In the previous post, we zoomed in on the Letters of Evaluation (LOEs) section of the application for optometry school, clarifying requirements and providing some pearls for effectively fulfilling them. This time we turn our attention to another crucial part of the application: the personal statement, a.k.a., the essay.
The LOEs and the personal statement [both of which you’ll manage through the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS)] are relied upon heavily by the schools and colleges of optometry as they determine whether you’re the type of person who can succeed as a student in their programs and as a future optometrist. Your official instructions for composing the essay are as follows: “Please describe what inspires your decision for becoming an optometrist, including your preparation for training in this profession, your aptitude and motivation, the basis for your interest in optometry, and your future career goals. Your essay should be limited to 4500 characters.”
While the instructions have a kind of “just the facts,” flat quality, your essay will need to be the opposite of that in order to provide the admissions office with information they’ll notice and appreciate. According to Michael Bacigalupi, OD, MS, FAAO, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs & Admissions at Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry (NSU), “The personal statement allows me to get to know a student much better than just filling out blank spaces and checking off boxes on an application. It gives me a better sense of who the applicant is. Through the personal statement, students can convey what we’re looking for, which is motivation, dedication and a love of the profession of optometry. Those qualities aren’t measurable by OAT scores and GPAs.” By the way, Dr. Bacigalupi uses the word “love” of the profession on purpose. “I want students to be passionate about becoming an optometrist,” he says. “Like in any health profession, the rewards can be substantial, but the road to success is not easy, so you have to love it.”
Like some other schools and colleges of optometry, NSU requires applicants to submit an essay in addition to the personal statement. In fact, they ask for two supplemental essays. The two essay questions change from time to time, but for the last application cycle they were: 1) “What specifically are your reasons for choosing to apply to Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry?” and 2) “Professional school is very challenging. What experiences in your life and/or undergraduate career have prepared you for the rigors of optometry school?”
Dr. Bacigalupi says the statements and essays (he reads about 3,000 per year) that catch his attention are the ones that tell a story and talk about a crossroad or a serious decision an applicant made in life that led him or her to optometry as a career. He cites as an example, “Let’s say someone was an at-risk youth but realized that’s not the way he or she wanted to end up so instead took the right path and decided to focus on school. That’s a story that illustrates motivation.” He also recalls an essay from an applicant who had temporarily lost his vision, which led to the realization of how important sight is in daily life and the desire to help safeguard it for others. Don’t worry if your experiences aren’t as dramatic as those, Dr. Bacigalupi says, just be honest while providing insight into who you really are.
Essays that definitely don’t impress are those that seem to be quickly thrown together or are poorly crafted and contain spelling or grammar errors. “What comes across through those things is that the applicant rushed through this step without much care, which may indicate a lack of commitment or that this isn’t that important to him or her,” Dr. Bacigalupi explains. He recommends having another person or people, perhaps with no ties to optometry, read the personal statement with an eye toward content, grammar and readability before it’s submitted. “That gives you insight into whether it’s readable and will be effective,” he says.
Need more inspiration and ideas about what to write about in your personal statement? ASCO points out in its Optometry Career Guide that, in general, optometry schools are looking for students who can demonstrate strong academic commitment as well as exhibit the potential to excel in deductive reasoning, interpersonal communication and empathy. They like to attract well-rounded candidates who have achieved not only in the classroom but also in other areas, such as in leadership ability. A disposition to serve others and a work ethic characterized by dedication and persistence are other desirable qualities. Adds Dr. Bacigalupi, “We want to see in the statement and essays that we’d be admitting teachable students who ultimately will make good colleagues; therefore, the right balance of people skills and academic abilities is very important.”
The 2015-2016 OptomCAS application cycle opens on July 1, so the time to start working on your essay is right about now. Good luck!
June 30, 2016 | POSTED BY Sydni Davis | Articles, Pre-Optometry School
Tags: application, applying, essay
Sydni Davis, an incoming first year at UMSL College of Optometry, shares her insight on the dreaded optometry school application essay! She’s got some great gems in here that anyone applying to optometry school should take to heart to nail the essay and get that coveted interview! – Peter Jacques, Editor-in-chief
- Be specific. You are allowed about 4,500 characters to write your essay. This does not leave much room for generalities about your life. Jump right into a story. Describe how an experience made you feel- how it changed you in some way. Highlight your strengths and how you have overcome your weaknesses. You are more than a character in the story, so just write yourself into a real person!
- Show your personality – talk about what makes you different. This essay is one of the first glimpses that the application committee has into your life. You have to write in a way that literally gives them a mental image of what you look, sound, and act like. This doesn’t mean you should describe your physical features or voice, of course. Just as you would for any character you write about, though, write about your experiences, but also about how you react to and think about things.
- Show passion. You’re applying to optometry school. The application committee will want to see that you not only know what an eye doctor does, but that you actually love the profession! They intend to accept applicants that show interest in the field, are prepared to handle the rigor of the school work, and have potential to make a difference in the profession. If you describe specific experiences and skills that show your passion for optometry, then you can convince them that you are prepared for the work and trials that lie ahead.
- Be honest. This essay is one of your first opportunities to paint a picture of yourself, and you want it to match the person that they invite in for an interview! If you write about extravagant experiences that are false or inaccurately depicted, the truth is likely to come out eventually, and it will taint your reputation. Even if you think your life is uninteresting on paper, write about the moments that define you and your passion!
- Demonstrate high quality writing skills – find the balance between formal and creative. You’ve been writing for a majority of your life now, so you should know the difference between a good essay and a bad one. Spell things correctly, use correct grammar, and make sure things make sense. However, this is not an essay for your English class. You want to be creative and use your unique writing style.
- Don’t try to tell your whole life story. This easy mistake goes right along with being specific. As stated above, you get approximately 4,500 characters to convey who you are to your readers. They do not need to know about your childhood, or how you managed to make it through the tough middle school dramas. They do not need to know your favorite class, teacher, band, food, or any other favorite thing. Talk about the experiences that got you interested in optometry, that show your true character, and that demonstrate how you can succeed when given a challenge.
- Don’t spend too much time on academics. You get to put all of your classes you’ve ever taken during college on the application. You also get to write about a lot of these experiences when you list your extracurricular activities. Show that you can be a hard worker, and highlight moments of your education that are important to you, but don’t waste time listing the classes you succeeded at or honors you received unless you intend to elaborate on information that is not given elsewhere in the application.
- Don’t state things that can be found elsewhere in your application. This goes right along with number two. Write about the honor societies, sororities, clubs, and volunteer work in the parts of the application where you list them. If there is a specific experience from an extracurricular activity that you think demonstrates an important part of your character or inspiration, then write about the event; but do not try to summarize your resume in your essay.
- Don’t talk about someone else’s experiences. It’s all about you! You can write about how a friend or family member went through a terrible experience, overcame it, and that it inspired you, but that shows nothing about YOU. Talk about HOW things affect you, what part you have to play, and your goals. Be sure to help your readers get to know you, not just WHAT inspires you, but WHY and HOW.
- Finally, don’t over think it! You want to present a well-written essay that gives specific evidence of the person you are, but it is not the only variable in the committee’s decision. You show your academic success through your GPA and OAT score, your extracurricular involvement and achievements on the activities page, and your reference letters help to give an outside perspective of you. Use your 4,500 characters to say what isn’t already in your application—especially why you love optometry and why you want to spend the next four years studying it!
Other helpful tips for your application: