How To Pick The Right Optometry School

Any pre-optometry student who is accepted to more than one optometry school must make a very important decision: where to attend optometry school.

This is a very crucial decision to make because you will be spending the next 4 long years of your life at this institution. It will become your new home! You cannot simply flip a coin or have someone else decide for you – to make the right decision you must evaluate each school and take a moment to imagine what it would be like spending the next 4 years of your life there. It also helps to follow your gut. is here to give you the most important factors to consider when choosing an optometry school. The points below were formulated after talking to countless optometry students and optometry doctors. They have the voice of the profession behind them!

Where to spend the next 4 years of your life getting your doctorate in optometry is not an easy decision to make. First you must pick from the list a few optometry schools that you are interested in attending. Once the application and interview process is finished, most students have it narrow it down to about 2 schools. The funny thing is that they are usually located on opposite sides of the USA, in two beautiful but very different cities.

Many optometry students face this problem, and 99% of them are happy where they end up. The simple answer is this: most of the optometry schools in this country are fantastic institutions where you are guaranteed a superb education. Furthermore, most of these schools are located in beautiful cities that have plenty to keep you busy. Regardless of where you end up, you’re not likely to have any regrets. So relax!

So how do you make the right decision? After speaking to admissions personnel, students and doctors I have gathered a list of the most important factors that make an optometry school “the right choice.” This list is simple and to the point. I call it the “5 factors that tip the scale.”

I would like to start off by saying that Pre-Optometry students should really focus on choosing the optometry school that will give them the best education. Yes we all end up with an O.D degree in the end, but the quality of education and varies from school to school. I would say this is the most important factor when choosing a school!

  1. The Clinical Experience. Each optometry school teaches you the same fundamental principles in classes such as anatomy, optics, ophthalmic dispensing, disease and optometric procedures (along with the other countless courses), but the clinic is where you learn the most. Clinical experience is the strongest force that molds you into a great optometrist. Make sure you pick a large clinic that sees many different types of patients. Attending an optometry school with a well-rounded clinic that specializes in many fields of optometry makes you a very well-rounded optometrist in the long run. ODs who have a strong clinical background can quickly narrow down the patient’s problem after hearing only the patient history and chief complaint! On the other hand, having a mediocre clinic leaves you with less experience and less confidence when working face-to-face with real patients. It’s also a good idea to think about the clinic’s location to your school, as some clinics are on-site and some are a few miles away. You will be very busy in optometry school, so cutting down on travel between school and clinic can definitely makes life less stressful!
  2. The Residency Education. The quality of the residency program offered at an optometry school is often a direct indicator of the quality of the school’s clinic, professors, and education. Many students choose to do a residency after they are finished with 4 years of optometry school in order to gain more knowledge about a particular subject. I’m not saying that you need to pursue a residency after you get your 4 year O.D degree, but why not look at each school’s residency program in order to get an idea of what this school has to offer? For argument’s sake lets say the residency program at Salus (formerly PCO) is well known as being the best when it comes to cornea and contact lens specialties. This being the case, you can infer that Salus also has the equipment, professors, and capabilities to educate optometry students very thoroughly. On the other hand an optometry school with an overall weak residency program may not be as well-equipped. Another example: SUNY Optometry had the FIRST EVER residency program (founded in 1975) and they have the only acquired brain injury program in the entire country. Considering the same doctors that are with you during your residency also teach 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year students, you can bet that you will be learning a heap of amazing knowledge that may be difficult to attain elsewhere.
  3. The Amount Of Your Student Loan. Optometry school loans are a serious issue to consider. Spending a few extra thousand dollars per year, once capitalized with interest, can make or break your future enjoyment and success as an optometrist. The big differences begin to appear when a student considers paying in-state tuition versus paying out-of-state or private school tuition. Things like living expenses, food, bills, rent, health insurance, and transportation also play a significant role in deciding how much money you will need to borrow. The cost of living varies from state to state so make sure you consider this. (Try out this link, it will give you the cost of living in all different areas where optometry schools are located!) When thinking about costs, think about the before and after. Did you save a ton of money before optometry school? Did you want to open your own private practice after Optometry school? Maybe you are the type of student who wants the beautiful private school that costs thousands more than other schools but you have no intention of opening your own private practice after school. Those students who are set on opening their own practice might be forced to pay lower tuition because they will be taking out more loans right when school ends, so please, consider you future plans! Do not automatically think that just because you are becoming a doctor that paying off your loans will be quick and easy. The reality is that students who are under the false impression that they can spend money on whatever they want are in for a rude awakening when their loan statements come. For most optometrists paying off student loans is a process that takes many many years. So choose a school that will cost you the least amount of money without sacrificing other areas that are important to you. Go ahead and ask the optometrists you shadow how long it took them to pay off their student loans. The majority of optometrists I have shadowed stretched their loans out over 10+ years.
  4. The State You Want To Practice In. Going to school in a state that you are absolutely sure you want to practice in is a great idea. While in optometry school you will make lifelong connections that will link you to the land! I personally have stayed in New York because I want to practice on Long Island when I am done with school. I have a surplus of connections to optometrists in the area and some of them are already asking me, “Matt when is Optometry school going to end? We are ready for you!” It is common sense that you will make connections with the people you’re surrounded by, and this leads directly to job opportunities and other great things. It would really stink to make 2 dozen great connections in the state of California but when optometry school ends you must go back home to Boston to practice optometry. This could result in wasted energy if you ask me, although it all depends on the types of connections you are making. Also think about where your family is and if you want to stay close to them throughout your schooling time. I recommend you look up the laws, rules, and regulations of the states you are considering to practice in. For example, in New York State optometrists cannot prescribe oral medications (ridiculous I know). If you are the type of person who is 100% set on being able to orally treat more patients instead of referring them out to other doctors then New York might not be the right state for you to practice in. (This link may help you to find out these laws for each state) Think about these little things but don’t let them be your end all be all. The big questions are these: Are you indifferent as to which state you want to practice in – would you rather just go with the flow…or is there a state that you really want to practice in and for good reasons?
  5. Breaking Free of Comfort Zones. Optometry school is more then just your path to becoming an eye doctor. It is 4 year journey during which you acquire a great deal of discipline, responsibility and maturity. It also consists of 4 years of knowledge and fun! I have many friends who left California and came to New York because they wanted to live a well rounded life, one of new experiences and connections. If you stay in the same state your entire life you may be shutting the door on the best years of your life. I think it is really important for students to go live in a new state with new customs, cultures and people. It will undoubtedly make you a much more interesting individual, and when you tell the story of your life, people will have that much more of a reason to be interested! Have you ever left your home town? Do you want to experience a crazy new wild adventure and become a much more well rounded person? If so then optometry college outside of your region of the USA is an amazing idea. This whole “becoming an optometrist” thing is not all about the knowledge you acquire, the school you go to, or how many patients you see in the clinic. It is called BECOMING an optometrist because it is a journey that involves much more than school, books, and eyes. It is about taking responsibility for yourself as a man or a woman and becoming a disciplined and interesting individual who has done more then just hung around your local town your entire life. Optometry school is your free ticket to experiencing a new side of life and if you break out of your comfort zone and try something new then I assure you that you are in for an amazing journey!

