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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 2013 American Optometric Association Economic Survey reported that the average net income for optometrists is $141,557.


How do I apply for admission and how difficult is it to get into SCO?

SCO participates in the centralized application service known as OptomCAS. Applications open each year on July 1 and can be accessed by visiting their website at https://optomcas.liaisoncas.com/applicant-ux/#/login. SCO's application deadline is March 1 each year. OptomCAS charges a $160 application fee to apply to one school and a $60 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, including one from a pre-health advisor or science professor and one from a Doctor of Optometry who is not related to the candidate.

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. Official Optometry Admission Test (OAT) scores from exams completed by March 1 of the entering year.
  3. Certification of state residency (if from a state participating in an SREB 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:

  1. 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 your application more competitive have a significantly greater chance for admission.


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

Although SCO does not require a bachelor's degree to be accepted into our program, we highly recommend applicants be in the process of working toward a bachelor's degree. A minimum of 90 semester hours of undergraduate work is required for admission, but strong preference is given to applicants with baccalaureate or higher degrees. In a typical year, less than 5% of our 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 of the SCO prerequisite courses prior to entering the O.D. program.


When are applications accepted?

SCO accepts applications from July 1 until March 1 each year.


What is the application fee?

The OptomCAS application fee is $160 for the first school and $60 for each additional school. SCO's supplemental application fee is $50.


How expensive is optometry school?

Non-regional tuition for the 2016-17 academic year is $34,704. For those students holding a regional seat, tuition is $19,104. 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 $600/year to $5,100/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 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 under $1,000 per month. A more detailed budget can be found here.


Is financial aid available?

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.


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, 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 in the 3.40-3.50 range 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.


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 on Fridays only. SCO begins conducting interviews in September 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.


Do professional schools "weed out" students?

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. Here is a breakdown of graduation rates for recent classes. These figures reflect students who have successfully completed all SCO program requirements. Occasionally, a student(s) will take longer than four years to complete the program, and the figures will be updated once all requirements are satisfied:

  • Class of 2011 – 97.6%
  • Class of 2012 – 97.5%
  • Class of 2013 – 99.2%
  • Class of 2014 – 94.2%
  • Class of 2015 – 96.2%

What is the starting salary for SCO graduates?

SCO graduates initially earn between $70,000 and $90,000 per year, depending on the type of practice they enter. The average salary of all optometrists is approximately $141,557.


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 10-15 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 provide that student the list of practices seeking an optometrist to fill their need. On average, each graduate over the last few years has received five or six offers through the SCO Placement Service.


Is it difficult to work while going to optometry school?

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.


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. 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.


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 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:

  • Student Government Association
  • Beta Sigma Kappa
  • Gold Key Society
  • Student Ambassador Program
  • Who's Who
  • National Optometric Student Association
  • Contact Lens Society
  • State Clubs
  • Sports Vision Society
  • College of Optometrists in Vision Development
  • American Optometric Student Association
  • Fellowship of Christian Optometrists
  • Omega Delta – social fraternity
  • Student Volunteers in Optometric Service to Humanity
  • Lion's Club
  • Optometry Private Practice Club
  • Latter Day Saints (LDS) Student Club
  • Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Organization (NORA)
  • Gamma Omicron