What Makes a Competitive Applicant to Optometry School?

April 2, 2014

For the 2013-2014 academic year, 6,676 students were enrolled in the 21 schools and colleges of optometry in the United States and Puerto Rico. If you’re aiming to join them in a future class, you’ll need — to steal a phrase from the famous book and movie about the dawn of America’s space program — “The Right Stuff.”

Without a doubt, your undergrad GPA and your score on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) will be heavily considered by any program to which you apply. But, as you work your way through the admissions process, other factors become very important as well. “Solid communication skills rank right up there with GPA and OAT scores as the most important attributes a candidate can have,” says Michael N. Robertson, Director of Admissions & Enrollment Services at Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in Memphis, Tenn. “We have interviewed our share of ‘smart’ candidates who just couldn’t communicate, and they were not admitted.”

If admissions officials like what they see based on your application materials, you’ll likely be invited to sit down for a face-to-face interview, and that’s where your communication skills really need to shine. The main thing we’re looking for during the interview is the candidate’s ability to communicate professionally and succinctly in a one-on-one situation, which is exactly what he or she will be expected to do in an exam room with a patient.” Interviewers evaluate whether the potential student is generally articulate and they also pay attention to specifics such as whether he or she maintains good eye contact, limits the use of slang and demonstrates adequate critical-thinking skills. Interviewers may also be thinking about whether you would be a good fit with their particular student body. “My advice is to be yourself,” Robertson explains. “Tell us what makes you tick, what you like and don’t like, etc. Don’t give us the answers you think we want to hear; provide answers that are yours and yours alone.”

To boost your chances of admission, you may also want to find ways to convey to the programs you’re targeting that you have a strong work ethic. And don’t forget to highlight your involvement in volunteerism or leadership activities. There’s one attribute of a strong candidate that Robertson finds often escapes potential students: knowledge of the field. “We want to see applicants who know this is the right field for them,” he notes. “That only comes from shadowing optometrists, working in the field, and researching relevant details like state laws and issues currently affecting the profession. After all, how can you be comfortable in your career choice if you know very little about it?” 

Learn More

You can learn more about applying to optometry school if you take advantage of the Optometry Virtual Fair on April 17. The fair, backed by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), is an opportunity to live chat with admissions representatives from any or all of the 21 ASCO member schools. Registration is open now at www.CareerEco.com/events/Optometry. You’ll find more details about the fair there, and you can also check out what we posted here at Eye on Optometry on March 20.