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Hi everyone! My name is Alexandra Allen, and I cannot believe I’m starting my first year of optometry school. This past May, I graduated from Duke University - Go Blue Devils! It seems like just yesterday I was moving into college as a freshman, and now I’m moving to Memphis as a graduate student. I am so grateful for my college experience, not just because of what I learned inside and outside of the classroom, but also for the people I met during my time there. I majored in Biology, with minors in Finance and Chemistry, and was a member of the Dancing Devils. As Duke’s official dance team, we performed at all of the home football games, as well as the home men’s and women’s basketball games. We even placed 9th this spring at the NDA College Dance Nationals. I will never forget the feeling of dancing in Cameron Indoor Stadium alongside some of my best friends for the extremely loud “Cameron Crazies.” Being able to pursue my passion for dance at a high level alongside my academic pursuits was very important to me when making my college decision, and I am so proud of how the team improved during my time there. While leaving Duke is certainly bittersweet, I am beyond excited (and a little nervous) to be starting this new chapter at SCO as a member of the Class of 2026.
I was born and raised in Connecticut, and everyone’s response to this is, “Why Memphis?” My answer is invariably, “Because SCO is here!” While my desire for warmer winters is part of what drew me to the South for my college experience, I had never intended on staying here for post-grad life. My uncle is an optometrist who owns a private practice in Manhattan, and I have numerous other family friends who are optometrists in the New York area. As a freshman in college, I began to seriously pursue optometry as a career path, and believed I would end up studying in New York just like them. My family still lives an hour outside of the city, and many of my college and hometown friends have recently begun working there. Manhattan seemed like the obvious choice for me, and while I had heard of SCO’s reputation for academic and clinical excellence, I had no idea how much I would fall in love with SCO and the people that make it so special.
SCO was my first optometry school interview - and it set the bar incredibly high for the rest that followed. I had never been to Memphis before, but as I prepared for my interview day, I learned what a vibrant city it truly is. I love how you can walk along the Mississippi River on Mud Island and feel like you’re in a small town, but then drive five minutes to the iconic Beale Street and be a part of the happening downtown area. What drew me to Memphis first and foremost, however, was SCO and the people I met during my interview day. I don’t think I ever really appreciated the term “southern hospitality” until I came to SCO. From the security team that was ready to welcome us upon arrival, to the older students who went out of their way to wish us luck and quell any nerves we had about the big day, everyone was so kind and warm. What really stuck with me after leaving Memphis last August was not just the world-class facilities, excellent faculty, private practice support program, and rigorous/full-scope curriculum, but the sense of community. Everyone I met at SCO was incredibly bright and hardworking, but they were also well-rounded people, with diverse interests, backgrounds, and passions. I knew that I would have an incredible support system here. When making my pro-con list before my final decision, the advantages of an education at SCO were so great, and far exceeded those of any other option. And so during my senior fall semester, I decided that Southern College of Optometry would be my new home!
If anyone reading this is about to move to Memphis, you must see the shopping game plan my mother made in preparation for our trip to Tennessee. We drove all the way from Connecticut, over two days and through seven states, with the car filled to the brim and a mile-long shopping list in hand. Since Memphis is such a large city, she mapped out our four shopping zones. In Zone 1 we have At Home, Ashley Furniture, and Great American Furniture. Zone 2 consists of Ikea, Costco, Kirkland’s, and HomeGoods…you get the point! My roommate and I spent the week after our arrival furnishing and organizing our new apartment by trekking back and forth between Mud Island and the four “zones.” While moving had its challenges (I think I assembled at least ten items of furniture in total), I love our finished apartment and was so glad to be fully settled in my new home on Mud Island before orientation began. However, why there are two Target’s only two miles apart here, I will never understand. When ordering your items for pickup, save yourself a small mental breakdown and TRIPLE check which address you’re going to. (Hot tip: Memphis Central is the superior Target).
