harnos_preoptometrytooptometryWith a 27 percent projected job growth from 2014-2024, the demand for optometrists in the United States is growing 10 percent faster than other health diagnosing and treating practitioners. Additionally, sporting a 0.7 percent unemployment rate with an average salary of more than $100,000 a year, this, in addition to many other enticing factors, are reasons why optometry schools across the country are not only experiencing an increase in the number of student applications, but also a higher caliber candidate than in years past.

As former pre-optometry club president at the University of Michigan, I worked three years on picking the brains of admission directors at various schools across the country, read countless online articles (be careful where you look though!), chatted with current students, and even asked questions during my interviews at multiple schools about the selection process. I did this all with the goal to help pre-optometry students be the best candidates they can possibly be.

After completing my first year of optometry school and looking back on my journey up to receiving my acceptance letters, I have compiled what I believe to be eight important tips for pre-optometry students to aid in achieving acceptance into their dream school.

  1. Get involved and stay involved

Showing that you have a life outside of academics not only shows that you are well-rounded but it is an insight that you will be better prepared to handle the intense rigor of the optometry school curriculum. Additionally, many studies show that students who are involved have better time-management skills and therefore ultimately do better in school.

  1. Try your best to get good grades

While we cannot be good at everything, getting good grades does speak volumes on an application. Although it isn’t the only thing that matters, GPA is a good standard to compare you against other applicants in the country.

  1. Rock that OAT!

The OAT is the best way to standardize your academic performance against other student applicants. The OAT is also a good way to help make up for a less-than-par performance on your college transcript. For example, perhaps you earned a C in physics in undergrad because you had a tough course-load, or because it was just a subject that you struggled with. If you happen to get a good score on the physics portion of the OAT, it not only shows that you now know the material, but that you are a hard worker!

  1. Does the school that I attend for undergraduate matter?

The short answer, yes and no. Some optometry schools associate each school with a numerical value to classify the competitiveness while other schools just recognize that some schools are more difficult than others. But, at the end of the day, you need to focus on doing your best, working your hardest, and eliminate the thought from your mind that “this would have been easier at a different school.”

  1. Not too easy, not too hard

Try to find a balance in the rigor of your current and future semester course-load. Optometry school is very demanding and by challenging yourself in undergrad, you relate to schools that you are better prepared to transition to and meet the demands of the optometry school curriculum.

  1. Shadow multiple fields of optometry

From corporate to private practice, hospital and VA, and from retail to industry and beyond, there are multiple facets that make up the field of optometry. Through shadowing a sample of what the field has to offer, you afford admission committees the ability to be more confident in their applicants by allowing them to know that you have placed yourself in various optometric settings. Additionally, having knowledge of what it is like to practice or work in these various settings will only help you in your future.

  1. Do not be afraid to shadow other health care fields

One can gain a lot by shadowing various non-optometric health care professions. For example, I realized that I loved the interactions an emergency room social worker has but disliked that these were short-lived. Additionally, while I loved the structure of a hospital setting while shadowing a pediatric neurosurgeon, I disliked the risk of operations. These experiences can shed light onto how you may want to practice in the future.

  1. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy your undergraduate experience

College is a time of exploration, experience-making, and a unique opportunity to step outside of your comfort zone and change the lens through which you view the world. Take advantage of this unique time and make the most of it!

Best of luck to everyone and enjoy the journey!

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Optometrists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov.ooh/healthcare/optometrists.htm (visited July 29, 2016).