A series of articles written by SCCO Student Ambassadors.
SCCO Student Ambassador, Kristie Lin
When I first started thinking about where to begin my optometry school application, I was stuck. I wondered, “What makes me a competitive applicant? What makes me someone who is not only well-rounded but also well-prepared to handle the rigors of optometry school?” Apart from my limited experience in optometry, I thought long and hard about the qualities that helped me to persevere and succeed through all the ups and (very many) downs of college – resilience, discipline, a strong work ethic, an affinity for people and connection, an appreciation for teamwork. These values are integral to who I am, as well as to many of my peers in optometry school, and many of you all! But where did it all come from? I then realized: these invaluable lessons and habits were learned and developed over my many years as a competitive swimmer.
I grew up swimming for the local summer recreational swim team every year. I quickly fell in love with the water, the team, and the sport. Our team was a community of families who not only cared about each other but also about having fun. I looked forward to going to practice every afternoon and was excited to race in our Saturday swim meets. Here, I nurtured my appreciation for healthy competition – especially the thrill that came with beating my own best times. Most importantly, I learned to define success in terms of whether I tried my best or improved relative to my own goals.
When high school began, I had to balance daily two-hour practices on top of a full course load. At first, I was overwhelmed – the practices were demanding, and I felt like I was pushing my body to its limits. I cried after several practices and even considered quitting. My teammates and my coach, however, empathized and encouraged me to continue – it would slowly get easier, they promised. Showing up for the workout day after day eventually became habitual. Bringing my best self to each practice, however, was difficult at times, especially when the sets were tough. Despite the challenges of being a full-time student and athlete, the consistency and discipline I built over time allowed me to enjoy the fruits of my labor down the road on race day. Plus, I always felt happier after practice, even when school was stressful. Swimming taught me to find joy in the process of remaining diligent while working hard towards my long-term goals, even when I couldn’t immediately see the results.
It’s been four years since I swam competitively on a team, but my time there impacted me significantly. The same mental stamina that got me through tough practices has helped me study for classes, prepare for the OAT, and write my optometry school essays. The strong sense of camaraderie I gained from my teams guided me to pursue a career that would allow me to grow as an independent doctor while collaborating with my peers. The lessons I learned as a competitive swimmer have helped shape me into the person I am today – someone who’s seen their fair share of challenges and triumphs. Someone who now feels, after much trial and error, confidence in my ability to tackle any obstacles that optometry school will throw my way.
Looking back, I realize there are infinite lessons to be learned from our little collection of lived experiences. I chose swimming as my main example today, but for you, that could be anything that you have taken for granted as simply a part of your identity. It could be taking care of your younger siblings, a musical instrument you love playing, growing up as a dancer, or playing any other sport. It could be something that was once daunting, such as having to work part-time to support yourself and your family through college or having to take care of sick loved ones at a young age. It could be the way your passion for photography led you to step out of your comfort zone and take graduation photos for others. Or how your love for reading inspired your friends to read more too – the list goes on.
No matter who you are or what you have been through, I encourage every single optometry school applicant to reflect upon their past and think about how your experiences have shaped your personality, your work ethic, your resilience. The ones that have motivated you to pursue your goals, helped you persevere through tough times, and anchor you in your support system are likely the same ones you will need to not only stand out as an applicant but also remain adaptable and persistent in optometry school. Whether it be discipline or communication, empathy, or collaboration, I believe that you all have what it takes to realize the qualities you’ve developed that make you a unique candidate who’s prepared for the challenges of optometry school.
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