The 2023 Optometry Profession: How to Get Started

In the United States, optometrists typically complete eight or more years of college. First, you'll need to earn a Bachelor's degree in three or four years; then, you'll spend another four years in school earning your Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree. An organization called the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) accredits all optometry programs in the United States. Among the currently accredited institutions, one can be found in Puerto Rico. The ASCO website features a comprehensive directory of accredited educational institutions.  

Prerequisites and Undergraduate Education

In the United States, obtaining a Bachelor's degree is a prerequisite for enrolling in a Doctor of Optometry program that lasts four years. These are very similar to the standards set by medical schools. While specific course requirements for a Bachelor's degree will vary by institution, the ASCO suggests you take the following.

  • 12-month Biology Course
  • Two semesters of Organic Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry I, one year
  • Studying Physics for One Year
  • Microbiology for one year
  • Course Duration: One Academic Year
  • English Language Courses for 1 Year

The American Society for Clinical Oncology (ASCO) recommends that anyone planning to major in a health-related field take only pre-professional courses. An academic advisor at your undergraduate institution or the admissions office at the optometry school of your choice can help you figure out the best course of study.  

Examining the OAT

I don't need to tell you how crucial an MCAT score is for prospective medical students. However, there is a parallel system for optometry universities. To apply to any optometry school in the United States, prospective students must first take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). The regular registration fee is $490 USD. There are four parts to the OAT multiple-choice test: Survey of Natural Sciences (which includes Biology, General Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry), Reading Comprehension, Physics, and Quantitative Reasoning. There is no other language option for the exam.  

You can take the OAT at any time after your first year of college, but most people wait until they've finished their second or third year of undergraduate study. After all, the ASCO-recommended science courses for undergraduates are tailor-made for those taking the OAT. Passing the exam requires a score of at least 300 on each section. Your chances of being accepted to the optometry school of your choice increase with the higher your score. Up to three attempts at the OAT are permitted. After the third try, you'll need to get special permission to continue.

If you have already taken and passed the GRE, MCAT, DAT, or PCAT, but you still want to make sure your prospective school will accept your scores, you should definitely call them up and ask!  

Optical College Application Process

Let's take a look at who else is out there so you know who you're up against. The average cumulative grade point average of optometry school applicants was 3.0, according to recent data from the ASCO. 36 According to other recent data from ASCO, the average GPA of recently admitted applicants may be as high as 3. Sixty-four (University of California School of Optometry) or even three 7 (The Ohio State University's College of Optometry)

OptomCAS stands for "Optometry's Centralized Application Service," and it is the sole application method accepted by U.S. optometry schools. You can submit a single application to multiple American schools of optometry through the online unified application. Every year, around the end of June or the beginning of July, the system begins accepting applications. The application fee for the first school you choose to apply to is $180 USD, and the fee for each additional school is USD.

In general, there are four main parts to the OptomCAS application:

To ensure that you are a good fit for a given institution's program, you should first research their individual prerequisites and admissions criteria. However, the ASCO provides the following summary of the key characteristics of a competitive applicant:

  • Excellent academic credentials
  • Inference by elimination
  • Ability to communicate with others
  • Empathy
  • Leadership
  • Work ethic
  • Volunteer work
  • Extracurriculars

College of Optometry

If you've been accepted to optometry school, you have four years to finish the curriculum. Tuition for optometry school typically falls in the range of $25,000 to $50,000 per year in the United States. It's worth noting that out-of-state students typically pay more than in-state students within that range.  

Two years are typically devoted to classroom instruction, followed by another two years that are split between classroom and clinical learning. The standard length of a postgraduate residency is one year. The Accreditation Council for Optometric Education (ACOE) has recognized 258 optometric residency programs across the United States. Optometrists may or may not be required to complete a residency program after earning their doctoral degrees; however, doing so greatly increases one's marketability.   

The mandatory tests for entering the field of optometry are overseen by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO). There are three types of potential candidates.