Orientation was a great experience and thoughtfully organized. It allowed me to meet more people in my class, become familiar with the campus, and learn about the many exciting things Memphis has to offer. The school had various speakers teach us about the history of the profession, SCO, and Memphis, and also scheduled fun activities so that we could meet as many of our classmates as possible. Also, SCO has a “big sib” program where you are matched to a second year student who you can go to for advice or any questions you may have. My “big” has been so helpful leading up to the start of the school-year, answering all of my questions and eliminating any worry I had. The week concluded with the White Coat Ceremony, which was so meaningful. It signified the transition to graduate school and our journey of becoming doctors of optometry as we signed the SCO Honor Code, but it also gave us a chance to step back and recognize all of the hard work that was required to get to this point. My parents flew in for the event and I was able to give them a tour of the campus and The Eye Center. Needless to say, they were just as impressed as I was a year ago when I first stepped foot on SCO’s campus.
Fall semester is in full swing and I think the most surreal moment for me so far has been our Theory and Methods lab. We began our first day of optometry school using our retinoscopes, one of the hardest skills we will learn during our time here. This is designed so that we have the most amount of time to practice and improve upon this skill. Theory lab requires us to wear clinic attire and our new white coats as we work in the practice clinic lanes. I will never forget that moment of sitting in my white coat on my first day, writing down a “prescription” for my simulated eye, in a space that won’t look too different from my future office as an optometrist. Only one month into optometry school, it still amazes me how much I have already learned. Despite the magnitude of information we have to absorb, every day I am reminded of why I am pursuing optometry and why it is the perfect profession for me.
I can truly say I enjoy all of my classmates and have made some amazing friends. We work very hard, but also have such a good time together. Last weekend, Omega Delta, the social fraternity at SCO, organized a school-wide float trip in Missouri. I had never heard of a float trip or been to Missouri before this event, but it was so fun to go camping (also my first time!), take a well-deserved study break, and meet some of the older SCO students. My first month here, I have loved exploring different Memphis bars and restaurants, visiting Graceland, walking along the river on Mud Island, and spending time with my classmates. I can’t believe my first round of midterms are right around the corner, as well as my first lab practical. Wish me luck!
My name is Charlotte Logan, and I’m a student in the Class of 2026 at SCO. I’m from Sherwood Park, Canada, and I graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Science, Biological Sciences Major and Business Minor, just this past spring! Now that it’s been almost a full year since I submitted my application to SCO, I have had plenty of time to reflect on my experience throughout the optometry school application process.
In my 2nd year of undergrad, I had been working at a local optometry clinic for a few months and decided on optometry as the profession which I wanted to pursue. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve also discovered your passion for vision care and eye health! I studied for and wrote my OAT the summer before 3rd year and that fall, I submitted my OptomCAS application. While the system is mostly streamlined, each school will require additional essay responses to their own unique questions. I completed these applications while I was still in classes, and while I wish I would have started them over the summer, it was feasible to complete during the school year! The most important aspect about your application responses is to be honest and showcase your best, distinctive qualities and experiences. Don’t be afraid to dive deep into how you got to this point and why you love optometry and will excel at it – both academically and personally (this applies to your interview, too!).
I was fortunate to have SCO accommodate my travel needs (pandemic restriction-related) and allowed me to interview virtually. While I was saddened that I could not tour the school, SCO’s website has a plethora of information and photos so I could get an idea of what the physical school and its community is like. The admissions team was also very communicative about what to expect for my virtual interview as well as the options to learn more about the campus (virtual tours, housing options, financial aid, etc.). To prepare for my interview, I reviewed my application responses and SCO’s website to remind myself of all the reasons why I wanted to pursue optometry, specifically at SCO. I also read The Medical School Interview by Jeremiah Fleenor – it’s a short read and gives you some good perspectives going into your interview. My interview was quite relaxed with straight-forward questions (nothing out of left field, I promise!); it truly felt like I was speaking with a fellow colleague. Be sure to ask any questions you have, whether it be about academics, student life, housing options, or Memphis in general! Most importantly, know that if you are passionate and excited about becoming an optometrist, that will always show through to the interviewers!
