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General Overview

Optometrists (O.D.) are the independent primary healthcare professionals for the eye. They examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and the associated structures as well as identify related systematic conditions affecting the eye. Formal optometry education takes four years, with residency and extern programs taking place during the fourth year. Upon graduation, a board certification test is required. In order to remain certified, optometrists must complete at least 30 hours of board-approved continuing education each biennial period.

Optometrists practice in many settings, some of which include:

  • Individual Private Practice
  • Partnership or Group Practice
  • Academic / Research
  • Retail / Optical Settings
  • Interdisciplinary Care
  • Corporate / Industrial
  • Military / Public Health
  • Health Maintenance Organization
  • Optometric / Ophthalmologic Professional Settings

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 collegeshttps://optometriceducation.org/students-future-students/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. 

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 refer to Non-JMU Coursework for Pre-Requisite Coursework .

Biology Coursework (20 credits)

  • BIO 140: Foundations of Biology I (4 credits)
  • BIO 150: Foundations of Biology II (4 credits)
  • BIO 245: Microbiology (4 credits)
  • 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. PPH Advising strongly recommends:

  • BIO 240: Genetics (4 credits)
  • BIO 304: Cell & Molecular Biology (3 credits)
  • BIO 343 and 343L: Immunology and Immunology Laboratory (4 credits)
  • BIO 482: Human Histology (4 credits)

Chemistry Coursework (19)

  • CHEM 131: General Chemistry I (3 credits)
  • CHEM 131L: General Chemistry Laboratory (1 credit) 
  • CHEM 132: General Chemistry II (3 credits)
  • CHEM 132L: General Chemistry Laboratory (1 credit) 
  • CHEM 241: Organic Chemistry I (3 credits)
  • CHEM 242: Organic Chemistry II (3 credits)
  • CHEM 242L: Organic Chemistry Laboratory (2 credits) 
  • CHEM 361: Biochemistry I (3 credits)

Physics Coursework (8 credits)

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

* Pre-Professional Health Advising recommends that you take the PHYS 140-150/140L-150L sequence rather than the 240-250/240L-250L sequence, unless your major requires otherwise. 

Mathematics Coursework (6-7 credits)

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.

Calculus: There are four 200-level Calculus options at James Madison University. 

  • 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 229: Introduction to Applied Statistics Using R (3 credits)

Psychology Coursework (3 credits)

  • PSYC 101: General Psychology (3 credits)

English, Literature, and Writing Coursework (6 credits)

Pre-Optometry students must complete 6 credits of English, literature, or writing. 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.

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.

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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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