The Application Process
Optometry schools admit students once a year in the Fall.
Applications are submitted at least 12-15 months in advance of the desired enrollment date. However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, and successfully take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT).
While applying early in the cycle has advantages, the best time for you to apply is when your application is the best it can be.
Requirements vary from program to program. Research schools early for specific information about requirements.
Before submitting applications, have people with an unbiased eye go over each entire application to catch any errors. Your Preprofessional advisor is happy to do this for you.
The Optometry school Application includes up to 5 main components:
- Optometry Admissions Test (OAT).
- The Primary Application
- Letters of Recommendation
- Supplemental Applications—Most Schools
Choose schools that are of serious interest to you, but give your list enough variety so as to maximize your chances for admission. It is wise to include one or two “reach” schools where your GPA and OAT might be on the low end, at least one to two solid "back-up" schools at which your chances are very good, and then several where you are likely competitive, but in the middle of the pack. On average, students apply to 5- 10 programs.
Follow social media of programs of your interest, visit their website, attend webinars, and visit their campus if possible. Assess your credentials realistically and give your school selection careful thought.
Ask these questions as you select schools you want to apply;
- Size of School and size of individual classes.
- Location and environment--do you prefer a large metropolitan area or a smaller city atmosphere? What about surrounding area, quality of life, etc.?
- Cadaver labs and other facilities--quality of cadaver/simulation labs, tutoring and other academic support services, adequate staff, study/meeting space, open hours, etc.
- General “personality” of School--what are your impressions from their faculty representatives you meet? Are you looking for an intense, more competitive environment or more of a community feeling?
- Special interest areas: combined degree programs; specialized courses, student organizations in your area of interest; early decision program availability, etc.
- Student/faculty ratio.
- Student body--How do you fit in with GPA and Standardized Test Score averages of students previously admitted? How balanced and diverse is the student body? How is the student morale? Do students have input in operation of School?
- Faculty diversity—Are they largely all from the same background or relatively diverse with respect to race, creed, gender? Are they well-balanced in educational experiences or only from the same School or schools? What is the extent of their research and professional activities?
- Faculty-student relationships--Are faculty accessible and committed to teaching? Is there an “open door” policy?
- Opportunities for clinical programs, research, international clinical rotations, student-run free clinics etc.
- What student support programs are available? If applicable, what minority or disabled student services are available?
- What are the board certification exam passage rates? Are graduates finding employment in the geographic areas you are interested in? What are the average or median salaries of graduates?
- Tuition costs. You cannot ignore the cost, but neither can you use it as your only criterion. Consider the cost and potential indebtedness along with the other factors, and make sure you are choosing the right schools for the right reasons.
The OAT is administered throughout the year at Prometric testing sites. It may be repeated, but the best strategy is to prepare thoroughly and take it once. Taking the exam by spring the year before you wish to enter Optometry school will enable you to apply earlier. More information on the OAT can be found here http://www.ada.org/en/oat.
October is the last GRE accepted by most schools for their following Fall entering class.
OAT consists of 4 multiple choice sections. Scores are reported as scaled scores between 200-400, in increments of 10:
- Survey of Natural Sciences
- Reading Comprehension
- Quantitative Reasoning
The PreProfessional Advising Office at the University of Utah is proud to offer discounted Kaplan Test Prep courses for OAT to University of Utah students. For more information, please visit https://advising.utah.edu/preprofessional/test-prep.php
Primary Applications are processed through a central application service called the. Optometry Centralized Application Service (OptomCAS) http://www.optomcas.org/. Primary applications are not school specific. The same information is sent to all schools to which you are applying.
OptomCAS is available online in mid July – mid May. However, because many schools use a rolling admission process (they begin reviewing applications and admitting before deadlines), it will enhance your chances if you submit your application early regardless of when you take the OAT.
Make sure you will have plenty of time to fill out the application. Completing the application will take at least one week, and most students take several weeks. READ ALL INSTRUCTION MANUALS AND DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY!
The OptomCAS Application will include:
- Your OAT score, if applicable
- A list of all college classes taken, as well as official transcripts from each college where you have earned credit.
- A list and descriptions of your activities since graduating from high school
- A Personal Statement outlining your motivation for pursuing a career as an Optometrist
- Letters of Recommendations
NOTE: To help us advise other students, we would appreciate it if you would release your statistical information from your applications to the Health Professions Advisor when prompted. This information will always be kept confidential.
The personal essay is about you and your motivation for pursuing a career as an optometrist. Remember, why you want to be an optometrist is different from how you were inspired to become one. Describe your current passion for the field with specific examples from recent experiences. Try to choose a theme rather than random thoughts. The primary application activities section provides a list of accomplishments. Your personal essay is an opportunity to provide additional, more in-depth information.
REMEMBER, your audience is smarter, has more medical knowledge, and knows what is like to be an optometrist. Don’t try to impress them with your knowledge of the field.
Get feedback! Have 3 or 4 people you can trust to be honest with you (professor, optometrist, optometry student, parent, advisor, Writing Center, tutor, etc.) read your essay and offer feedback. Do not ask too many people to read it. Having too many opinions can become confusing.