Here are some other smaller points to consider when choosing an optometry school. I wouldn’t let any one of these things become the main reason for choosing one optometry school over another, but EVERYONE’S SITUATION IS UNIQUE! So it’s quite possible that there may be something on this list that is the deciding factor for you.

  • Weather – You are going to be seeing the inside of the library walls when in optometry school so don’t worry about weather too much. Yes, California has nice weather but the more important question is whether or not the library has air conditioning. If you absolutely, 100% prefer a certain weather type over another then this can be an important factor.
  • The Type of Environment and it’s Stress Level – Different schools are located in different environments. NECO in Boston is very laid back when compared to the hustle and bustle of NYC. Things like whether you want to use public transportation or drive your own car fall into this category. Consider your living environment when choosing an optometry school because some are more stressful then others. Think transportation, cuisine, city centers, parks, activities and anything else you prefer in your ideal environment. If you get stressed out easily you might want an environment that is more calming, but if you are as desensitized as a rock then this may not be an issue for you.
  • Fun Things To Do In Your Spare Time – Pick an optometry school that is located in an area with fun things to do and new things to try. No one likes being stuck in an environment surrounded by farmland where the nearest bar is a plane ride away! You will have some free time in optometry school so it is important to look at the types of food and restaurants in your area, museums, beaches, bars, clubs, attractions, sports, events and other great things. For example this weekend I went ice skating in Bryant Park in NYC with my girl, then shopping, grabbed a wonderful dinner and took the subway right back to my apartment. It was a convenient and amazing night and I was happy to have chose SUNY because of all the fun stuff in the area.

To make the decision easier you can do the following: Talk to at least 2 students from each optometry school that you are interested in. If you can, contact them via Facebook because most schools have facebook groups! Also you could call the school and request to be put in touch with a student. If you talk to the students themselves this may give you the right angle you need to make a choice. Students think alike and they have answers for you.

I was personally stuck in between NOVA and SUNY. I was tired of living in the busy city all my life and I really wanted the nice beaches of Florida; I wanted to experience something new! In the end I chose SUNY after talking to a 4th year optometry student, Paul Heege, who gave me his opinions. I realized that the clinic, tuition, proximity to my connections and type of education that SUNY offered was more of what I personally needed. I am very happy I chose SUNY now that I am reflecting back on it but like my original point said in the beginning of this article: there is a good chance you will be happy at any accredited optometry school that you choose. They are all distinguished centers for education and are great at what they do!

If you guys have any specific questions please comment and get the conversation started! I know you guys have some great things to add to this list so tell me what you think and maybe we can make an addition!

Matt Geller

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