Making the Optometry School Decision: Where Do You Envision Yourself?

Here’s an article written by a young man who was accepted into our incoming class for this fall.  Its overarching message describes how he went about the decision-making and even more importantly, how he dealt with the inherent anxiety in that process. By way of endorsement and from an admissions officer who has been in her position for the past 14 years, I will assure you that he is one of the most academically competitive, personable, people-skilled, and poised applicants with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Often with applicants such as Erik who scored very well on the OAT—as well as one can possibly score—I ask him or her to write an article with tips on OAT test preparation. That article is coming, but for now, thinking of all of you in this process and especially during these anxiety filled times, he submitted the following article. I couldn’t agree more with its wisdom…

SCCO1_Mug Shot 1By Erik Whitney, SCCO Incoming Class Fall 2020

During the unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all adapting to new ideas of how the future might look. If you’re like me, you might find it harder to visualize what you will eat for breakfast, let alone where you plan to spend the next four years of your life. However, deciding on an optometry school presents a time to press into your passions and hone into your dream future. It’s not a decision to take lightly, but at the same time, it’s a decision that calls you to overcome fears and hesitation as you follow your heart for providing vision care.

Let’s make a few things clear: I am not a professional counselor/advisor, all of us have different factors that play into our school decisions, and you are the captain of your own ship. With that said, whether you desire guidance on how to approach your decision or seek the sympathy of someone else in the same boat, this article is for you. You might find yourself in one of the following scenarios (or if you’re like me, you’ll experience both):

Scenario #1: Where do I go?

So… you rocked the OAT, nailed your interviews, and impressed multiple admissions committees with a stellar application. Your dreams are becoming a reality, and now you can start to picture yourself in a white coat with family and friends looking on in awe. But with multiple acceptances, the location of your White Coat Ceremony is fuzzy, and maybe you can imagine yourself at multiple schools among those that accepted you. Now what?

  • Think about your ideal location. Consider the “feel” on campus, climate, city size, proximity to family and friends, and the general area you seek to start building a professional network: where can you imagine yourself spending the next 3-4 years? If you are an adventure-seeker, remember that fourth year external rotations as well as residencies offer opportunities to live in different settings. Where do you want your “home base” to be?
  • If possible, attend any prospective student events hosted by your top schools, schedule your own campus visit, ask if you can shadow in a university-associated
    SCCO2_SCCO Campus AOSA

    Erik Whitney with future fellow classmate, Arbi Zadoorian on campus at SCCO attending the Western Regional Conference

  • clinic, or combine these into a short trip. From my experience, admissions directors are more than happy to help coordinate your visit. Pay close attention to how you feel among current optometry students—do you feel comfortable with and inspired by those who could be your future classmates and colleagues?
  • If you are interested in a particular specialty, try reaching out to faculty members who teach in your desired specialty. In addition to learning more about each program’s highlights, you will gain a better understanding of the campus culture and might even connect with a future mentor.
  • Finally, take a moment to consider your financial situation, but do not let this serve as an ultimate foundation for your choice. While making my decision, I spent a significant amount of time organizing data into spreadsheets, calculating differences in projected costs, and pondering cost-benefit analyses. Looking back, I am glad to be financially aware of my investment, but this had little to do with my decision between schools. My successes as a student and as a future optometrist depend far more on the environment in which I develop professional skills than a small difference in student loans.
Scenario #2: Is this the right path for me?

“I am incredibly passionate about vision care, I love the daily interactions and lifestyle of optometrists, and I can’t imagine pursuing any other career, but is optometry really the right path for me?” This thought can stem from different places… maybe you are concerned about the demanding curriculum, maybe you feel burdened by looming student loans, or maybe you are falling victim to the extremely pessimistic blog posts of unsatisfied, outspoken optometrists. In any case, it is important to understand the root of your hesitation and take action to reclaim confidence in your career choice.

Below, I have listed five steps that have helped me overcome doubts and re-center on my determination to become a vision care provider:

  • Identify your insecurities: What uncertainties might be leading you to feel insecure? Are your thoughts driven by fears? Try to peel back the layers and identify the source of your fear, as now is the time to overcome limiting thoughts.
  • Practice thinking objectively: Recognize that your thoughts, driven by emotions and affected by external circumstances, do not define your identity nor set boundaries on your potential as an individual. Loosen your grip on opinions that you have latched onto.
  • Reflect on your past successes: Know that you have overcome doubts and hardships in optimal ways before, and now you have an opportunity to overcome them again.
  • Assess your current circumstances: Insecurity might prompt you to think that things will turn out a certain way, and often our minds resort to worst-case scenarios. This, in turn, can lead us to retreat to what feels “comfortable” and “controlled.” But what about the best-case scenarios? Again, looking back to your past successes, realize that you are capable of navigating difficult situations, and stepping out of your comfort zone will likely produce future successes! Furthermore, what regrets might you have if your insecurities prompt you to retreat from pursuing these potential best-case scenarios?
  • Commit to taking action towards overcoming your insecurities: Even if it feels like just a small step, such as sharing your concerns with another or choosing not to scroll through negative blog posts of jaded optometrists, choose to adopt empowering habits that support your goals and objectives:
    • Don’t hesitate to reach out to your network of optometrists, current optometry students, and admissions faculty for information and counsel. Since these professionals are currently living out your potential future (or know a lot about the field), they can help you understand all aspects of the field, and many are excited to help because they have been in your shoes before. However, keep in mind that those you contact have different backgrounds, value systems, and modes of practice, so try to diversify your information sources for a broader picture.
    • If you are concerned about finances, consider speaking with a financial advisor or the financial aid office of the school you are interested in attending. By increasing your understanding of potential financial burdens and developing plans for financial security in the future, you can eliminate unnecessary anxiety that encumbers your central drive for bringing vision care to those in need.
    • Let your acceptance into optometry school do the thinking for you! The admissions committee sees your immense potential as a future doctor, and now the university will do everything in its power to propel you to graduation and a future career.

Know that you are not alone in your questions or doubts! Share your thoughts and feelings with your support network, who will provide valuable insight and resources. When I brought a few of my concerns to Dr. Munroe, she recommended that I read a book titled “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. If you find yourself getting caught up in your mind, especially in a time when the future may seem daunting, this is a great resource to learn how to navigate some of your thoughts.

Finally, know that making your final decision will embolden your confidence and spark even greater enthusiasm toward the school of your choice. Once you acknowledge your hesitations, embrace a mindset to overcome any hardship that may come, and start pursuing your future in the direction you choose, you will be unstoppable. There’s no need to look back now: you are on your way to fulfilling your dreams as a future doctor of optometry!

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