Building your credentials
To prepare for a career in optometry you will need to build credentials in scholarship, leadership, humanitarian/community service, and shadowing (we recommend 2-3 different practicing optometrists in various settings of the profession). Many students do not get into optometry school the first time that they apply. The traits that predict success in the profession include high academic aptitude, hard work, the ability to work well with others, and good judgment. Having good manual dexterity is needed as an optometrist must manipulate fine optical measuring devices and computer-controlled instruments.
There is no “best” major for pre-optometry students nor are there majors that will make a student “stand out.” You are encouraged to pursue major that you enjoy, while ensuring that you take courses to prepare you for the OAT and as required by the schools to which you will apply.
The Numbers Matter and so do Grade Trends
If you wish to enter an optometry program you need to have a strong science and overall GPA. Admissions committees also look for trends on your transcript—so all is not lost if you stumble your first semester or two, as long as you show substantial improvement each subsequent year. However, they will also notice negative trends such as consistently withdrawing from or performing poorly in hard sciences or completing them away from your home institution. While an instance or two is not a deal-breaker, a pattern of behavior will be. You must demonstrate the ability to handle difficult scientific content.
Your academic evaluation is based on your overall GPA, science GPA, college attended, degree progress, and course load difficulty. A bachelor’s degree is not required by some optometry schools, but it is strongly preferred. Many students major in the natural sciences in college (e.g., biology, chemistry) because the prerequisites for optometry school are science intensive. However, you can study any major as long as you complete all of the prerequisite courses for the optometry schools to which you plan to apply.
Because each optometry school may have slightly different admissions criteria, it is strongly recommended that you contact all the schools and colleges to which you are interested in applying. Each school can provide information on specific application deadlines, additional policies and procedures, class size, grade point average (GPA), Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) averages, international requirements, and tuition and fees considerations. A complete listing of the schools and colleges of optometry can be found on the ASCO site.
What do optometry schools look for when reviewing applicants?
- Academic record (both overall and science GPA)
- OAT scores
- Letters of Evaluation (including two hard science faculty and an optometrist letter)
- Exposure to optometrist-patient interaction ("shadowing")
- Volunteering, as well as charitable/altruistic endeavors
- Research experience (only if you are interested)
- Leadership abilities
- Interpersonal communication skills
Prerequisite courses of each optometry school, compiled annually by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), is found here. Look up more information on schools in the ASCO’s optometry programs admissions directory, found here. Applicants should make their own determinations regarding the suitability of an optometry school or college including visiting its official website and gathering information regarding applicant profiles, class sizes, prerequisite courses, National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) pass rates, faculty-student ratios, pre-clinical and clinical training, and other information. Compiled data provided by the schools and colleges can be found on the Data & Surveys webpage.
Note: Optometry schools may also require background checks of applicants before matriculation.
Deciding Where to Apply
All optometry schools are unique. They vary in mission, location, size, and countless other variables. Before applying, students should consider their interests, preferred program format, preferred location, and estimated financial aid among many other factors. Deciding which schools to apply to is a very personal decision based on your goals and interests, but there are resources available to help you narrow down your options.
How many schools should I apply to, and what will it cost?
You can apply to as many or as few schools as you’d like, but over the last several years, optometry school aspirants have sent applications to an average of 7 schools through the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS). OptomCAS fees are subject to change and can be found on the OptomCAS website. There will be additional costs associated with secondary applications and traveling to your interviews, so it’s a good idea to apply only to schools you would seriously consider attending.
Where to apply
For a list of optometry schools visit the ASCO Member Schools and Colleges.
The Regional Contract Program (RCP) is a tuition-savings program offered by the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) especially for students in the health professions. It enables qualified students to pursue a first-professional health degree at selected out-of-state institutions, yet pay in-state tuition and fees at public institutions, and reduced tuition at private institutions. Students who are residents of any one of several states that do not have an optometry school may find that their state provides seats at a school in another state for an in-state price. For example, the legislature has provided two (as of this writing) in-state seats at for Georgia residents at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. The number of seats may vary as funds are allocated from year to year by the legislature. These seats may be given to the first eligible Georgia residents with completed application, OAT, and interview. Other scholarships seats available at many schools tend to be awarded early in the process as eligible students are accepted for the class. Understanding this process should underscore the importance of an early application.