The IDEA initiative at SUNY Optometry has a central mission of easing-up the preparation and application processes leading up to optometry school. In support of this mission, we recently polled a pool of prospective students and pre-health advisors across the country on what they believed was the number one concern students faced when considering optometry school. Can you guess what we found? Not surprisingly, the main concern flooding our response list was paying for school - can students afford optometry school?
To answer this question, we invited second year student, Alyssa Taussig, into our office to share how she was able to overcome this big concern when facing it. Alyssa is a native New Yorker who like many college students, operates on a tight budget and doesn’t have many means to pay for her education. She came to SUNY as a Biology graduate from Barnard College and chose optometry because she wanted a career in the world of health-professions, but did not want the hectic lifestyle that comes with being a medical doctor. After working at an optometrist’s office for a couple of years, she learned that the field consisted of a lot more than just refractions, and in fact includes areas such as head trauma, pediatrics, ocular disease, and also primary care (to name a few). This experience helped make the decision an easy one – optometry school was definitely the way to go!
Though this question – can students afford optometry school? - is a complex one to answer, we were able to tackle it with just four questions! Here’s what we learned:
Q: What steps did you take in order to settle this concern?
A: “Well I knew that I was going to need some sort of financial aid in order to afford optometry school. The situation was very similar to my undergraduate experience, where I attended a private university whose tuition was 3x the amount of SUNY Optometry. Luckily, I received a scholarship through HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) which helped cover my costs substantially. I asked Vito (Financial Aid Director at SUNY O) if there was something similar to that program here, and much to my surprise I found out about the Graduate Opportunity Waiver (GOW) and applied. I did end up receiving the award and it helped cover nearly half of my costs, which was a really big help! I took out student loans to cover the rest of my costs. Vito was literally like my best friend in the whole process.”
Q: Can you tell us more about the GOW?
A: “It’s basically a scholarship for New York State minority students that can cover a significant fraction of your tuition at SUNY Optometry. They ask you to write an essay on how your background and accomplishments can contribute to the greater SUNY community. In my essay I talked about being Asian American and how that differs from being Asian. During my undergraduate experience I was part of an Asian American Student Association, and often times we’d discuss about forming an Asian American identity, which I’m still in the process of trying to figure out and define for myself. Interestingly, however, when filling out the application for the GOW there was a list to check off your ethnicity, Asian was listed as an option, but not Asian American. Since I don’t really consider myself Asian, I checked off the option ‘other’ and this encounter actually sparked off the theme of my essay. You can receive this award throughout the four years, but a new application has to be filled out each year.”
Q: As a recipient of the GOW, how do you feel about your student lifestyle in terms of finances?
A: “I feel comfortable! I actually started working through college work study here at SUNY to earn some extra cash on the side to cover personal expenses like my cell phone bill and metrocard. In any case, you have to be somewhat stringent with your finances in grad school, but I’m able to pay for all my expenses and still have some room for miscellaneous spending.”
Q: What advice do you have for students who may be concerned about financing their education?
A: “Well the first thing that I would say is to not look at it as a burden, even though it may seem that way, it should definitely not hinder any student’s dreams. Students should never feel like they can’t attend this school because they can’t afford it – there are always resources to be seeked out and people to speak to that can help you in the process. Vito is really really resourceful, he’s been here for a lot of years so he knows a lot of information. I shared with him my personal situation – at home it’s just me and my mom, and my mom honestly doesn’t make a lot of money. He evaluated my situation and tried his best to find resources that I could potentially qualify for and help me substantially. Yea, you may still have to borrow a lot of money in student loans, but you’ll practice for X amount of years and will eventually earn enough to pay it all off while still leading a comfortable lifestyle. So it’s important to view this as an investment for the long run, and in the end, with all you have to gain – its well worth it!“
So, there you have it in a nutshell! Can students afford optometry school? Absolutely! (answered firsthand by a student who was once highly concerned just like you)
For more information on financial aid, watch our interview with the big guy himself, Mr. Vito Cavallaro (Director of Financial Aid) here:
We look forward to your questions, comments, concerns. Share your stories with us. Join our movement!