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General Overview

Optometrists (OD) are the primary health care professionals for the eye (American Optometric Association). 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. Treatments include vision therapy and rehabilitation, prescription of therapeutic drugs, provision of pre- and postsurgical care, and performance of certain surgical procedures. The optometrist is often the first to detect symptoms of eye disease including glaucoma and cataracts, as well as systemic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and arteriosclerosis. Optometrists should not be confused with ophthalmologists (physicians who perform eye surgery in addition to diagnose and treat eye conditions) or dispensing opticians (who design, fit and dispense corrective eyeglasses and contact lenses following prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists). There are a small number of graduate degree programs in optometry, and the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) provides this list and identifies member schools and colleges.

Choosing a Major

Most pre-optometry students obtain a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree while completing the requirements for admission to optometry school. Optometry schools do not require or prefer a particular undergraduate major. Admissions committees welcome applications from individuals whose intellectual curiosity leads them to a wide variety of disciplines. Optometry schools recognize the importance of a strong foundation in the natural and physical sciences as well as behavioral sciences and statistics. Thus, applicants must complete course requirements and demonstrate proficiency in the sciences as evidenced by the science GPA, overall GPA, and scores on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).

Coursework

Pre-Professional Health Advising has developed requirements for the Pre-Optometry Program by utilizing the American Optometric Association's Directory of Accredited Programs to identify accredited programs and subsequently view their websites for pre-requisite courses. The review of pre-requisite courses to develop the requirements for the Pre-Optometry Program below was completed in spring semester 2017. You should look at individual optometry schools' list of pre-requisites to assure completion of all pre-requisite coursework. Because these courses are pre-requisites to optometry programs, optometry school admissions committees will use your academic success in these courses as a metric of your ability to achieve success in optometry school.

If you have credit for any of the following courses by earning Advanced Placement (AP), International Baccalaureate (IB), Cambridge International Exam (CIE), community college credit, or departmental test credit, please read the Non-JMU Coursework for Pre-Requisite Coursework below.

Biology Coursework

Students are required to complete 8 credit hours of General Biology with labs. 95% of optometry schools required General Biology I as a pre-requisite; 75% of schools required General Biology II.

  • BIO 140: Foundations of Biology I (4 credits)
  • BIO 150: Foundations of Biology II (4 credits)

Students must also complete 4 credits of Microbiology, because 95% of optometry schools listed Microbiology as a requirement; the other 5% listed it as recommended.

  • BIO 245: Microbiology (4 credits)

Schools also frequently require Human Anatomy and Physiology, therefore both of these courses are required for the Pre-Optometry program. 65% of optometry schools required, strongly recommended, or recommended Anatomy; 11 of these 13 schools specified Human Anatomy. 70% of schools reuqired, strongly recommended, or recommended Physiology; 10 of these 14 schools specified Human Physiology.

  • BIO 290: Human Anatomy (4 credits)
  • BIO 270: Human Physiology (4 credits)

Additionally, Pre-Optometry students are required to complete 4 additional credit hours of intermediate (200-level) or advanced (300- and 400-level) Biology Coursework. 20% of optometry schools strongly recommended or recommended Genetics, Histology, and Cell Biology. One school required Immunology. Therefore, when choosing 4 additional credit hours of intermediate or advanced coursework, PPH Advising strongly recommends:

  • BIO 240: Genetics (4 credits)
  • BIO 343 and 343L: Immunology and Immunology Laboratory (4 credits)
  • BIO 482: Human Histology (4 credits)
  • BIO TBD: Cell Biology

Chemistry Coursework

Pre-Medicine students are required to complete 8 credit hours of General Chemistry with labs. 100% of optometry schools listed 8 credits of General Chemistry and Laboratories as a pre-requisite.

