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11 November, 2023

How to Prepare for Optometry School

Getting admission into optometry school is difficult. However, you can set yourself up for success. In this article, we will discuss steps you can take during undergrad to prepare for optometry school.
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Optometry school is a challenging 4-year graduate program that students attend after completion of an undergraduate degree. The demanding nature of the program requires adequate preparation and completion of all necessary prerequisites for admission. Therefore, your undergraduate career is vital to preparing for optometry school and ensuring all prerequisites are fulfilled. This means an early start and proper planning will significantly affect your chances of being admitted into an optometry school. In this article, we will discuss 7 tips for your first year of undergrad to better prepare for admission into optometry school.

1️⃣ Develop Good Study Habits

Having good study habits will help you excel in your undergrad courses and maintain a competitive grade point average (GPA), which is weighed heavily during the application cycle. Each optometry school has slightly different academic standards, and some have a minimum GPA cut-off. It would be a good idea to check admissions websites to figure out what GPA range you should be aiming for. The course load of optometry school, accompanied by labs, is also even more demanding than undergraduate studies. Enrolling in optometry requires efficient studying, discipline, and a strong work ethic. Therefore, it is important to figure out your individual study style in terms of taking notes, retaining and applying information, and preparing for exams.

Not only is a strong work ethic important for a high GPA but developing proficient study habits can also apply across all aspects of your life and future optometric career. Learning how to juggle multiple content-heavy science courses will prepare you for the heavy workload in optometry school while you are also developing other personal skills such as time management, discipline, motivation, and organization.

2️⃣ Plan Your Undergraduate Major and Coursework

All optometry schools have a list of required pre-requisite courses that must be completed for admission. Therefore, it is important to plan out your undergrad courses to make sure they align with the requirements. All optometry schools require completion of introductory science courses with labs (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), as well as English, Statistics, and Social Sciences courses. It would be best to plan out what works best for you to complete all required pre-requisite courses while balancing the required courses for your undergraduate career. This will provide a good foundation of basic science concepts, which you will build on in future classes and even in optometry school. Even more, the content of the required science courses will be covered on the OAT, so having the science foundation means that you will already have learned the material. When you start studying for the OAT, you can review the material instead of trying to learn and understand new information.

As for your major in school, there is no “right” major. As long as you can complete the pre-requisite courses and maintain a competitive GPA, you are good to go! It would be best to go with a field that you are interested in and confident that you can excel in because admissions committees generally weigh GPAs heavily during the selection process. At the same time, you want a major that will allow some flexibility to take courses outside of your degree to fulfill the course requirements for optometry school.

3️⃣ Prepare for the OAT

The optometry admissions test (OAT) is a 5-hour test required by most optometry schools for admission. It is generally weighed quite heavily by admissions committees and adequate preparation should be done to increase your chances of acceptance. Students usually take the OAT in the summer after their second or third year, but it is best to start researching it as early as you can. It can be intimidating to figure out the logistics of the OAT and what defines a good OAT score, so feel free to refer to our articles “How to Register for the OAT?” and “How Is the OAT Scored?” for more information.

Once you decide on pursuing optometry, you should also think about when you want to take the OAT. From there, you can work backward to figure out how much time you will need to study when you need to start studying, and what study materials you will use. Keep in mind that the OAT score expires 2 years after the exam date, so you will need to plan out how that will align with optometry application cycles. Regardless, it is best to take the OAT as early as possible because it allows for more time to retake it if necessary.

4️⃣ Gain Clinical Experience

Gaining clinical experience is one of the most important things to do and should be done as early as possible. Clinical experience includes volunteering at an optometric clinic, shadowing optometrists, or working as an optometric assistant. Most optometry schools require a certain number of clinical hours, but you should aim to get as much as possible to figure out your “why” for optometry. The hands-on experience of being at a clinic is important because you will gain more insight into the profession, which can reinforce your passion for optometry. Aside from just shadowing, look for quality experiences where you can ask optometrists questions, discuss various clinical cases, and ultimately figure out whether or not optometry is right for you. After gaining clinical experience, it is completely fine to switch paths if you realize optometry is not what you had in mind. In any case, it is important to figure out early on if optometry is right for you so you can adjust your plan accordingly.

5️⃣ Form Meaningful Connections

Most optometry schools require 2 or 3 letters of recommendation from an optometrist, undergraduate faculty member, and/or another non-family member. Connections come hand in hand with gaining clinical experiences, as committing long-term to an optometric clinic will inevitably allow you to develop a relationship with the optometrist(s). Once again, the experiences are more about quality than quantity – asking questions and discussing concepts during your clinic time will showcase your passion for optometry and allow the optometrist to speak on your passion and potential as a future healthcare provider.

As for your undergraduate courses, the same idea applies. Try to make the most of your undergrad by getting to know your professors – ask questions, attend office hours, discuss your long-term plans of attending optometry school and showcase your passion for learning. This will also help them speak on your academic abilities and work ethic, especially in the sciences, which are important factors for optometry school.

6️⃣ Maintain Personal Passions

Even though optometry schools want academically strong students who can get through a tough course load, they are also looking for well-rounded individuals who will make good healthcare providers. As a future Doctor of Optometry, you will need to possess interpersonal skills such as strong leadership, communication, and empathy. These skills are often developed outside of didactic education, such as taking part in school clubs, tutoring, community service, and other hobbies. Therefore, optometry schools also want to see meaningful extracurriculars that can showcase your commitment to the healthcare field or personal hobbies. Keep in mind that it is not about how many different opportunities you are involved in, but the quality. In other words, you want experiences that will help you grow and self-reflect and provide you with experiences you can draw from if you were to discuss them in an application or interview. Even more, it is important to maintain your own personal interests – optometry school can get very busy and stressful, so you will need to have a healthy outlet to make time for yourself.

7️⃣ Start Early

Last but not least, start early. From maintaining a competitive GPA to scoring well on the OAT, you can never go wrong with starting early. This includes preparing for exams ahead of time or researching and preparing for the OAT in advance. Also, the extensive application cycle requires pieces such as a personal statement, supplementary essays, and letters of recommendation. These will take time, so it would be best to start early as well. If you are certain about optometry, the best thing to do would be to research and plan ahead. Consider which schools you are aiming to get into and their specific requirements, when your desired application cycle will start when you would want to submit your application, and when you would be completing potential interviews. Even more, planning ahead will give you time to reach out and gain clinical experience in different settings, which will provide more time to reflect on whether or not optometry is truly the right path for you.

👉 Conclusion

There are many moving parts to the application cycle for optometry school and it can be overwhelming, but you can set yourself up for success by managing your time early on and making sure all of the prerequisites will be fulfilled. Applications and exam fees are expensive and time-consuming, so ideally, you want to apply once and be admitted instead of facing the stress of rejection and reapplying. For those who are considering optometry school or have made the decision to pursue optometry, hopefully, these 7 tips can give you a head start on your application cycle and admission into optometry school!