It’s no secret that optometry school, like many other professional programs, is quite costly. With careful planning, however, one can manage to actually decrease their total amount of debt coming out of school. Although the savings may seem like mere drops in the bucket at the time, it’s certainly better than a kick in the butt.
ICO has an excellent financial aid office equipped with staff who are more than happy to help you obtain information regarding what scholarships, bursaries and grants are available. They recently gave a presentation about credit scores and how to build good credit. Even if you feel you’re good at managing your money, you’ll learn something–and it’s very important to come out of school with a good credit score, especially if you plan to purchase a practice or buy into one following graduation. The financial aid section on ICO’s intranet is continuously updated with new financial aid opportunities as they become available, making it even easier for students to find scholarships and apply for them.
If you’re a US citizen, there are a lot of federal student loans available as well through the FAFSA website. Canada also has a very generous student loan program available to post-secondary students, and I would highly recommend that those who are eligible apply for them. This money is interest-free until graduation, at which time interest will begin to accrue and monthly payments must be made. However, this will save you a lot of money in interest in the long run, so it is definitely worth applying. Canada also offers student grants which are primarily for independent students (students who live on their own), and can be up to $250 per month of study. I would also recommend looking into additional websites, like StudentAwards.com, to connect you with money for school.
If you feel you can manage a few hours a week away from studying, exercising and whatever else might be going on, ICO also has excellent work-study opportunities for students. Many students in my class, including myself, hold work study jobs and many of us will continue to do so throughout the program. First year, it’s a good choice to start out with something simple, like student note-taking or RC kitchen-cleaning. These jobs don’t require a lot of time per week but still provide some income. Some of the other on-campus jobs include working in the optical dispensary; tutoring; RC/college security desk; working in the IEI doing various jobs such as front desk, pre-testing and filing; class technician; applicant host; admissions office duties, and working in the fitness center among many others.
On the topic of money, I should probably mention the extreme temptation to purchase every school supply known to man on what begins as an innocent trip to Target for one or two things. I find myself falling into this trap, and what should be a $10 bill ends up being $40. I know it’s difficult, but only buy what you actually NEED. Last quarter I invested in some really nice heavy-duty binders for all my course notes; this quarter, I stored all last quarter’s notes in a big bin with separators rather than investing in more binders. The good binders run about $12-$17 each, so if you can re-use them, do it!
Since it’s the very start of our second quarter of first year, it’s time to buy some equipment–we’re required to purchase a diagnostic set (which ranges in price from $700-$1,200) and a trial lens sets ($500-$600), in addition to many smaller items from the school bookstore (about $900). So, you’ll spend about $3,000 on equipment in first year, on top of your tuition and living costs. Ouch. However, it’s nice not to have to purchase the class textbooks on top of these items, as they’re all available on three-hour reserve at the library.
Overall, you’ll spend a lot of money in optometry school. Just remember, in the big scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal–you’ll pay it off eventually and the upfront expenses will be so worth it.