Optometry School Requirements – the Complete Guide

There’s no getting around it. It’s hard to land a job in healthcare. Regardless of their discipline, those who care for the health of others must prove that they have the smarts and the skills to be doctors, and that means going to a reputable med school. 

Once you get into a med school, you’ll face a whole host of challenges. Students must maintain excellent grades, must pass stressful exams, and must perform well in clinical situations. 

But it pays off in the end. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that optometrists make on average $118,050 every year and that the field will grow by 4% over the next few years. Not only will future optometrists make good money, but they’ll be likely to get a good job when they graduate.

That reassuring fact will hopefully keep you going during the toughest parts of optometry school when you’re being challenged mentally and physically. 

Some might say that the process of applying to optometrist school is just as hard. Like all medical schools, optometry schools demand a lot of information from applicants, which can get overwhelming. 

But there’s good news: you’re not alone. Not only have we shown you some of the best schools in the country, but we can also walk you through the process of applying. 

This guide covers everything you need to know about optometry school requirements. We’ll give you pointers for courses to take, passing the OAT, filling out the OptomCAS, and much more. 

So if you’re ready to meet the challenge and reap the rewards of a career in optometry, then get started with these optometry school requirements.

Courses Required for Optometry School

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

Because they are graduate programs, every optometry school requires applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. However, the good news is that they don’t require a specific undergraduate degree. Even if your degree was in English or Fine Arts, you could still apply to optometry school.

That said, experience in some courses will indeed stand out more than others. Specifically, the courses covered in the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) will not only carry more weight with admissions counselors, but they will prepare you to pass that exam with a higher score. 

These classes include the following: two semesters of general chemistry, two semesters of organic chemistry, an introductory course in organismal biology, an introductory course in cellular & molecular biology, and two semesters of physics. 

In addition, most optometry schools look for students who have passed specific science courses during their studies. These courses provide students with a broad scientific basis, which one needs for success in the program. 

The courses include two semesters each of general and organic chemistry, an introductory course to psychology, two semesters of English composition, three semesters of biology, a microbiology course, two semesters of mathematics, two semesters of physics, and a statistics course. 

While all of these courses are important for those applying to optometry schools, it’s important to keep in mind that schools consider these to be the minimum. 

In other words, most applicants will have these classes on their transcript, and they won’t be enough to stand out. Specific courses preferred by many schools can help bolster your application, even if that school does not require them. 

These courses include two semesters of anatomy & physiology, a class in pre-professional health studies, and an introductory course in kinesthesiology.

In every case, it’s not enough to simply take the courses. Your application should make clear how the classes prepared you to go to optometry school and will make you an important addition to the program. 

Completing the OptomCas

A key aspect to entering optometry school is the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS). Although not all programs require that applicants use it, the OptomCAS allows students to file one application and send it to multiple programs. 

With the application, students can submit to several programs their biographical data, colleges and universities attended, academic course history, letters of recommendation, work experience, extracurricular activities, honors, and a personal essay. 

The OptomCAS simplifies the application process for both students and programs. For admissions counselors, the OptomCAS keeps all the information in the same place, which makes it easier for them to find what they need. 

For students, the OptomCAS not only allows them to be more efficient but also creates stronger applications. If students don’t need to spend extra time creating the same application for different schools, they can spend more time refining the work they have. 

Although one can add or subtract certain pieces of information from an application, the OptomCAS needs some core pieces of data. 

At the basic level, students must complete the OptomCAS application, which collects personal information, grades, work history, and more. Students will then use OptomCAS to acquire transcripts from all applicable schools. The OptomCAS also allows students to collect up to four letters of recommendation. Finally, students must pay an application fee to use the OptomCAS. 

While the OptomCAS unquestionably simplifies the application process, it doesn’t make everything happen immediately. It still takes time to gather all of the information, and you’ll need to give your recommenders time to write their letters. 

You should begin registering your OptomCAS account at least three months before the application deadline. You should also contact your recommenders at that time and keep them informed of any deadlines. With this three-month lead, you’ll have plenty of time to gather your transcripts and craft excellent answers to the application prompt. 

The Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) Requirements

As you might expect when trying to enter a graduate program, most optometry schools require students to take a standardized exam. 

The Optometry Admissions Test (OAT) is the exam that programs use to assess an applicant’s skill level. In particular, the test looks at the scientific knowledge a student has acquired over their undergraduate studies. 

The OAT consists of four major sections. In the first section, students have 90 minutes to answer 100 questions that survey all of the natural sciences. This section is broken into three subsections of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. Students must answer 40 questions in the biology subsection, and 30 questions in the general and organic chemistry subsections. 

The second section tests students’ reading comprehension, giving them 50 minutes to answer 40 questions about pieces of content. The exam will present students with three passages, usually from scientific articles. Each question will require students to demonstrate their understanding of the passage and their analysis of the scientific information. 

Physics is the focus of section three, as students have 50 minutes to answer 40 questions. 

The final section covers quantitative reasoning, and students have 45 minutes to answer 40 questions. These questions include both mathematical problems and applied mathematical problems. 

After completing the OAT, students will receive their scores. Scoring of the exam ranges from 200 to 400, and the 50th percentile is set at 300. Instead of being a raw sum of correct answers, the OAT score comes from the raw numbers converted to a scale score between 200 and 400. The final score is determined according to increments of ten. 

That’s a lot of information to cover. Fortunately, there are many ways to prepare for the OAT. The best form of preparation is taking a practice OAT created by those who write the questions for the actual exam. The practice OAT gives students the best possible preparation for the exam, as it follows the exact same structure as the real thing. 

