When it comes to attending optometry school, each student has their own unique journey that brings them to their university. Some students may decide upon a career in optometry very early on, perhaps in high school or in their first semesters of undergraduate school. If you are confident that your passion is in eye care, an accelerated program might right for you. Check out the facts below for your guide to 3+4 programs as well as my own personal experience.
What is a 3+4 Accelerated Program in Optometry?
This specific type of accelerated program in optometry allows a student to complete their undergraduate education needed for entrance into optometry school in three years instead of the traditional four. Students enrolled in these programs will essentially “skip” their senior year and immediately begin their optometric studies instead of completing a fourth year of undergrad. Students will spend four years enrolled in optometry school, thus the “3+4” nature of the program. Many undergraduate universities and optometry schools have affiliate 3+4 programs that allow students to easily transition to optometry school after completing their undergraduate degree.
How do I complete a 3+4 Program?
Programs differ depending on the undergraduate university and optometry school involved. For my 3+4 program through Gannon University and Salus University (The Pennsylvania College of Optometry), I had to commit to the program prior to starting my undergraduate studies. There were certain criteria that I had to meet including a certain high school GPA and SAT/ACT scores. I also had to maintain a high enough GPA in undergrad in order to complete the program. I was also required to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) and fill out an application to my optometry school. For my particular accelerated program, I was not guaranteed admission into my optometry school, but I was guaranteed an interview. Remember, each optometry school and undergraduate university has a specific way that their accelerated program works. Check with both schools to make sure you have all the required prerequisites if you are considering one of these fast track programs.
Do I still receive an undergraduate degree if I complete a 3+4 program?
For most cases involving an accelerated program in optometry, the student does receive an undergraduate degree. In my case, I was awarded a degree in Health Sciences from my undergraduate university after all my credits from optometry school were transferred and honored by my undergraduate school. I was also able to return to my undergraduate university and walk for graduation with my classmates even though I left the university a year early to start optometry school. Make sure to check your undergraduate university’s policies to ensure that you do receive an undergraduate degree if you feel more confident with that added level of security. Worst case scenario if things don’t work out for you in optometry school, at least you will still have your undergraduate degree!
How difficult is a 3+4 program compared to traditional acceptance to optometry school?
Considering that you’re completing all the required coursework for optometry school in three years instead of four, an accelerated program is certainly more challenging. In my personal experience, I found that sophomore year of college was hardest for me, as I was taking organic chemistry, physics, and level 300 biology courses all in the same semesters. The condensed nature of the program makes your undergraduate semesters very credit heavy and doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibly or electives. Although I probably had to study a little harder than some of my classmates, I was still involved in numerous university organizations and made the best of my college experience.
Are there other types of accelerated programs in Optometry?
Yes, there are other ways to complete your optometric education early besides a 3+4 program. Some students may choose to apply for optometry school early and skip part of their undergraduate education without being enrolled in an affiliated 3+4 program. As long as you meet the acceptance criteria for the optometry school you are applying to and take the required prerequisite courses, a full undergraduate degree may not be needed. However, it is imperative that you contact the student administrator at the optometry school you are interested in to get the specifics if you are thinking of taking this route. Though a undergraduate degree may not be technically required, there may be specific criteria you need to meet prior to applying.
Another way that students may complete their optometric studies early would be through a scholars program at their optometry school. Students who choose a scholars program instead of a traditional program in optometry will go through a more rigorous academic course load and complete their optometric studies in three years instead of four.
Keep in mind that both of these alternate accelerated programs vary from school to school, so it’s important to look into your desired university’s prerequisites before deciding upon these tracks.
When it comes to weighing out the pros and cons of accelerated programs, keep in mind that you’ll ultimately be saving yourself a year’s worth of college tuition, and you’ll be practicing a year earlier than you normally would. For me, the possibility of seeing patients earlier and making a difference in people’s lives as soon as possible made all the stress of the program and the extra nights of studying worth it. I couldn’t see myself in any other profession, and an accelerated program gave me a head start in my career.
Listed below are links for additional information about optometry schools that have affiliated 3+4 Programs, schools that do not require a bachelors degree for admittance, and schools that do require a bachelors degree for admittance.
Schools of Optometry that have Affiliated 3+4 Programs:
Schools of Optometry that Do Not Require a Bachelor’s Degree:
Schools of Optometry that Require a Bachelor’s Degrees: