Why I Chose the Illinois College of Optometry
I’m from Massachusetts (go Pats!). Being from Mass., I often get the question, “Why ICO? There are other schools closer to where you’re from, why didn’t you go there?”
My answer is simple, really. Sure, I looked at many other schools closer to home, but it was ICO that really blew me away. What set ICO apart? Here is a list of the top 5 reasons the Illinois College of Optometry was right for me.
ICO is the oldest standing optometry school in the United States. It is said that about 1 in 5 eye doctors has attended this graduate institution. Why is that important? Well, if you’re like me, you probably want a job when you graduate. What better way to find the job that you want than through connections made at ICO? Eye doctors that have gone to ICO fully understand the rigorous program you’ve completed, and they will be confident in your ability to treat patients. This will give you the upper hand against other applicants. Additionally, many ICO alumni have gone on to use their degrees in a variety of ways. This gives students like me the chance to ask questions, make connections, and learn more about what you can do with a degree in optometry outside of working clinically.
ICO is known for its clinic. The Illinois Eye Institute is conveniently located right next to the main school building. You don’t even need to walk outside to get from the clinic to the classroom! This is great if you don’t have a car and can’t travel far distances. The clinic includes an eye wear center, pharmacy, multiple primary care suites, multiple specialty suites, and more. Each year, the Illinois Eye Institute sees over 100,000 patient visits. Students are never lacking for learning opportunities! Additionally, each student works under an attending doctor who helps guide them through treating patients. Students get hands-on experience while having someone there to answer their questions. The best part is that at ICO, we enter clinic during our first year! Not all schools do this and it is an amazing opportunity for us to learn clinical skills from day 1.
I really wanted to go to a larger school. To me, there are many more advantages to a school the size of ICO. ICO classes are the perfect size- small enough to allow for individual attention from professors, but you also have a larger group of peers to study with, build connections with, practice with, and potentially work with in the future. We’ve all gotten to know one another, but there are enough people around so that you can still have your space when you need it. There is always someone around if you need help with something. Having a bigger class means more support!
ICO is located in one of the largest cities in the United States- Chicago. This means that we are never short on patients. We have a very diverse patient base. We students receive the ultimate learning experience as we work with patients ranging from routine exams to emergency visits. You see diseases and treatments at ICO that you may never see again, but in the case that you do, you’ll know how to handle them! Additionally, being located in Chicago is fun for students because there is always something to do. There are restaurants at every corner, places to shop (usually window shopping because let’s face it, we’re all broke at this point), museums, parks, and more! I often explore the city to find my favorite study spots. It’s nice to step away from campus and enjoy life in the “real” world.
Because we are the oldest and most established optometry school in America, we have awesome opportunities. We have tons of clubs and organizations students can join while at ICO. This allows you to get to know more about your field and what exactly you might be interested in doing post-graduation. Another thing that amazed me was the externship opportunities at ICO. During 4th year, ICO students complete 4 externiship rotations. One of those has to be at the Illinois Eye Institute, but the other three can be your choice… and we have lots of choices. Many students can go back home (such as Boston for me) or to a place they’ve never been. From east coast to west coast and even Alaska and Hawaii, you can travel and practice eye care all over. We even have international sites such as China, Australia, and Dubai!
When it comes to selecting an optometry school, you really have to know what you want so that you can find the best fit for you. I knew that these 5 characteristics were important for me to have at my future institution. I was lucky to have found ICO, a place that had them all. I hope you’ll find a place that fits you just as well!