Optometry schools seek students who they believe will make a good optometry student and more importantly, a competent, caring optometrist. There is a huge investment made by the optometry school and the taxpayers in the training of a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) (believe it or not, the $20,000-27,000 tuition of public optometry schools cover only a small portion of the total costs) and consequently decisions are made very carefully, using information from a variety of sources including: undergraduate GPA, science GPA, OAT score, letter(s) of evaluation, personal statement, health related and optometric experience, research experience, and the interview. These factors are assessed by the admissions committee, usually appointed by the Dean of the Optometry School, that typically include faculty, full-time admissions staff and sometimes advanced optometry students.
The Evaluation Process-
Admission committees strive for objectivity in their decision making. Optometry schools are looking for students who present evidence of strong intellectual ability, a record of accomplishments, and personal traits indicative of the ability to communicate and relate to patients in a realistic and compassionate manner. The five most important factors used in making the decision are:
1) undergraduate academic record - Studies indicate that the best single predictor of success in the basic science classes in Optometry School is the quality of work in subjects leading to the baccalaureate degree. It is evidence of your motivation and ability. The academic record includes the overall GPA, science GPA, performance in some individual courses, and the overall trend. For instance, a sub-par freshmen year may be somewhat overlooked if followed by improvements over the next 2 years, whereas a declining record may not be.
2) OAT score - The OAT (Optometry Admission Test) is also a very important indicator used by admissions committees. National standardized tests, like them or not, are a fact of life in optometry school and beyond (eg. "the boards"). There is a high correlation between OAT scores and board exam scores. OAT scores have also been shown to be good predictors of academic success in basic science courses.
3) letters of evaluation - At WKU a single committee letter is sent to the admission committee, composed by your pre-optometry advisor (committee chairperson) with input from two other individuals (eg. faculty from which you have taken a class or done research with). The letter is written following a meeting (interview) with each member of the committee. Many students find this helpful, serving as a practice interview for your Optometry School interviews. Many schools also require a letter of recommendation from a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.).
4) personal statement (essay) - Most application forms include a one page essay on a topic of your choosing. This can be a very difficult and introspective part of the process. This is the student's opportunity to really let the admission committee know who you are, to focus on your special strengths that you feel you can offer the profession. After all, you want to somehow distinguish yourself from all the other applicants with good grades and high test scores. What interesting experiences or skills do you possess? What interesting personal anecdotes can you relate that illustrate these experiences, skills, or traits? Be yourself and write about your best points. Be prepared to discuss these points at your interview.
5) impression made in the interview - Interviewers will evaluate the student according to: a.) maturity and sense of responsibilty; b.) interpersonal skills; and c.) motivation for seeking admission.
Extracurricular activities are important in that they are indications that you can juggle a rigorous curriculum and still participate in outside activities be they work, volunteer experience, or research experience. The level of your participation is more important than the number and diversity of your activities. It is better to be immersed in one or two activities, and achieve increased levels of responsibility and leadership than to gain a shallow experience in a half a dozen arenas. It is important to realize that time spent outside of your academic pursuits is not a substitution for a modest academic record. It may instead be an indication of poor judgement, poor time management or skewed priorities. If your time spent in extracurricular activities is negatively impacting your coursework, you would be best advised to scale it back a bit.
Health Related Experience-
It is crucial that you gain some experience in a health related activity. Whether you volunteer in a hospital, clinic, optometrist's office, hospice or nursing home, this activity will serve three important purposes. First, it will help you clarify your decision to pursue a career in optometry. You may find out that being around sick people makes you uncomfortable, that it is too stressful, or that you would never be able to perform routine procedures. Better to find this out now than after you get to Optometry School. Second, admissions committees view this as a sign of your dedication and motivation to a career in optometry. It will show that you have tested your career choice and have reinforced your commitment. Third, it will give you experiences to draw on for your personal statement and interview and allow you to make contact with optometric professionals. You may need a letter of recommendation from an O.D.
While performing research has its own intrinsic rewards (a deeper understanding of concepts, personal satisfaction, development of problem solving skills, exploration of the unknown, etc.), it also is an important extracurricular activity to admissions committees, particularly those schools where academic medicine and biomedical research are stressed.