Here at the Eye on Optometry blog, you’ve already done some reading about OptomCAS, the Optometry Centralized Application Service, which you are required to use in order to apply to any of the 21 schools and colleges of optometry in the United States (and Puerto Rico) that are members of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO). While OptomCAS is a requirement for applying to be accepted into the Doctor of Optometry programs, it’s also a major help to you because it enables you to use a single web-based application and one set of materials to apply to multiple schools and colleges of optometry.
As part of your optometry school application at OptomCAS, you’ll need to provide names and contact information for the individuals you have chosen — and who have agreed — to write letters of evaluation (LOEs) for you. The LOEs play an important role in helping the schools and colleges determine whether you have what it takes to succeed in their programs and as a future optometrist. The number of letters each school requires ranges from one to four. ASCO provides an informative overview of the essentials in a chart at the OptomCAS website.
Who Should Write My Letters of Evaluation for My Optometry School Applications?
“When considering whom to ask to write you a LOE, it’s important first to understand the letter requirements from each institution to which you are applying,” says Monica Maisto, Director of Admissions at Salus University Pennsylvania College of Optometry (Salus/PCO). “Most institutions give you various options for letter requirements, and there are subtle differences between them. Be sure to carefully read and understand the letter requirements according to each school you are interested in and to cover all of your bases as far as the type of recommenders that you should ask to write you a letter (e.g., science professors, optometrists, pre-health committees/advisors). If you have any confusion, don’t hesitate to call or e-mail the admissions office of the school to clarify the requirements.”
Even if the ASCO overview of LOE requirements for a specific school seems straightforward, there may be nuances you wouldn’t be aware of unless you contacted the admissions office directly for a complete explanation. For example, a school or college might accept one committee letter in lieu of several separate individual letters to satisfy its entire LOE requirement. Or, a school may have updated its LOE requirements since the previous application cycle.
Each undergraduate institution that has a pre-health committee has its own process for producing committee LOEs, and the departments the committees are part of have different names, such as Health Professions Advising Center, Pre-Health Mentoring Office or Pre-Health Advisement. A committee may also fall under the auspices of a more general Career Center on campus. According to Maisto, “A committee letter usually consists of the collective evaluation and summary of your qualifications by the pre-health committee” The committee usually consists of college/university faculty and staff members. Its process for creating the committee letter usually includes an interview with you and often includes information such as your resume and your shadowing experience, which you are asked to provide. Sometimes, the committee may also seek out an evaluation from someone other than a committee member.
Some schools and colleges of optometry also accept what’s known as a composite letter to fulfill all or part of their LOE requirements. A composite letter is a single LOE that is based on letters from evaluators who have agreed to your request to provide a recommendation. The combined letter is typically compiled by an academic advisor or other individual in a pre-health office or career center.
If you’re using a committee letter, you would list the chair of the committee as the evaluator on OptomCAS. If you’re using a composite letter, you would list the letter compiler, e.g., the advisor, as the evaluator on OptomCAS. In both cases, even though each letter represents multiple evaluators, each would be counted on OptomCAS as one LOE, taking up just one of the four available LOE slots.
Whoever you list in an LOE slot on OptomCAS — whether it be an individual evaluator (e.g., professor or optometrist), the chair of a pre-health committee, or the creator of a composite letter — will automatically receive an e-mail from OptomCAS that provides instructions for uploading the letter(s) to the web portal. Many schools and colleges of optometry also accept LOEs via a letter service of your choosing, which is basically a third party that collects the letters you designate and uploads them to OptomCAS. If you choose to have your LOEs submitted to OptomCAS via a letter service, ASCO strongly recommends that you have the author of each letter fill out the rating of attributes, which is required in addition to each LOE.
In addition, knowing the attributes evaluators are asked to rate can help you to determine who best to ask for letters. They’re asked to rate you on a scale from Excellent to Poor, including “Not Observed,” on the following:
• knowledge of profession
• organizational skills
• promise of achievement
• stress management
• time management
• intellectual ability
• interpersonal relations
• oral communication
• reaction to criticism
• team skills
• written communication.
“When deciding who to ask to write a LOE, you want to consider how well each recommender knows you and to what capacity,” Maisto explains. “The recommender should be able to comment on your academic abilities and/or assess your qualifications for graduate education and your ability to complete graduate work, your qualifications for a professional scholarly career, and/or your patient care and professional skills in a clinical setting.”
Additional Advice for Maximizing the Letters of Evaluation Process
Maisto and ASCO also recommend the following for achieving the best results with your letters of evaluation:
- Request your evaluations as early as possible to give your letter writers plenty of time.
- Notify your evaluators that they’ll receive an e-mail from email@example.com.
- Know that OptomCAS doesn’t determine or notify you as to whether or not you’ve properly fulfilled your target schools’ LOE requirements; it’s up to you to know.
- Don’t use evaluations from co-workers, someone you have supervised, relatives or personal and family friends. These are inappropriate and can be detrimental to the review of your application.
- It’s considered best to waive your right to read your LOEs. Doing so allows your letter writers to feel comfortable providing a completely honest and open review without worrying that you’ll be reading it.
Stay tuned for our next post, which will be Inside OptomCAS Part II: Your Personal Statement for Applying to Optometry School.
Information about the entire OptomCAS cycle can be found out www.optomcas.org.