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 2013-2014 Catalog.

Optometry Programs in Hawai`i: None

Optometry Programs
Prerequisites for Admission
What makes a strong candidate?
Researching Schools
Entrance Exam
The Application Process
Four-Year Sample Plan
Financial Aid
Additional Information

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).

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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Prerequisites for Admission

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

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 and 273/273LOrganic Chemistry I and II9 cr.
PHYS 170/170L and 272/272LGeneral Physics I and II*9 cr.
MATH 215 and 216
(or MATH 241 and 242)
Applied Calculus I and II
(or Calculus I and II)
7 or 8 cr.
(or BIOC 441)**
Biochemistry4 cr.
ENG 100 and higherComposition I and higher6 cr.
PSY 100 and higherSurvey of Psychology and higher6 cr.
MICR 130/140L
(or MICR 351/351L***)
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 for 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.

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What makes a strong candidate?

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

Are you capable of completing the optometry curriculum?

Admissions committees seek 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 seek students who have:

  • demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
  • 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
  • experience in the field and with what medicine entails
  • a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • a high degree of professionalism in all aspects of life
  • strong letters of recommendation

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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 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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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 mean score among examinees (academic average) is 300; scores of 320 or higher are considered competitive for optometry schools.

Official Test Preparation Material:

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

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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. 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 statementOnce 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 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, 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.

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  • 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

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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