While our students come from diverse backgrounds and are pursuing degrees in different fields, the one thing that they all have in common is that they end up here at Salus. We wanted to feature a few of our student ambassadors about their experience transitioning into graduate school because everyone’s got a unique Salus story.

This is the third chapter of a four-part series, featuring:

Renee ThiringerRenee Thiringer
  • Second-year Occupational Therapy student
  • From New Jersey
  • Undergrad at Stockton University in Galloway, NJ 

Umar MahmoodUmar Mahmood
  • Second-year Optometry student
  • From Maryland
  • Undergrad at Syracuse 

Jennifer BenoitJenn Benoit
  • Second-year Optometry student
  • From Connecticut
  • Undergrad in Florida at the University of West Florida in Pensacola

Q: Is there anything other than time management if you could redo your first semester here you would change?

Renee: I feel like I would have come more organized and more set up to really plan out where all of my study time was going to come from, because when those exams hit and you’re in the biggest stress of it, if you already know where your time is coming from and how you’re going to get through it, that feels a lot better than being like now I have to look at my whole schedule and figure out how I’m going to pull this off.

Umar: I second that.

Q: We talked about the stressful things of grad school, but what’s your favorite part of being a grad student? If you have any?

Umar: I feel like for me personally, coming from that working as well as a tech quite a bit before I came here, I never had a job before that. I graduated from undergrad and went straight to work and was working until I came to school here and I got tired of it pretty quickly. I was enjoying it, but that routine, that 9-5 was different because I knew it was temporary, I knew I was going back to school, I wasn’t fully invested in tech-ing because I also wasn’t learning the biology behind everything. I felt that it was repetitive and there was not much growth there, and I didn’t really like that, that’s probably why I was getting tired of it. The good thing about grad school in my opinion is that as I was saying, it’s unlike any other time, you really do get to structure your entire life exactly as you want it. Granted there are exams, there are mandatory classes, but other than that, nothing else is mandatory. You get to decide what you want to do with your time at all times.

It’s a double edged sword here because you could take that time and waste it and spend your first week of grad school watching sports all week and regret it later or you have that time to go and have lunch at three o' clock in the afternoon. You could have brunch on a Wednesday and not feel bad because you studied from 6-10 a.m. and you can study after. It’s way more flexible. I’m at the age where, I’m 24 years old, I like to go out and do things and have fun and go to the city and I’m able to do that while structuring my entire 24 hours exactly as I want it. In the work force, at least for our profession, most of the time doesn’t really work like that, so I definitely enjoy that part of grad school.

Jenn: I have two things that I really like about grad school. One of them is that I feel like I finally found something I’m good at and really love and that took until I was 27 to figure out. Some people are in their 60s and they still don’t know what they want to do when they grow up. So that was a huge reward. Athlete training was awesome, but I kind of fell into it accidentally. It was a happy accident but just to finally be here, and you all get into the mode when you start complaining about this or that but I found myself being like ‘I don’t care, I’m finally here, I’m so grateful they let me in and I’m learning’ and my second favorite thing after getting in was learning about the profession because I’ve learned so many niche markets that are available to me, opportunities that I didn’t have any idea about when I was like I’m going to do optometry.

Now I’m networking with people who do all of these fun things that are outside of the box and to have that be like you can do that too or you can do something else weird or non-traditional, there’s so much more than ‘1 or 2’ like your glasses. I love optics, it’s fascinating but there’s a lot more out there. Knowing my opportunities is one of my favorite things.

Renee: I definitely agree about the networking and the exploration, but I also really love being in class with all of my classmates and having that cohort, especially because all graduate programs are super competitive and occupational therapy is no exception and in undergrad, every time someone says they are going to do occupational therapy you want to be better than them because it really is that rough out there. It’s really competitive in undergrad and you really don’t feel like you’re on the same team a lot of the time with the other students. This is the total opposite, everybody is here to help each other and get everybody through it and be a part of it. I sit in class sometimes and think about how awesome it is this everyone in this room is going to be an occupational therapist and that makes me happy.

Q: And your program was just reaccredited right?

Renee: Yes, we just got reaccredited for the next seven years which is awesome. We had a really good visit and got really good feedback.

Q: This was all really great advice for incoming students, but are there any last thoughts that you want to let new or prospective students know about grad school?