Immediately after I interviewed, my decision was made! I had such a positive interview experience with the staff and faculty who interviewed me, and my gut reaction was that SCO felt right. At the end of the day, you will be a Doctor of Optometry no matter which optometry school you graduate from, so you just need to decide which school’s community, resources, and values best suit your needs. You also need to consider the city where you’ll be living for the next few years – it’s not all about studying and you’ll have more free time than you may think! It’s important to enjoy where you’re living and learning so you can grow as an individual and a healthcare professional. Memphis is a great city with lots of friendly folks and unique arts and culture to experience!
In the weeks following my acceptance to SCO, I was added to a SCO Class of 2026 Facebook Page, invited to information nights, connected with current students, and informed of the next steps to prepare for optometry school and finalize my enrollment. The Housing Fair and Virtual Happy Hour events are also offered as a great way to meet fellow incoming classmates and connect with upperclassmen. To finalize the enrollment process, you’ll have orientation and most excitingly, your White Coat Ceremony! Receiving your White Coat and signing the Honor Code solidifies your commitment to the profession and acts as a reminder of why you’re going through all the hard work and life changes that come along with optometry school!
“One or two? Two or three? Three or four?”
Four looks the best to me as I am finishing up my fourth year of optometry school!
Allow me to share three discoveries I made during my SCO experience.
1. Get involved and connect with others
SCO is filled with wonderful people. Learn about their cultures. Be a student of people, not just optometry. Connect with both staff members and fellow students. Knowing people at a personal level, caring about them and their families, and becoming an integral part of the SCO family makes school far more meaningful. Building connections with others is a vitally important balm in our distressed world.
2. You’re doing better than you think you are
Optometry school is four difficult years. Weekends get sucked up with study and lab practice. Being away from family feels isolating. The best advice I can give is advice I received long ago: “Live one day at a time.” Don’t worry about tomorrow. Live in the present. That’s all we have control over. This mindset makes school more manageable. You can get through finals week, board exams, tomorrow’s practical, and ultimately these four challenging years. Everyone feels the same pressures. You’re doing great!
3. We change lives
We can materially impact people’s quality of life. My last externship site focuses on vision therapy. I have witnessed multiple patients appreciate fine stereo vision for the first time. I’ve seen concussion patients’ headache frequency diminish to nearly zero. This field of optometry is bringing a world of opportunity to the lifestyles of people who have previously had few options. Ask insightful questions. Care about patients. Regardless of the area of optometry in which we work, we can all meaningfully change others’ lives.
I appreciate all the people throughout my four years at SCO who have taught, befriended, and guided me. Thank you! I’m excited to apply the skills I have gained in doing my small part to improve others’ lives through better vision.
Last day of 4th year SCO clinic. Pictured left to right: Dr. Borgman, Braden Sorensen, Christopher Pope (me), Griffin Smith
All my best,
Christopher Pope, '22
Happy Spring everyone! I just finished my second round of midterms this semester and already there are classmates reminding me that final exams are just around the corner in four weeks. That means there’s about a month left before I’m done with my first year! These past few months truly have gone by so fast. SCO recently hosted the annual housing fair for the incoming class, and it reminded me of how I was in a semi-frantic position just a year ago trying to figure out the logistics of moving to Memphis. To think that I’m now no longer a newbie sounds a bit bizarre, but we must continue to progress forward and take on the challenges that come with being a second-year optometry student!
My start to optometry school was more seamless than expected because of the many people that were there to help me navigate through the unfamiliarity that comes with moving to a new location and beginning a graduate-level program. Upon starting at SCO, every one of the entering class is assigned to a big sib who is a student from the year above. Each student also has a faculty advisor who they first meet during orientation. Initially, I didn’t know about this but finding out that I had specific people I could reach out to gave me so much relief in case I had questions and didn’t know who I could ask. With that being said, you are not only limited to speaking with your big sib or faculty advisor, although they are excellent resources. You can reach out to any upperclassmen, faculty, or staff member, and everyone will try their best to answer to your needs. I’ve received lots of great pointers from asking various people about classes, study tips, time management, living in Memphis, good food places, and so on. All that advice has guided and helped me overcome the initial foreignness of optometry school.
