Pre-Optometry at UH Mānoa

Text compiled from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) website, the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) website, NAAHP’s Medical Professions Admission Guide: Strategy for Success, and the UHM 2017-2018 Catalog.

Optometry Programs in Hawai`i: None

Field Description

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 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 other physicians. Opticians fit, supply, and adjust eyewear prescribed by optometrists or ophthalmologists.  Most opticians have at least a high school degree, but some colleges offer a certificate or associate’s degree in opticianry.  There are no optician schools in Hawai’i.  Twenty-three states, including Hawai’i, require opticians to be licensed.  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.

Work Setting

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.

Related Careers: optician, ophthalmology (MD or DO).

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Optometry Programs

Years of Schooling Required to Become an Optometrist:

8+ years of education

  • Undergraduate Preparation (~4 years);
  • Optometry School (4 years);
  • Residency (1+ year, optional).

Although not all schools list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for admission, few students are admitted without one. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended. Admission to optometry schools is highly competitive, and a bachelor’s degree significantly strengthens a student’s application and provides students with greater options for advancement and career opportunities. For help choosing a major, please see the “Choosing a Major for Professional Schools in Health” webpage.

Degree Conferred

Upon graduation from optometry school, students are awarded the Doctor of Optometry (OD).

Matriculation statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

Applicants Matriculants Percentage of Applicants
that Matriculate
National Applicants 2,812 1,500 53.34%
UH Mānoa Applicants Coming soon Coming soon Coming soon

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

Gap Year

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree. A “gap year” is the period of time between the end of your undergraduate education and the start of your professional school. A gap year might be a year or more depending on each person’s particular circumstances. Students may choose to participate in longer term engagement activities during their gap year. Taking a gap year would change when to apply to professional school, please see a PAC peer advisor to help you plan in when to apply and fit in a gap year experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs 

There are a large number of Post-Baccalaureate and Special Masters Programs offered across the nation. Although these programs vary greatly in terms of degree offerings, course curriculum, and program duration, they are all geared to help students in preparation for professional school by taking relevant graduate level courses or to meet the necessary  prerequisites courses for their intended program. For more information, please visit our Post-Baccalaureate and Specials Masters Programs page.

Combined Degree Programs

Many optometry schools offer combined degree programs: OD/PhD to combine optometry with research; OD/MPH to combine optometry with public health; and so on. Combined degrees can be offered concurrently, sequentially, or in combination, and often extend the number of years in optometry school.

What to Expect in Optometry School

The first two years of optometry school usually consist of classroom lectures and laboratories in the basic health and visual sciences. The last two years are usually spent studying diagnostic and treatment techniques in clinical settings. After graduation, licensed optometrists who desire advanced training or specialization can choose to complete a residency.

The Licensing Examination(s)

The National Boards is a three-part examination developed by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) for optometry licensure in the United States. Students complete Part I in the spring of their third year in optometry school, and Parts II and III in their fourth year. In addition, OD graduates may also need to complete other requirements, depending on the state in which they intend to practice. All optometrists must be licensed to practice.

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Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! More than 25% of the programs in this field require the following UHM courses for admission:

BIOL 171/171L and 172/172LIntroduction to Biology I and II8 cr.
CHEM 161/161L and 162/162LGeneral Chemistry I and II8 cr.
CHEM 272/272L Organic Chemistry I 5 cr.
PHYS 151/151L and 152/152L (or PHYS 170/170L and 272/272L)College Physics I and II (or General Physics I and II)*8 or 9 cr.
MATH 215
(or MATH 241)
Applied Calculus I
(or Calculus I)
4 cr.
BIOC 241Biochemistry**4 cr.
ENG 100 and higherComposition I and higher6 cr.
PSY 100 and higherSurvey of Psychology and higher6 cr.
MICR 130/140L (Fall only)
(or MICR 351/351L (Spring only))
General Microbiology
(or Biology of Microorganisms***)
5 cr.
PSY/SOCS 225 or ECON 321Statistics3 cr.

