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11 November, 2023

Choosing the Right Optometry School

There are 25 optometry schools in North American and choosing the right one is an important decision. In this article, we will discuss how to choose the right optometry school for you.
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After choosing to pursue optometry, figuring out which optometry schools to apply to and ultimately attend can be a daunting task. There are 25 schools to choose from (23 in the United States and 2 in Canada) and many aspects to consider before making a choice, so it is important to review each one before making your final decision. Although there is no wrong decision, here are 7 factors to reflect on when selecting the right optometry school for you:

πŸ“ Location

Think about where you want to spend the next 4 years of your life! This includes aspects such as:

  • How close the school is to home and if you would be willing to relocate
  • The weather and climate of the area
  • The overall environment (rural, large city, or a combination of both types)

Even more, it is a good idea to attend school in a state or city where you want to practice after graduation, as schooling in the area can provide important connections and networking opportunities to local doctors. This would also be a great way to reflect on the scope of practice you seek while learning how the laws and regulations compare between certain states.

πŸ’Έ Finances

Professional school is expensive, and it often takes optometrists years to pay off their student loans; therefore, it is important to reflect on your financials and the feasibility of attending different institutions. Think about…

  • Your financial situation (Do you have money saved prior to attending school? Are you eligible for student loans? Will your parents be helping you out?)
  • Tuition fees (Attending an in-state school would ease the monetary burden vs. attending and paying out-of-state or private school tuition)
  • Your future after school (Do you have plans to open a clinic right after graduation? Will you need to take out even more loans to do so? How long will it take to pay off your student loans?)

🏫 School Environment

Consider different aspects of the school and how well they would fit your needs. This includes:

  • Class size (a smaller group would allow for closer relationships with fewer students vs. a larger group allowing for a wider network of connections)
  • School size (being part of a larger campus while being involved in interdisciplinary studies vs. a smaller private optometry program)
  • Overall feel of the school and program (a more stressful and competitive study environment vs. a more relaxed and inclusive community feel)

πŸ”¬ Clinical Education

Practice makes perfect, and this applies to working in the exam room as well. Ideally, you want to maximize the amount of clinical exposure and experience you receive during school to gain more confidence when working as a clinician with real, live patients. Things to consider include:

  • Number of patient/clinical hours (some programs have students see patients and participate in vision screenings starting in the first year, while other programs do not start clinic until later on)
  • Amount of meaningful clinic time (this involves time spent interacting with patients to develop and reinforce new skills but does not involve office work such as triaging or pre-testing patients)
  • Patient demographics (seeing a larger variety of patients from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds will increase the range of pathologies you see or technologies you practice with and better prepare you as a doctor)
  • Externship opportunities (look into the externship sites offered at different schools to see if the location, patient demographic, and clinic focus align with your interests)

πŸ“š Academics

This includes the board exam passing rates, research opportunities, and curriculum at different optometry schools.

Passing the board exam is mandatory for becoming a fully licensed optometrist, so the success rate of students at various schools is a good indicator for how well different optometry schools prepare their students for an all-encompassing didactic and clinical exam. This is important, as you want to be well-educated and gain more than enough clinical experience in the next four years to not only pass the exam with flying colors but also be well-prepared to tackle your patients’ concerns and chief complaints in the future.

Aside from board exam rates, you can also look into the curriculum and research opportunities available at different schools. Although you may have to search around or reach out to an admissions officer to find the curriculum, this information can provide insight into how early you will be exposed to optometric topics as opposed to reviewing basic biology and biochemistry concepts. Also, a school heavily involved in research can be regarded as another source of academic strength. Some schools offer concurrent Master’s or PhD programs, which can be a deal-breaker for those interested.

πŸ‘©β€βš•οΈ Residency Opportunities

Many optometry students choose to complete an extra year of residency after graduating to hone in on a specific field of optometry. The programs offered and associated with certain optometry schools can suggest the specific optometric fields that schools are known for. Depending on your interests and desire to gain an extra year of experience, this is an additional factor to consider, as you would want to attend a school that possesses the knowledge, education, and equipment to sufficiently and thoroughly prepare you while satisfying your needs.

πŸ† Extracurricular Opportunities

For students who want to get involved in extracurriculars, it is a good idea to look into activities such as volunteer opportunities, research programs, and school initiatives offered at certain schools. Although this is a minor factor to consider, it can provide some insight into whether the school community aligns with your interests and if you would enjoy your time there!

πŸ‘‰ Conclusion

Deciding on where to spend the next 4 years of your life for your optometry degree is not an easy decision to make. However, the above factors should be able to help you select a list of schools to apply for and ultimately narrow it down to the right school for you!

If you are still unsure, you can also do your research! All optometry schools have a mission statement pertaining to the goals they hope to achieve and how their education will meet those goals, which can give you an idea of how well certain schools will fulfill your needs. Additionally, you can reach out to admissions offices to inquire about their board exam passing rates and/or curriculum or even contact students at different institutions to have any questions or concerns answered by current optometry students.

Aside from factors of consideration and research to be done, the main takeaway is that there is truly no wrong decision to make! Despite the differences in aspects such as location and school environment, all of the North American optometry schools are amazing and will provide you with a sufficient and thorough education to develop you into a competent, well-rounded optometrist. Keep in mind that everyone has different interests, needs, and priorities – no matter which school you end up at, you will likely be just as prepared as any other optometry student. Take it easy, focus on where you think you will be happiest for the next 4 years of your life, and remember there is no β€œwrong” decision!