Speaking of guidance, I was a participant in the Connect Mentorship program, which was brought together by the Hayes Center, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and Vision Source. It was a really great chance to form connections and learn about optometry outside of what we usually learn in the classroom. In this program, I was matched with a mentor who is an optometrist from the West Coast like I am. A meeting was held every couple of weeks, in which all the mentors and mentees of the program would collectively discuss topics pertaining to optometry school and the profession of optometry. Each session focused on a specific talking point, such as budgeting/finance management, school/life balance, different modes of practice, leadership, the impact of technology and telehealth on patient care, and much more. Mentors shared lots of their expertise and experience as former optometry students and current practicing optometrists. The mentees also had individual one-on-one time with their mentors for a closer interaction and time to ask questions that didn’t get addressed in the discussion with the larger group. Through this mentorship program, I was exposed to lots of insight that framed my mindset of what to expect as I continue through optometry school and eventually join the workforce in the near future.
Me and my mentor :)
Very soon, I won’t be a newcomer to SCO anymore but rather a “returner.” Even though I made it past the newcomer phase, I’ve realized that there will always be uncertainties ahead of me, as I will be new to second year of optometry school, and then third year, and so on. Being new to something can seem daunting, but I know the SCO community and affiliates are there to guide me along the way. I’m a little sad to let go of my position being a first-year student, but it’s time to make the next transition. Second year, here I come!
By Kammy Lin, '25
For the last year, I have had one of the most genuine pleasures of my life with being a student ambassador at the Southern College of Optometry. It has allowed me to see the school in a new perspective, gain access to some areas of the campus slightly earlier than most students and learn a bit more about the history of the school and optometry in general. It’s given me the opportunity to talk to people in the SCO community that I would probably not have otherwise, but most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to talk to those still outside of SCO that are considering becoming a part of it.
Every time I give a tour, or have a student reach out with questions as they consider accepting their offer, I am reminded that I was once just as clueless about Memphis, school, optometry, financial aid, everything that comes along with another four-year academic program. I strive during these conversations to establish credibility by offering my most honest presentation of what life is like here in Memphis and at SCO. Here are my top three things I wish I would have known about optometry school prior to my arrival in Memphis.
Andrew & fellow SCO Student Ambassadors
1. Optometry school is very hard. “Oh wow, what earth-shattering news, Andrew! What a revelation you have made.” Hear me out. I was one of those students that pretty effortlessly earned straight As in high school, and I don’t recall studying in college more than a handful of times. I was not under the assumption that optometry school would be a walk in the park, but I don’t think I ever considered that I would unlock entirely new levels of academic stress. There was no “syllabus week,” almost zero extra credit opportunities, most classes didn’t have quizzes or assignments (I hope you’re a good test taker), and these lab instructors have the audacity to make me prepare before lab??
One memory that has unfortunately stuck with me vividly is the first Monday of class, struggling to get my OneNote to upload the slides that were shared the night before. Before I had even taken a single note, I was doubting my place here. Maybe I’m encroaching on middle age a little earlier than most, or perhaps in retrospect, OneNote was just being a diva that day, but imagine trying to go interview for your first job and you can’t tie your shoelaces. This feeling will ebb and flow. Crush a practical? I’m going to treat myself to ice cream. Oh no, there was a quiz today… I’m going to quell the sadness with the rest of that ice cream. I have recently described this semester as trying to hike a mountain that grows taller twice as fast as you can climb. Every question you answer for yourself only reveals two more questions. The good news is that people graduate every year! This program does not exist to “weed out” anybody. SCO has refined the art of applying and interviewing, and they genuinely want all 136 individuals that start each fall to receive their diploma four years later. You will work harder and stress more than ever before, and then you will be a physician.
2. Optometry is a much more interesting career than anyone outside of it could ever know. I was just as guilty as the average person of thinking that optometry was about glasses and contact lenses. Shockingly little of my education so far has pertained to prescribing lenses to correct vision. The visual system stands alongside the brain and immune system as not only some of the most complicated systems in the human body, but the most amazing phenomena in the known universe. Optometrists have a breadth and depth of knowledge beyond what is obvious during your 30-minute eye exam once a year.