  1. Part one of the three-part optometry exam is available to current students during their third year of study. Students can take the second section as early as December of their academic graduation year, and the third section on or after August 1 of that same year.
  2. Anyone who has graduated from an approved optometry program can take the entire exam.
  3. To take the exam, "sponsored candidates" must have the support of either a state optometry licensing board or an approved educational institution. Before sitting for the exam, the candidate must submit the sponsorship letter to the NBEO.    


Optometrist licensing requirements vary from one state to the next. It is still necessary in some states for aspiring optometrists to pass both a written and a practical exam before being granted a license. Exams given by the NBEO during or after medical school have been recognized by an increasing number of states. If you want to know what kind of licensing is necessary in your state, you should contact the appropriate authorities there. All states require their optometrists to have a Doctor of Optometry degree from an approved program and to have passed either the National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) exams or state license exams given by individual states.  

Pay and Benefits in the United States

Obtaining your state optometrist license is only the beginning of your education. Optometrists, by definition, must be eager to expand and refine their skill sets over time. Optometrists in every state are obligated to maintain their professional credentials by attending regular CEU seminars.  

The American Optometric Association reports that optometrists in the United States make a median annual salary of $143,520.

Becoming Eligible for a Graduate Student Visa in the United States

There are three ways for an international optometry graduate to earn a license to practice in the United States. There are three possible routes:

  1. Graduate from a special program designed for students from outside the U.S. For students who have already completed an optometry program in another country, both the New England College of Optometry and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University offer individualized study plans.  
  2. Gain "Advanced Standing" and skip the waiting list. International optometry medical school graduates can gain "Advanced Standing" admission to a number of U.S. universities. There are a few institutions that provide this opportunity, including the Illinois College of Optometry, the New England School of Optometry, the Nova Southeastern University College of Optometry, the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, and the New York State College of Optometry.
  3. Get "sponsored" to take the three-part NBEO exam Third, you can get "sponsored" to take an NBEO exam by an optometry licensing board in your state or an approved educational institution. There are three parts to the exam, and you will not be able to move on to the final section until you have completed and passed the first two. You can get in touch with the state's licensing board or any regionally or nationally recognized institution to learn more about sponsorship opportunities.   

Canadian Requirements

Similarly to the United States, optometry school in Canada typically takes between seven and eight years. First, you'll need to finish a Bachelor of Science degree in three or four years; then, you'll need another four or five years to earn your Doctor of Optometry degree. The average cost of obtaining a Doctor of Optometry degree in Canada is between ,000 and ,000.  

The Accreditation Council for Optometric Education has only recognized two optometry programs in Canada as of this writing. The University of Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science is the only place to get an optometry education taught entirely in English. The École d'Optométrie at the Université de Montréal is your best bet for learning optics in French. This article will focus on the application requirements for the School of Optometry at the University of Waterloo in order to provide a comprehensive overview of the steps necessary to become an optometrist in Canada.  

Bachelor's Degree and Necessary Qualifications

The University of Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science expects applicants to hold a BSc from an accredited institution. If you wish to major in science at the undergraduate level, you are free to do so in any field. The University of Waterloo assures applicants that it does not favor any particular Canadian university over any other for completion of undergraduate studies.

All applicants must have completed their Bachelor's degree while enrolled in courses full-time. An applicant must have a cumulative 75% average or higher in their Bachelor's degree program. Before enrolling in an optometry program, prospective students are also expected to have finished the following undergraduate prerequisites:

Intent on enrolling at Waterloo's School of Optometry

Enrollment Data

Number of Open Seats: 90

As a whole, 30% of people accept you.

We require a 75% average or better to pass.

Admissions Candidates' Mean GPA: 79% - 92%

Standardized Mean OAT = 380

The overall acceptance rate at the University of Waterloo's School of Optometry and Vision Science is 30%:

You must use the Ontario Universities' Application Centre (OUAC) to apply to the optometry program at the University of Waterloo; this is the same centralized online application service you used to apply to your undergraduate degree program. There are several parts to your Optometry and Vision Science application:

Proof of Canadian citizenship or permanent residency To participate in this program, you must be a Canadian citizen or have been a legal resident of Canada for the preceding 12 months. Foreign students applying for a student visa are occasionally accepted, but only in exceptional circumstances. International students who are curious about the program are encouraged to get in touch with the University of Waterloo directly.

