Health Professions - Optometry

About Optometry School

Optometrists are the major providers of primary vision care in the United States. They examine the eyes and vision system, diagnose vision problems, prescribe and provide treatment. Treatments include prescription glasses, contact lenses, vision therapy, aids for low vision and, in an increasing number of states, therapeutic drugs for specific diseases. As members of the eye health care team, optometrists (O.D.'s) work with ophthalmologists (M.D.'s), who are physicians specializing in diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and defects, including surgery. They also work with opticians, who fit, supply and adjust eyewear according to prescriptions written by optometrists or ophthalmologists.

As the primary eye care provider, it is the optometrist who often is the first to detect symptoms of eye disease, including glaucoma and cataracts, as well as systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, and arteriosclerosis. The doctor of optometry also deals with vision problems that can be remedied through corrective refraction, either in the form of eyeglasses or contact lenses. Vision therapy for children helps them overcome learning problems due to vision deficiencies and provides them with the perception skills necessary for effective reading and studying. Another emerging area of optometric care is low vision rehabilitation, which provides sophisticated optical devices for individuals who formerly may have been classified as legally blind. The new field of sports vision goes beyond vision screening to evaluate and teach vision skills that sharpen individuals' athletic performance. Optometrists are also involved in determining safe vision standards in industry and in determining who may safely drive an automobile.

Helpful Information
If you are interested in pursuing a career in optometry, you should visit the office of a practicing optometrist to learn more about the profession and possibly to obtain a letter of recommendation, which will be needed when you apply to an optometry program. This visit will demonstrate both your seriousness in applying to a college of optometric medicine and will give you a firsthand opportunity to see if the profession fits your needs and aptitudes. Any visit or volunteer experience you are able to conduct at an optometrist’s office should be mentioned in your application to optometric medical colleges. A letter of recommendation and/or some statement from the doctor can document evidence of your experience.

Required Courses

The courses listed below are those that undergraduates are required to complete prior to entering optometry school.

As you plan your course of study, please note these important considerations:

  • Some schools may require the completion of additional coursework. It is important to check with each school to find out what additional courses, if any, are needed.
  • All of your required courses must be taken for a letter grade, not on a Pass/No Pass (P/NP) basis.
  • Please note that some optometry schools will not accept AP credit.

Required Courses

One year of general chemistry with lab
-Chem 1A/1AL, Chem 1B/1BL, Chem 1C/1CL (or Chem 2 equivalent)

One year of organic chemistry with lab
-Chem 109A, 109B, 109C and 6AL, 6BL

One year of introductory biology with lab
-MCDB 1A/1AL, 1B, MCDB 1BL or EEMB 2L, EEMB 2, 3, 3L

-Beginning in the 2019-20 Academic Year:  MCDB 1A, 1B, 1LL; EEMB 2, 3, 2LL

One year of physics with lab
-Physics 6A/6AL, 6B/6BL, 6C/6CL

One year of English
-Writing 2, 50 (or equivalent)
-Writing 109HP is a useful course for writing personal statements and should be taken closer to when you apply.
-Some schools may require a full year of English

-Math 3A-B, 4A, , etc.:  See "UCSB Mathematics and Statistics for Pre-health Students--Revised."
-PSTAT 5A or 5LS or PSY 10B

Additional biology courses required:
-MCDB 101A (genetics)
-MCDB 131/131L (microbiology)
-MCDB 108A, MCDB 110, or CHEM 142A  (biochemistry)
-MCDB 111 (physiology; some schools require a lab)
-Human anatomy with a lab. Not offered at UCSB, may take BMS 107 at SBCC (if enrolling at SBCC while also enrolled at UCSB during fall, winter, or spring quarters, meet with a Letters and Science advisor to discuss petitioning for concurrent enrollment prior to the start of the SBCC courses)
-Check each school’s admission requirements.

Possible additional coursework
Some schools require additional coursework. The following are some courses that may be required:
-Psychology 1 or Sociology 1
-Public Speaking:  Writing 105PS-Writing for Public Speaking (should be taken in addition to the 3 quarters of English)  or Communication 131 at SBCC (if enrolling at SBCC while also enrolled at UCSB during fall, winter, or spring quarters, meet with a Letters and Science advisor to discuss petitioning for concurrent enrollment)

Scheduling Pre-optometry Courses, Years 1 & 2

  Fall: Winter: Spring:
1st Year
  • Chem 1A + 1AL
  • Math 3A or 34A
  • Chem 1B + 1BL
  • Math 3B or 34B
  • Chem 1C + 1CL
  • Math 4A or Stats
2nd Year


*New Biology Labs:  Beginning in Fall 2019, the Biology Program will restructure its introductory labs, changing from three, 1 unit labs--MCDB 1AL, MCDB 1BL/EEMB 2L, and EEMB 3L--to two, 1.5 unit labs--MCDB 1LL and EEMB 2LL.  Most students will do MCDB 1LL in winter quarter and EEMB 2LL in spring quarter.  Although taken over two quarters rather than three, these will count as a full year of introductory biology labs.

Please consider the schedule above as a sample; it is only one of several paths for completing the most essential pre-optometry requirements. Students, in consultation with pre-health, general, and major advisors, should develop individual schedules that will allow them to explore their interests, achieve their goals, and complete other required and recommended courses.  Note that optometry schools require a year of physics with lab (Physics 6A & 6AL, 6B & 6BL, 6C & 6CL), and most students complete physics by the end of the 3rd year.  Students should meet with general, pre-health, and major advisors during their second year to consider their options for scheduling upper division biology courses required or recommended for pre-optometry students as well as to evaluate their progress toward completing major and general education requirements.

Required Tests

All schools and colleges of optometry require the Optometry Admission Test (OAT). If you plan to apply to an optometry program, you are advised to take the test immediately after you complete the required basic courses in chemistry, biology, and physics. The OAT tests in the following areas:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Quantitative reasoning
  • Biology
  • Chemistry (both organic and general)
  • Physics


Extracurricular Activities

If you intend to apply to optometry school, you will want to select extracurricular activities that will enhance your application. General volunteering, shadowing an optometrist, and performing undergraduate research are all excellent ways to accomplish this. Optometry schools are looking for three areas of relevant experience in an ideal applicant:

  • Clinical experience
  • Community service
  • Research

When selecting your extracurricular activities, keep in mind that optometry programs require a letter of recommendation from an optometrist. Give priority to any activity that can help you build a relationship with an optometrist—especially shadowing.

For more information about internships and volunteer opportunities, please visit the Clinical Experience page.


Optometry schools participate in OPTOMCAS, the Optometry College Application Service. This service allows you to apply to multiple optometry schools of your choosing using one application. Your OPTOMCAS primary application will include a personal statement, a description of your extracurricular activities, your college transcripts, and your letters of recommendation.

Once your application has been sent and received, optometry schools will send out secondary applications, which may ask for additional essays.

Following completion of the secondary applications, you may be invited to interview. Be sure to prepare for your interview: try to imagine questions schools might ask, be familiar with what you wrote on your application, and practice speaking to friends.

Apply early as admissions are "rolling." In other words, the longer you wait to apply, the less chance you have of being admitted.