Student Ambassador Blog Articles

Filling the Gap- How I Made the Most out of My Gap Year

A series of articles written by SCCO Student Ambassadors.

Filling the Gap- How I Made the Most out of My Gap Year

by SCCO Student Ambassador, Tammy Van

Hello hello! A little about me before I get into gap years 🙂
My name is Tammy, and I’m from Long Beach, California. I went to the University of California, Irvine, Class of 2021, with a B.S. in Biological Sciences. Zot Zot Zot!

When I’m not hitting the
books, I enjoy going on boba runs, watching Korean Dramas, building keyboards, and going on walks. Fun fact: I got into the optometry profession after being diagnosed with Keratoconus, a
condition where the cornea thins resulting in a cone shape cornea, and I would love to specialize in keratoconus management and specialty contacts!
A common question that prospective students ask themselves is, “When should I apply? Should I
take a gap year?” The thought of taking a gap year can be frightening to some–I was one of those students who
was scared at first. I fell into discouraging thoughts, thinking that I might fall behind or lose the study grind momentum. I remember reaching out to countless optometry students and admissions officers and asking for their opinions on gap years. It turns out that taking gap years is more common than I thought, and most of the friends I have made so far in optometry school have also taken a gap year. Some students apply during their senior year of undergrad and go straight to optometry school the summer after graduation, or some take a gap year and apply
when they feel ready. So rest assured, gap years are totally okay!!

Before attending SCCO, I took one gap year where I took time to study for the OAT, go through the optometry school application process, worked as an optometric technician, and also took the time to myself to finally travel. Though I was scared at first, taking a gap year has been one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I am here to tell you how I made the most out of my gap year!

My Experiences
After graduation, I took a one-week break before I started studying for the OAT. I went on a tripBlog_Tammy_Photo
with a group of friends which was a nice way for me to relax, take in what I achieved in undergrad, and prepare studying for the OAT. I studied for the OAT for about 3 and a half
months (July to October). During that time, I was able to dedicate my full attention to the exam since I wasn’t taking any classes or working. I found this to be beneficial because I had no other responsibilities, which allowed me to study full-time. In the following months, I went through the
application process, writing essays, attending interviews, touring schools, etc. Studying for the OAT and going through the application process was intense, so I am glad I was
able to solely focus on that!

Once the application process was done, I went back to work to explore the profession a bit more as an optometric technician/front desk receptionist. Though I’ve had a few years of optometric experience prior to working at the new office, working allowed me to further expand my knowledge, and I got to build irreplaceable bonds with the doctors and my co-workers, for whom I am
truly grateful!  🙂

I got exposed to optician duties such as edging lenses, adjusting frames, billing insurances, learning the technical side of different types of antireflective coatings and progressive brands, etc. I even got introduced to ocular prosthetics and was able to shadow an ocularist 2 times a month!

The office also made me realize how valuable the Spanish language is, and it motivated me to learn the language. I believe that communicating with someone in their own language allows the provider to connect with the patient and make the patient feel comfortable under your care. All the experiences I’ve gained allowed me to feel more prepared and confident as an incoming optometry student since I was able to be hands-on!

Pro-tip: if you can, try to get some optometric experience! You can reach out to nearby
optometry offices for openings to work/shadow/volunteer, or you can contact your school’s
pre-optometry club 🙂

Toward the end of my gap year, I traveled to Oregon and Hawaii and went on two road trips with my friends (San Diego and Joshua Tree!). I wasn’t able to have these opportunities before graduate school because I had been too focused on my undergrad career. Of course, now that I had time to set aside, I was able to divert my focus on the people that supported me, and I was able to have fun with them as well before starting school again.

Closing Thoughts

I hope to have eased your anxieties a bit and answered a few of your questions through this blog
post. If I were to go back, I would 100% take the gap year again–I enjoyed every part of my gap year!!

Remember, there are various paths you can take before entering optometry school, and no path is the wrong path. Everyone’s journey is unique, so do what you think is right FOR YOU!

It truly makes me happy to be able to be able to reach out to you all and help you in any sort of way. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or need someone to talk to; email:

See you all later, and good luck!

Click here to read Tammy’s bio and meet other Student Ambassadors at

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