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Office of Pre-Health Advising



What is an Optometrist?

When you have a problem with your vision, there are three different kinds of specialists you may encounter:

  • An optician is someone who works with glasses and contact lenses. Opticians do not test vision, so an optometrist or opthamologist has to write the prescription for the optician to fulfill. Opticians do not diagnose or treat eye diseases.
  • An opthamologist is a physician (M.D. or D.O.) who has specialized in vision and the eye.
  • An optometrist is a health care professional trained in treating vision problems and eye diseases. Optometrists can test vision, write prescriptions for glasses, contacts, and certain medications, and detect and treat certain diseases of the eye.

This page is about becoming an optometrist. If you are interested in opthamology, please see our pre-medicine page. Opticians do not require a college degree.

The Path to Becoming an Optometrist

First, a Bachelor's Degree

To become an optometrist, you must first complete a bachelor's degree. This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have successfully committed themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or music. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow preparation for a specific profession..

You must also complete specific prerequisite courses. Mastery of the material in these courses is confirmed by your performance on the Optometry Admission Test (OAT).

After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in optometry to become a Doctor of Optometry. This is abbreviated O.D. to avoid conclusion with DO's, who are osteopathic physicians.

To Gap or Not to Gap

A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning optometry school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:

  • Allows more time to complete coursework necessary for the OAT (see below)
  • Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
  • Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during optometry school
  • Provides a break from schooling!

If you are not taking a gap year, you need to take the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) by the summer after your junior year. The OAT covers (along with reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning) material from courses on general biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics, so to avoid a gap year you will need to complete these courses by the end of your junior year.

If you are taking a gap year, you will typically take the OAT in the summer of your graduation year.

The Application Process

The application process typically begins nearly two years before you plan to enter optometry school, in the Fall semester of your senior year (if taking a gap year) or junior year (if not taking a gap year). At that time, you let us know that you'd like a "committee letter" (the deadline is Nov. 30). A committee letter is a kind of summary of all the arguments in favor of your admission to optometry school, written for you by faculty at Lehman. As part of the process of creating the committee letter, you will provide us with letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and answers to our supplementary questionnaire. We will also interview you. Note: this part of the process is not competitive! Everyone who takes at least five of their core pre-optometry prerequisites at Lehman is eligible for a committee letter. The application and interview are so that we can understand you and your background better, and thus write a more effective letter on your behalf. This process will continue through the Spring semester.

In the summer following your senior (if taking a gap) or junior (if not) year, you will take the OAT.

You then apply through OptomCAS, a centralized admissions system. Optometry schools admit students on a rolling basis, so it's best to apply early in the cycle, perhaps in August.

After you apply to OptomCAS and specify the schools you are interested in, you will usually be invited to complete "supplementary"or "secondary" applications for those schools. These supplementaries request more information, in part to make sure you are serious about that particular school.

Once your supplementaries are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in the fall or winter prior to when you'll start attending optometry school.

After interviews, you finally get to find out who accepted you--hopefully you'll have the happy dilemma of choosing between acceptances!

Optometry School

Once in optometry school, it is very likely you'll end up being an optometrist. Most people accepted to optometry school graduate, pass their licensing exams, and become practicing optometrists.

The first two years of optometry school are usually "didactic," meaning that you'll take courses. The next two years are "clinical," involving working with optometrists and patients directly.

At the end of four years, you graduate as an optometrist.

In order to practice optometry, you also need to pass certain exams.

Some optometrists go on to complete a one-year residency, particularly if they'd like to further specialize. While you are a resident, you are a paid, practicing optometrist, but you're under supervision.

Prerequisite Courses

Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most optometry schools. These requirements vary a bit from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.

Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health advisor.

Required by Nearly all Optometry Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Gen. Chem. 1 CHE 166 + 167

MAT 171 or MAT 172 is corequisite

Gen. Chem. 2 CHE 168 + 169 Gen. Chem. 1
Organic Chem. 1 CHE 232 + 233 Gen. Chem. 2
Gen. Physics 1 PHY 166 or PHY 168 MAT 171 + MAT 108 or MAT 172
Gen. Physics 2 PHY 167 or PHY 169 Gen. Physics 1
Gen. Bio. 1 BIO 166  
Gen. Bio. 2 BIO 167  
Microbiology BIO 331 or BIO 230 Depends on course
Gen. Psych. PSY 166  
Calculus 1 MAT 175 + MAT 155 MAT 171 + MAT 108 or MAT 172

Required by Most Optometry Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
Organic Chem. 2 CHE 234 + 235 Organic Chem. 1
Biochemistry BIO 400 or CHE 444 Organic Chem. 2
Statistics Multiple courses fulfill  

Recommended by Many Optometry Programs


Course Name Lehman Code Prerequisites
A & P 1 BIO 181 or BIO 228 BIO 181 has no prerequisites
BIO 228 requires Gen. Bio. 2 and Gen. Chem. 2
A & P 2 BIO 182 or BIO 267

BIO 182 requires BIO 181
BIO 267 requires Gen. Bio. 2


Below is an example of a timeline for a hypothetical student, Maria. Maria is planning to take a gap year and decides to major in psychology. She entered without a strong math background. Your timeline will be somewhat different, because you're not Maria. (Or if your name is Maria, you're not this Maria.) You'll almost certainly take some different courses than Maria did. Be sure to consult with your pre-health advisor to decide what's right for you. Still, Maria's timeline should give you a sense of how it can all work out.


Semester Coursework Consult Pre-Health Advisor Regarding... Application Other
Freshman Fall MAT 104, BIO 166, PSY 166, ENG 111, LEH 100 Get to know each other    
Freshman Spring MAT 172, ENG 121, CHE 166+167, Gen. Ed. Choice of major, discuss shadowing   Shadow an optometrist
Sophomore Fall CHE 168+169, MAT 175+155, PSY course, Gen. ed. Progress    
Sophomore Spring CHE 232+233, PSY course, BIO 167, Gen. ed. Gap or no gap?   Declare major
Junior Fall CHE 234+235, BIO 181, PSY courses Progress   Begin investigating which optometry schools to apply to
Junior Spring CHE 444, BIO 182, PSY courses, LEH Discuss additional courses for specific optometry schools    
Senior Fall PHY 166, LEH, BIO 238, PSY courses Letters of recommendation, OAT, personal statement

Arrange for letters of recommendation

Request committee letter by Nov. 30

Plan gap year
Senior Spring PHY 167, BIO 331, PSY courses Personal statement Committee letter process; mock interviews OAT prep
June after graduation       OAT
August after graduation     Application to OptomCAS  
Fall after graduation     Supplementary applications Gap year activities
Winter after graduation   Interview preparation Interviews Gap year activities
Spring after graduation   Inform pre-health advisor of acceptance Accept admission to optometry school of her choice Gap year activities
One year after graduation     Begin optometry school!