Here Are the 10 Best Optometry Schools in the US

We all know that graduate school in the health sciences is hard, and with good reason. No matter which branch of medicine in which a future doctor specializes, we only want the best of the best going into the world to practice. Whenever human health is involved, there cannot be room for error. 

Despite this truism, medical school rankings tend not to focus on pass rates. The quality of alumni, research endowments, and famous alumni all matter, as do students’ GPAs and test scores. But at the end of the day, most patients care most about the basics: did the person performing a procedure pass medical school. 

With that in mind, College Gazette presents this list of the top ten American optometry schools, ranked according to “ultimate pass rates” of optometry board exams as reported by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. Our list limits itself to the 50 U.S. states, not including territories. 

These criteria result in a surprising list, which includes the private institutions and R1 state schools that one would expect, which have optometry programs in their medical schools, but also smaller colleges devoted solely to the study of human vision. By including such a wide range of options, College Gazette’s list can help future eye doctors make their plans according to the issues that matter. 

10. University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Optometry (Pikeville, KY)

University of Pikeville
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Based in the Appalachian Mountains, UPIKE offers Kentucky’s only college of optometry. But the school does not rest on that exclusivity. Since it was founded in 2016, the UPIKE College of Optometry has already improved the health of its community by training future doctors in their state-of-the-art $60 million+ Health Professions Education Building. Furthermore, the school takes active steps to support their future students, creating a grant to help offset the costs of those taking the Optometry Admissions Test. 

At 38%, UPIKE’s optometry school has a relatively high acceptance rate. But despite that high number, the school boasts an impressive 91.89% pass rate, proving its commitment to equipping its students. As those numbers demonstrate, the UPIKE College of Optometry is committed to preparing the next generation of vision specialists.

9. UC Berkeley School of Optometry (Berkeley, CA)

UC Berkeley
Louis H. G., Memorial Glade, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1923, UC Berkley’s School of Optometry was just the third university optometry program in the United States. Over the years, the school’s list of faculty and alumni includes presidents of the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Optometry. And yet, the 92.54% pass rate shows that no matter how many accolades the school has accumulated, it still prioritizes students going through their program. 

That number grows more impressive when one looks at the intensive quality of the training students receive. Optometry students begin working with patients during their first year and spend approximately 2500 hours working with them by the end of the program. Also, students can advance their research agendas in their award-winning Clinical Research Center, or through several other support systems. 

8. Illinois College of Optometry (Chicago, IL)

Illinois College of Optometry
Garvin58, ICO RC, CC BY-SA 4.0

We’ve all said that some great development is “the best thing since sliced bread.” The Illinois College of Optometry must be even better because the inventor of the bread slicing machine, Otto Frederick Rohwedder, graduated from ICO

While most of ICOs 160 graduates each year go directly into practicing optometry instead of revolutionizing the bread industry, its 92.54% pass rate speaks to its devotion to students. Students receive their training at the Illinois Eye Institute, where they receive hands-on experience. ICO also offers residency programs in everything from vision rehabilitation to ocular disease. 

These resources are housed in a beautiful campus in the heart of Chicago, which results in a student body that feels both supported and challenged. In the end, ICO creates some of the best eye doctors in Chicago and the Midwest in general. 

7. University of Missouri at St. Louis College of Optometry (St. Louis, MO)

University of Missouri St Louis
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The UMiss-SL College of Optometry has an acceptance rate of 31% and a pass rate of 95.65%, which tells you that they’re doing something right. They draw future optometrists from across the country and support them throughout the entire program to make sure that the overwhelming majority of their students graduate. 

That commitment to students dovetails with the school’s values of growth, responsibility, discovery, and community. Students and faculty have been involved in programs that improve vision care to those who most need it, from low-cost optic kits, programs for diversity and inclusion, and increasing accessibility to the low-income population in St. Louis

Students planning to go to UMiss-SL’s College of Optometry should plan to procure strong letters of recommendation and substantial service hours, as well as high test scores and GPA. 

6. Ohio State University College of Optometry (Columbus, OH

Ohio State University
Robert Chriss, Ohio Union Front, CC BY-SA 3.0

The Ohio State University has a reputation as one of the country’s best state schools, so it’s no surprise that their College of Optometry garners respect in the field. The college’s faculty includes innovators in optical technologies, contributors to the nation’s top medical journals, and ranking members of the most important faculty organizations. Students and faculty receive further support in the form of major awards, including the Prentice Medal Award for distinguished scientists and the Low Vision Educational Grant

Despite this focus on research, OSU’s College of Optometry does not forget its students, securing a pass rate of 96.83%. Current students praise the program for its state-of-the-art resources and supportive faculty, an impressive feat in a school that admits 64 students a year. These statistics show that the school successfully pursues its goals to educate excellent optometrists and perform innovative research. 