Dos and Don’ts
DO answer the questions “Why do you want to be an optometrist?”
DO concentrate more on actual experiences rather than speculation about future accomplishments
DO focus more on what you can give rather than on what you can get by becoming an optometrist
DO limit the number of “I” statements you use
DO share your background if it is appropriate
DO describe meaningful experiences
DO use all five senses as you tell your story
DO pay careful attention to grammar, spelling, and punctuation
DO NOT devote too much space to writing about other people (family, patients, optometrist you shadowed)
DO NOT summarize or simply repeat what is on the activity list on your primary application
DO NOT use overly flowery language or words you do not know how to use
DO NOT overuse medical terminology or abbreviations
DO NOT assume everyone knows what you know
DO NOT try to make jokes
DO NOT use foreign language
DO NOT begin your essay with a quote
Submitting Letters of Recommendation
You will have your letters submitted to OptomCAS. From there they will be distributed to the Optometry schools to which you apply. These schools will request Letters of Recommendation (LORs) after they receive your OptomCAS Primary Application, so do not delay submitting your primary application while waiting for letters to arrive.
Requirements for letters vary between schools, so research schools early and know what you need. Most schools require 3 letters.
Requesting Letters of Recommendation
- Ask if potential writers if they feel capable of writing a supportive letter. If anyone is hesitant, you should probably try someone else.
- Get business cards with your recommenders’ contact information.
- Ask if recommenders would welcome any written background material. You could include a brief biographical sketch or resume, your interests and activities, career goals, and motivation toward your intended profession. You could also include a snapshot, a copy of a paper or assignment from their class, or transcript.
- For recommenders who are unsure of how to write a good letter, the PPA Advising office provides a Guide for Letter Writers.
- Always give recommenders ample time. Two to three weeks at a minimum. Follow up to make sure that your letters have been sent.
- Send thank you notes.
For more detailed check out our “How To” Guide
Fees are paid directly to the individual schools when you send in the additional materials. Some schools that require supplemental material will first review your OptomCAS application, then will notify candidates who have been selected to complete the application, other schools will send them to everyone who applies.
The final stage of the application process is the interview. If you receive an invitation for an interview, that is an indication that a program has decided that you are a qualified applicant and they want to get to know you better. Most optometry schools hold “interview days” where they bring in a group of applicants for a day that may consist of some or all of the following: Interviews, written essays, school tours, and opportunities to meet students and faculty. Remember, the entire day is the interview, not just those times when you are in a formal meeting. Be on your best professional behavior all day!
Interviews can take many forms, so it is important to research your schools and be prepared for each kind. The Preprofessional Advising office can help you with preparation tips and practicing your interviewing skills.
The most common types of interviews are:
- One on one interview—Usually one or two 30-45 minutes interviews
- Multiple Mini Interview (MMI)—7-10 rooms with a different prompt or scenario posted on the door. You are typically given 2 minutes to think about the prompt before entering a room, and 5-8 minutes to respond to the prompt and any follow up questions, or play out the scenario with a trained actor.
- Group interview—May be either one applicant interviewed by several interviewers, or in a group of applicants interviewed by one or more interviewer.
- However, the timing depends on when you will complete your degree and the necessary coursework, and successfully take the Optometry Admissions Test (OAT).
- It is helpful to create a timeline for yourself when applying to medical school but your timeline should be flexible. Course scheduling, extra-curricular activities, deadline changes, etc. all contribute to the need of having flexibility in your timeline.
- For specific application deadline dates, you should always check the OptomCAS website.
- Talk to potential writers of your Letters of Recommendation. Give them plenty of time to write the letters. The PPA Website has helpful information on asking for letters and guidelines that you can give to your writers.
- Continue with your volunteer, work, and other activities. Do not stop these activities until you have an official offer of admission. It may take two or more application cycles to gain admission, so you need to be continually improving your application until you do.
June - July
- Primary Applications through VMCAS opens in late May-early June. Begin to fill out primary applications as soon as possible. Read instruction manuals carefully
- Order official transcripts from ALL colleges and universities that you have attended to be sent to OptomCAS
- Request LORs to be sent to OptomCAS
July - May
- Complete supplemental applications AS THEY COME IN
- Complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA , in October
- Prepare for and attend interviews. Interviews generally occur from September - May
- The PPA Advising office offers mock interviews so you can practice. If you have an interview scheduled, call the office 801-581-5744 and ask to schedule a mock interview
- Respond to admissions offers. Offers usually begin in November
- When you make a final decision, withdraw other admissions offers promptly
- In March, OptomCAS will share a report with schools that has the names of candidates who continue to hold one or more places at other schools or programs. Each school has different internal policies regarding the issue of holding multiple deposits, so pay attention to communications from schools and follow instructions
- WICHE Program http://www.wiche.edu/psep/opto
- The Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE) is a consortium of undergraduate and graduate programs in the western states. This enables Utah residents to enroll at reduced tuition in out-of-state professional programs. In order to qualify for WICHE, students who have been a resident of Utah for at least 5 years and must file a WICHE application by October 15, one year prior to the fall entrance date to podiatry school.
- For more information about the program, and to find participating western optometry schools, visit the website.