Applying

Video: What Makes A Competitive Applicant for SCCO’s Optometry Program

As an admissions officer, I have reviewed thousands of applications and have developed an expectation for essential elements that I look for in competitive applicants—those who will qualify to advance in SCCO’s admissions process.  I explain the process here in this video:

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The most fundamental explanation of SCCO’s admissions process is that it has two serial qualifying rounds.  If you are successful in the first, you will advance to the second:

  • The first is objective and evaluates your academic abilities.  It is designed to “vet check” an applicant, to make sure you have the successful academic practices and competitiveness to get through the rigors of SCCO’s academic program. It is objective because key to this round are the strength of your OAT scores in combination with your GPA.
  • The second is subjective.  It answers the fundamental questions:  “Is this person ‘doctor material?’” and, “Does he or she have the motivation to get through the program?” It is subjective because the interview is the key element of this round. The interviewer reviews your entire application in advance of the interview and so its content is key to the interview exchange.

I will be discussing the various aspects of your application and what SCCO Admissions looks for in each:

Aspects Key to the First Round:

Competitive OAT Scores: 

Because the Academic Average (AA) and Total Science (TS) section scores have proven to be among the the best predictors of how well you will do in SCCO’s academic program, we rely heavily on the strength of these scores.

Analyzing the bell curve distribution of the all OAT test-taker scores indicates that a score on the AA and TS sections of 320 is a competitive score—of course, even stronger is better. With a score of 320, you just start to break away from the pack, and above 320, you are now scoring in the top 20-25% of OAT test-takers.

If you score lower than 310 on the OAT and when considered in combination with your GPA, you may be asked to retake the OAT.

The OAT indicates how competitive you are against the entire season’s cohort of OAT test-takers.  It indicates how well you can conceive and execute a study plan, and how you will deal with the rigors of taking a major objective test—all important skill sets for an optometry student.

Competitive GPAs:

Even though it is an objective value, a GPA must be evaluated in the context of where it was earned….

GPAs vary greatly depending on many factors such as the academic competitiveness of  institution that granted them, in what region of the country the undergrad granting it is located, whether it is public or private, community college versus a university…etc. So even though your GPA has a finite numerical value, we use all these and more considerations when assessing your GPA. That said…

Generally speaking, to be competitive when in combination with solid OAT scores, you should have an overall GPA of 3.20 or above, and a BCP (biology, chemistry, physics) GPA of 3.0 or above. A GPA that came mostly from full academic terms is preferred.  You should no more than two W’s on your transcript.

OAT scores are taken into consideration in combination with GPA. In general, if your OAT scores are weaker, then your overall GPA needs to be stronger so that they offset each other.  Competitive applicants with OAT scores below 320 would need to have a higher than average GPA, say in the range of 3.25 or higher.

 Aspects Key to the Second Round:

Getting to the second round means that you have qualified to advance in the admissions process, which will involve incorporating more subjective elements of your application.  This Second Round evaluation will be done by SCCO’s Admissions Policy Committee members along with the faculty member assigned to conduct your interview.

The Second Round is designed to answer the fundamental questions, “Is this person ‘doctor material?’ and, “Does he or she have the motivation to get through the program?” For the remainder of the discussion, I will collectively refer to these as the Two Questions.

Going forward, as I discuss each element of your application, I will highlight the qualities that address the Two Questions. Because your interviewer reviews all aspects of your application in advance of the actual interview, you can get a jump on successfully answering these questions ahead of time with a well-submitted application.

When your application is first received into SCCO’s system, admissions officers do the initial review of your entire application:  first, to determine if your application clears Round One, and then it does, it is advanced in the process where the various subjective elements will be evaluated in Round Two.

In this initial review, admissions officers make notes about the same qualities that will be reviewed by the interviewer. Such professional qualities include: how you paid attention to the various details of filling in the entries, being thorough, double checking grammar, punctuation, content, and completeness. Many applicants make the mistake of laboring over their personal statement for weeks yet neglect to proofread the rest of their application, editing its entirety for completeness and form—desirable qualities in future doctors.

Here are observations about how the various aspects of your application are considered:

Personal Essay:

I have posted several blog articles on how to write a successful personal statement, which may be found here on this blog.

To address the Two Questions, you want to demonstrate that you are personable and compassionate, enjoy solving problems, and that you want to take on the professional responsibilities of being a doctor; that you communicate clearly and concisely. Seek help from a third party to critique your essay, have it done for grammar, punctuation, and content—good editing can assist you to ensure that what you have written communicates what you hoped to convey.

Letters of Recommendation (LORs):

When choosing who will submit LORs on your behalf, the rule of thumb is to select a recommender who knows you best.  In the “Rating of Attributes” form that is submitted along with the LOR, the recommender states how long and how well he or she has known you.  LORs are more authentic when the recommender shares specific information about you.  I would go as far to say that choosing a recommender who does not know you well may even work against you. Choose your recommenders wisely. For SCCO, LORs are optional but recommended.