  • CHEM 131: General Chemistry I (3 credits)
  • CHEM 131L: General Chemistry Laboratory (1 credit) or CHEM 135L: Special General Chemistry Laboratory (1 credit; Chemistry majors only)
  • CHEM 132: General Chemistry II (3 credits)
  • CHEM 132L: General Chemistry Laboratory (1 credit) or CHEM 136L: Special General Chemistry
         Laboratory (1 credit; Chemistry majors only)

Students are also required to complete 8 credit hours of Organic Chemistry with lab. 100% of optometry schools listed Organic Chemistry I as a pre-requisite; 20% listed Organic Chemistry II as a pre-requisite or requirement option. 80% of schools listed Organic Chemistry lab as a pre-requisite or recommendation. Please notice, Pre-Optometry students do not take CHEM 241L (1 credit), because CHEM 242L is a 2-credit laboratory that covers Organic Chemistry I and II laboratory learning outcomes.

  • CHEM 241: Organic Chemistry I (3 credits)
  • CHEM 242: Organic Chemistry II (3 credits)
  • CHEM 242L: Organic Chemistry Laboratory (2 credits) or CHEM 287L and 288L: Integrated Inorganic/Organic
          Laboratories (4 credits; Chemistry majors only)

Students are also required to complete 3 credits of Biochemistry. 94% of optometry schools required, strongly recommended, or recommended 3 credits of Biochemistry.

  • CHEM 361: Biochemistry I (3 credits)

Physics Coursework

Students are required to complete 8 credit hours of General Physics with labs. 100% of optometry schools listed Physics I and II as a pre-requisite; 90% listed Physics I and II labs as a pre-requisite.

  • PHYS 140*: College Physics I (3 credits) or PHYS 240: University Physics I (3 credits)
  • PHYS 140L: General Physics Laboratory I (1 credit)
  • PHYS 150*: College Physics II (3 credits) or PHYS 250: University Physics II (3 credits)
  • PHYS 150L: General Physics Laboratory II (1 credit)

* Pre-Professional Health Advising recommends that you take the PHYS 140-150 sequence rather than the 240-250 sequence, unless your major requires otherwise. The PHYS 140-150 sequence is the non-calculus sequence in general physics. The 240-250 sequence is the calculus sequence that requires MATH 235-236 as co-requisites, respectively. Because it is not the calculus sequence of Physics, PHYS 140-150 is able to cover more breadth within Physics than the 240-250 sequence.

Mathematics Coursework

Pre-Optometry students are required to complete 3 credits of a 200-level Calculus class and 3 credits of a 200- or 300-level Statistics. 90% of optometry schools required 3 credits of calculus, and 90% of schools listed statistics aas a pre-requisite. An additional 10% of schools listed statistics as strongly recommended or recommended.

There are two considerations when choosing appropriate calculus and statistics courses.

  1. Double-Counting with Other RequirementsRefer to major and minor requirements in the Undergraduate Catalog to determine if there are specific calculus or statistics courses required for your major or minor requirements. Most of these classes will fulfill General Education: Cluster 3: Quantitative Reasoning, but this may also be a consideration.
  2. Your Math Placement Exam (MPE) ScoresUtilize the MPE Matrix to determine the appropriate calculus and statistics courses to take. You can find your MPE for calculus and statistics within the Student Center of MyMadison. You can watch a video to learn how to find your MPE scores.

Calculus: There are four 200-level Calculus options at James Madison University. There are two calculus "pathways"; the 231-232 sequence, 233-234 sequence, and 235 prepare you for more advanced calculus courses. MATH 205 does not prepare you for more advanced calculus courses. Your MPE - Calculus score may require that you take MATH 155 or 156: College Algebra beforehand, or that you take MATH 199: Algebra/Precalculus Gateway in conjunction with one of the following courses to be successful.

  • MATH 205: Introductory Calculus I (3 credits)
  • MATH 231: Calculus with Functions I (3 credits)
  • MATH 233E: A Modeling Approach to Calculus, Part A (3 credits)
  • MATH 235: Calculus I (4 credits)

Statistics: There are two statistics courses that Pre-Optometry students are encouraged to take at James Madison University. Your MPE - Statistics score may require that you take MATH 105: Quantitative Literacy and Reasoning beforehand to be successful in these courses.

