top of page

Pre-Health Advisors Resource Page
for Illinois College of Optometry

Connect Students With Their Future

Whether your student is already committed to optometry or is simply exploring health career options, we have resources to assist you. The links and questions below can help you learn both about optometry and ICO:


Optometry as a Career

What is a Doctor of Optometry?

The American Optometric Association defines Doctor of Optometry as the independent primary health care professional for the eye. Optometrists examine, diagnose, treat, and manage diseases, injuries, and disorders of the visual system, the eye, and associated structures as well as identify related systemic conditions affecting the eye.

Doctors of Optometry prescribe spectacle lenses, contact lenses, and medications. They provide specialized care in low-vision rehabilitation, vision therapy, and pediatric vision, and perform certain surgical procedures. Optometrists counsel their patients regarding surgical and nonsurgical options that meet their visual needs related to their occupations, avocations, and lifestyles.



What's life like as an optometrist?

One thing that we hear repeatedly from our alumni is just how diverse the optometric experience is. As an optometrist students might open their own private practice or work at a Veteran Affairs office. They could be teaching and precepting future optometry students or they might be treating children in a vision rehabilitation clinic. There are just so many options.

You can do all this while building a life you love. The work/life balance of an optometrist is a big reason why students choose a career in optometry. To explore a few of these career paths we recommend you visit Made at ICO and our online viewbook.

Why have others chosen optometry?

There are several reasons why students choose optometry, but usually it is a combination of three factors:

  1. They want to have an impact on their community, and they believe that treating those with visual impairments empowers those individuals.

  2. They are attracted to the work/life balance aspect of optometry. Optometrists in most cases have a much more reasonable schedule than many other health care professions.

  3. The starting salary and salary thereafter is significantly higher than the national average. According to the AOA, the average net income of an optometrist in 2021 was around $168,193.

Another big reason optometrists love what they do is because of the strong doctor-patient relationships that optometrists have. Optometric patients are loyal, and they often stay with the same doctor for years and even decades. With frequency the bond between the patients and the doctors grows.  At the IEI, that’s a big reason doctors come back. To hear some of our patient stories, we recommend viewing our It’s More Than Just Eyes videos.

About ICO.jpg

About ICO

Why ICO?

We exclusively teach future doctors of optometry, meaning our curriculum is built with optometrists in mind. As one of the largest optometry schools in the nation, we have a diverse array of faculty with different specializations. Our students also score well above average on the national board exams. This is in large part because of our rich clinical experience that we provide throughout a student’s optometric education.

To get a better understanding of how we have built our curriculum, please visit our courses and curriculum page.

What are ICO students like?

One thing we hear over and over again is how much of a sense of a community there is between our students. Students are not here to compete against one another, but rather to support and to encourage one another on their optometric journey.

Throughout our students’ four years, they frequently interact with both upper and lower classmen. Through our student success center, upperclassmen serve as academic coaches and tutors and. Students also interact with in the clinic. For example, during the Clinical Assistant Program first years follow third years. Many students say it’s a fantastic way for them to see just how far they will have advanced in only a few years!

Like our doctors and preceptors, our students are committed to our patients, and we often hear that they chose ICO specifically because of our rich clinical experience.


To learn more about student life, we recommend visiting our In Chicago page.

What is the clinical experience like at ICO?

Our clinical experience is one of the things we are most proud of at ICO. We get students into clinic within the first quarter of their first year. By the second year, they have acquired the needed skills and will perform eye exams on their own.

We also work hard to ensure that students are prepared for what they encounter in the clinic. We do this by ensuring that there is significant crossover between what students learn in the classroom and labs and the patients they encounter in the clinic.

Given our location, we treat an underserved population, and our patients come with all types of issues from common refractive issues to sight-threatening diseases. Our location is critical to providing our students with world class clinical education.


To learn more about our clinical experience. We highly recommend visiting our page In the Clinic.

How does ICO prepare their students?

2022 marks our 150th anniversary. That means we have been preparing optometry students for nearly 150 years. As optometry has advanced and become more clinical, we too have become more focused. The combination of excellent faculty, state-of-the-art equipment and an immersive and rich clinical experience means that we prepare students very well both for the NBEO and for whatever type of practice students wish to pursue afterwards.