Additional requirements may include human anatomy and physiology, communicology, computer literacy, and upper division biology like biochemistry. It is also recommended that non-science majors take additional upper-division or advanced science electives beyond the prerequisites listed above.

Click here to view pre-requisites for colleges and schools of optometry

CHEM 171/171L might not be accepted by optometry schools in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L. Students should double check with the schools they are interested in if the schools would accept CHEM 171/171L in place of CHEM 161/161L and 162/162L.

*Although most, if not all optometry programs accept trigonometry-based physics (PHYS 151/L and 152/L), calculus-based physics (PHYS 170/L and 272/L) is recommended to prepare for the OAT and optometry school.

**Although most, if not all optometry programs accept the lower division biochemistry (BIOC 241), upper division biochemistry is recommended to prepare for the OAT and optometry school. Please note that the prerequisites for BIOL/MBBE/PEPS 402 and BIOC 441 are BIOL 275 and CHEM 273. BIOL 275L is also a prerequisite for BIOL/MBBE/PEPS 402.

***Please note that the prerequisites for MICR 351/L are BIOL 171 and CHEM 272/L. BIOL 275/L are recommended for MICR 351.

Click here for a four-year sample plan.

Click here for a sample general timeline.

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Experience and Personal Development

Gaining experience in the health professional field in which you are interested is a huge benefit in figuring out if that is the field you want to work in and provides you with a deeper understanding of the field. Some professional schools want to see that you have experience in their field and some schools may require a large amount of particular experience such as hands-on, patient contact experience or experience shadowing a professional in that field. Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become strong professionals in the field. Schools may see this through the experiences students had.

Admissions committees seek students who have completed the pre-requisites, have high overall and science/math GPAs, performed well on the entrance exam, and have balanced course loads which are challenging yet realistic. These are indications that students are capable of completing the curriculum. Opportunities for exam preparation can be found here: Entrance Exam Preparation Opportunities.

Experiences can provide proof that students will likely be strong practitioners. Admission committees seek students who demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service which can be shown through community service or volunteer work. Committees also want to see high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic as well as demonstrated maturity through judgement, responsibility, and dependability. Work ethics can be shown through employment opportunities.

Committees seek students who understand the field and what it entails. Different experiences that could provide exposure to the field include enrichment opportunitiesinternshipsshadowing, or volunteering. Through experiences students may show that they have excellent communication skills and a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life, and potentially gain strong letters of recommendation from supervisors.

Students should aim to have a well-rounded life that balances academics which include a broad liberal arts education with the humanities and social sciences, research, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.) through Clubs and Organizations.

Students may choose to take a gap year after they graduate with their undergraduate degree to gain more experience. When deciding to take a gap year, see our Taking a Gap Year page.

When applying for professional school, you will be asked to list and describe the experiences you have gained in preparation for the profession of your interest. Rather than having to recall from memory all your experiences, having an experience log will allow you to fill out your application with more ease. Students can use their C.V. as a record of these experiences. However, an experience log can include additional beneficial information, such as your employer’s contact information and a reflection portion of what you learned. You may choose to make a personalized experience log or use our sample by clicking here.

Please click on the following links to explore the different opportunities.

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Researching Schools

There are currently about 20 accredited optometry schools in the US, each unique in its mission, philosophy, criteria, and strengths. Students can research schools using the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)For a list of schools and the profile of each entering class, click here.

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’) and to select schools that you would really want to attend if/when accepted.

Here is more information on researching and selecting schools to apply for. If possible, visit schools to see their facilities, talk to admissions directors, and talk to students.

Application statistics for the 2015-2016 admission cycle.

Applicants Applications Matriculants Average Number of
Applications per Applicant
Range of Number of
Schools applied to
Percentage of Applicants
that Matriculate
National Applicants 2,812 13,610 1,500 4.84 N/A 53.34%
UH Mānoa Applicants Coming soon Coming soon Coming soon Coming soon Coming soon Coming soon

Based on data acquired by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Health Professions (NAAHP).