5. SUNY College of Optometry (New York, NY)

SUNY College of Optometry
Ajay Suresh, SUNY State College of Optometry, CC BY 2.0

SUNY only accepts 23% of the students who apply to their College of Optometry, making it one of the most exclusive on this list. The school has high expectations for its incoming class, demanding an average 3.5 GPA and an average OAT score of 345. But almost everyone who makes it into the program also makes it through the program, giving the school a pass rate of 96.84%. Students within the program are supported by $4 million in annual funding for research programs

Over its 50-year history, SUNY’s College of Optometry has graduated some remarkable doctors, but its recent alumni include the 2019 American Optometric Association (AOA) Optometrist of the Year and the winner of the 2019 Johnson & Johnson Vision Award of Excellence in Contact Lens Patient Care. 

4. Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry (Davie, FL)

Nova Southeastern University
Dgreco, Horowitz Front at NSU, CC BY-SA 3.0

Students at the College of Optometry at Nova Southeastern University split their time between two years of science instruction and two years of clinical studies. But no matter what section of studies they are in, students enjoy unprecedented support from the school, from funding for international mission trips to advanced technology for all attendees. Furthermore, the school boasts faculty that includes fellows in the American Academy of Optometry and leaders in the field of ocular testing. 

Most importantly for this list, NSU’s College of Optometry has an excellent 97.62% pass rate. Those numbers show that the school takes its mission statement seriously, working to “prepare, educate and train optometric physicians to practice at the highest level of proficiency, integrity, and professionalism.” With class sizes of 94 students per year, Nova is equipping the southeast with an impressive group of optometrists. 

3. University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry (Birmingham, AL)

University of Alamaba Birmingham School of Medicine
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, UAB received more than $325 million in research grants from the NIH, much of which went to the School of Optometry. With that kind of support, it should come as no surprise that UAB’s School of Optometry is one of the best in the discipline. Offering hands-on clinical training at the first-class UAB Eye Care center, the School of Optometry equips future vision care specialists with both the knowledge and experience they’ll need to serve their community. 

Those excellent resources are good news for those in the Birmingham area and beyond, as the school graduates 97.87% of the students in the program. Not only do these doctors go on to provide excellent care for their patients, but they also continue their alma mater’s excellent research, even winning their own NIH grants while still a student at the UAB School of Optometry. 

2. Arizona College of Optometry at Midwestern University – Glendale (Glendale, AZ)

Not only do 98% of students in the Arizona College of Optometry ultimately pass their exams, but 92.7% pass part I of the NBEO exam and 100% pass NBEO part II. That impressive group of learners boasts a 3.53 average GPA and a 624 average OAT score. But these students do not succeed on their own; rather, they are backed by ACO’s accomplished faculty and their cutting-edge research resources. 

ACO’s faculty includes contributors to top journals and fellows in the American Academy of Optometry, who are supported by awards such as a recent $100,000 grant. Furthermore, the program provides students with clinical rotations in community faculties and pre-clinical simulations to make them into the best health care providers that they can be.

Students planning to join this remarkable program should not only work to earn high grades in their undergrad science courses. But they should also gain as much experience as possible working with a practicing optometrist, which the admission board values. 

1. Southern College of Optometry (Memphis, TN)

Southern College of Optometry
Halpaugh, Southern College Optometry, marked as public domain

Although it was founded in 1932, the Southern College of Optometry refuses to sit idle. As recently as 2013, the school underwent a $9.4 million expansion that outfitted its facilities with state-of-the-art technology. The school also features The Eye Center, a teaching facility that provides students with hands-on clinical experience serving the 60,000 patients who visit. 

Unsurprisingly, almost all of the 136 students accepted each year graduate from the program, giving SCO an unprecedented 98.5% pass rate. Also, unsurprisingly, those who graduate from SCO include the leaders in the field of optometry, including fourteen American Optometric Association presidents. With a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1 and more than 60 endowed scholarships awarded each year, it’s easy to see why SCO students stay at the school. They get the support and attention they need to become the nation’s best optometrists.  

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