All roads to optometry school lead through the admissions interview. This is the campus visit and sit-down with school or college representatives that you’ll be invited to attend if they think you would be a good fit after reviewing your OptomCAS application materials. If you get “the call” — these days it is usually “the e-mail” — it means you are considered a competitive applicant. It doesn’t mean, however, that you’re guaranteed to be accepted into the program. You’ve got to do well on your interview day. Here are some tips to give you an idea of what to expect and what admissions officials do and don’t like to see.
1. Start with the Basics
- Be on time for the appointment. The admissions interview/campus visit at schools and colleges of optometry is typically an all-day affair that begins in the morning.
- Dress professionally. Showing up in jeans and a sweater doesn’t make a great first impression.
- Know the specifics of the day. Each institution handles the admissions interview differently. Some do one-on-one: one student and one faculty member or administrator. Others interview by committee, and current students may be part of the process. Schools’ interview periods differ as well. You might get your invitation as far in advance as a year before you would enter the program or it might come closer to that date.
- Act professionally. Believe it or not, there are real-life examples of applicants behaving badly on interview day, including one who argued with the campus tour guide about the accuracy of information. “What you do is just as important as what you say,” advises Teisha Johnson, MS, Senior Director of Admissions at Illinois College of Optometry (ICO).
2. Understand that the Interview is a Two-Way Street
- Know why you’re there. “We are evaluating you, but you are also evaluating us,” Johnson says. “At the end of the day, we both need to have the information we need to make an informed decision.” Kurt M. Thiede, Executive Director of Enrollment Management, New England College of Optometry (NECO), agrees. “As much as possible, candidates should come to the interview experience relaxed and open to the knowledge and insights they can gain, perceptions that will help them to determine if the college is a good fit for them,” he explains. “It is also an opportunity to provide an understanding about who they are as a person and why optometry is their professional choice. In many respects, the most basic question candidates need to answer is why they are interested in a career in optometry. This genuine interest should be reinforced with each answer they provide and each question they ask the interviewer.”
- Be honest. Go to the interview prepared to discuss any blemishes on your record, either academic or personal. “For example,” Thiede says, “Without a full explanation, a low grade in the sophomore year can become more of an issue in the admissions committee than it should.” And, as Johnson notes, “It’s easy to get defensive when tough questions are asked, but it’s best to be honest. Know that we aren’t trying to put you on the spot; some issues require a discussion.”
3. Ace It!
- Be engaged. “Seeming disinterested is very poor on a candidate’s part,” ICO’s Johnson points out. “It shows, and it weighs heavily on the final decision. Try not to be nervous. We want to get to know you, so be yourself, perhaps your best self, but come in ready to be engaged.” Thoughtful answers to questions are a good way to be engaging, Thiede says. “The candidate should be prepared to explain ‘why’ a certain experience was meaningful to him or her rather than simply describing the experience,” he advises.
Interviewers are looking for candidates who will be engaging as doctors, too. “Although it might seem self-evident, optometry is very much a people-oriented profession and making patients and colleagues comfortable with an appropriate level of eye contact is important,” Thiede says. “A lack of eye contact during the interview raises a red flag as to the ability of a candidate to successfully work with patients.” He advises that eye contact should be natural, not forced. Don’t lock into a potential staring contest, but don’t stare at your feet either.
- Ask good questions. Thiede appreciates when potential students learn as much basic information about NECO as possible prior to their interview. “If the candidate isn’t asking questions for which answers are readily available on the college’s website, the conversation can be more impression-building than fact-finding,” he says. “The best questions are those that seek ‘why’ rather than ‘what,’ e.g., why the college made a commitment to an early clinical experience instead of what the college offers as far as clinical experiences.”
It’s not a deal-breaker for Johnson if candidates ask a few basic questions, there’s a lot for them to take in, but she’s more impressed with questions that indicate they know what they’re looking for in a school and that go beyond the admissions process. “These types of questions may be geared toward class structure, residency opportunities, career development services, etc.,” she explains. “There’s always going to be something that’s very important to you in choosing your school. Really think about what that is before the meeting. You can also ask a mentor or the Career Services Department at your current institution or search online for a list of commonly asked health professions interview questions. Then, while you are at a school for your interview, you should be asking yourself whether you can picture yourself being there as a student. Fit is very important.”
For more information about the schools and colleges of optometry, please check out the ASCO website.
Mark Your Calendar for this Fall’s Optometry Virtual Fair
If you have yet to check out the Optometry Virtual Fair, mark your calendar for October 9. That’s the day of the next Virtual Fair, during which you can log on and meet admissions representatives from any or all of the 21 programs that are members of the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO, www.opted.org). The absolutely free event is your opportunity to live chat with the people who have answers to whatever questions you might have about optometry school.
Head to the Registration Page to register today or contact CareerEco [[email protected], (770) 980-0088] or Paige Pence, ASCO’s Director of Student and Residency Affairs [[email protected]], for more information.