Optometry School Interviews

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

In most cases, the last step in the application process is an interview with school officials. The interview allows the admissions committee to meet with you and assess you in-person (or virtually, if travel is restrictive). It also gives you a chance to meet the people who run the program. 

A lot of people find interviews to be uniquely challenging. And with good reason, as you’re required to come up with answers in real-time, dealing with real people instead of predetermined questions. 

But in most cases, interviews are pretty rote and straightforward. Not only do interviews only happen with candidates that admissions committees like, but the questions tend to be more or less the same. 

In fact, it isn’t too hard to find articles about the basic expectations of optometry school interviews. 

As you’ll see, these interviews operate according to the same basic principles as any other interview. If you did it when interviewing for your first job back in high school, you should probably do it here. 

Make sure that you know where the interview is and plan to get there early. Come dressed professionally and have a change of clothes in case something goes wrong. If you’re going to meet virtually, have a plan ready to deal with technology failures, such as lousy internet or a dead computer. 

You might be tempted to find specific information related to the school to which you’re applying. In most cases, the school will give you the interviewers’ names and tell you if you’re talking to a grad student, a faculty member, or another representative. 

That information might seem useful to you, but it isn’t wise to waste a lot of time researching these people and trying to appeal to their specific interests. Those people cannot make firm commitments to interviewing you, and you may find that someone else has stepped in to interview because schedules or priorities change. 

It’s also not helpful to plan for a specific person because almost every interviewer asks the same questions. Sure, the exact work might change, but the interviewers all want to know about your science background or what you’ll bring to the school

In short, interviews aren’t about the interviewer. They’re about you. And you already know about yourself. 

As long as you come in ready to tell your story, with questions about the program and a clear sense of your plans to be an optometrist, you’ll be sure to make a good impression. 

Essays & Personal Statements

As you’ve noticed, optometry schools ask for a lot of information. You need to show the school your transcripts, you need to get letters of recommendation, and you need to take difficult tests. 

But the single most crucial part of your application is the personal statement essay. More than any other document, the essay shows the school the person you are and the optometrist you will become. 

When writing your essay, you need to keep that principle in mind. Take a look at the questions in the essay prompt, such as “which resource provided the most help when making your decision to apply to this school” or “is there any special area of focus within optometry that interests you?”

With those questions, the schools are really asking, “who are you?” and “what kind of optometrist will you be?” 

In other words, these prompts are asking you to talk about yourself. So while all personal statement essays expect excellent content, you are the subject of that content. 

When writing your essay, talk about yourself. Tell the story about your journey to optometrist school, highlighting your strengths and core characteristics. Explain how the school will help you continue your journey. 

So instead of being scared by the personal statement essay, look at the positive side. It gives you a chance to introduce yourself to the optometry school you want to attend. It gives you a chance to talk about yourself. 

GPA Requirements

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

In most cases, optometry schools expect a minimum cumulative collegiate grade of 3.0.

If your GPA is 2.5, does that mean you shouldn’t even try to get into a program? Or, if your GPA is 3.5, does that mean you’re guaranteed admission? 

The answer to both of those questions is, “No.”

To be clear, schools do care about your GPA, but not for the same reasons you might think. 

For one, a high GPA raises a school’s stature and boosts its ranking on sites such as U.S. News & World Report. A good ranking helps a school draw better students and raise more money, so it is essential. 

But schools care more about GPAs as an indicator of your abilities as a student. A high GPA suggests a good student who works hard in school and is serious about their studies. A low GPA might indicate that the student has more important concerns than their studies. 

For that reason, you shouldn’t look at minimum GPAs as guides of acceptance or rejection. Rather, look at the average GPA at a school. 

If students at a program have an average GPA of 3.5 and your GPA is 3.3, then admissions counselors might question your ability to keep up with requirements. If your GPA is 3.7, then they’ll be confident that you can handle the workload demanded by the program. 

With this in mind, you can use your GPA as evidence in your other application materials. If your grades match those of the school, bring that up in your interview and personal statement. It shows that you fit within your program. 

If your grades are lower, then use those materials to explain why you’re still a strong student and why you’ll be able to do the work asked of you. 

Letters of Recommendation

As the discussion about GPAs shows, some parts of an application for optometry school matter more than others. Few are as important as letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation matter because they are personal. In them, important people talk to one another about your qualities and abilities. It’s like an introduction at a party. 

For that reason, successful students work hard and plan early to get the best letter possible. 

Too often, students make easily avoidable mistakes when getting their letters ready. They either ask for letters from professors who gave them low grades (A is ideal, a B is the absolute lowest) or from profs who don’t know them well enough to write with authority. 

Even worse, students will ask for letters from people who carry no weight in the admissions committee’s eyes. A letter from an English teacher won’t impress optometry schools, even if you pulled an A in the course. 

To avoid these mistakes and secure a good letter of recommendation, start planning early. 

Identify the most influential people in your program and take as many classes with them as you can. Even though most programs only require three recommenders, shoot for four or five, so you can deal with personal disagreements or unreliable letter writers. 

Be sure to earn high grades in their courses and look for ways to build upon the relationship, such as volunteer opportunities for research projects. 

Once you’ve established the relationship, then give your recommenders plenty of time to draft their letter. Make a formal request as early as possible, and don’t be afraid to go over your expectations for the letter. 

With some basic politeness and strong academic skills, it’s easy to get a good letter of recommendation to improve your application greatly.

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