your papers, portfolios of your work, and the like will help writers make their letters as focused and specific as possible.
Provide your recommenders with all the info, forms, stamped and addressed envelopes they’ll need. Make sure they’re aware of deadlines and follow up later. By all means, give them as much time as possible. Writing a good reference takes time and your recommenders will likely have other competing demands for time—and other recommendations to write.
Keep your recommendation writers on schedule. Provide a gentle reminder when a deadline is approaching. Pave the way for this reminder when you first ask for the recommendation by mentioning a date for a follow-up call. And, of course, a thank-you letter at the end of the process is always appreciated.
Finally, letters from big-name scholars can certainly get admissions committees’ attention. But the usefulness of a letter from Prof. Supernova, who can’t quite place your face, not to mention your abilities, is questionable.
Ask yourself these questions when considering potential recommenders:
- Have you worked closely with this person?
- Do you feel this person thinks favorably of you?
- Does this person know you in more than one context (e.g., work plus an activity)?
- Does this person know that you intend to go to grad school?
- Is this person an effective narrative writer?
- If this person knows you from previous rather than current experiences, have you kept in touch?
- Will this person complete your recommendation letter by the deadline you give?