Optometrists, also known as doctors of optometry, or ODs, are the main providers of vision care. They examine people's eyes to diagnose vision problems, such as nearsightedness and farsightedness, and they test patients' depth and color perception and ability to focus and coordinate the eyes. Optometrists may prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses, or they may prescribe or provide other treatments, such as vision therapy or low-vision rehabilitation. They also diagnose conditions caused by systemic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure, referring patients to other health practitioners as needed.
Most optometrists are in general practice. Some specialize in work with the elderly, children, or partially sighted persons who need specialized visual devices. Others develop and implement ways to protect workers' eyes from on-the-job strain or injury. Some specialize in sports vision, head trauma, or ocular disease and special testing. A few teach optometry, perform research, or consult. (From the online Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-2011)
A degree in Optometry is a four-year professional degree. More than 80% of pre-optometry students begin optometry school after completing a baccalaureate degree. A few optometry programs permit entry to highly qualified students after 90 semester hours of undergraduate coursework. There are 20 Colleges of Optometry located elsewhere in the nation (five are in the Midwest).
For the 20 optometry schools nationwide, the cumulative average GPAs for the entering classes ranged from a 2.88 to a 3.66. Some schools require at least a "C" in each of the prerequisite courses (see prerequisite list at the end of this Guide). Students whose academic records fall significantly below the averages are unlikely to be accepted to optometry school. A bachelor's degree is not required at most optometry schools, but is typically preferred, and most students will have a bachelor's degree prior to entry. A summary of the student profile at U.S. optometry schools (and application deadlines) may be found at the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) website: www.opted.org. Follow the links "About Optometric Education" and then "Student and Advisor Information."
Important non-academic factors include good moral character, excellent interpersonal skills, a deep commitment to optometric health care, evidence of leadership potential, and service to others. Most optometry schools want evidence of a candidate's exposure to the field of optometry. Successful applicants will likely have worked, or volunteered, in an optometrist's office. Since some schools require a letter of evaluation/recommendation from an optometrist, it is important that students investigate opportunities for working/volunteering in such a setting early in their undergraduate years.
The Application Process
The centralized application service, OptomCAS, enables students to apply to multiple schools with a single application. Candidates should check with their pre-optometry advisors for the most recent information. The application is available beginning July 15th each year and should be submitted in the year preceding the year for which a student is seeking admission. Since many optometry schools have rolling admission, it is in a student's best interest to apply early (in late summer or early September). Application deadlines vary; check the student profile section of www.opted.org, as noted above, for a roster of the deadlines at the individual schools.
Early Entry/Early Admission
Some optometry programs accept students for entry after 90 semester hours of undergraduate coursework. Students entering at 90 s.h. are typically very strong academically and extremely well prepared. Most programs prefer a bachelor's degree, and a few require it. Students may check the ASCO website, noted above, for the preferences at the schools in which they are interested. Additionally, a few schools have an early admission (or early decision) cycle for well-qualified applicants. This cycle typically begins in the fall or early spring of the year before matriculation. Grade point averages are usually higher (3.5 to 3.6) for successful students in early admission.
Diversity in Optometry
ASCO and its member institutions have embraced the concepts of diversity and multiculturalism in optometric education and in the profession. ASCO bases its diversity program on several assumptions including: (1) Greater diversity among health professionals is associated with improved access to care for our diverse society, greater patient choice and satisfaction, better patient-provider communication, and better educational experiences for all students, which will prepare them for the diverse communities they will serve in practice; (2) Diversity is good for optometric education and the profession; and (3) It is the right thing to do (from ASCO website).
Entrance Examination Requirement (OAT)
The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is required for admission to all colleges of optometry in the United States. The OAT is a standardized, computer-based exam that consists of four tests: Survey of the Natural Sciences (Biology, General Chemistry and Organic Chemistry); Reading Comprehension; Physics; and Quantitative Reasoning. The scoring range is from 200 to 400. OAT average scores increased at the schools in 2007, with averages ranging from 283 to 368 (averages may be found at www.opted.org under the "Student Profile" section). Students typically take the OAT after courses in mathematics, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. In addition, students prepare by self-study using online or OAT study guide materials (available at major bookstores) or by participating in a formal OAT test preparation course. A candidate may retake the OAT but only after a 90-day waiting period.
Letters of Evaluation/Recommendation
Applicants typically obtain letters from science faculty members, faculty members from their major department, their pre-optometry advisor, etc. At least one letter from a practicing optometrist is required as part of the application at some schools. The mix of required letters varies by school; students should check the specific requirements for each optometry school to which they wish to apply. UI does not have a committee process for letters of evaluation; instead, students request letters from their individual evaluators.
Optometry schools usually require personal, on-campus interviews. Selected candidates will be contacted to arrange an interview. The interview is an important part of the selection process, and candidates should prepare well for the interview.
Criminal Background Checks
The issue of criminal background checks (CBCs) for students applying to optometry school is rapidly changing. Students should check with the individual optometry schools for information about whether a CBC is required. Certain hospitals and optometric placements will require a CBC, regardless of whether an individual school requires one. Students should make careful decisions, since charges or convictions may have later negative consequences.
Some optometry schools accept non-U.S. citizens. Fluency in the English language is important, and some schools require a financial affidavit confirming sufficient financial resources. Non-citizen students should carefully consider such a decision and explore the options with the individual optometry schools, and their pre-optometry advisors, early in their undergraduate years.