An optometrist is a primary eye care doctor. While not medical doctors, the path to becoming a doctor of optometry is very similar. It requires an undergraduate degree, followed by a degree in optometry from an accredited school, and then a licensing exam.
There are 24 schools and colleges of optometry in the United States and two in Canada.1
The job outlook for optometrists is good, with the profession expected to grow about 10% by 2031. The average salary of an optometrist in the U.S. is $124,300.2
What are the Steps to Becoming an Optometrist?
The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) developed a concrete path to becoming an optometrist.
The specific steps include the following:
1. Obtain an Undergraduate Degree
The first step to becoming an optometrist is to obtain an undergraduate degree with at least 3 years of schooling.
Undergraduate classes must include specific prerequisites to apply to an accredited optometry program. Required prerequisites are rooted in math and science and include:
- Organic chemistry
2. Take a Standardized Test
Once you have completed an undergraduate degree with the required math and science classes, the next step is to take the standardized test required for admission into optometry school.
The most common standardized test for optometry school admission is the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). This exam contains questions on:
- Natural sciences
- Reading comprehension
- Quantitative reasoning
The OAT is accepted at all schools and colleges of optometry. However, other standardized tests are also accepted by certain schools, including:
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which includes critical thinking, analytical writing, etc.
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), which includes physical and biological sciences.
- Dental Admission Test (DAT), which includes comprehension of scientific information.
- Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), which includes scientific knowledge necessary to obtain a pharmacy degree.
3. Apply to Optometry School
After completing a standardized test, your next step is to apply to optometry schools. There are 24 accredited optometry schools and colleges in the U.S.
It is essential to choose an optometry school that is right for you. Factors to consider when applying for schools include:
- Location. Do you prefer a small town or a big city?
- Type of program. Some programs offer a concurrent Master’s degree.
- Cost of the program. Many schools offer loan and scholarship programs.
- Stage of life and time commitment. Optometry school typically takes 4 years to complete.
4. Finish School and Become Licensed
Optometry school consists of classroom lectures, clinical experience, and lab work.
Courses typically include:
- Structure, function, and disorders of the eye
- Ocular anatomy
A 1-year optometry residency is an option for many students depending on their area of focus, which might include:
- Pediatric optometry
- Ocular disease
- Low vision rehabilitation
- Vision therapy
- Contact lenses
A residency offers advanced training and a mentor, and it opens the door to job opportunities.
Once you finish your optometry education, you are ready to obtain your license. The National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) is the national licensure exam. You may also need to pass separate state licensing exams.
NBEO application requirements include:
- Transcripts that prove your education and training
- Details about work history
- State and federal background checks
5. Become a Doctor of Optometry
After passing the licensing examinations and completing the applications for the state you plan to live in, you officially become a doctor of optometry and can start practicing.
Optometrists work in several settings, including:
- Private practice
How Long Does it Take to Become an Optometrist?
After high school, becoming an optometrist takes about 8 years. This timeframe includes completing an undergraduate degree and a 4-year optometry program.
It may take longer depending on getting accepted into an optometry program, your life situation, and passing the licensure exam.
What is the Average Salary for an Optometrist?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for optometrists is $124,300.2
Salary varies depending on the state, with more rural states having the highest salaries.
The top 10 highest-paying states for optometrists include:5
Best Schools for Optometry
According to the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO), there are 24 optometry schools in the U.S. and two in Canada.
Optometrists vs. Ophthalmologists vs. Opticians
As you learn about becoming an optometrist, it is essential to understand that there are three types of practicing eye professionals.
Optometrists provide primary vision care. They hold a doctorate of optometry. Their primary duties include:
- Vision exams and tests
- Prescribing and dispensing corrective lenses
- Detecting certain eye abnormalities
- Prescribing medications for particular eye diseases
An ophthalmologist is an eye medical doctor specializing in eye and vision care. Ophthalmologists are trained to practice medicine and perform surgery. Their education is more extensive.
The primary duties of an ophthalmologist include:
- Diagnose and treat all eye diseases
- Perform eye surgery
- Prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses to correct vision problems
- Scientific research
Opticians are licensed technicians trained to fit eyeglasses and contact lenses. They are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye conditions. Education requirements typically include an associate's degree and an apprenticeship program.
Becoming an optometrist is a rewarding career that has a positive job outlook. Education includes an undergraduate degree and completion of an optometry program. It typically takes 8 years to become an optometrist. In the end, you are a doctor of optometry.
An optometrist provides primary vision care. Their responsibilities include:
- Vision exams
- Prescribing corrective lenses and frames
- Detecting and treating certain eye conditions
There are currently 24 U.S.-based optometry programs.
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