Student Ambassador Blog Articles

Tips for Applying Early to Maximize the Summer Before Senior Year of Undergrad by SCCO Student Ambassador, Jacklyn Charbonneau

A series of articles written by SCCO Student Ambassadors, here is Jacklyn Charbonneau. To learn more about Jacklyn, where she is from, and why she chose SCCO, find her bio here listed alphabetically.

Tips for Applying Early to Maximize the Summer Before Senior Year of Undergrad

by SCCO Student Ambassador, Jacklyn Charbonna

Charbonneau_JaclynIt can be said that a gap year offers a great opportunity to gain experiences, save money, and have time to refine your application. However, because I was eager to start optometry school and felt like I made the most of my undergraduate years, I opted not to take that gap year.  I had enjoyed my undergrad experience fully, I took every opportunity to be involved in variety of experiences by graduation.  To not take that gap year  was a personal choice for me that also meant finding ways to balance the OAT and application while still taking courses and finishing up my undergrad degree.

In this article I’ll review some of my tips for balancing the OAT and application process during undergrad, as well as how to balance part-time work while in school.

For the OAT, my main plan of attack was to spend the summer studying, preparing to take the exam at the end of summer before fall classes started so that I could have some separation between my school courses and my OAT prep. Coming from a quarter-system school (go Mustangs!), this meant that I did not start studying for the OAT until July. I spent most of July and August preparing, but also balanced this with working and taking an online summer class. Most importantly, I made sure to take time to workout and spend time with family and friends because that’s what helps me de-stress and feel my best. Balance is so important and can help studying seem less daunting and more achievable. For the OAT, I planned a schedule for reviewing each subject and specific topics within each subject so I knew what I needed to accomplish each day of studying and could make sure I finished all the topics before my test date. I also reserved about two weeks before my exam date for taking practice tests, going over my results, and doing any final prep.

How you study is totally up to your preferences and what works for you, but I found that I liked using a combination of videos, study books and online resources, flashcards, and lots of practice problems (I can’t stress these enough). It’s also important to recognize the overlap between OAT subjects and your prerequisite courses, so preparing well during the prerequisites can help lessen the load of OAT studying and help you feel that much more prepared before you even start.

In terms of balancing the OAT with the application process itself, I found it helpful to start the application early. Especially if you focus on getting your letters of recommendation and personal statement done early, it helps the application process go smoothly upon the admissions cycle’s opening in the summer. I recommend keeping track of extra-curriculars like shadowing, volunteering, etc. so you can easily import all of these into the appropriate sections of the application. If I could go back in time and give myself advice during this time, I would have stressed a lot less and recognized how supportive the admissions teams are throughout the process. 

Try not to get too overwhelmed and instead focus on the excitement of applying to optometry school!

Once I started optometry school, balance is still important to me. Whether it’s working out, going to the beach, or trying new food places around school, I think this has been important for all of my classmates to stay focused on studying and not get too caught up in classes. I have also been fitting in some part-time work as a technician on the weekends to gain some optometric experience. Having scheduled work hours can get a little stressful during busy times of the quarter but following a schedule like I did for OAT studying has been super helpful and keeps me accountable for staying on track during the week. I like to keep lists of what I need to do and study for, and I set goals for what I will accomplish each day. I also keep time aside on the weekends for having fun with classmates and decompressing.

One thing that I have found incredibly helpful is to recognize the difference between quantity and quality of studying; I am still working on this myself, but have been prioritizing making the most of my studying time so I can spend less time studying overall but get more out of the time I put in. It’s easy to feel like you need to be constantly studying but focusing on setting goals for what I need to accomplish is a helpful reminder to stay on task and use my free time to my own advantage and to do things I enjoy!

Good luck to you all as you prepare to apply and conquer the OAT! My final piece of advice, especially for students who opt not to take a gap year, is to have some fun planned for summer before classes start. Make the most of these couple months and make sure to spend plenty of time with family/friends while you have the time!

Feel free to contact me at

I put this service to good use!
As a student here at SCCO, I don’t forget to schedule time to enjoy the Southern California beaches…

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