Frequently Asked Questions
Optometry as a Career
What is a Doctor of Optometry?
The American Optometric Association defines Doctor of Optometry as the independent primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.
Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures.
Optometrists counsel their patients regarding surgical and non-surgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyle.
What do Doctors of Optometry do?
Optometrists perform comprehensive examinations of both the internal and external structures of the eye, carry out subjective and objective tests to evaluate patients’ vision, analyze the test findings, establish a diagnosis, and determine the appropriate treatment. Optometrists treat a variety of conditions and illnesses. They treat eye diseases such as glaucoma and ulcers; visual skill problems such as the inability to move, align, fixate and focus the eye; and clarity problems such as simple near or farsightedness or complications due to the aging process, disease, accident, or malfunction.
Additionally, optometrists diagnose, manage, and refer systemic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and others that are often first detected in the eye; provide pre- and post- surgical care for cataracts, refractive laser treatment, retinal problems, and other conditions; and encourage preventative measures such as monitoring infants’ and children’s visual development, evaluating job/school/hobby related tasks, and promoting nutrition and hygiene education.
The day-to-day tasks of most Doctors of Optometry can be quite varied and challenging. Patient interaction can range from performing routine visual exams, removing a foreign body from the cornea, evaluating a child who is not performing well in school, managing the care of contact lens patients, prescribing medication for glaucoma, providing follow-up care after refractive surgery, and fitting a legally blind patient with a magnifying device that will enable the patient to read.
Where do Doctors of Optometry practice?
They practice in rural communities, suburban areas, and large cities. Some practice alone, with a partner or partners, or with other health care professionals, while others choose a career in the military, public health, or other government service. Still others may practice at hospitals, clinics, teaching institutions, and community health centers, or they may choose to be employed by another optometrist, or in the ophthalmic industry.
Is there a demand for Doctors of Optometry?
Yes. All areas of the country need optometrists to serve a population which is increasingly aware of the importance of prevention and proper health care, and which requires the services of optometrists now more than ever. In addition, the aging population of the U.S. will create an increased demand for vision care services in the next several decades. Optometrists are also needed to fill vacancies created through retirement.
Is optometry a rewarding career?
Yes. Optometrists have the satisfaction of helping their patients care for the most highly valued human sense – sight. Doctors of Optometry are recognized as leaders in their communities. Most are self-employed, receive relatively few emergency calls, and can establish a flexible working schedule, which allows them the luxury of combining a prestigious professional career with a very satisfying personal life. Data from the American Optometric Association shows average net income of $143,520 optometrists.
Do all Doctors of Optometry do the same thing?
All optometrists provide general eye and vision care. Some optometrists work in a general practice, and other optometrists work in a more specialized practice such as contact lenses, geriatrics, low vision services (for visually impaired patients), occupational vision (to protect and preserve workers’ vision and minimize eye strain), pediatrics, sports vision or vision therapy. Others may choose to enter optometric education and/or perform scientific research.
Where to Study Optometry
Where can I go to school to study optometry?
There are 23 schools and colleges of optometry – 22 are in the continental United States, and one is in Puerto Rico.
How do I know which is the best school or college of optometry for me?
The schools and colleges of optometry in the United States and Puerto Rico are accredited under the strict guidelines developed by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education (ACOE) (243 N. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141; 1-800-365-2219) and therefore meet the educational requirements for license eligibility in any state. (Note: two Canadian schools of optometry – the University of Waterloo and the University of Montreal – are also recognized by ACOE). ACOE is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council on Higher Education Accreditation as the accrediting body for optometric educational programs.
ASCO advises students against relying on any rankings of the schools in making their decisions. There are numerous factors that enter into a successful match between a student and an optometry school: the size of the school, its location and reduced costs of some schools based on contracts with certain states. ASCO recommends that applicants review the merits of the school(s) or college(s) they might wish to attend and determine which institution will best meet their individual needs. ASCO strongly advises students, if possible, to visit schools in which they have a particular interest.
How to Get into Optometry School
What type of education is required to become a Doctor of Optometry?
Doctors of Optometry must successfully complete a four-year accredited degree program at one of the schools or colleges of optometry. Most students accepted by a school or college of optometry have completed an undergraduate degree. However, each institution has its own undergraduate prerequisites, so applicants should contact the school or college of their choice for specific requirements.
What undergraduate courses should I take to help prepare me for optometry school?
The requirements for admission to the schools and colleges of optometry vary, but students wishing to study optometry should be certain to take at least a year of biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, general physics, and microbiology; English; college mathematics; and other social science and humanities courses. The science courses should be pre-professional level courses designed for science majors or health professional students and should offer laboratory experience. Brief survey courses in the sciences will not prepare you for optometry school. Be sure to consult with the pre-optometry advisor at your school or an advisor at the school or college of optometry that you plan to attend.
What kind of curriculum should I follow?
Use the following sample undergraduate curriculum only as a guide. Not all the courses listed below may be required by all schools, and some schools may require other courses not included in this sample.