Jenn: I’m not sure if this is about grad school, it is more location based, but I am kind of naturally a home body, so if I do have a social regret it would be not seeing the city more, which I still have time to rectify, but if given the choice, if someone pulls me, then I will go and have a good time, but if I had to make the decision, I am probably going to stay home. Especially because I kind of had previous grade regret, I just think I made that up, but if I get a poor grade on something I’ll immediately blame it on the day I went to the city and had fun. I don’t want to do that to myself but looking back, if I had just taken a couple of those days and gone, it kind of reduces stress level and has an overall helpful effect. I would recommend don’t just stay at home.

Q: Do you like the Philly area?

Jenn: I do, the most that I would explore it was when I helped out with orientation last year and I was like “oh my gosh so many things.”

Renee: I agree about stressing less. Take that time to plan out your studying, do it early and just breathe and do your best and it doesn’t help anybody to be super strung out. Take time for yourself, go to the city, take those couple of days. Schedule yourself so you have that time to do whatever is relaxing to you. Maybe it’s seeing the city, maybe it’s a really hard work out that gets you refocused, maybe you like to play music. Whatever you do, don’t lose that, it’s really important to make sure you keep up with your hobbies and seeing people you want to see and doing the things that keep you in whatever time you can find for those outlets, because then you’re your best self. You’re not going to be your best professional self unless you are also your best own true self.

Umar: I would say that prospective students or graduate school or someone interested in getting back into school, the first thing I would say is, get off your phone, get off your laptop or computer and get out and do something because the work experience that you can get, whether it’s shadowing, getting paid, or however it is you’re getting compensated if you are, should be on the back burner if you’re not sure what you want to do. It really is the best way to figure out a direction for yourself, if that’s what you’re looking for. You’re surrounding yourself by people who are already at the end of their road, you get to examine their 9-5, you get to talk to them, see their personalities, what they regret, what they like, and most importantly see if you fit in that environment. If that is the case, that’s great, if not, it’s even better because you’re crossing things off your list. Once you find somewhere that you’re comfortable with, don’t wait to get into school or send an application out. Don’t do any of that because you’re in your 20s, in your 30s, that time might seem like you’re invincible, you can do whatever you want, time is just standing still for such a long time, but it’s not.

Even myself, I took two years off, I wish I didn’t. 24 years old now, in my second year, I feel a little old. I feel like grad school does that in general but it just feels that way. But of course I’m not that old, that’s not the point. The point is that you have to get up and you have to start. Site visits, they have them at different schools, whether it’s any health profession, even if it’s… one of my closest friends just starting going toward his MBA. He wanted to progress, he’s not sure where he wants to work, but it’s a step in the right direction and what you do with that whether you use it or whether you don’t, at least you have it. One thing you can’t strip from somebody, is their education. It is going to come into use somewhere. Especially if you have your undergrad, you want to get your graduate degree, your master’s, your PhD, it will come into use if you really want it to. So you have to start somewhere, so get up and start now!

Jenn: I actually have a little piggyback on that. My friend and I were sitting at work one day, she is also applying to optometry school and somebody came by and asked how long it was and said “two years?” and we said four and she was like “ughhh” and my friend was like “ugh this is such a long road, we haven’t even finished taking the entrance exams and it’s four years, do I want to invest that much time?” I said “well you’re 22 now and you have a job that you don’t want, so let’s say it takes you, five years, the one year to apply and then the four years, so when you’re 27, you could either still be here at the job you don’t want, or you could have invested that time and gone to grad school. What does the four years matter if it’s going to put you in a better place later. Imagine if you’re 27 and someone else comes by and they are also applying to optometry school and you’re like "wow, I could already be done." I think people are so short-sighted and they want that instant gratification, but I would say if you’re looking to apply to grad school and you have that mindset, just throw it out the window because you should invest in yourself.

Renee: And start your applications early. Submit it July 1st. A lot of programs have rolling admissions like we do at Salus, at least for OT. So it really is helpful to get your application in first and be one of those first interviews, because all the spots are wide open for you to fill.

Jenn: Actually, full disclosure, since this will help people, I applied twice and did not get in the first time, and I had a very average OAT score, but my GPA was great, so they said, you can either take your OATs again or you can apply earlier next time. It’s a little blow to your ego, but do what you can. When you get your proof that you can be that good student, that helped me and that’s why I’m here, so definitely apply early. 

Umar: Those deadlines definitely sneak up on you. The dates the test scores come back and now you can’t fully submit and all of that stuff so definitely get it in ahead of time.