Public university in the Midwest for 18 years running (U.S. News & World Report)
Nearly all students who apply to optometry school will have strong grades and OAT scores. In order to stand out, an applicant must show how they use their spare time with meaningful social or academic enrichment.
Pursue Experience That Makes a Difference
Working to support yourself, volunteering in an appropriate healthcare setting, and undergraduate (or graduate) research are the most common co-curricular and extra-curricular activities on student resumes. Demonstrating leadership and teamwork while involved in college organizations and fraternities/sororities offer many social and academic service opportunities where you can develop and practice important leadership skills and teamwork abilities. Even serving as a teaching assistant for a college professor can become a meaningful learning and leadership opportunity.
Volunteering and Job Shadowing
Optometry schools also look for students who show dedication to causes and/or communities. These do not necessarily have to pertain to the healthcare industry, but should demonstrate that you are capable of deep involvement and making a long-term commitment. In many cases, students will become involved, volunteer, or work in a healthcare setting to shadow a number of healthcare providers of different specialties and interact with patients. For example, it is not uncommon to shadow both an optometrist and ophthalmologist so that you can articulate for yourself (and interviewer) why optometry and not ophthalmology.
The more time you spend volunteering, shadowing or employed with healthcare professionals, the more convinced you will become that optometry is (or is not) the right path for you. Some schools may expect up to 100 or more hours of volunteering or shadowing in health-care. This can be accomplished through employment at a private office, retail-type setting, or nursing home, hospice care volunteer (or staff), shadowing clinicians in hospitals, surgical sites or other similar situations.
Gain Experience that Applies to Your Future Career
These types of experiences allow the student to demonstrate that they understand the day-to-day rigors of the profession and are still able to commit to a professional life-style that is very demanding of one's time, energy, intellect, and in many cases, one's integrity. In the process, students are also likely to glean information about issues important to the health-care industry, an increasingly important facet of becoming a compassionate healthcare provider.
Consequently, regardless of the type of commitment you undertake, optometry schools will assess your activities with the goal of determining whether you have the mettle to successfully complete a tour through optometry school. Remember, not only do you have to undertake such commitments, you have to demonstrate convincing proof on paper that your experience reflects outstanding accomplishments and positive personality traits, and warrants further consideration.
Promote Your Accomplishments
You have to be your own publicist and sell your experiences and accomplishments. In some cases, there will be physical proof (as with a publication in a scientific journal, or the establishment or the development of a soup kitchen, or house with Habit for Humanity, or a vision mission trip). In many other cases, you (and your letters of recommendation) should provide a verbal description of the depth and character of your extracurricular experiences and accomplishments.