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Pre-Optometry Preparation at UHMānoa

(Compiled from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry website at, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, and the UHM 2012-2013 Catalog.)

Optometry programs offered in Hawai'i: None

OD Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Researching Schools
The Application Process
Financial Aid
Additional Information
Downloadable Brochure

Optometrists are primary health care providers who examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases and disorders of the eyes and related structures. In addition to prescribing and fitting prescription glasses and contact lenses, optometrists today diagnose diseases and prescribe medications.

Optometry also offers a variety of fields for specialization. Vision therapy allows children to overcome learning problems caused by vision deficiencies and to develop perception skills necessary for reading and writing. Low vision rehabilitation provides sophisticated devices for those once classified as legally blind. Sports vision goes beyond vision screening to teach vision skills that improve athletic performance. Optometrists also help set safe vision standards in industry and in the licensing of drivers.

Optometrists work as members of an eye health care team, which also includes opticians, ophthalmologists, and physicians. Opticians fit, supply, and adjust eyewear prescribed by optometrists or ophthalmologists. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (MDs or DOs) specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and defects, including surgery. Many systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis are often first detected during eye examinations, and optometrists frequently refer patients to physicians for further treatment.

Most optometrists work in private practice, either solo, in an associate partnership, or as part of a group. An associate partnership consists of a new optometrist practicing alongside an established optometrist, thus avoiding the initial capital investment costs. When the established optometrist retires, the younger optometrist then buys the practice. A group practice consists of two or more optometrists working in the same office, sharing costs and supplementing each other’s specialties.

Optometrists also work in Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) and public health organizations; conduct clinical research for corporations; serve in government services such as the armed forces; act as consultants to industry, education, sports, and the government; or teach and conduct research in higher education.

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Optometry Programs

Becoming a Doctor of Optometry (OD) requires approximately 8 years of education:

  • Bachelors Degree (4 years);
  • Optometry School (4 years).

Although some schools technically accept undergraduates without a Bachelor degree (after having completed all prerequisites and a minimum of 90 credits), few do so in reality. Completing a Bachelor degree is highly recommended. Admission to optometry schools is highly competitive and a Bachelor degree significantly strengthens students’ applications. Furthermore, even students who are accepted without a Bachelors are usually required to complete it while completing their optometry degree.

The first two years of optometry school are usually classroom lectures and laboratories in the basic health and visual sciences. The best preparation for these years is students’ undergraduate science courses, which is why optometry schools place such emphasis on science grade point averages. The last two years are usually spent studying diagnostic and treatment techniques in clinical settings. The best preparation for these years is students’ courses in liberal arts (communication, ethnic studies, religion, etc.) and the personal characteristics developed through extracurricular activities.

Graduation from an accredited program qualifies optometrists to sit for the National Board and state licensing examinations. All optometrists must be licensed to practice.

Residencies are not required but are available for optometrists interested in further specialization or research.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! The following courses are commonly required for admission to optometry schools:

BIOL 171/171L and 172/172L
Introductory Biology I and II
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L
General Chemistry I and II
CHEM 272/272L and 273/273L
Organic Chemistry I and II
PHYS 170/170L and 272/272L
General Physics I and II
MATH 215 and 216
(or MATH 241 and 242)
Applied Calculus I and II
(or Calculus I and II)
2 semesters, including Composition
1-2 semesters
1 semester
PSY or SOCS 225
Statistics - 1 semester

Additional requirements may include human anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, communicology, computer literacy, and upper division biology.

You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the optometry schools you are interested in attending. The Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements, or SCOAR, published by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, or ASCO, lists prerequisites for all optometry programs in the United States; a copy is available in PAC.

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What makes a strong candidate?

Schools need to be certain that the students they accept will be capable of completing the academic curriculum and are likely to become good optometrists.

Are you capable of completing the academic curriculum?

