(Click on the headings below for more information.)
The American Optometric Association defines Doctor of Optometry as the primary health care professionals for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye. Doctors of Optometry prescribe medications, low vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and perform certain surgical procedures. Although not as competitive as medical school, optometry is a growing field. It is important that students prepare themselves well for application to optometry schools during the undergraduate years.
NOTE: Optometry schools determine their own individual requirements. The courses listed below are a general guide. Refer to www.opted.org and the individual school's website to determine the specific requirements for that institution.
GPA is a vital part of your application to optometry school. Optometry schools will consider your science, non-science and cumulative GPAs as well as the trend of grades. All grades received for college credit will be calculated into your GPA even if you have retaken the class. If you have taken any classes at a different school or if you have retaken classes, your UVU GPA will not be an accurate calculation for optometry schools.
The Optometry Admissions Test is a standardized examination required as part of your application to optometry school. It is a very challenging exam that requires extensive preparation in the form of review and practice. The OAT is administered by ASCO with specific information on the exam available at www.ada.org/oat. It is recommended that students take the exam in the spring or summer of the year of application so scores can be available for early application to optometry school.
The OAT consists of four sections:
Your scores will receive a scaled (numerical) score and a percentile score for each of the individual sections. The scaled scores for the multiple-choice subtests range from 200 to 400. 300 is considered an average score, but 320 is considered a competitive score.
Listed below are the current accepted GPAs and OAT scores.
You should begin studying for the OAT at least 6 months prior to taking the test. Consider your study time to be equivalent to the time commitment of a 3-4 credit hour class. Some students choose to study on their own or with other students who are also preparing to take the exam. For students who choose to study on their own, there are various books designed to help guide you through the preparation process. Books have been published by Kaplan and Princeton Review to name a few. These books can be purchased online or at various bookstores.
Other students choose to take a prep course. Kaplan, a private company, offers an OAT prep course in Utah County. These courses may be as much as $1400 or more. Visit the company's website listed below and talk to fellow classmates before choosing a prep course.
It is extremely important to be involved in activities outside of the classroom in order to be competitive for admission into optometry school. GPA and OAT scores are important, but they do not make you unique. Extracurricular activities are a chance for you to set yourself apart and display your motivation for pursuing optometry and dedication to serving the community. Preparing to apply for optometry school is NOT about checking off boxes. Optometry schools are not going to care if you have done the experiences if you have not learned from them. Admissions committees want to know that you are willing and able to learn in any circumstance and/or environment.
The activities you should be involved in and the recommended hours are listed below:
Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity, intended to promote good or improve human quality of life, but there are many benefits to volunteering including skill development, meeting others, having fun, and a variety of other reasons. Volunteerism is the act of selflessly giving of yourself without the expectation of compensation. Compensation includes payment, stipends, or grades for a class.
To be a strong applicant for health professions programs you should demonstrate dedication to serving the community. The volunteer opportunities you choose can also be an excellent way to set yourself apart by showing health professions programs what is meaningful to you. The activities you choose to be involved and the reasons why can make you unique. Consider which opportunities will be the best reflection of who you are.
Volunteer service can be done with any group or organization and does not have to be healthcare related, but it can be helpful to look for opportunities that will take you out of your comfort zone and show a diversity of experience. Being involved in 2-3 service opportunities will benefit you more than having several brief experiences. The number of hours each year we typically see from students who get accepted to optometry programs are 50 hours.
In order to be a competitive applicant, you should plan to be involved in volunteer service throughout each academic year (August-July). Most students are already busy taking a full-time schedule and oftentimes working, but it is important to make volunteering a priority. Fit it into your schedule any way it works best. Perhaps you will volunteer for one hour a week. Maybe it will better in your schedule to volunteer four hours on a Saturday once a month. You decide what works best for you.
It is important that you find something you can be dedicated to and passionate about. You will find the experience that much more rewarding. And remember, you are not just checking off boxes to get into a health professions school. You are making a difference in your community and learning valuable lessons about yourself and the world around you.
It is up to you to find the volunteer experiences that are the best fit for you. One of the first places you can start looking is UVU's Volunteer and Service-Learning Center. This office maintains information on volunteer needs in the community in many different areas. There is a very good chance you will find something there that interests you. Other good resources include United Way and the website U Serve Utah maintained by the state.