Our long history also means we have the largest optometry alumni network in the US. Students connect with alumni both during Homecoming and during the Practice Opportunities Symposium – our yearly networking event. However, our alumni are ready to walk with our students from shadowing through when they are out in practice as ODs.


Our externship program is also exceptional. Few optometry schools have as many externship opportunities as ICO. This allows students to explore the many specialties and modalities they might be interested in as optometrists.

What is optometry school really like?

Optometry school is a professional health degree program, and there is no denying it will be a lot of hard work. That being said, students will have a strong support network and they will have faculty working closely with them both in the clinic and in the classroom to ensure that they get the support needed to succeed as optometrists.

To learn more about life at ICO and optometry school in particular, we recommend visiting the ICO Difference page on

What degrees does ICO confer?

Students who pass all four years of optometric training will graduate with a doctor of optometry degree. This, along with passing the National Board of Examiners in Optometry will allow citizens to practice as an optometrist in the United States. 

In rare instances, we also have students join ICO before completing their undergraduate degree. Students who apply for this degree and meet the required pre-requisites will also graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Vision Sciences.

What is the Bachelor of Science in Visual Science (BSVS) degree?

The BSVS degree is available only to those students who entered ICO without a bachelor’s degree.  However, the BSVS Degree is not a terminal degree and does not connote graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry. The degree is only awarded with the Doctor of Optometry degree at Commencement, and it requires an application available from the Registrar’s Office.


The BSVS degree includes humanities, social studies, and human-related biological sciences courses taken at the undergraduate level in combination with courses taken within the ICO curriculum. Requirements for the BSVS degree can be viewed here. More details regarding eligibility are available on the application and within ICO's Student Guide.


Application Process

What courses are needed before applying?

To review our pre-reqs, we recommend students visit our “Due Dates and Pre-Reqs" page.

How do students apply to ICO?

For students interested in applying to ICO, we recommend that they visit the “How to Apply” page on which gives students step-by-step instructions on how to apply.

How do international students apply?

The application process as an international student is very similar to the normal application process and we recommend starting on our “how to apply” page. There are a few additional steps required as international students. We recommend they also visit the International Admissions page.

What happens after applying?

Once you apply, a student’s application will be processed in 1-2 weeks. They will then be invited to an interview. If they are interested in learning more about the interview process, we recommend visiting our interview day page.

AdditionalResources (2).jpg

Financial Aid

What courses are needed before applying?

For a breakdown of costs and how to fund your education we recommend visiting our Cost of Attendance page.

For a full breakdown of four years, you can also our Consumer Information page.

How do students apply to ICO?

We have access to nearly $500k in scholarships and work hard with students to ensure they take out the most reasonable loans possible. To get a better understanding of scholarships and federal aid, we recommend visiting our federal aid pages and our scholarships page.

Living in Chicago

What's it like living in Chicago?

We recognize that students in a professional degree program want a life outside of the classroom and the clinic. In this way, Chicago has so much to offer. As the third largest city in the United States, it has everything a big city has: great coffee shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and of course the lakeshore path that moves up and down Chicago.

The other thing students quickly realize about Chicago is that there is so much more to Chicago beyond downtown. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, and allows students to set up their life in a specific neighborhood where Chicago can quickly feel like home.
One of the best ways for students to get a better understanding of what student life in Chicago is like is to follow our Instagram page. Where we have had many takeovers and often post about our favorite places.

What's it like on campus?

One of the big reasons students choose to go to ICO is because everything is conveniently located next to one another. Within five minutes you can access labs, clinic, and the classroom. We are also close to downtown. In three public transit stops, students can be soaking up those downtown views.

There are so many reasons to choose ICO. To learn more about Life in Chicago we recommend visiting our Living in Chicago page and our page dedicated to student life in Chicago.


Connect with ICO

Is ICO visiting a place near me?

If your students are interested in learning more about ICO, there is no better way to connect than to speak with one of our admissions advisors. To see when ICO might be visiting your school, you can visit our recruitment events page.

Can I visit ICO?

If you or your student is interested in visiting ICO, we are always happy to host. The best place to start planning your trip is on our how to visit page.


If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us at

Can I talk to a practicing optometrist?

For those students who are interested in shadowing an optometrist before they apply to ICO, we are happy to connect them with one of our graduates.

If students would like to shadow an optometrist, please have them fill out this form.

bottom of page