Choosing an optometry school—one of the biggest decisions I have ever made—was not an easy task. First of all, there aren’t many options. There are only twenty-three schools in the US, and I am from the South, where there are only three (four, if you include Florida, but we Southerners don’t). With that in mind, I decided early in the application cycle to apply to the schools closest to me. After a few days, I decided on a whim to apply to another school far from home. NECO was my wild card; I never expected to choose it.
By the time my interview day arrived at NECO, I had already been accepted to the other schools but kept my interview just so I could visit Boston. I flew up here last September as the weather was just cooling down. I began to fall in love with the city right away as I walked the Freedom Trail and visited Copley Square. The school itself was beautiful: two ornate 1890-era homes filled with state-of-the-art optometry equipment and classrooms. The admissions staff and students were so welcoming and made me feel at home. During my interview, I learned how involved NECO is in the community through community health events, screenings, and the network of clinics throughout the city—something that appealed to me because I value community involvement and no other optometry school I visited offered a program quite like it.
When I returned home, the choice seemed clear. Even though NECO was going to cost more financially, the experience of living in Boston and the high quality academic and clinical education offered here was worth it for me. I announced my plans to my friends and family and was able to connect with two alumni living nearby who further confirmed my choice. I was accepted and sent in my deposit, then began keeping up with the Facebook page, where I met my roommates. I decided to live with a third year and another first year in Allston, where the rent is cheaper, the space is bigger, and the neighborhood is full of an active student population and diverse international restaurants.
So here I am, a year later, having just started classes. Moving across the country away from my hometown was a feat in itself. Then, small tasks like learning how to use the T, go grocery shopping without a car, not having air conditioning, and getting furniture to my new house were unexpected challenges. Living in a city was a completely new experience for me. However, once school started I found myself quickly accepted in a class of welcoming, ambitious, diverse students who, like me, were trying to figure out how to manage new schedules, study for grad school, and handle the enormous amount of information coming our way. We’ve also had fun together, exploring the city through a scavenger hunt and participating in NECO Olympics.
Every day we’re met with new challenges and experiences like meeting our patients for clinical reasoning, performing newly learned techniques in PPO lab, or screening kids at a local elementary school. It’s unreal to think about the amount of information that we already have learned just in the first month and how much we’ll know by this time next year. We still have a long way to go before becoming doctors, but my time at NECO is off to a great start!
Off to a great start participating in NECO's Amazing Race around Boston!
Sarah Stevenson is a first year student from Auburn, Alabama. She graduated from Auburn University in 2016 with degrees in Psychology and Spanish. She chose to pursue optometry after shadowing at a practice in Auburn and volunteering at a free eye clinic. During her free time, she enjoys reading, playing tennis, and cooking.