Shadowing provides an opportunity for you to gain exposure to the healthcare field you are interested in and develop a clear understanding of what life in that profession entails. It is a chance to observe a professional as they go through a routine day seeing patients, completing paperwork, talking with insurance companies, etc. Because shadowing is meant to be just observational, it does not fulfill other requirements to gain hands-on experience interacting with patients. Go to the Healthcare Experiences link for information about the hands-on experience expected by health professions programs.
Professional schools want to know you have had enough experience with professionals in the field to know that it is something you really want to do and that you have a good understanding of what your life will be like. In addition, it is a great opportunity to ask questions and develop rapport with professionals. You will likely need at least one letter of recommendation from someone in the field you have chosen. You will get a better letter if you spend some time getting to know the people you shadow.
You are expected to demonstrate dependability and professionalism, while discovering skills that will benefit you as a healthcare professional. Some programs look for separate shadowing and patient contact experience, while others will consider them combined. Plan to shadow each professional for a minimum of 9-12 hours. The number of overall shadowing hours we typically see from students who get accepted to optometry programs are 40 hours of experience with at least 2 different settings.
It is up to you to find shadowing experiences that will work best for you. One place to start is by talking to your own healthcare providers. Are they willing to have you shadow? Do they know someone who may be willing to have you shadow them? A second place to start is by asking people you know if they know of anyone you can contact. Cold calling offices is one of the least effective ways to find shadowing opportunities. Start by asking people you know before taking this route.
Research is more than just reviewing what others have already done and summarizing it in a long research paper for class. Research revolves around a specific hypothesis and follows the scientific method. Most research is experiment, survey, or observationally based. Research does not have to be limited to healthcare or science fields and instead, may cover diverse subject matters.
Examples of research:
Many health professions programs will require you to assist in research, understand how to interpret research, or even run your own research projects. Moreover, you will likely have opportunities to participate in research as a way of receiving financial compensation or to improve your attractiveness to residency programs. Completing research in your undergraduate coursework shows your potential to be successful in graduate level research—you are proving that your learning curve will not be too steep because you have done this before.
Research gives you a competitive advantage for optometry.
Many students wait to start working on research until their sophomore or junior year because research often requires enough coursework to provide a strong academic background and an introduction to research principles. Regardless, research should typically be completed prior to the application in order to qualify for credit on the application. Research may be in any subject, as long as it is hypothesis-based.
There are a few different ways to participate in research.
Healthcare experience outside of shadowing usually includes volunteering or finding employment in a healthcare setting, usually with direct patient contact (i.e. offering clinical care and not just working in a healthcare environment). Many students will consider getting a basic certification or may find opportunities that offer on-the-job training.
Examples of healthcare experience:
Health professions programs will have greater confidence in your ability to interact positively with patients and withstand the rigor of a career in healthcare if they know you have already been part of the industry. As you work in healthcare, you will develop concrete examples of yourself showing compassion to patients, working with a team of healthcare providers, and solving problems. These experiences will likely assist you in your application, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and interviews. Additionally, many health professions programs actually REQUIRE healthcare experience or patient contact.
Research the requirements for your health professions program to ensure you are meeting their expectations for healthcare experience. Some programs will specify the hours required and may require the experience to be paid. The recommendation for pre-optometry healthcare experience is 40 hours of shadowing/experience.
How you choose to get healthcare experience will depend on the qualifications of the
jobs or volunteer opportunities you are seeking. Many positions in healthcare require
a certification (e.g. C.N.A., medical assistant, paramedic) while others are more
flexible and require on-the-job training. Sometimes approaching organizations directly
is more effective than simply responding to job ads online. Many students will also
offer to volunteer for free, which sometimes leads to paid employment.
For assistance looking for and applying to healthcare jobs, contact the UVU Career Development Center.
Many students underestimate the power of a personal statement. It should not be written quickly or without planning. Your personal statement can determine whether you will be accepted into the program you want or not. It is the greatest tool an admissions committee has to get to know you, so it should be an accurate depiction of yourself. Remember, it's about what you learned, not what you did! Listed below are some do's and don'ts of personal statements.
Consider the following information from the NAAHP's publication Write for Success: Preparing a Successful Professional School Application:
"Answering some of the following questions my reveal some insights that you can share in your personal statement. As you are writing, you may find yourself feeling the urge to write about a specific event. Follow that urge. You may come up with something that will eventually make it into your personal statement.
If you have a strong reaction to something you are writing about, it means the situation is important to you. Take a moment to think about how your reaction reflects who you are."
Click here for some examples of personal statements. If you would like help with your personal statement, contact the Pre-Health Office at 801-863-6484 to schedule an appointment with a Pre-Health Counselor.
Provide the following information to each letter writer: