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Redefining Failure as an Older Applicant

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Disclaimer: I’m sharing my personal experiences and opinions. The intention is not to brag. This is my story of multiple obstacles finally leading to a promising career. The goal is transparency and letting others decide if optometry is right for them. Hopefully, I can save others from the struggles I experienced.


  • Born in Oxnard, CA (Strawberry Capital of the Word)
  • Went to UC Berkeley and double majored in Marine Science and Biology in 2014
  • SCCO Class of 2027

As you can see, I took a few gap years (*cough 9*) to find the right career. My time at Berkeley was a humbling experience. I was raked over the coals trying to keep up and I was placed on academic probation after the first semester. I aimlessly explored careers in engineering and earth science, but realigning my goal toward medicine inspired me to improve and finish with a ~2.8 GPA. Not terrible, but many graduate schools require at least a 3.0 for admission. I believed that my perseverance and work experience would make up the difference.

I worked in many positions in the medical field, trying to boost my resume. I worked as a hospital clinical lab assistant, head/neck surgery scribe, clinical assistant in Pain Management, Ski Patrol, and Medical Microbiology teaching assistant. While working, I simultaneously enrolled in classes to improve my GPA. However, after 130 undergraduate credits, it’s challenging to make a significant difference. I took the MCAT three times and applied to multiple MD, DO, and PA programs without a single interview. Seeing my friends succeed in their respective fields was bittersweet. Why am I the only one still working entrylevel jobs? How can I attain the lifestyle I desire? Could I support a family? Am I too old to get a professional degree? I regularly spiraled into mentally exhausting questions. I believed that these career paths were the only options. Constantly working in these jobs prevented me from realizing I put myself through the crucible to get somewhere I didn’t even want to go.

The culture of the lab and medical clinics made me miserable. I wouldn’t be happy in these environments long term. At one of my lowest points, my partner suggested looking into optometry. I initially never gave optometry much thought, but it was exactly what I was looking for. I took a job as an Optometric Technician, and it was paradise. The clinic put patients first and provided an outstanding level of care. It wasn’t just empty words. There wasn’t the typical jaded sarcasm found in medical clinics. The staff had a work-life balance and no signs of burnout. I could continue singing praises of the staff and how they inspired me to apply to optometry programs.

For the next six months, I worked 50-60 hours a week (technician and microbiology lab), took a statistics course online, took the OAT, and finished optometry school applications. It was a race to get everything done by the end of the application cycle. Post-baccalaureate classes and MCAT studying helped create baseline knowledge for the OAT. I took five weeks to finish the Kaplan book and practice tests. Miraculously, I did well enough to get a foot in the door. The OD schools saw my potential, not just my past mistakes. I was invited to interview with 4 out of the 5 schools. I was overwhelmed with emotion and imposter syndrome. I went from nearly a decade of rejections to being accepted to four schools. It’s a testament to how the optometry world is different. After much deliberation, SCCO was my choice.

Going into SCCO as an older student is slightly strange, but it’s not an issue. We are all at a professional institution to receive the same education. The staff and Peer Advisors assured me the difficulty of the schoolwork would be gradual with plenty of academic and emotional support.

Looking back, I can’t believe I made it to this stage. Since childhood, my mother said, “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn from the situation.” Don’t worry Mom, I didn’t say failure before this paragraph. The gap years allowed me to learn from various healthcare specialties, develop applicable skills, and discover my character. I use my experiences to form connections with my classmates and future patients. After school, I will know how to steer a practice toward healthy habits. I fully understand why optometry is for me, and it gives me the strength to face the rigors of school. I wouldn’t be here without my experiences – they helped slowly forge an unwavering work ethic.

Optometry is in a “Goldilocks Zone” of healthcare. Optometrists play a crucial role in primary healthcare with optional insurance involvement. Practitioners can operate with independence to create a practice that works for them. There are available jobs, residency isn’t mandatory, and no on-call. If you want to specialize, there are a multitude of options. You can have a work-life balance right out of school. Soon, we may be able to perform minor laser surgeries. We also have opportunities to take over practices from the previous generation. If there are worries about loans afterward, there are many programs for loan forgiveness or assistance.

Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and experiences. I wish you the best of luck whether you decide to apply to optometry schools or not. If you’re a few years past undergrad, you’re not alone. Please think twice before saying something is a failure. I also want to thank those who have supported me during this arduous journey. I wouldn’t have made it here without my family and friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your patience and kindness.

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