Evidence of Fluency in English If you are not an English native speaker and have not completed your last four years of schooling in an English-speaking educational system, you will be required to take and submit the results of an English proficiency test to the university as evidence of your English skills.  

The OAT Experience In addition to the application form, the School of Optometry and Vision Science requires that you take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). Although based in the United States, the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) manages the OAT for both the United States and Canada. This is a multiple-choice exam given exclusively in English.

As was previously mentioned, the median admissions score at the University of Waterloo is a 380. You should dedicate yourself to studying with reliable materials to maximize your chances of success on the exam. If you're having trouble getting ready, consulting a professor or professional advisor may help.   

Participating in the CASPer Assessment/CASPer Profile The CASPer assessment and CASPer Snapshot are additional requirements for admission to the Doctor of Optometry program. Your non-cognitive abilities and personality traits can be evaluated with the help of the CASPer test. The new CASPer Snapshot interview is designed to provide a deeper look into your interpersonal and communicative abilities. Applying to the University of Waterloo requires you to schedule a CASPer exam on one of the dates listed on the school's website.

How do you feel about your CASPer preparation? If you want to know how to succeed on the exam, watch our video.

Two separate, private evaluation forms (CAFs). Two confidential assessment forms (CAFs) are required by the University of Waterloo. These are like letters of recommendation but more formal. You need to have an optometrist who you've shadowed for at least 8 hours write one of your CAFs. The second CAF should be a character reference written by someone who knows you well such as a professor, employer, minister, coach, or supervisor.

Non-academic requirements for the application The Doctor of Optometry application process requires applicants to detail their academic and extracurricular achievements, as well as their work and volunteer history, as well as the number of hours they spent shadowing an optometrist.

Verified by the police In order to enroll in the program, you must first submit a Vulnerable Sector Criminal Record Check (CRC) to the university.


To practice optometry in Canada, one must earn a Doctor of Optometry degree. Then, choose one of the following tests as your gateway to the working world:

  1. The CACO, or Canadian Optometry Competency Assessment.
  2. The OEBC exam is administered by the Canadian Board of Optometry.
  3. The NBEO Exam is given by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry.

You also need to become a member of the College of Optometrists in the province where you plan to work.

Payment Procedures and Benefits

After completing your education, you can begin your career as an optometrist by joining an existing practice, purchasing an existing one, or opening your own. In Canada, most optometrists are self-employed or have a partnership in a private practice.

Recent data from the federal Job Bank of Canada indicates that an optometrist in Canada can make anywhere from ,115 CDN per year to a maximum of $167,858 CDN per year, with a median annual salary of ,115 CDN.    

Acceptance to Canada's Graduate Program for International Students

The Federation of Optometric Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FORAC) is the organization to which international optometry graduates should apply if they wish to work in Canada. The following procedure is mandatory for you to complete:

  1. Examine the University of Waterloo's published Optometry course descriptions. Do you have an equivalent education?
  2. Acquire a credential evaluation report from World Education Services (WES-ICAP).
  3. If English was not the language of instruction for your undergraduate or graduate degree, you will need to achieve a score of 7 or higher on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Having a mean score of 7.5 and no sub-7s, 0 or a passing score on the CanTest With no individual score below a 4 and a required minimum overall average of 5, 0
  4. Submit an application to FORAC to have your credentials evaluated. The average cost of this evaluation is $2,542 CAD (taxes included). Please note that all application materials must be submitted in English or have been translated into English by a certified translator.
  5. Participate in the Touchstone Institute's Internationally Graduated Optometrist Evaluating Examination (IGOEE).
  6. After you've met the aforementioned standards, you can take the Optometry Examining Board of Canada's Canadian Assessment in Competence in Optometry (OEBC) exam.
  7. If that goes well, you can become a licensed optometrist by contacting the appropriate body in the province of your choice.   


Best wishes for your future success,

The BeMo Crew, Your Friends

Academic Advising from BeMo

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