Choosing an optometry school is not a decision to take lightly. After all, you’ll be spending four years of your life at the school you choose. More importantly still, your education will set the stage for your entire career in the field of optometry… the pressure is real!
So take your time deciding. Thoroughly research your options and talk to a professional optometry advisor or others in the industry if you get stuck. To help get this exciting decision-making process started, we’ve outlined some key requirements and other factors to consider as you go.
Do Optometry School Requirements Vary?
Before deciding on a school, you have to choose where to apply and prepare your application. Requirements for optometry school vary from place to place, but there are some standard requirements you can expect and prepare for across the board.
First of all, the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is one of the key requirements for admission into any optometry school in the United States. The OAT is a standardized test designed to measure overall academic ability as well as comprehension of scientific information. Optometry schools have different criteria for admission, so you should look into average OAT scores for the specific schools you’re applying to. Some schools may accept GRE scores in place of the OAT exam.
Second, a bachelor’s degree is required by many optometry schools and preferred by most others. If required, your undergraduate GPA will certainly be considered during the admission process. Your science GPA will be especially important. They will also look at your undergraduate course load difficulty. Again, average GPAs for admission vary from school to school, so be sure to look into each individually so you have a benchmark.
Third, your undergraduate course load will be taken into consideration during the admission process. As far as prerequisites go, according to the Association for Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), “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.”
On top of your test scores and official transcript, you will likely need to submit letters of recommendation, a resume outlining any relevant work experience (if applicable), an essay prompt, and any other program-specific requirements along with your OptomCAS application.
Deciding Between Top Optometrist Schools
Looking at optometry school rankings online is one obvious way to get a sense of each school’s reputation and begin to weigh your options. However, this should be just one of many factors you look into. With just 23 accredited optometry schools in the United States, it’s not a massive list to narrow down.
According to 2020 school rankings, some of the most reputable optometry schools in the United States are:
- UC Berkeley School of Optometry
- University of Alabama School of Optometry
- Michigan College of Optometry
- Indiana University School of Optometry
- Oklahoma College of Optometry
- University of Houston College of Optometry
- Ohio State University Optometry Services
- Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry
- UIW Rosenberg School of Optometry
- University of Missouri
- And others, depending on the ranking system
Rankings aside, there are many other important and personal factors that should go into deciding on the best school and program for your specific interests, goals, and personality. There’s no “one size fits all!”
Important Factors When Deciding Between the Best Optometry Schools
Although school and program rankings and reputations are definitely something to consider, there are so many other factors to take into account in order to find the best fit for you. Here are just a few key factors to keep in mind when making your decision:
Clinical Experience: Clinical experience is an absolutely essential component of learning for optometry students. Learning in a clinic provides hands-on experience that will shape you into a confident and capable optometrist. The larger the clinic, the more types of patients you’re likely to see. Ideally, it’s best to attend a school with a clinic that has a wide range of specialties and services so that you can develop well-rounded, practical experience.
Program Specialties: Though course loads will look similar across different optometry schools, some have specific focuses or specialties on certain aspects of optometry. It’s a good idea to compare residency programs offered by the different schools, whether you plan to complete a residency or not. For example, if a school has a pediatric optometry resident training program like this one at the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB), it’s safe to assume they’ll have significant resources and educational and clinical opportunities available on that topic.
Finances: Tuition prices won’t vary too much across optometry schools, but finances are still important to keep in mind. Especially considering the fact that the average student loan debt among optometry school graduates is a whopping $178,922. On the bright side, there are many need-based and merit-based scholarships available, depending on the school. In addition to tuition and scholarships, take the local cost of living into account and budget accordingly.
Student Body: If you have the chance to tour the school in person, it’s a great opportunity to get a feel for the school’s culture and student body. Better yet, talk with some current or former optometry students at each school about their experiences, challenges, and successes. If you are not able to visit in person, you can look for school Facebook groups or call the school and ask to be connected with a student.
Academic Rigor: Look into what the requirements are for successful graduation from each school. Consider the course difficulty, workload, how many tests you’ll be taking, the level of competition, and more. Are you ready to rise to the challenge?
Program Length: Generally, most optometry programs take 4 years to complete on top of an undergraduate degree. However, some schools do offer combined undergraduate and optometry degree programs or accelerated programs so that you can minimize years spent in school. If you nail down your career goals early and plan ahead, you can save money and get ahead of the pack!
Location: Location may be important for personal reasons such as proximity to family or climate preferences, but you should also think about where you want to establish your career post-graduation. It will be easier to launch your career somewhere where you already have an established network, and optometry school is the perfect place to start making connections you can carry with you.
Personal: Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, think about which school is best for you personally. Can you picture yourself at this school? Does the school’s culture align with your own? No one can answer these questions but you, so take time to really reflect and think inwardly about your choice.
Making a Final Decision from Your List of Top Optometrist Schools
We know there’s a lot to think about and understand the pressure you’re under. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need support as you move into this exciting new chapter of your life and education, we’re here to help!
PECAA’s Student Membership Program is designed for optometry students who want to get a head start on preparing for their future as an eye care professional because it’s never too early to start thinking about your career. Best of all, our Student Membership Program is FREE for all currently enrolled students! You’ll have access to exclusive PECAA programs, student-specific education, training, and webinars, opportunities to network and establish contacts with practicing OD’s and industry professionals, as well as insight on current industry trends and learn how to be successful in your first years of practice.
Wherever you choose to go to school, enrolling in this program will offer you unparalleled support and resources to help you achieve your educational and professional goals.