  • MATH 220: Elementary Statistics (3 credits)
  • MATH 318: Introduction to Probability and Statistics (4 credits)

Psychology Coursework

Pre-Optometry students must complete 3 credits of General Psychology, because 60% of optometry schools listed General Psychology as a pre-requisite.

  • PSYC 101: General Psychology (3 credits)

English, Literature, and Writing Coursework

Pre-Optometry students must complete 6 credits of English, literature, or writing. 85% of optometry schools listed 6 credits of English as a pre-requisite; one school listed 3 credits as a pre-requisite. Typically, students complete this requirement while completing General Education's Cluster 1: Writing and General Education's Cluster 2: Literature requirements. Courses that can fulfill the 6-credit pre-requisite that many medical schools require can include:

  • WRTC 103: (3 credits)
  • any ENG course (3 credits)
  • HUM 200: (3 credits)

Admissions Criteria and Academic Record

Admission committees consider an applicant’s skills in observation, communication, sensory and motor coordination, and behavioral and social attributes. Applicants must also demonstrate intellectual skills including conceptual, integrative, problem-solving, and quantitative abilities. Of particular importance are grade point averages (GPA), results from the Optometry Admission Test (OAT), undergraduate courses and credit load, health-related experience and volunteer/community service activities, personal statements, and interviews. ASCO provides a great profile of successful applicants to O.D. programs, including the average GPAs and OAT scores. ASCO provides great information for applicants, including an admissions requirement handbook and the ASCO's Blog: Eye on Optometry.

Optometry Admissions Test (OAT)

The Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is required for admission to all US schools and colleges of optometry. The OAT measures general academic ability and comprehension of scientific information. The OAT is comprised of four subtests: Survey of the Natural Sciences, Reading Comprehension, Physics, and Quantitative Reasoning. The OAT exam is computerized and examinees are permitted to take the OAT an unlimited number of times per year but must wait at least 90 days between testing dates. There are practice questions for the OAT online.

MCAT Preparation Resources

The best study plan is one that is tailored to your personal learning style and schedule. To that end, AAMC provides a five-step guide, developed by the MCAT team at the AAMC, to help you create your own study plan.

AAMC also encourages you to prepare fore the MCAT exam with official test prep resources written by the test developers at the AAMC. These resources are centrally organized on the AAMC Parepare for the MCAT Exam website. Two of these resources are free:

  • What's on the MCAT Exam? Learn about the exam with this free online tool. Explore the four exam sections to learn more about what is tested by reading content lists, watching videos, seeing how questions test skills, and more.
  • Khan Acadmy MCAT Collection. The collection of over 1,100 free videos and 3,000 review questions was created by Khan Academy with support from the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Preparation Timeline

The application process typically begins in the summer or early fall, one year before an applicant expects to enroll in an optometry program. Candidates for the OAT should have completed pre-requisite courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. If the student’s goal is to obtain an undergraduate degree in four years and matriculate into optometry school upon graduation (“direct-entry” applicant), the OAT and the OptomCAS (Optometry Centralized Application Service) application need to be completed during the summer following the third year. To meet this schedule, applicants are encouraged to complete required coursework by the end of their third year. You can review a summary of specific deadlines and other information regarding your application provided by OptomCAS.

Experience

Optometry schools view extracurricular activities as positive signs that a student can handle a rigorous curriculum and participate in campus and/or community affairs. Commitment, leadership, service, responsibility, and the ability to interact effectively with others are attributes that admission committees evaluate. The level and quality of participation is more important than the number or diversity of your activities.

Letters of Recommendation or Evaluation

All optometry schools and colleges require submission of letters of evaluation (LOE) as part of the application (OptomCAS). JMU students and alumni are encouraged to utilize the PPH Evaluation Service to assemble an LOE packet that will fulfill the requirement of all U.S. optometry schools (for information please contact pph@jmu.edu).

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