Doctors of Optometry (ODs) are the healthcare professionals who specialize in the care of eyes. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and the associated structures. In order to help patients with these issues, optometrists can prescribe vision therapy or contact lenses, and in some states, perform certain surgical procedures. In order to become an optometrist, it is necessary to graduate from a four-year professional education program at a college of optometry and complete an optional residency in a specific area of practice. There are currently 23 optometry programs in the country. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for an Optometrist was $101,410. More information about the optometry profession can be found at www.aoa.org.
As summarized in Appendix A, optometrists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for graduate programs. Students may choose any major, but majors in the natural sciences are best suited to obtain the graduate program prerequisites. Although there is a central core of required prerequisites, each optometry program has somewhat different requirements. Students interested in specific programs should check those colleges’ websites to see their particular prerequisites. Generally, 8 semester credits of general biology, chemistry, and physics are required. Along with these science courses, there is often a requirement for 3-4 hours of microbiology, biochemistry, organic chemistry, physiology, and psychology. In addition, a statistics and calculus course is commonly required. Most optometry graduate schools also require a number of courses in social and behavioral sciences and humanities. Recommendations may include sociology, economics, anthropology, history, political science, or ethics. The minimum cumulative GPA for acceptance varies, but preferential consideration is given to applicants with a GPA of 3.0 or higher (see the following website for a numerical profile of successful applicants: http://www.opted.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Profile-of-the-Entering-Class-2013.pdf). Generally, schools require a ‘C’ or better in all prerequisite courses.
In addition to prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools require that applicants have some volunteer or work experience under the supervision of an optometrist. In this regard, it is highly recommended that applicants have at least 30 hours of observation at a minimum of two different optometric practice settings. Applicants with more and varied hours of experience will be more competitive than those who have less experience in obtaining admission to an optometry school. Additional information regarding admission requirements may be found at the following link: http://www.opted.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/ASCO-Admission-Requirements-Handbook-2013.pdf.
There are several steps involved in applying to optometry programs (refer to Appendix I for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to an optometry program, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS; www.optomcas.org). Applicants must also take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and submit the scores as a part of their application. Some schools also request a secondary application after the initial application has been evaluated. These applications should be sent back as soon as possible after they are received. Most schools also require that applicants meet the functional guidelines required to practice as an optometrist. The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) provide these guidelines.
The OAT is a computer-based test with four different multiple-choice sections. The four sections are Natural Sciences, Reading Comprehension, Physics, and Quantitative Reasoning. The exam, involving introductory instructions and breaks, takes about four and a half hours to complete. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the OAT. More information about the OAT may be found at www.ada.org/en/oat.
On the OptomCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in become an optometrist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit, so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivations. You should have one your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should explain your preparation for training in the profession, your aptitude and motivation, and your future career goals.
Most graduate schools require three to four letters of recommendation to be electronically submitted through OptomCAS. Some schools also request a composite evaluation by your pre-health advisory committee. Often, graduate schools require that at least one recommendation be from an optometrist who has supervised the applicant and can attest to his or her potential as a future optometrist. At least one other recommendation should come from a professor who is familiar with the applicant’s academic work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendations well in advance of the submission deadline.