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Entrance Exam

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 Reading Comprehension 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, general chemistry, and organic chemistry), Physics (including optics), Reading Comprehension, and Quantitative Reasoning (including probability, statistics, and trigonometry).

OAT Scoring: Each section receives a raw score, which is the sum of the applicant’s correct answers. The raw score is converted to a standard score. Eight standard scores are reported: biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, reading comprehension, quantitative reasoning, total science (comprising biology, general and organic chemistry, and physics), and an academic average (comprising all sections). The total score ranges between 200 and 400. The mean score among examinees (academic average) is 300; scores of 320 or higher are considered competitive for optometry schools.  Statistics in 2015 showed that the average OAT scaled score was approximately 355 for students accepted in Optometry school.

Official Test Preparation Material

Commercial Test Preparation Companies

Here is more information on how to prepare for an entrance exam.

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Application Process

There are three general steps in applying to optometry schools: the primary application, the secondary application, and the interview. The application follows an accelerated timeline.

1.  Primary applications must be filed with the Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS), which is a centralized application system. This application includes: biographical data, academic history, letters of recommendation, work experience, extracurricular experience, and a personal statement (4500 characters)Once the application is complete, OptomCAS forwards it to whichever schools the student has designated. The OptomCAS application fee is about $170 for the first program and $70 for each additional program designation. For schools with rolling admission, submit your primary application as early as possible.

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, letters of recommendation, and/or fees. Some schools 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.

Note: For a list of specific letters of recommendation types for Optometry Schools can be found here.

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, ground transportation, professional attire, and meals. To learn more about interviews, attend our upcoming interview-related orientations and workshops here. For sample interview questions click here.

Re-applicants: Many applicants may not be admitted to the professional school that they desire on their first try. However, if an when you choose to re-apply, there are many things to consider before re-submitting another application the following cycle. For more information on how to improve your application, click here.


  • 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
    • International Baccalaureate (IB) credits
    • College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) credits
    • military credits
    • courses taken at a community college
    • non-US coursework
    • courses taken for credit/no credit instead of a grade
    • residency issues
    • time limits on prerequisite science courses

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Financial Aid

Financial planning is a crucial step in applying to optometry schools. It is important for students to create a plan and make decisions in their educational expenses. Students are highly encouraged to budget their finances before, during, and after optometry school. To learn more about financial planning, click here.

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). PSEP enables qualified residents from WICHE participating states affordable access to enroll in selected out of state professional healthcare programs at participating WICHE institutions when such programs are not available at a public institution in their home state. Many Hawai‘i residents must attend professional schools out-of-state to obtain the necessary education and training needed for professional healthcare positions. Therefore, the State of Hawai‘i, through WICHE PSEP, helps subsidize the tuition costs for qualifying Hawai‘i residents to attend a participating WICHE PSEP program. In return, WICHE PSEP students are required to return to work in the State after completing their program of study.

PSEP selected students pay reduced levels of tuition at the WICHE participating institution. The home state pays a negotiated “support fee” designed to cover a portion of the cost of the students’ education; this fee is paid directly to the enrolling program’s institution. No payments are made directly to students. Students enrolled at public institutions generally pay the resident tuition rate, however, students may be required to pay the unmet non-resident tuition differential if the WICHE PSEP support fee does not cover the entire non-resident tuition differential.  Students enrolled at private institutions pay the balance of the full private tuition minus the WICHE PSEP support fee.

Support is available to a limited number of Hawai‘i residents studying optometry and enrolling at participating WICHE PSEP schools.  For a list of participating schools, click here.

For more information on the Hawai’i WICHE PSEP program, please visit

Note: To be considered for this scholarship, you must apply one full year in advance of matriculation, generally in the summer of your application year.

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Additional Information

UH Mānoa’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 school.

AssociationsAssociation of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO)
American Optometric Association
Learn More About OptometryOptometry: A Career Guide by ASCO (Physical copy available in PAC)
Entrance ExamsOptometry Admission Test (OAT)
Researching SchoolsSchools and Colleges of Optometry Admission Requirements (SCOAR) by ASCO
ApplicationsOptometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS)
Financial AidWestern Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE)

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