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5 Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting a College of Optometry

There are only 24 optometry colleges in the United States. The trick is finding the one that fits your needs.




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(Editor’s note: INVISION Magazine has partnered with Marshall B. Ketchum University to examine the field of optometry. This column is the third installment in the monthly series.)

Deciding where to go to college isn’t easy. There are any number of important choices to consider. And each demand thoughtful consideration.

During my more than 25 years in higher education, including roles as a faculty member and in various leadership capacities focused on student admissions and success here at Marshall B. Ketchum University, I’ve witnessed a spectrum of choices that prospective students have faced when selecting their path in optometry education.

I’ve also noted a few pressure points that might inadvertently impede the journey toward future achievements in the optical industry.

If you are (or you know of someone who is) in the process of deciding where to pursue your optometry degree, here are some questions to help guide your thinking as you analyze your options.


(1) What is the quality of the education I will receive at this institution?


Any accredited optometry program can grant you a degree. But if you are looking for a truly high-quality education to go along with that certification, you need to dig deeper to get a sense of the value that accolade can provide.

What are the college’s graduation rates? What are the college’s pass rates for National Board Exams. How do those rates compare to the national average? You can find this information through objective research.

However, don’t overlook talking with people you know. For example, mentors or an optometrist you are shadowing are great resources when uncovering the perception of a particular school’s quality.


(2) How does it feel on campus?

It is crucial to visit the campus of every institution you are considering. This is a place where you will be spending the next four years of your life, and you can only find out so much online!

During your visit, you can get a feel for the campus and the overall campus community. This is an opportunity to determine if the college aligns with who you are as an academic and person.


Ask yourself: Do the campus and community have what you want and need?

One of the questions I always ask perspective students is: Can you see yourself there?


(3) What kind of clinical education does the institution provide?

At the core of a strong education in optometry is the clinical experience. This is where you first put into practice everything you are learning within the classroom.

It is very important to look at a prospective institution’s clinical program to assess things like how early students get to go to a clinic. When do they first start seeing patients? Do they offer community service opportunities? And what type of external rotations does the school offer?

Another area to look at is whether clinical experiences are in specific specialties, such as pediatric optometry, vision therapy, or contact lenses. This is especially important if you are interested in specializing.



(4) What is the area and surrounding community like?

Some students like to stay close to family for the stability it provides as they pursue a rigorous course of study. Other students see graduate education as an opportunity to spread their wings and live in an area of the country that they’re completely unfamiliar with.

Either way, my simple piece of advice is to follow your heart and soul, whether it’s a spirit of adventure or the steadiness of familiarity. Think about the culture and the “vibe” of a place, and, once more, ask yourself that question: Can I see myself living here?


(5) What are the relationships like at this institution?

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it’s vital to find out if the school does a good job of fostering relationships and the types of relationships they cultivate for students.

These are relationships between faculty and students, between classmates, support staff and students, and, of course, the institution and their alumni.

Not only do strong relationships lead to a richer and more rewarding educational experience, they also can help you build connections in the profession as you continue to seek opportunities to advance toward your degree.

Final Thoughts

If there is one common mistake that I see most often when it comes to finding the right optometry college, it is potential students who approach the decision with a mindset that is too narrow!

For example, they focus on finding the closest school to them or on the school with the lowest tuition. As a result, they exclude the previously mentioned important factors of decision-making. While you might be at a close, convenient school with very low tuition, you may find that you’re still not happy there.

More than anything, you should strive to take a holistic approach to this very big decision. If you have reached the stage where you’re choosing optometry schools, then there’s no doubt that you’re excited and committed to the profession of optometry.

So, at that point, as you weigh the pros and cons and consider all the possibilities, ask yourself one final question:

Which community is going to help me become the kind of doctor I want to be?


About the author: Dr. Carmen Barnhardt is the Vice President for Enrollment and Student Services at Marshall B. Ketchum University.

5 Key Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting a College of Optometry

Carmen Barnhardt, OD, MSEd, Marshall B. Ketchum University

Previously, she served as the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs where she established the Student Achievement Center, Student Leadership Certificate program and other student services.

Dr. Barnhardt has been a faculty member at the Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO) since 1996. She received her Doctor of Optometry and residency certificate in Pediatric Optometry and Vision Therapy from SCCO. She is a fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development and a Diplomate in the Pediatric, Binocular Vision and Perception Section of the AAO.

Dr. Barnhardt completed a master’s program in education at California State University, Fullerton and a Graduate Certificate in Student Affairs Administration at Colorado State University.

Her areas of interest include student leadership development, student support systems including academic and professional development, learning resources and advocating for health care students with disabilities, health education, promotion and prevention.



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