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What are optometrists?

Doctors of Optometry are independent primary health care providers who specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures, as well as the diagnosis of related systemic conditions. Among the types of treatment optometrists use are:

  • Prescription Glasses
  • Contact Lenses
  • Vision Therapy
  • Low Vision Aids
  • Pharmaceutical Agents for the Treatment of Ocular Disease

During an examination, the Doctor of Optometry also assesses general health conditions. Diabetes, high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis are often detected during a vision examination. The diagnosis of systemic manifestations of ocular disease is necessary to preserve and enhance the patient's quality of life. When appropriate, the optometrist refers patients to other health care professionals and frequently works with them in co-managing the patient's condition.

Vision constantly changes throughout a person's lifetime, and as it does, vision care needs change. Doctors of Optometry provide optometric examinations and treatment which may prevent a patient's vision problem from developing into a serious vision impairment.

Those who choose optometry enjoy challenging and rewarding careers. An optometrist may help a child whose school work is hindered by visual problems, a working adult whose vision problem causes safety hazards on the job, or an elderly patient who may have needlessly given up reading.

Doctors of Optometry are the major providers of primary eye care in America, with over 45,000 optometrists practicing in over 6,000 communities nationwide. In many of these communities, optometrists are the only primary vision care providers.

The type of practice setting which the optometrist may enter is also expanding. While private solo practice is still the predominant mode of practice, more optometrists are entering into partnerships or group practices with other optometrists or other health care providers. Health maintenance organizations, the military, Veterans' Administration Medical Centers and hospitals offer optometrists unique opportunities to be an integral part of the health care delivery team.

The Doctor of Optometry enjoys the benefits of financial security, independence and prominent status in the community.  Data from the American Optometric Association’s 2022 Survey of Optometric Practice shows the average net income for all optometrists to be $168, 193, while the owner optometrists in private practice reported an average net income of $204,773.


How do I apply for admission, and how difficult is it to get into Southern College of Optometry?

SCO participates in the centralized application service known as OptomCAS. Applications open on approximately June 30 of each year and can be accessed by visiting their website at SCO's application deadline is March 1 each year. OptomCAS charges a $185 application fee to apply to one school and a $75 fee for each additional school. SCO's supplemental application fee is $50.

The following documents must be submitted to OptomCAS for an applicant to be considered for an interview:

  1. Official transcripts from all previous colleges attended.

  2. Two letters of recommendation, one from a pre-health advisor or natural science professor, and one from a non-related Doctor of Optometry with whom the applicant has worked or shadowed.

  3. Official admission test scores, the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is preferred. 

Additional items that must be sent directly to SCO for an applicant to be considered for an interview include:

  1. SCO supplemental application and fee.

  2. Certification of state residency (if from a state participating in an SREB program or other contract program).

A candidate should contact the admissions office before applying under any of these circumstances:

  1. Cumulative GPA of less than 2.50.

  2. Previous enrollment in another optometry school or any health professions school.

The ratio of applications received to entering students for the last few years has been between 5:1 and 8:1. Although these are highly competitive numbers, students who have a strong desire to enter SCO and follow the recommended procedures for making their applications more competitive have a significantly greater chance of being admitted.


Do I need a bachelor's degree before I go to optometry school?

A candidate for admission to SCO is required to present at least three years of undergraduate work. That includes a minimum of 90 semester or 135 quarter hours. A minimum of 30 semester or 45 quarter hours must be completed at a four-year college or university. While SCO does not require a bachelor’s degree, we highly recommend applicants work toward one because in a typical year, less than 1% of the entering class is accepted without having completed a bachelor’s degree.


Does it matter what my major is?

SCO does not have a preference in academic majors. Students from various academic backgrounds are accepted each year; however, all accepted students must complete all SCO prerequisite courses prior to entering the O.D. program.


When are applications accepted?

SCO accepts applications from approximately June 30 until March 1 each year. For the date when the application will be available for the current or upcoming application cycle, refer to


What is the application fee?

The OptomCAS application fee is $185 for the first school and $75 for each additional school. SCO's supplemental application fee is $50.


How expensive is optometry school?

Non-regional tuition for the 2023-2024 academic year is $41,536. Visit our Tuition and Fee Information page for more information on regional tuition. Southern College of Optometry typically has the lowest regional tuition amongst the private optometry schools and has one of the lowest non-regional tuitions of all optometry schools. Books and equipment will vary between $400/year to $5,500/year. Remember, your equipment purchases are an investment since you will be using the same equipment as a practicing optometrist.

Another important factor in calculating expenses is cost of living. Memphis has annually ranked as having one of the lowest costs of living amongst cities with a population over 500,000. A more detailed budget can be found here.


Is financial aid available?

Financial aid is available. Financial aid application materials are mailed to incoming students and distributed to current students in January. Your financial aid packet will contain a short and simple SCO application form, and a longer federal form – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Students must submit both forms to have a valid application. Once your eligibility has been determined, the SCO Financial Aid Office will work with you to ensure that you receive the necessary funds at the best terms. In other words, depending on how much a student needs to borrow, a Financial Aid Counselor will work with each student to obtain the lowest interest rate, the best grace period (interest deferment) and the most attractive repayment period. Historically, all SCO students have had the ability to obtain through federal loans the funds necessary to pay for all educational expenses, including living costs.


How can I estimate the cost of my optometric education?

SCO has developed a debt calculator for prospective and current students. Use this interactive tool to gauge your tuition and other estimated expenses over the typical amount of time required to pay back a student loan.


