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11 November, 2023

How to Apply to American Optometry Schools

Interested in applying to American optometry schools as a Canadian? In this article, we will discuss how to apply to American Optometry Schools.
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This article will discuss factors to consider and tips for applying to American optometry schools as a Canadian student.

There are 23 schools of optometry in the United States and only 2 in Canada. Out of the Canadian schools, the University of Waterloo's optometry program is in English, while the University of Montreal is in French. Because of the limited number of schools and spots in Canada, most Canadian students pursuing optometry also apply to US schools. However, applying and attending a school in a different country comes with many obstacles and factors to consider. In this article, we will discuss tips and 5 factors to consider for Canadian students applying to US optometry schools.

📅 OptomCAS Application Timeline

Unlike the 2 Canadian optometry schools, all US schools are on a rolling admission basis. This means that the earlier students apply, the earlier they will hear back about a potential interview, and the more seats will be available for admission. Therefore, the best tip we can give is to start early.

Starting early is especially important for the US application portal: OptomCAS. This platform allows students to apply to any optometry school in the US. OptomCAS requires applicants to submit grades for all their undergraduate courses, a personal statement, and supplementary essays. At the same time, applicants must outline all relevant extracurricular activities and achievements, as well as request letters of recommendation and wait for the letters to be submitted to the platform. All these areas must be completed before applications can be submitted individually to each school. Therefore, it is best to get a head start by compiling and organizing your extracurricular commitments, figuring out how to order your transcript, reaching out to your references (generally an optometrist, undergraduate faculty member, and other non-family members), and drafting your personal statement ahead of time.

Once your transcript is ordered and sent to OptomCAS, you will also have to manually submit your grades for each undergraduate course you took. Keep in mind that your institution’s grading system will likely be different. This means you will have to account for converting from your institution to the US system of letter grading. When in doubt, send the admissions committees an email to make sure you are inputting your grades accurately.

At the same time, you should either have your optometry admission test (OAT) score ready to be submitted or have the test scheduled in advance to make sure your score can be sent to OptomCAS in time. This is important because all documents and test results must be submitted on OptomCAS before your application can be submitted to a school. The OAT is an important aspect of your application and is weighed heavily by admission committees, so make sure to use adequate study materials and to put in the work.

For more information on the OAT, check out our other articles, “How Is the OAT Scored?” and “What Is a Good OAT Score?”. Even more, OAT score standards are different for each optometry school, so feel free to read our article “Optometry School Statistics” to get an idea of what OAT scores are considered competitive for each school.

🏠 Canadian Student Support

When researching the various US optometry schools to apply to, keep in mind that some schools may be more “Canadian-student friendly.” By this, we mean some schools have Canadian admission advisors who can provide application guidance and other financial aid resources specifically to Canadian students. Also, looking into the Canadian student population can give you an idea of how “Canadian-friendly” the school is and how well you would fit in there. This can be an important factor, especially in your first year when you are homesick and living in a different country. Some US optometry schools with a significant Canadian student population include:

  • Pacific University College of Optometry (PUCO)
  • New England College of Optometry (NECO)
  • Illinois College of Optometry (ICO)
  • Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO)

🏦 Financial Aid

Due to the limited number of Canadian optometry schools and seats, many Canadian students end up attending a US optometry school. One major difference between Canadian and American optometry schools is the cost of tuition. At the University of Waterloo, tuition is $18,000 CAD per school year. However, US tuition costs more and you will also need to account for the exchange rate. Canadian students are considered international students in the US, and tuition will cost an average of $41,000 USD, or $52,000 CAD, per school year (based on rates from 2020). This means the total tuition over 4 years will cost an average of $164,000 USD, or $208,000 CAD.

Because of the high cost of tuition, we would suggest you look into sources of financial aid while you are applying to US optometry schools. Canadian students are not eligible for US federal financial aid or student loan programs, so your main sources of aid would be Canadian federal and provincial student loans, out of pocket, and/or external loans. The Canadian government facilitates a student loan program that provides varying amounts of aid, depending on the province you live in. This program provides a lifetime limit of $175,000, but it would be best to call and ask about the most updated amount. The second most common form of aid is a bank loan – specifically a student line of credit (SLOC). A SLOC is a bank loan where the interest you owe per month is calculated based on how much you have taken out. Therefore, if you do not “borrow” or take out any money from the SLOC, there will be no interested owed. Set up appointments with the major banks (TD, RBC, Scotiabank, BMO, and CIBC) to ask about their SLOC’s, including how much you would get and the interest rates they would charge. Try to find the SLOC that provides the most amount of money and the lowest interest rate. As a Canadian student, you will also need a co-signer to apply and qualify for a SLOC to attend school in the US.

Based on my application experience and research, the maximum SLOC amount provided was $125 000 CAD, released in quarter chunks of $31 250 CAD for every year of optometry school. Personally, I had the best experience with TD because of their low interest rate and other perks that came with applying for a SLOC. However, I already had a TD bank account, so I would suggest you talk to all the banks, especially the ones that you and your family members have had accounts with.

Aside from loans, there are also scholarships. There are many scholarships for different achievements, but optometry schools usually have scholarships specific to their own institutions that you can apply for. Generally, US optometry schools automatically consider applicants for institutional scholarships. However, you should also reach out and ask about institutional scholarships that you have to apply for. There are also external scholarships set up by foundations and organizations that you can apply for based on factors such as merit and extracurriculars.

💰 Expenses

Once you are admitted, you will need to start looking into other financials, such as setting up a US bank account. If you were to continue using your Canadian credit card and account in the US, there would likely be conversion fees, along with a sub-optimal conversion rate. Other factors to consider include housing and possibly finding a roommate, as well as how much you would pay for water, utilities and internet. Also, you will have to consider other expenses such as transportation (whether you will bring your own car down from Canada or purchase a new one), health insurance, and your phone (obtaining a new sim card with a US service provider).

📝 Paperwork

Applying to a US optometry school also means you may ultimately end up moving to a different country to attend school. To live and attend school in the US as a Canadian student, there is required paperwork. This includes obtaining an F1 Student VISA, a US social security card, and a driver’s license or ID card if you are bringing a vehicle. This factor can be considered after you are admitted into a US optometry school, but it would be good to keep in mind when applying as well.

❓ Ask Questions

Lastly, make sure to ask questions. The optometrists you shadowed or worked with at different clinics will be the perfect resource for you. Reach out to them, especially to optometrists who attended US optometry schools, to inquire about things such as their experiences of moving to the US, how they felt about the school community as a Canadian, the sources of financial aid that they used, and any other tips.

👉 Conclusion

Applying to US optometry schools as a Canadian student can be overwhelming, but you can prepare yourself well by starting your applications early and doing research on aspects such as the Canadian student community at the school, financial aid, and any required paperwork. For Canadian students who are applying to US optometry schools this cycle, hopefully these 5 factors and tips can set you up for success and admission to your dream school. Good luck!