Published in Non-Clinical

The 2021 Optometry Student Report

This is editorially independent content
7 min read

In this first-of-its-kind report, see what 1,476 optometry students—20% of all U.S. students—had to say about the clinical education and professional development provided by U.S. and Canadian optometry schools.

The 2021 Optometry Student Report
Whether you’re a seasoned optometrist, new grad, or optometry student preparing for boards, you likely remember your first day of optometry school where you took the first step in your journey to a career in eyecare. Or perhaps your memory of the ceremony where you received your white coat or your very first patient encounter is even stronger: optometry school is filled with firsts, and no matter how far we go in our careers, the things we learn in grad school form the foundation of our approach to patient care.
But for all that, there is very little information out there about the optometry school experience writ large. That’s why we surveyed optometry students in the U.S. and Canada in the spring of 2020: we wanted to dig into the highs and lows of the optometry student experience at every school in the country. And we wanted to get that feedback straight from the people best-equipped to provide it: current optometry students!
In this report, we reveal the state of the optometry school experience: from why students chose the schools they did to their experience with clinical and professional education at those schools, student debt, and more.

Just released: 2023 Optometry Student Report

Check what 497 optometry students had to say about optometry school in the 2023 Optometry Student Report!

Download the 2021 Optometry Student Report or keep reading for a sneak preview of our findings!


Download the 2021 Optometry Student Report

Get access to the full report with over 30 pages of data!
Before we dive into results, we want to recognize the amazing response from the student community that made this report possible. Not only did we get 1,476 responses—accounting for more than 20% of all U.S. optometry students—but we also got responses from at least 10% of every single optometry school in the nation, as well as responses from students at the Canadian optometry schools of Waterloo and Montréal. These responses were not just revealing but in many cases supremely insightful, as you’ll see in the excerpts from students quoted throughout the report.
Whether you’re a pre-optometry student considering which school you should attend, optometry faculty looking for ideas on how you can support your students, or industry professionals looking to understand the next generation of ODs, we hope this report helps you achieve your goals.

In the 2021 Optometry Student Report, we cover:

  • Optometry school applications: How many schools did students apply to, and how many acceptances did they receive? What determined their choice of schools?
  • School satisfaction: What are the top five schools with the most satisfied students?
  • Clinical education: How confident are optometry students in their clinical skills? What subjects are most difficult, and how well-prepared do students feel for board exams?
  • Equipment: What brand of diagnostic sets and BIO are most popular with optometry students?
  • Job applications and student debt: How many jobs do optometry students apply to, and how do they find them? How much student debt do graduates have, and how confident are they in their ability to pay it off?
  • And more!

Student satisfaction: from application to graduation

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: there's no "best" optometry school, just the optometry school that’s best for you. Like any graduate program, optometry schools can be judged on a variety of criteria. Out of the 1,476 students we surveyed, over 40% said that the determining factor in their choice of optometry school was location. NBEO pass rate and cost of tuition vied closely for second and third place.

Trying to decide which school is best for you? Check out our comparative list of optometry schools in the US!
93.1% of optometry students were satisfied with their choice of optometry school, citing exceptional faculty, opportunities for involvement in the field, clinical experience, and a feeling of engagement with the school and the community as a whole as the reasons for their high ratings. Most interestingly, high student debt did not correlate with low school satisfaction rates, with 3 of the top 5 schools by student debt (below) boasting satisfaction ratings of 90% or above.

From the classroom to the clinic, and beyond

ODs aren’t alone in their concerns about the future of optometry. Even beyond paying off their student loans, optometry students are paying attention to the world outside their classrooms. Over 10% plan to pursue further postgraduate education, from MBAs to PhDs, and almost half plan to do a residency.
While the majority of students plan to pursue a career in private practice, only 10% see large corporate employers as a major threat: rather, for 42% of students, the biggest threat to optometry is online retailers.
The biggest concerns for students beyond academics were preparation for all of the non-clinical aspects of optometry practice. While the average student response for how prepared they felt for clinical practice on a scale of 1 - 10 was 7.18, the average feelings of preparedness for the business aspects of optometry and insurance coding and billing didn’t rise above 5.
Can schools do better at offering career development resources? With clinical education firmly in hand, we believe that this might be the next frontier for optometry schools: and as students urge, listening to their needs is the first step on that path.
If you’re still a student, trust us—you’ll be 10 years into your career before you know it! And the learning doesn’t stop; the clinical education you receive in optometry school will carry you forward into your career, but your curiosity and passion for the field will keep you learning new skills and improving your ability to care for patients throughout your life and theirs.
At Eyes On Eyecare, we promise to always be the voice of the up-and-coming generation of young practitioners. With this first-of-its-kind report, our goal is to spread understanding of the optometry student experience and start a conversation about how to better prepare students for the industry that awaits them.

The 2021 Optometry Student Report contains over 30 pages of charts and graphs detailing the state of optometry education. Download the report and share your thoughts about our findings in the comments!

Matt Geller, OD
About Matt Geller, OD

Matt Geller, OD is the co-founder and CEO of Eyes On Eyecare—the #1 provider of clinical and career education for the next generation of optometrists and ophthalmologists through our all-in-one digital content platform.

Matt Geller, OD
Eleanor Gold, PhD
About Eleanor Gold, PhD

Eleanor Gold is the Editor in Chief at Eyes On Eyecare. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University at Buffalo and is passionate about science communication and education, particularly in the field of eyecare.

Eleanor Gold, PhD
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