Optometry school is the first official step on the road to becoming an optometrist. It’s one of many pathways to a career in eyecare—and no matter where you end up, your career will be built on the foundation of what you learn in grad school.
However, as we learned last year in the inaugural 2021 Optometry Student Report, while there is plenty of quantitative data covering the scores of current and prospective optometry students, there is precious little data on the experiences of optometry students. The 2022 Optometry Student Report marks the second annual publication of our now yearly survey of optometry students in the US and Canada.
This report reveals the current state of the optometry student experience: starting with why students chose their optometry schools, all the way to their job search, student loan debt, clinical education, and more.
Whether you’re a pre-optometry student considering what schools you’ll apply to, optometry faculty looking to improve your students’ experiences, or an industry professional hoping to understand the newest generations of ODs, we hope this report helps you with your goals! And, of course, it wouldn’t have been possible without the 761 students and new graduates who replied to the survey—thank you for your responses, and happy reading!
In the 2022 Optometry Student Report, we cover:
- Optometry school applications: How many schools did students apply to, and how did they decide on their final choice?
- Clinical education: 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 students already have jobs lined up, and how much student debt do graduates have?
- And more!
Where to go: optometry school applications
When it comes to choosing your optometry school, your most important criteria are just that—yours. Ultimately, the best optometry school is the school that’s best for you: your needs, your life, and your goals. Out of the 761 students surveyed in 2021, 40% said that the main factor in choosing a school was location; this is the exact same percentage as last year.
Trying to decide which school is best for you? Check out our comparative list of optometry schools in the US!
However, while students in 2020 cited NBEO pass rate as the second most common factor, students in 2021 identified the cost of tuition as more important. Tuition also topped clinical experience in the factors affecting their final choice of school. This combines interestingly with average student loan debt, which rose 12% among respondents from 2020 - 2021.
What to take: classes, board exams, and more
Students’ feelings about their preparedness for board exams dropped significantly since the 2020 survey—from a 7.25 average in 2020 to a 5.37 average in 2021. Even fourth-year students only reported a 6.48 average feeling of preparedness.
Many of these students found their experience in optometry school interrupted by the pandemic. Last year’s report showed that students had mixed feelings about their schools’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the other hand, students reported feeling moderately well-prepared for their first patient encounters, with a 6.05 average on a 1-10 scale (with 10 being “very prepared”). Personally, I don’t think this is a bad number. Of course you’re going to feel out of your comfort zone for your first patient encounter—this is totally normal.
Incomes and outcomes: career goals and student loans
In the 2020 student survey, 40% of respondents reported they already had a job lined up after graduation; this year, only 21.7% of students already have a job lined up. This survey was performed in the fall of 2021, in contrast with the 2020 survey, which was conducted in the spring—the prime time for job hunting!
If you’re currently looking for your first optometry position after graduation, click here to book a time with one of our recruiters to discuss your job search and goals.
Overall, student debt among respondents rose, with an overall average of $140k compared to last year’s $125k average. Interestingly, 2021 graduates reported lower average debt than their 2020 counterparts in the previous survey. However, current students’ debt averages have increased dramatically when you compare this year’s batch of cohorts with the same groups in last year’s survey.
For all optometry students and pre-optometry students reading this report, trust us—as a doctor of optometry, you’ll never stop learning. The clinical education you’re receiving at optometry school is the foundation of the knowledge you will continue to build on for the rest of your career. Your curiosity and passion for optometry are going to carry you through all the changes you’ll face, from residency to exploring non-clinical career paths to enhancing your patient care and beyond.