Optometry Degrees: Doctorate, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an optometry master's or doctoral program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctorate degree and potential careers.
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Studying Optometry: Degrees at a Glance

Optometry isn't typically studied at the master's level, but programs in related fields, such as vision science, are available. Rather, optometry programs are found at the doctoral level in order to prepare students to become optometrists; optometrists are doctors who perform eye exams, prescribe correctional lenses and diagnose vision-related health issues. Completion of a Doctor of Optometry degree program is necessary in order to become an optometrist. Between 2010 and 2020, optometrists may see a faster-than-average 33% growth in employment, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Optometry students or optometrists looking to conduct research in the field Aspiring optometrists
Common Career Path (with approximate mean salary) -Optometrist additional education may be required ($108,000)*
-Medical scientist additional education may be required ($88,000)*
Optometrist ($108,000)*
-Professor ($99,000)*
-Medical scientist ($88,000)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time Four years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements -Thesis
-Research project
-Clinical externship
-Clinical and classroom coursework
Prerequisites -Bachelor's degree
-Graduate Record Exam
-Bachelor's degree with specific coursework
-Optometry Admission Test
Online Availability No No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Vision Science

Master's degree programs in vision science focus on the research aspect of the optometry field. As a student in a vision science master's program, you develop research skills and hone your critical-thinking abilities in order to study various vision-related issues. Many of these programs are designed as dual degree programs that award doctoral and master's degrees upon completion.

Pros and Cons


  • May be able to focus majority of studies on an area of your interest and choosing
  • Complement to an optometry degree
  • Prepares you for advanced careers in the optometry field


  • Research intensive
  • May also need an optometry degree for more career options
  • Online program options may not be available

Courses and Requirements

The master's program in visions science is research intensive because it's often intended to enhance an optometrist's or future optometrist's scientific knowledge. In addition to attending seminars, you can expect to study topics related to neuroanatomy, eye movements, ocular pathology, perception, color vision, statistical methods and ocular anatomy. You may be able to select a specific area of interest within the field to conduct original research in and prepare a project and/or thesis based on the findings.

Online Options

While master's degree programs in this field aren't currently available, you may be able to find some online continuing education classes pertaining to optometry. Optometry schools at colleges and universities offer these classes to give optometry professionals a vehicle for staying current on new developments.

How to Stand Out

While searching out schools offering vision science master's programs, choose one that is committed to research and includes multiple research centers. These centers may provide additional opportunities to participate in research projects alongside peers and faculty members. Optometry schools also typically offer several lectures from key figures in the field; attending these lectures can provide new insight on current topics. While pursuing your research, look for pertinent issues in the vision field in which you can focus your studies.

Doctor of Optometry

If you aspire to become an optometrist, a Doctor of Optometry (OD) program is your road to accomplishing that goal; however, the degree program can also prep you for careers in research or academia. Several colleges and universities throughout the nation have optometry schools where you can enroll in an OD program. As an OD student, you learn about eye and vision problems, including how to diagnose and treat them.


  • Faster-than-average job prospects expected for optometrists (33% from 2010-2020)*
  • Residency programs provide opportunity to specialize in an area specific to your interests
  • Ample opportunity for hands-on training


  • Admission into OD programs can be competitive
  • Relevant undergraduate coursework is typically required for admission
  • Must meet state licensure requirements to work as an optometrist

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Courses and Requirements

This professional degree program typically includes classroom and clinical training. Laboratory training may also accompany some of the courses. Topics you may study include:

  • Ocular anatomy
  • Pediatric vision
  • Ocular diseases
  • Binocular vision
  • Contact lenses

The majority of the clinical training takes place in the third and fourth years; however, some schools require you to start your clinical studies within the first year. Depending on your school, you may first perform your clinical duties in an on-campus student eye clinic before moving on to a community clinic.

Online Options

Degree programs for a Doctor of Optometry aren't available online. However, online continuing education classes in optometry are available. According to the BLS, several states require optometrists to take these classes to keep their licenses valid. These classes can be found mainly through optometry colleges and schools.

How to Stand Out

Many optometry schools also sponsor post-doctoral residency programs through which, after graduation, you can work in a specialized area of optometry, such as primary eye care, cornea and contact lenses, pediatrics optometry or ocular disease.

Earning a master's degree in vision science complements your OD degree by allowing you to delve deeper into various issues in the optometry field and conduct research on specific vision issues. You can also join professional associations, such as the American Optometric Association and National Optometric Association. These organizations can provide networking opportunities, convention access and visibility as well as augment your professional status.

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