Applying to optometry school will be one the most exciting times of your life. All of the experiences that have shaped you into the person you are today will be put into words, and you want to make sure that you show your best possible self. Admissions receives hundreds of applications each year, so you want to make sure you stand out. Everyone may have good grades and different optometric experiences, so why should a school choose you? What makes you different? What do you have to offer? These are questions you constantly want to be thinking about. Three very important aspects of the application process are: letters of recommendation, the personal essay, and OAT.
Letters of Recommendation: From the start of your undergraduate career, you should start developing a relationship with each of your professors. I strongly encourage visiting your professor’s office hours and asking questions during or after class. Although you only need one letter of recommendation for NECO, you may consider asking for a letter of recommendation if you are doing well in a course (even if you are a freshman!) and have built a meaningful relationship with your professor. NECO requires a letter of recommendation from one science faculty member, one non-relative optometrist, and one of your choice (second faculty member, employer, community leader, etc). NECO does not require a committee letter, but does accept them and I encourage you to inquire about this at your school’s pre-health office. In simple terms, they compile all of your letters of recommendations, choose the best ones, and then write one strong letter to submit with your application. You want to really ask those professors that know you on a personal level and will really be able to write a strong letter. Additionally, try to obtain as many optometric experiences as possible, in different settings! You should definitely shadow and try to develop a relationship with the optometrist. You’ll learn a lot about optometry and the optometrist may even be able to write you a letter of recommendation! You can even get a job at a practice to learn more. These are things you want to start thinking about early on.
Personal Essay: I cannot even begin to tell you how many times I wrote and rewrote my personal statement. One thing I advise is to have as many people read your personal statement as possible to provide you with constructive criticism! If someone reads your statement and tells you it’s great, please ask someone else! I had people who I know are really good writers read my statement. In the end, it took me about 1 month to finalize it, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not confident with your statement at first. You have to understand that this is not your resume. You do not have to list all your experiences in the essay because there are other areas of your application where you will be able to write about those experiences. This is a place where you can highlight maybe 1-2 of your strongest achievements and talk about these in detail. It’s important to be yourself and write from your heart, showing who you really are as a person. Avoid clichés and flowery language. Keep it simple and get to the point. Show admissions a part of you that they won’t get from reading your application. First start by writing an outline focusing on these different areas: Why optometry? What is your motivation? What have you done to prepare yourself for this profession? What are your future career goals?
OAT: Start by taking a full-length online practice exam. This will give you a feel for the exam and highlight areas you need to focus more on. Next, create a study schedule you know you will be able to follow. It is recommended to study for about 3 months, a few hours a day, but YOU know yourself best. Personally, I studied for 1 month, every day from about 9AM-10PM. The study materials I used were: Kaplan, OAT destroyer, and Chad’s videos. For biology, I found Kaplan very helpful. I read over the entire section a few times, and supplemented my understanding by doing the OAT destroyer questions. I found these questions very helpful, as they were quite similar to the actual OAT. For chemistry and organic chemistry, I used Chad’s videos, where he basically gives a short lecture on each section and provides very useful practice quiz questions. For reading comprehension, I would try to read as many passages and answer as many questions as you can in a timed manner. Reading any material, such as the newspaper or books will help you become a fast reader. For physics and quantitative reading, I read the Kaplan book and did practice questions with OAT destroyer. One piece of advice I can give is to do as many online full-length practice exams as you can and review the answer choices. Continuously doing questions in a timed manner is crucial. Most of us have never taken this long of an exam online, so the more practice you receive, the more confident you will feel on exam day. Get a good night’s rest, have a good breakfast, take a deep breath, and be confident in yourself.