Freshman Year (Total Hours: 30)
- General Chemistry with labs
- College Algebra
- General Biology with labs
Sophomore Year (Total Hours: 30)
- Organic Chemistry
- Microbiology or Bacteriology with lab
Junior Year (Total Hours: 30)
- Social Science
- Other humanities
What do I have to do to apply for admission to optometry school?
All schools and colleges of optometry participate in OptomCAS – Optometry’s Centralized Application Service. OptomCAS opens the end of June/first of July for each application cycle. For more information about OptomCAS and to access the application, please visit the OptomCAS website at optomcas.org.
OptomCAS allows optometry applicants to use a single web-based application and one set of materials to apply to multiple schools and colleges of optometry. Applicants who apply through OptomCAS submit a completed web-based application comprised of biographical data, colleges and universities attended, academic course history, letters of recommendation, work experience, extracurricular activities, honors, and a personal essay. It is the applicant’s responsibility to read and follow specific instructions for OptomCAS and the schools and colleges of optometry.
What type of selection procedures are used to evaluate applicants?
Generally, colleges of optometry admit students who have demonstrated strong academic commitment and who exhibit the potential to excel in deductive reasoning, interpersonal communication, and empathy. Potential optometry students may be evaluated on the basis of grade point average, performance on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), extracurricular and community activities, personal interview, professional potential, etc.
Optometry schools are looking for “well-rounded” candidates who have achieved not only in the classroom but also in other areas. Leadership ability, a disposition to serve others, and a work ethic characterized by dedication and persistence are just a few of the qualities that impress most admission committees.
Each institution has its own criteria; therefore, you should contact the school(s) or college(s) of your choice for specific application guidelines.
What are the academic and demographic characteristics of recent applicants and admitted students?
Click here to view the student profile page , which includes information on applicants, admitted students and recent graduates of optometry.
As a graduate of an international program, how do I become eligible to practice in optometry in the United States?
To be eligible to practice optometry in the US, you must hold the Doctor of Optometry degree from a school or college of optometry that is accredited by the Accreditation Council on Optometric Education. In addition, you must pass the examinations administered by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry and all relevant state licensure examinations. For further information, contact the National Board of Optometry at www.optometry.org.
Of the schools/colleges of optometry, the following will award an O.D. degree to graduates of international programs upon successful completion of a customized curriculum:
- The New England College of Optometry
- Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University
Of the schools/colleges of optometry, the following will admit graduates of international programs with advanced standing:
- Illinois College of Optometry
- The New England College of Optometry
- Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry
- Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University
- State University of New York State College of Optometry
More information may be obtained directly from the individual institutions listed above.
Candidates can be “sponsored” to take Part I, II, III, TMOD®, and ISE® by either a state licensure board of optometry or an accredited/pre-accredited institution. However, in order to become eligible to take Part III, sponsored candidates must first pass Parts I and II.
NBEO requires a letter from the state board or accredited/pre-accredited institution specifying for which exam(s) the candidate is being sponsored, along with the candidate’s name, date, and other relevant information.
Sponsorship letters will last a period of 12-months and will need to be renewed when the 12-month time period has expired. It is the responsibility of the candidate to contact the sponsoring state board or accredited/pre-accredited institution* directly to ensure that their letter is supplied to the NBEO. Please be certain to contact your state board of interest regarding their specific licensure requirements.
Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and Other Standarized Exams
What standardized exams do the schools and colleges accept?
All schools and colleges of optometry will accept the OAT. Many schools and colleges will also accept the GRE, MCAT, DAT, or PCAT in lieu of the OAT. Applicants are encouraged to contact the schools and colleges for their exam requirements.
During Optometry School
How much will optometry school cost?
The cost of your education will depend upon where you choose to attend school. Tuition information can be found on the latest Profile of Applicants. Many of the schools and colleges of optometry have financial arrangements or contract programs which allow students from various states to attend their institution at the resident rate. Contact the admissions officer at the school(s) or college(s) of your choice for specific tuition and fee information.
What if I need financial assistance to fund my education?
Financial aid, primarily in the form of government-subsidized, low interest loans, is available to students attending schools and colleges of optometry. Other loans, grants and work study aid are available, and vary from one institution to another. For details, contact the financial aid officer at the school(s) or college(s) of your choice.
After Optometry School
What is the profile of the recent graduating class?
Click here to view the Student Profile Page, which includes information about recent number of graduates and demographics.
What happens after I graduate from optometry school?
In order to practice optometry, you must be state licensed. All states require graduation from an accredited professional optometric degree program as a prerequisite for licensure.
What kind of exam is involved in licensure?
The licensure examination consists of both clinical and written parts. In most states the written examination has been replaced with the examinations which are given during the student’s academic career by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO).
Once I’ve graduated, how do I keep up with new developments in the profession?
Doctors of Optometry recognize that continued professional education is a life-long responsibility in order to maintain the full scope of optometric services for the benefit of the patient. All fifty states and the District of Columbia require Doctors of Optometry to take continuing education courses to be eligible for license renewal. Such educational programs are readily available throughout the country.