Optometrists perform eye exams to check for both quality of vision and signs of eye disease. They can tell you if you need glasses or if you are developing glaucoma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says optometrists must complete an undergraduate degree and then get a Doctor of Optometry degree. Like medical school, optometry school requires applicants to complete certain prerequisite courses, many of which overlap with the required courses for an undergraduate degree in both biology and chemistry.
The admissions requirements vary for each optometry school, but most require that applicants complete several courses in biology and chemistry, along with other prerequisites such as calculus and statistics. For example, at the University of Houston, applicants must have completed eight credit hours of biological sciences with lab, eight credit hours of advanced biological sciences, four hours of microbiology with lab, eight hours of fundamentals of chemistry with lab, four hours of organic chemistry with lab and three hours of biochemistry. At Ohio State University, applicants only have to complete six to eight hours of biology with lab, three to four hours of microbiology with lab, eight to ten hours of inorganic chemistry with lab, three to four hours of organic chemistry and three to four hours of biochemistry. Neither a degree in biology nor chemistry is favored over the other to meet these requirements.
Advantages of a Biology Degree
Not only does a biology degree include the prerequisite courses for optometry school, but it also provides the training that students need to be successful in optometry school. Coursework in biology covers knowledge of cellular processes, which optometrists can use to understand the changes that may be happening in the eye. A biology degree also includes coursework in genetics, which can help optometrists understand the hereditary factors that may contribute to vision problems in their clients.
Advantages of a Chemistry Degree
A chemistry degree also provides the required coursework to get into optometry school. The training helps future optometrists better understand the chemical processes behind the medication and treatments they use for patients. This can include the drops used to dilate the eyes for exams, topical treatments used to numb the eyes for surgery, or pain medications. Optometry school includes advanced study of pharmacology, rehabilitative medicine and pathology, all of which build on the study of chemistry.
Making the Choice
Neither a degree in biology or a degree in chemistry stands out as a preferred degree for optometry school. Students who are trying to make a decision should choose the degree that best suits their own interests. If the biological sciences and the way that a cell works are more fascinating, then a degree in biology is likely best. However, students who love to study chemical processes and the elements should major in chemistry. Students should also consider their strengths when choosing -- the grades they earn in their science courses will be weighed more heavily than their grades in other courses when they apply to optometry school, so it's important they choose a major in which they can perform well.