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  • Rachel Shackelford

Applying for Optometry School: My Steps and Mis-steps

As I prepare for my first year at ICO, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I got here. About a year before I began applying to optometry school, I was already pretty anxious about where to apply, whether my grades and OAT scores would be good enough, and trying to fit shadowing hours into a busy schedule. When the time to apply came around, things went relatively smoothly. I thought I’d share some pro-tips for those experiencing the same anxieties I did.

Shadowing and Experience

I took this goofy photo at a mall Lens Crafters to share about my shadowing on my sorority's social media

What I did right…

The summer before my junior year of undergrad, I registered for a 1 credit hour health science class where the only requirement was doing 35 hours of shadowing. This was a great motivator for me to rack up a lot of hours in a short amount of time. I wanted to get a wide variety of shadowing experiences, so I called nearly every vision clinic in driving distance. I was able to schedule either a full or half-day with four different doctors. Each site was a different type of practice; I saw something new at each place. My summer class required that I uphold a journal of what I saw. So, I kept a copy of what I wrote for when it came time to apply for schools.

Since shadowing helped solidify my desire to become an optometrist, I knew I needed to gain a better understanding of day-to-day life in the profession. The best way to do this was to get a job in a private practice, so the summer before I applied to optometry school, I worked as an optometric technician. Over three months, I began to see what goes into a business and how an entire clinic works together to treat patients.

What I did wrong…

I was able to learn a lot through my optometric experiences, but I know my work in a private practice only scratched the surface. I would like to have spent more time working with the doctor and learning even more about the profession. Working another summer with an optometrist would have helped me develop a better working relationship at the practice and may have allowed me to take on more duties that could have benefited me in the long-run.

Optometry Admissions Test (OAT)

I wish I had primarily used test prep books like this to study. My undergrad's HS office had a variety of them available to check out, see if yours does too!

What I did right…

As I’m sure most of you have, I read everywhere that the best thing to do to prepare for the OAT was to begin studying early. I tried my best to take this advice to heart. I began studying about nine months before my test date. At first, all of my studying was through the Crack the OAT website. The site had practice OAT tests for individual topics, sections, and full exams. I used the exams to gauge what areas I most needed to study. From there, I made a study plan for what I should work on each week over the months leading up to the exam.

Just weeks before the exam, I went into my undergrad’s health science office and checked out one of their Kaplan test prep books. I highly recommend buying, renting, or borrowing one prior to your OAT. I found the questions and passages in the prep book to be much more similarly formatted to those on the actual exam than the ones I had worked through on Crack the OAT. The book gave me great tips for how to use my time and resources wisely that benefited me greatly during the exam.

What I did wrong…

I failed to keep to my weekly study schedule for the OAT, only studying during academic and holiday breaks. This limited the amount of topics I was able to review and added to my pre-test anxiety.

I also waited way too long to check out the resources the Health Science Office had. The books I read were incredibly helpful and free to use. I wish I had taken a little time each week to browse them throughout the school year leading up to my exam.


Admissions committees are going to be looking for what you put under your experiences, so make sure they know details about what you did!

What I did right…

The OptomCAS portion of your application is where you can really showcase the amazing things you have done as an undergraduate student to prepare for optometry school. For me—and I’m sure all of you—this meant outlining shadowing, work, and volunteer experiences.

My #1 tip for OptomCAS: take advantage of the “Description” box! Since I kept a journal of my shadowing experiences, I knew how many hours I had logged and what I'd observed at each practice. This allowed me to describe on OptomCAS the unique experiences I had at each office I visited. Not only did this show the admissions committees that I had a comprehensive understanding of the profession, but it also supplied talking points for my interviews. The same goes for work and volunteer experience. Describe your responsibilities, especially those that directly relate to your ability to succeed as an optometry student.

What I did wrong…

I chose a rather broad topic for my personal statement on OptomCAS. Before I submitted my application, I had my health science adviser read through my personal statement. She thought that I could make a more compelling impression on admissions committees by choosing to focus on one aspect of my life rather than attempting to share all of my optometric goals in one essay. I couldn't find a specific angle to use, so I narrowed my essay as far as I could, then submitted it. The broad topic didn’t necessarily hinder my application, but it may have kept me from standing out to those that read my application.


Hopefully, reading about my journey applying for schools has helped you in some way. Whether you take after my successes or learn from my mistakes, I want to help future ODs showcase their skills the best they can. If nothing else, remember this: despite some of my false steps, I was still accepted into optometry school and am about to begin my journey at ICO. So, don’t stress as much as I did, and be confident that you too can achieve your goals!


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