Is there a minimum OAT score or grade point average?

Although SCO does not have a minimum OAT score or grade point average (GPA), applicants are encouraged to call the Office of Student Services to discuss their competitiveness if their GPA is under 2.5 or their OAT score is under 300. The average GPA of an entering class is usually around 3.6, and the average OAT score has been around 335. Applicants with an OAT academic average score of 310 or below are encouraged to retake the OAT.


How long are the OAT scores valid?

Any OAT score used for the admission process must be no more than two years old from the date the applicant submits the SCO supplemental application.


What is the admissions interview like at SCO?

Applicants receiving an interview invitation are offered at least two dates from which to choose. All interviews are held on our campus in Memphis, Tennessee. SCO begins conducting interviews in August and continues until the end of March. The interview itself is a blind interview, one-on-one with a faculty member who only knows your name and home state. Although the interview is only about an hour long, applicants are also given a tour of the facilities, a tour of the city, a financial aid session, a chance to sit in on a lecture, and an information session about living in Memphis. The whole process lasts about 6 hours.


Do professional schools "weed out" students?

There is a perception that professional schools will "weed out" several of its students after the first year or two. The admissions team evaluates an applicant's potential to successfully complete the degree program at SCO. With the scrutiny of the admissions team, SCO has been able to successfully graduate about 96% of each class.   SCO monitors how each student progresses through its four-year professional program. This data can be found on our  Retention and Graduation Rates page.


What is the starting salary for SCO graduates?

Data from the American Optometric Association’s 2022 Survey of Optometric Practice shows the average net incomes ranging from $168,193 for the primary practice of optometry to $204,773 for optometrists who own all or a portion of their practice.


What is the outlook for the optometric market? How do I find a position after I graduate?

The outlook for the optometric market is strong. First, the scope of practice for optometry continues to grow, and thus creates more need for optometrists. Second, the "baby boomer" generation has begun to retire, so there will be significant opportunities as these optometrists retire over the next 10 years. Finally, and most importantly, optometry is defined as the primary care provider for eye and vision care. As the population grows, the need for primary eye care will increase proportionately.

To help our students find the best possible practice opportunity when they graduate, SCO maintains a Placement Service for our students. This service helps to match students with a variety of practice opportunities based upon students’ desired criteria. For example, if a graduating student is interested in a practice emphasizing pediatric service and vision therapy, our Placement Service will notify the student of any providers seeking candidates matching that criteria.   

Is it difficult to work while going to optometry school?

As an SCO student, your first obligation is to your academics. During the week (Monday—Friday), a student's schedule is filled with lecture, lab and clinic assignments. In other words, it is somewhat difficult to secure an off-campus job due to the academic load. Most students who work part-time will utilize the Federal Work-Study Program. This allows eligible students to work on campus (usually between 5 to 10 hours per week) and does not interfere with their academic schedules. 


What are the differences/similarities between optometry and medical school?

Both optometry and medical schools are four-year programs in which students pursue their doctoral degree. During the four-year programs, both optometry and medical students will have didactic (classroom and laboratory) assignments, then gradually move into more clinical assignments and rotations. Both optometry and medical students must pass a series of national boards examinations testing basic science and clinical knowledge. The significant difference between optometry and medical school occurs after the student graduates. A student who graduates from medical school must perform a three to five-year residency to become eligible to practice. Optometry graduates have the option of performing a one-year residency, but it is not required to become a licensed optometrist.


Will I have time for my family / personal life?

Optometry school is a commitment. Students are usually on campus early morning through middle afternoon. One can compare it to a full-time job. Also, on average, students will study at least three hours a day to keep up with their academic load. Many times, this work can be partially completed during the one to two-hour breaks students usually have during the day. Other students opt to use this time for work-study assignment.

Although this is a significant time commitment, SCO students have time to participate in a variety of activities and/or spend time with their families. Approximately 90% of SCO students are active in at least one student organization. Also, approximately 40-45% of our student body is married. Students must use wise time management, but many are able to thrive academically while enjoying their personal/family life.


What activities are available to students at SCO?

SCO students actively participate in the life of the college. Approximately 90% of the SCO students are active members in at least one student organization. For almost any organization commonly found on undergraduate campuses, there is a comparable organization active at SCO.

The Student Government Association takes a leading role at the college by recommending policies and coordinating many of the academic, service and social events on campus. The SGA also oversees an extensive intramural program open to all students, spouses, faculty and staff. Intramural sports include basketball, softball, golf, flag football, racquetball, volleyball, etc. with many events housed in the SCO Activity Center.

The following is a list of the student organizations on campus:

  • American Optometric Student Association

  • Beta Sigma Kappa

  • College of Optometrists in Vision Development (COVD)

  • Contact Lens Society

  • Fellowship of Christian Optometrists

  • Gamma Omicron

  • Gold Key Society

  • Intramural Sports

  • Lions Club

  • Low Vision Club

  • National Optometric Student Association (NOSA)

  • Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA)

  • Ocular Disease Club

  • Omega Delta – Social Fraternity

  • Optometric Private Practice Club

  • Remote Area Medical – Volunteer Corps


  • Spectrum

  • Student Public Health Vision Care Association (SPHViCA)

  • Sports Vision Society

  • State Clubs

  • Student Ambassador Program

  • Student Chapter of the Academy of American Optometry (SCAAO)

  • Student Government Association

  • Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity (SVOSH)