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).
Admissions requirements for the 21 optometry schools in the US and Puerto Rico are found in the “Schools and Colleges of Optometry: Admission Requirements” document which is updated annually by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry. The required and recommended coursework is often school-specific and students are encouraged to consult the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).
Minimum requirements for admission to optometry school can be met at JMU by completing the following courses:
- BIO 140: Foundations of Biology I (4 credit hours)
- BIO 150: Foundations of Biology II (4 credit hours)
- BIO 245: General Microbiology (4 credit hours)
- CHEM 131/132 and 131L/132L: General Chemistry I & II (8 credit hours)
- CHEM 241/242 and 242L: Organic Chemistry I & II (8 credit hours)
- PHYS 140/150 and 140L/150L: College Physics I & II (8 credit hours)
- PSYC 101: General Psychology (3 credit hours)
- MATH: Statistics and Calculus (6 credit hours)
- English: Composition and Literature (ENG, HUM 200, or WRTC; 6 credits)
Students are strongly encouraged to take coursework in Anatomy (BIO 290), Physiology (BIO 270), and/or Biochemistry (CHEM 361). Students should also check the specific admissions requirements of individual optometry schools for additional recommended courses. Review specific school and college prerequities in a prerequisite summary provided by OptomCAS.
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 greate 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.
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.
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.
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 Evlauation
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 email@example.com).
The Madison Advising Peers will return to the Pre-Professional Health office to assist students in Fall semester 2016!
The Pre-Optometry Advisor is Dr. Jeff Andre in the Department of Psychology.
Additional support is provided by advisors in Pre-Professional Health (PPH) Advising. To schedule an appointment with an advisor in PPH Advising, calling 540-568-6652, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting PPH Advising in Roop Hall, G24.