Pre-Optometry Preparation at UHMānoa
(Compiled from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry website at www.opted.org, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, and the UHM 2012-2013 Catalog.)
Optometry programs offered in Hawai'i: None
Optometrists are primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eyes and related structures. In addition to prescribing and fitting prescription glasses and contact lenses, optometrists today diagnose diseases and prescribe medications.
Optometry also offers a variety of fields for specialization. Vision therapy allows children to overcome learning problems caused by vision deficiencies and to develop perception skills necessary for reading and writing. Low vision rehabilitation provides sophisticated devices for those once classified as legally blind. Sports vision goes beyond vision screening to teach vision skills that improve athletic performance. Optometrists also help set safe vision standards in industry and in the licensing of drivers.
Optometrists work as members of an eye health care team, which also includes opticians, ophthalmologists, and physicians. Opticians fit, supply, and adjust eyewear prescribed by optometrists or ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D.s or D.O.s) specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and defects, including surgery. Many systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis are often first detected during eye examinations, and optometrists frequently refer patients to physicians (M.D.s) for further treatment.
Most optometrists work in private practice, either solo, in an associate partnership, or as part of a group. An associate partnership consists of a new optometrist practicing alongside an established optometrist, thus avoiding the initial capital investment costs. When the established optometrist retires, the younger optometrist then buys the practice. A group practice consists of two or more optometrists working in the same office, sharing costs and supplementing each other’s specialties.
Optometrists also work in Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and public health organizations; conduct clinical research for corporations; serve in government services such as the armed forces; act as consultants to industry, education, sports, and the government; or teach and conduct research in higher education.
Becoming a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) requires approximately 8 years of education:
- Bachelors Degree (4 years);
- Optometry School (4 years).
Although some schools technically accept undergraduates without a Bachelor degree (after having completed all prerequisites and a minimum of 90 credits), few do so in reality. Completing a Bachelor degree is highly recommended. Admission to optometry schools is highly competitive and a Bachelor degree significantly strengthens students’ applications. Furthermore, even students who are accepted without a Bachelors are usually required to complete it while completing their optometry degree.
The first two years of optometry school are usually classroom lectures and laboratories in the basic health and visual sciences. The best preparation for these years is students’ undergraduate science courses, which is why optometry schools place such emphasis on science grade point averages. The last two years are usually spent studying diagnostic and treatment techniques in clinical settings. The best preparation for these years is students’ courses in liberal arts (communication, ethnic studies, religion, etc.) and the personal characteristics developed through extracurricular activities.
Graduation from an accredited program qualifies optometrists to sit for the National Board and state licensing examinations. All optometrists must be licensed to practice.
Residencies are not required but are available for optometrists interested in further specialization or research.
Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! The following courses are commonly required for admission to optometry schools:
BIOL 171/171L and 172/172L
Introductory Biology I and II
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L
General Chemistry I and II
CHEM 272/272L and 273/273L
Organic Chemistry I and II
PHYS 170/170L and 272/272L
General Physics I and II
MATH 215 and 216
(or MATH 241 and 242)
Applied Calculus I and II
(or Calculus I and II)
2 semesters, including Composition
PSY or SOCS 225
Statistics - 1 semester
Additional requirements may include human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, communicology, computer literacy, and upper division biology.
You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the optometry schools you are interested in attending. The Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements, or SCOAR, published by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, or ASCO, lists prerequisites for all optometry programs in the United States; a copy is available in PAC.
Optometry school tuition, as high as it is, covers only a fraction of the cost of educating an optometrist, which means that each new student represents a huge investment. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept will be capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become good optometrists.
Are you capable of completing the optometry curriculum?
Optometry school admissions committees are looking for students who have:
- completed the prerequisites
- a high overall GPA
- a high science/math GPA
- performed well on the OAT
- balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic
Are you likely to become a good optometrist?
Admissions committees look for students who have:
- excellent oral and written communication skills
- excellent interpersonal skills
- strong letters of recommendation from faculty and character references
- experience in the field and with what optometry entails
- research experience
- high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
- demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
- a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
All optometry programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Optometry Admission Test, or OAT. The OAT is offered only in computer-based format (CBT) and can be scheduled for almost any day of the year. Plan on taking the OAT in the spring of your junior year or, at the latest, in the fall of your senior year. To register, you must either mail a paper application with a certified check or money order (cash and personal checks are not accepted) or submit an online application using a credit card at www.ada.org/oat/index.html.
The test requires 5-6 hours and assesses your knowledge in the Natural Sciences (biology and chemistry), Physics (including optics), Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning (including probability, statistics, and trigonometry). Scores range from 200 to 400, with 300 being the median. In addition to your main score and percentile rating, score reports include separate subscores for biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. A main score of 300 or higher is considered competitive.
Your most important preparation for the OAT are your undergraduate courses, not only the science and math prerequisites for optometry school, but all of your courses, many of which will sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning.
All 20 schools and colleges of optometry will participate in the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS). Contact information is available online at www.opted.org and in the Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admissions Requirements, or SCOAR, available in PAC.
The application cycle begins in the summer of your junior year, one full year before you plan to attend optometry school. Most schools use a “rolling admissions” process, which means they do not wait for the deadline before processing applications, but evaluate and accept students as applications arrive. Rolling admissions disadvantage students who apply late, so apply early!
Also in the summer of your junior year, you must apply to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) program for financial support. WICHE applications become available in July.
Consult with SCOAR and your academic advisor when choosing which schools to consider. When applying, maintain a separate file for each school; each file should contain a checklist (with deadline dates) of everything required and copies of all materials sent. You are not finished applying until you verify that your application is complete at each and every school!
Applications often require:
- a completed application form;
- a personal statement or essay;
- transcripts from every institution attended (some request high school transcripts as well); and
- letters of evaluation and possibly character references.
Some schools also request an optional recent passport-sized photograph. Many schools request updated grade reports while your application is pending. After you have been admitted, most schools will require final transcripts showing that your undergraduate degree was awarded.
Before making their final decisions, most schools invite promising applicants to come for an interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs incurred while interviewing, including airfare, lodging, and meals.
- The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.
- Most application questions can be answered by reading the SCOAR
- Contact individual schools’ Admissions Offices to find out how they handle:
- advanced placement (AP) credits
- College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
- courses taken at a community college
- courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
- residency issues
- time limits on acceptable science courses
- coursework taken outside the U.S.
UHMānoa's Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to optometry schools.
|UHM's Pre-Optometry Club|
|Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)||www.opted.org|
|Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS)||www.optomcas.org|
|Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements (SCOAR) by ASCO||Available online|
|Optometry: A Career Guide by ASCO||Available in PAC|
|Optometry Admission Test (OAT)||www.ada.org/oat/index.html|
|Optometry Admission Test Program||Available free from ASCO|
|Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)||www.wiche.edu|
|American Optometric Association||www.aoanet.org|
|American Academy of Optometry Student Page||www.aaopt.org/students/|
|Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program||http://preparingforgraduateschool.weebly.com/|