1. Network!!! I wish I could say that everything is earned solely on merit, but I would be lying to you. Depending on the school or setting, sometimes you must have an alum of a particular area in order for your application to have that extra edge. In a case where 2 applications are equally competitive, but one has a reference from Dr. Alumnus himself, I have a feeling that application will be taken more seriously. When you are networking, I do not imply that you should “kiss up,” but really try to leave a good impression.
  2. Shadow as many people in as many different practice settings as possible. If you have the least bit of interest in a field, you should go investigate. Grad school is very expensive; you want to make sure you have a good idea of the different practice avenues there are and what you will do on a day to day basis…and that you are sure it will make you happy.
  3. Find a mentor. Once you have found a doctor you really admire, ask him or her what steps were taken to get where they are today. Where did they go to school? Why did they choose their particular field? Do they have advice? Let them know what a big impact they have made on you. Develop a close relationship with this person. You will need references for gradschool applications.
  4. Stay in contact with anyone you shadowed. Write/type thank you notes and send them by snail mail to all the people who have helped form your decisions, even to the ones who helped you decide NOT to pursue a particular path. Remember, you 1) may still use them as a reference, and 2) did take up some of their time…oh yes, and 3) that you represent Campbell University. You may be paving the way for future students to gain valuable experiences from these doctors.
  5. The path to becoming a doctor is never easy. You must sell yourself…don’t feel like you should not ask questions or express your interest in their field. It is going to be a difficult journey to become a doctor, and you need to demonstrate perseverance and enthusiasm.
  6. Attire…if you look nice, you will instantly have a more favorable audience than if you are in jeans. You are going to school to be a professional…try to dress that way and you will be taken seriously.
  7. When you’re in the interview:

a. Relax! These people are just trying to get to know you as a person. If you made it to the interview, it’s a great sign…it means they liked the application, and they want to get to know you better. Remember, they are people just as you are, with different strengths and weaknesses as you. They’re not perfect. They don’t expect you to be either. So…smile!...and just be yourself. You want them to like you for you, not a false impression of you.

b. Ask them questions about their program and how it’s unique, compared with other programs. Do you have an interest in a specialty area? Ask for more information. Are you interested in research? These are so many grants for medical doctors/Ph.D.’s out there. Know their website, do your homework before the interview. See what piques your interest from the site.

c. Be courteous to everyone. I am an ambassador at UAB (University of AlabamaBirmingham). I have personally recommended a handful of students to the program, without their knowing, and I am excited to say they made it in. Everyone, from the secretaries, to the students, has a voice.

d. Try to talk to as many students as possible. They have a very unique and important voice that should help you to decide if the school will be a good fit for you. Interview them – find out what they think are the best and worst aspects of attending their school. Keep in mind, one person’s opinion is good but may not be a good representation of the entire student body.

8. I intend to keep the following e-mail address for a long time. Email me with any questions: My name is Cheryl Storer and I am an optometry student at UAB School of Optometry. Please put in the subject line “Campbell Student Seeking Advice,” and I promise I won’t delete it!

Good luck, and remember, relax! And network.

Once you’re in…

· Enjoy your break to the fullest. Try to at least give yourself a week before starting school to just relax. Don’t work up till the last second (speaking from experience!).

· Consider moving to the town where your new school is located. Part of the adjustment to grad school is just finding out the layout and “feel” of the city. Go ahead and drive around, find out where everything is because when school starts, you’ll be super busy and won’t have time to get lost. If you attend church, go ahead and start looking for one. Especially if you’re far from home, these people will quickly become your family. Go ahead and get plugged in.

· When school starts, try to pick just a couple of activities that REALLY interest you and put your free time to good use. This will not be like undergrad, when you could be president of 3 clubs, in band or drama, and keep a 4.0 GPA.

· Be aware that you will probably not make all A’s. In fact, there are times when C’s look thrilling to you. In grad school, you are competing with the best-of-the-best and sometimes you will shine, but with others, you may have a more difficult time.

· Try to encourage peers to join in study groups to maximize study time. Don’t share/discuss grades. It is healthier to just recognize that it is a great honor to be there, and that you are all in it together…try to pool your resources.

· Remember that the end justified the means. Nothing worth anything comes without a price. It is hard work, but it will all be worth it in the end, when you walk across the stage at graduation.

· Try your hardest, but do not immerse yourself so much in your books that you forget to be a person. All of us have our own ways to relax. Personally I have a blast playing in an orchestra. I work out in the gym or on trails 3 to 4 times a week. Find out what you need to unwind, (outside of your field), and schedule it in. I think of it like this…if I do not get out in the real world and talk to people outside of optometry (my school), play music, and work out and I just eat, breathe, and sleep optometry, chances are, I will get sick. And missing class & quality study time is a BIG DEAL. So it’s healthier for me to set aside my “play time” every day, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. It makes a difference.

· Remember, the same treatment is given to the student with a 3.0 as a 4.0…once they walk across the stage, they are both called “doctor.” We have a comforting phrase that I have heard both medical and optometry students quoting at conferences:

C = OD or MD or DO, etc.

This does not mean that you should slack off! Try to do your best! Also a disclaimer, this does not apply to grad school admissions…it’s more applicable once you’re “in”.

- Cheryl Storer