Optometry school admissions committees are looking for students who have:

  • completed the prerequisites
  • a high overall GPA
  • a high science/math GPA
  • performed well on the OAT
  • balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic

Are you likely to become a good optometrist?

Admissions committees look for students who have:

  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • excellent interpersonal skills
  • strong letters of recommendation from faculty and character references
  • experience in the field and with what optometry entails
  • research experience
  • high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
  • a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences

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Researching Schools

There are now 20 optometry schools in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, each one unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths.  Applicants can research schools using the Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements (SCOAR). 

Although there are resources that rank schools, the rankings are rarely pertinent for individual applicants. More important is whether there is a good match between applicant and school.

To find schools that are good a fit for you (PAC peer advisors can help with this process):

  1. Assess your individual strengths and weaknesses, your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  2. Start by considering all schools, which usually includes all 20 schools;
  3. Create your “Long List” by omitting the schools that do not match your professional interests, learning style, and personality;
  4. Once you have your OAT scores, use your GPA and OAT scores to create your “Short List” by categorizing the schools into “Reach,” “Match,” and “Safety”, ranking the schools by preference, and finally choosing how many schools to apply to.  Be sure to apply to schools in all three categories (‘Reach’, ‘Match’, and ‘Safety’).

If possible, visit schools to see their facilities, talk to Admissions Directors, and talk to students.

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All optometry programs require applicants to take a standardized test called the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). 

Preparation: Your most important preparation for the OAT is your undergraduate courses, many of which sharpen your writing and verbal reasoning skills.  Remember that your verbal reasoning score is not only the most accurate predictor of how well you will do in optometry school, but also the most difficult score to improve.

OAT Summary: The OAT assesses your knowledge in the Natural Sciences (biology, inorganic, and organic chemistry), Physics (including optics), Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning (including probability, statistics, and trigonometry).

OAT Scoring: Scores range from 200 to 400, with 400 being the highest.  A score of 300 is the median. In addition, the OAT reports a total of 8 standard scores: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, total science score (comprising biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, and physics,) and an academic average (all sections combined). A main score of 300 or higher is considered competitive.

Official Test Preparation Material:

  • Sample Test by OAT Program

Click Here for the OAT Overview

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The Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to optometry schools: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview.

1.  Primary applications must be filed with the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS), which is a centralized application system.  Once the application is complete, OptomCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated.

2.  Secondary applications or supplementary forms are specific to individual optometry schools; schools send these to applicants after they have received the OptomCAS application. Both frequently request additional information, essays, and letters of recommendation.  Some schools may even screen applicants before the applications or forms are sent out.  However, secondary applications and supplementary forms differ in that the latter is not a formal application.
3.  Interviews: After reviewing the primary and secondary applications (or supplementary forms), optometry schools invite promising applicants to interview. Applicants are responsible for all costs of interviewing, including airfare, lodging, professional attire, and meals.


    Financial Aid

WICHE:  Hawai’i residents are eligible to participate in the Professional School Exchange Program (PSEP), a service of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE).  In a competitive process, PSEP selects applicants to receive financial support from state funds; the students who are selected pay in-state tuition if they attend a participating program on the west coast.  WICHE applications become available in July and have a mid-October deadline.

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of matriculation (generally in the summer after junior year).


  • The more you know about the school, the better your chances of being accepted.  Most application questions can be answered by reading the SCOAR.
  •  Contact individual schools’ Admissions Offices to find out how they handle:
    • Advanced Placement (AP) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • military credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on acceptable science courses
    • coursework taken outside the U.S.

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Additional Information

UHMānoa's Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for and apply to optometry schools.

UHM's Pre-Optometry Club  
Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)
Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS)
Schools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements (SCOAR) by ASCO Available online
Optometry: A Career Guide by ASCO Available in PAC
Optometry Admission Test (OAT)
Optometry Admission Test Program Available free from ASCO
Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)
American Optometric Association
American Academy of Optometry Student Page
Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program

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