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Universities with Optometry Majors: How to Choose the Right School

Within the field of optometry, students can prepare for careers in visual health research, the academic study of optometrics or clinical practice as optometrists. Bachelor's degrees are available in pre-optometry and advanced students can pursue doctoral degrees leading to careers in research or clinical practice. Many students choose to earn a Doctor of Philosophy in Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry simultaneously.

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How to Select an Optometry School

Optometry and vision science programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Optometry program preparation
  • Career goals
  • Financial aid

Optometry Program Preparation

Universities with competitive optometry programs offer curricula that cover various topics within optical physiology. Many students begin their educational path by pursuing bachelor's degrees in pre-optometry, which provide the foundational science skills necessary for graduate-level optometry coursework. Such programs aren't available at all schools, however.

Career Goals

Doctoral programs in the field include the Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Vision Science. The former is the degree option taken by those who wish to become licensed clinical optometrists. Students pursuing the O.D. may want to look for programs that offer specialties ranging from visual aids to eye surgery. Those who are more interested in teaching or conducting research may pursue the Ph.D. in Vision Science.

Another option for students is a combined Doctor of Optometry and Doctor of Philosophy in Vision Science. Students interested in both research and clinical practice are likely to benefit from this type of program.

Financial Aid

Students may want to pursue programs that provide substantial financial assistance. Several schools provide tuition waivers, fellowships and assistantships. Tuition awards are highly competitive, so students will need to invest ample time in preparing for them. While financial aid is available at all degree levels, much of this funding goes to those on doctoral path.

Optometry Program Overviews

Bachelor of Science in Pre-Optometry

Students earning a pre-optometry bachelor's degree take a variety of science courses that have relevance to the optometry field. Undergraduate pre-optometry students may have the opportunity to spend time observing in clinics or volunteer as practice patients for students earning Doctor of Optometry degrees. Some schools have minimum score requirements in the science and mathematics areas of standardized tests for admission into the pre-optometry program. Pre-optometry courses include:

  • General biology
  • General chemistry
  • Organic chemistry
  • General physics
  • Anatomy and physiology

Doctor of Optometry

The optometry curriculum prepares students for clinical work in vision health. Through extensive lab- and practicum-based coursework, students gain first-hand experience working with patients as they learn to detect and treat eye conditions. Most programs take at least four years of graduate-level study to complete. Much of a typical 4-year curriculum consists of a standard core of classes, though students do have elective options in such areas as ocular prosthetics and foreign language for optometrists. Required optometry courses could include:

  • Optics
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Pediatric optometry

Doctor of Optometry/Doctor of Philosophy in Vision Science

Some optometry schools offer the opportunity to simultaneously earn an O.D. and a Ph.D. in Vision Science. This degree will enable students to pursue careers in academic optometry, vision research or clinical practice. To meet eligibility requirements for most programs, an applicant must hold a master's degree in vision science. At the end of the program, each student completes an original dissertation in addition to preparing to earn state licensure for clinical practice. Research topics include neurophysiology, spatial navigation, contact lenses and other areas of vision science. In addition to courses found in O.D. programs, students take Ph.D. courses such as:

  • Ethics in vision science
  • Teaching methods in vision science
  • Experimental design
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