I had never considered the simple fact that nowhere else in the human body, except the eye, can you observe blood vessels without cutting flesh. The power of this cannot be overstated. The eyes are intimately connected to your body in so many ways. So often I hear of people with “perfect vision” that haven’t had an eye exam since someone told them they read 20/20 in third grade (aside: have you ever wondered why 20/20 is as good as we can do? Why can’t our eyes zoom like telescopes or microscopes to see distant planets, or minute bacteria? Come to optometry school to learn far more than you ever wanted to know on that subject). Substituting 20/20 visual acuity for “perfectly healthy eyes” is a bit like having a normal reflex when your primary care physician hammers your knee and concluding that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with your body. In addition to providing a window to the soul, eyes provide a literal window inside of your body, in a way gastroenterologists can only dream of (Google “colonoscopy” for more information).
I joined this profession thinking that optometry was a niche profession, for people with poor eyesight. I have since grown to understand that optometry is just as crucial in your yearly round-up as having your routine bloodwork done at your primary care doc’s office, or having those teeth cleaned. As the population in the US ages, optometrists will have a crucial role in primary healthcare, and we need more brilliant students to come learn how to evaluate systemic health using the magic of optics. Also, a friendly reminder to book your annual eye exam!
Amazed by the power of optics
3. Optometry school—like every other decision you make in life—comes with tradeoffs. I suspect everyone has heard some form of the “in college there are friends, good grades, and sleep. You can choose two.” The reality is there are about 45 things to choose from and you don’t really get to choose any of them. You will stumble around exhausted and feeling like you haven’t studied or been to class or seen a friend off-campus in a month. Seriously, what happened to the last two weeks? The good news is that academic success is not about your GPA. Optometry school is humbling (see point 1).
There is so much that goes into being a physician that is learned through experience rather than an academic understanding. There is no textbook that teaches you how to break bad news to a patient, or leave a good feeling in your patients’ minds that will keep them coming back for years. The person who gets the highest grades on every test may struggle to perform the technical procedures in lab, or have a hard time building rapport. The point of this program is not to produce 136 identical robot physicians each year, and the world will rely on us having diverse strengths and weaknesses. There is not enough time in a day or even a lifetime for an optometrist to master every single aspect of this trade. Another thing that is occasionally hard to believe is that being a student does not absolve you of being a human being with weird, often irrational needs. You still must think about your health—physical and mental—your family, your friends from home, what you’re going to eat for dinner when your checking account is in the double or single digits... Everyone here has had to take a test while they can’t get their mind off their sick grandparent, or a breakup, or an accident that totaled their car. For better or worse, the show must go on, and it can feel impossible to make time to decompress and just live a human life. Optometry school is a juggling act. Moreso than the clinical knowledge you will gain from the classroom, labs, and clinic, you will learn about yourself, how you react to stress, how you can overcome challenges, how to manage a strict budget, and so much more that can’t reasonably be considered optometry. You will learn the art of making trade-offs.
Optometry school will be a very difficult and very beautiful time in your life. I am speaking primarily to myself when I say that it is of utmost importance to start giving yourself a little grace. You’re not perfect, and despite what you may feel some days, nobody expects you to be. Some days, you will be the one that scores 15% below the class average. Just as often, it will be one of your colleagues who is going through it, internally feeling that they are not up to snuff, not aware of how much you admire their work ethic and positivity. It isn’t cool to walk around school crying openly, but if it was, I suspect virtually all of us would have done it at one time or another. All of this to say that you should expect failure. There are five years or curriculum stuffed into four years, you’re in soul crushing debt, and almost every day will push you to the edge of your academic abilities. But you can also expect to emerge on the other side with a massive and important set of skills. You will change people’s lives for the better, including your own. It is ok to let that 4.0 slide a little, or a lot. Your test scores will not define you, only your willingness to learn. The main thing I wish I knew before arriving in Memphis in August 2020 is that no matter how impossible it feels sometimes, I can do this, and you can too.
By Andrew Murphy