Academic Competitiveness: 

Consistent Academic Performance in Full Terms:  Competitive applicants have consistent academic performance—even in very full terms. Having regular, full semesters/quarters with mostly A’s and B’s communicates to admissions officers that you manage your time well, that you can meet the demands of a full course load, and that you can execute a plan a plan that makes you a successful student.

Yes, we often see the non-traditional student who makes a later decision for optometry, and as such, completes prerequisite requirements perhaps even one course a semester.  If this is the case, the expectation is that you would be applying all your agency to perform well academically—in short, to get all A’s in lite terms. You may not have the advantage of demonstrating that you can perform well academically with a full course load, but you can still demonstrate that you can perform well academically, period.

Academic Performance in Later Terms: Competitive applicants have strong and consistent academic performance in later terms. Your transcript is reviewed for all terms; but especially important is your later work, which often times is completed after you have decided on optometry.  It is in these later terms when you know what is at risk should you not be able to perform academically that speaks volumes to us about how seriously you are taking your goal of becoming an optometrist.

Because SCCO’s lockstep academic terms have between 18-22 units/quarter, solid academic performance in consecutive full academic terms is a predictor of how well you will do in our program.  Doing the same in undergrad makes you more competitive.

A’s in Community College: Competitive applicants get A’s in all courses taken at community college, no matter how many courses are taken per term.  This is no comment on completing courses at community college—a practice that is most acceptable to SCCO’s admissions process.  It is a comment on the fact that—because the competition is not as stiff—is it easier to get good grades in community college.  Fellow students with whom you are curve graded against, in general, are less academically competitive and therefore, you need to show that you are academically competitive within a cohort of community college classmates.

Experiences Section and Making It Work For You:

Many applicants fail to include some experiences or activities because they don’t think they relate directly to optometry. This is a mistake. To answer the Two Questions, admissions officers and interviewers are trying to get the whole picture of who you are as a person. Listed individually, here is what admissions officers and interviewers look for categorized within the five “tabs” within the Experiences section:

Employment:  List any and all employment experience.  For the way I personally review applications, this is one of my favorite tabs to review. I do it right after I read your Personal Essay. First off, I compare the timeline of your employment to your academic terms. Many students are working as many as 10-15 hours per week and carrying a full academic load, which says indirectly that your time management skills are successful. Having jobs where “customer service” is required shows you have learned to work with people. I’m always a little leery of a young person who has had no employment experience at all because these are life lessons that have not been learned. No job is too menial to list here.

If you have worked for an optometrist, also cross-list this experience in both the “Employment,” “Shadowing Experience,” and “Optometric Experience.”

Extracurricular Activities:  This tab lets reviewers get a “picture” of who you are and what interests you have.  List any and all activities, even ones done aside from ones associated with being in school:  organized sports participation, individual sport and hobby interests, leadership responsibilities, etc. Because we are recruiting for students who will work well together in our interprofessional education program where you will train with other MBKU students from other disciplines, participating in group activities is especially important to feature about yourself.

Volunteer/Community Enrichment:  It is here that you demonstrate that you have a heart for serving others.  When I speak to groups about this topic, I explain that this is where you show that the world doesn’t revolve around you, but just the opposite.

Optometric Experience and Shadowing Experience:  I’ve combined these two tabs because the only reason they wouldn’t be one in the same is if you have shadowed other health care providers other than optometrists, which is always a beneficial experience.

Along with the experiences you itemize, you will list your duties, making it clear as to what experiences you have had and if it was a paid position versus an internship versus shadowing.

A frequently asked question is “How many hours of shadowing should I have to be considered a competitive applicant?”  There are no set amount of hours of shadowing required, but rather, have you done enough shadowing to be convicted that optometry is right for you.  I have written many article on the topic of shadowing, which may be found here on the blog.

When it comes to the Experiences tabs, you can always go back later after you have submitted your application  and update this information   Be advised to do so because your interviewer will certainly be interested in the scope and content of this information. 

Prompt Communication to Any Correspondence Sent From SCCO Admissions: 

Respond promptly to any correspondence sent by admissions officers through OptomCAS or otherwise. This is important and helps provide answers to the Two Questions. Timely communication with professionally written correspondence is vital to portraying yourself as a future doctor.

Rolling Admissions:

SCCO uses rolling admissions. Competitive applicants apply early for many reasons, which may be found here on the blog in a detailed article about rolling admissions and why it is always best to apply early. 

In Conclusion…

There’s always a risk of portraying a process as too formulaic when it is described in detail.  It never is!  And still, it is helpful to understand more about how SCCO Admissions considers various elements of your application.  Your application is evaluated in its entirety with as much information as is provided, putting the puzzle together with the pieces you provide.

I hope there are surprises in this article and I hope there is also confirmation of what you already suspected to be true.  As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me personally at jmunroe@ketchum.edu

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