Student Ambassador Blog Articles

How I Got Back Into the Swing of Things After Taking 3 Gap Years by SCCO Student Ambassador, Christina Chapman

How I Got Back Into the Swing of Things After Taking 3 Gap Years

By SCCO Student Ambassador, Christina Chapman

Chapman_ChristinaBefore entering optometry school and after finishing undergrad, I took three years to “test out” optometry.

Deciding to attend optometry school can be a big decision to make, and I wanted to ensure that it was something I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to. I worked full time in private practice to gain some preliminary skills which had the bonus of giving me incredible insights into the field. I also wanted a reset after finishing my undergraduate education. This time allowed me to rediscover some old hobbies like reading and cooking, and also to do some traveling (before the pandemic started).

However, getting back into the swing of school, specifically optometry school, with a rigorous schedule was initially daunting. Though working a 40-hour work week is a large time commitment, you can leave everything at work once the day is over, and I really valued having free time one weeknights and weekends. In school, it can feel like there are a million things going on at once and you have bring assignments and studying home with you. We have a midterm every week and a lab proficiency every three weeks to test our clinical skills, so I need to spend lots of time practicing and studying when I’m not in lecture. On top schoolwork, there are all the other transitions unique to your first year like making new friends, getting acquainted with Orange County, picking which clubs to join, and even just figuring out where everything is on campus.

Now how did I best get back into the swing of school?

The age-old advice of time management still rings true. Approaching the school year with intentionality and a realistic plan of what I could get done in the day helps me balance school and personal responsibilities while still taking time for a bit of fun! I’m not a person who schedules out my whole day, but I like writing an actionable list of things I need to accomplish near the beginning of each day. With all the club meetings, optics review sessions, and after-hours lab time to practice retinoscopy, I also leaned heavily on my Google Calendar to make sure I didn’t miss anything. All of the first year students have iPads this year, so I add any important dates to my calendar as they come up so that I don’t miss anything!

In addition to managing your time effectively here are a few things I have found helpful so far in the transition to graduate school:

  • Talk to upperclassmen:  I have found it really helpful to ask second years for their perspectives on anything and everything. They have great advice ranging from study tips for particular classes, which clubs to join, and what coffee shops are the best to get some studying done. I’m not super extroverted or a person who strikes up conversation with upperclassmen that I don’t know, but MBKU pairs first years with a Peer Advisor. They are a wealth of knowledge! Joining clubs has also allowed me to mingle with upperclassmen and talk to them in a social setting. They’ve all been through this before, so they are a great resource!
  • Make friends that you study well with: Study groups can help solidify course material by identifying and filling in your gaps in knowledge. Group studying is the most efficient when everyone has already individually studied the material, that way you can come to the session with specific questions or just quiz each other. Bonus: studying with other people has been a great way to form friendships with classmates and meet people who share similar experiences.
  • Remember your hobbies: I think it’s easy to come to optometry school and let it take over your whole identity. School can quickly become the only thing that you think about. Though your studies should generally be the top priority, sometimes prioritizing yourself or your hobbies can be crucial in remembering that you have an identity and personality outside of “optometry student.”  Even if it’s just for 20 to 30 minutes, I make sure to play piano, read a chapter of a book, or watch my favorite show. I also play with my puppy, Korra, who helps make sure I get outside and take her on walks. I also strongly encourage talking to friends and family who aren’t here at school. It helps me put academics in perspective and remember why I wanted to come back to school so much. And make sure to let yourself rest!

Starting optometry school will always require a transition period, especially if you took a few years off like I did. School is a lot of work, but if you approach it with intentionality both academically and socially, it is definitely doable. 

If you have any questions for me, feel free to contact me at

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