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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 as well. 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 worker 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 approximately 40,000 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. The 2017 Salary Survey published in the Review of Optometry reported that the average income for all participants was $163,761, while self-employed respondents who worked full-time in a partnership or group practice had an average income of $248,567.
SCO participates in the centralized application service known as OptomCAS. Applications open each year approximately July 1 and can be accessed by visiting their website at https://www.optomcas.org/. SCO's application deadline is March 1 each year. OptomCAS charges a $170 application fee to apply to one school and a $70 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:
- Official transcripts from all previous colleges attended.
- Two letters of recommendation, including one from a pre-health advisor or natural science professor and one from a Doctor of Optometry with whom the applicant has worked or shadowed but is not related.
- Official Optometry Admission Test (OAT) scores. Please note that scores from exams administered prior to the start of the application cycle should be sent directly to the college. All exams must be administered by the application deadline.
Additional items that must be sent directly to SCO for an applicant to be considered for an interview include:
- SCO supplemental application and fee.
- Official Optometry Admission Test (OAT) scores from exams completed prior to to the start of the application cycle.
- Certification of state residency (if from a state participating in an SREB program or other contract program). A list of residency certification officers will be provided upon receipt of admissions application.
A candidate should contact the admissions office before submitting an application under any of these circumstances:
- GPA of less than 2.50;
- Previous enrollment in another optometry school or any health professions school.
Read More About Getting Into 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 your application more competitive have a significantly greater chance for admission.
A candidate for admission to Southern College of Optometry 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 much be completed at a four-year college or university. While SCO does not require a bachelor’s degree, we highly recommend applicants work toward a bachelor’s degree because in a typical year, less than 1% of the entering class is accepted without having completed a bachelor’s degree.
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 of the SCO prerequisite courses prior to entering the O.D. program.
Read More About Majors
SCO accepts applications from approximately July 1 until March 1 each year. For the date the application will be available for the current or upcoming application cycle, refer to https://www.sco.edu/deadlines.
The OptomCAS application fee is $170 for the first school and $70 for each additional school. SCO's supplemental application fee is $50.
Non-regional tuition for the 2018-19 academic year is $37,176. 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 tuition of all optometry schools. Books and equipment will vary between $450/year to $4,300/year. Remember, your equipment purchases are an investment since you will be using the same equipment as a practicing optometrist.
Read More About Expense
Another important factor in calculating expenses is cost of living. Memphis annually ranks amongst cities with population over 500,000 as to having one of the lowest costs of living. In fact, most SCO students without families can easily budget their personal costs to around $1,000 per month. A more detailed budget can be found here.
Financial aid is available. Application materials are mailed to incoming students in January, and distributed to current students at the same time. 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.
Southern College of Optometry 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.
Although SCO does not have a minimum OAT score or grade point average, 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 320. The average GPA of an entering class is usually around 3.50 and with the recent OAT recalibration of scores, the average OAT score has been around 330. Applicants with an OAT academic average score of 310 or below are encouraged to retake the OAT.
Read More About GPA
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.
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 financial aid session and an information session about living in Memphis. The whole process lasts about 4 hours.
There is a perception that professional schools will "weed out" a number 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 high percentages of each class. About 96% of the students who enter SCO graduate from our program. SCO monitors how each student progresses through its four-year professional program. This data can be found on our Retention and Graduation Rates page.
SCO graduates initially earn between $70,000 and $90,000 per year, depending on the type of practice they enter. The 2017 Salary Survey published in the Review of Optometry reported that the average income for all participants was $163,761, while self-employed respondents who worked full-time in a partnership or group practice had an average income of $248,567.
Read More About Salaries
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 10-15 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 the criteria in which students desire. 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. There are currently over 1,200 opportunities on the placement site.
As an SCO student, your first obligation is to your academics. However, if a student can balance studies while maintaining part-time work, it behooves a student to work a few hours per week. During the week (Monday through 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. Students who work part-time off-campus usually work for a local optometrist on the weekends.
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.
Optometry school is a commitment. Students are usually on campus early morning through middle afternoon. So, 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. This many times 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 have to use wise time management, but our students are able to thrive academically while enjoying their personal/family life.
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 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 Activities 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
Contact Lens Society
Fellowship of Christian Optometrists
Gold Key Society
Latter Day Saints (LDS) Student Club
Low Vision Club
National Optometric Student Association
Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Organization (NORA)
Omega Delta – social fraternity
Optometry Private Practice Club
Sports Vision Society
Student Ambassador Program
Student Chapter of the Academy of American Optometry
Student Government Association
Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity (SVOSH)