Some hopeful opticians don’t have a lot of time to spend in school and want to graduate quickly so that they can get on with their career. Some schools meet this need by offering short certificate programs in ophthalmic dispensing. Depending on how hard you work, you can sometimes complete all the necessary courses in as little as 5 months. When you gradate you will be given a “career diploma” that will help you get a job at an optical shop or in an optometrist’s office. Because you only need a high school diploma to be an optician, choosing to only pursue a certificate degree doesn’t have to hurt your chances of getting hired. It does mean, however, that there is a greater chance that you will still need on-the-job training after you get hired. Taking classes can help you avoid entering into an apprenticeship, however, if you don’t want to go through that training, which could take anywhere from two to four years. At this level you will probably take around ten classes in areas like communication, math, computers, ophthalmic dispensing, optical terminology, and optical anatomy.
The “middle” level for aspiring opticians is to earn an associate’s degree of applied science, usually in a major titled “ophthalmic dispensing” or “ophthalmic design and dispensing.” In these degree programs students learn a wider range of skills, such as prescription analysis, how to fit eyewear on patients, and how to use special optical instruments. Associate’s degree programs also require students to learn general skills, such as math and English. Many of these skills will be very useful in your future career, as the profession involves a fair amount of math and also requires you to speak and write in high-quality, professional English. The downside for some people is that this type of program takes longer to complete – usually about two years. In exchange for the extra time in school, however, many doctors’ offices and optical stores will accept an associate’s degree in lieu of any formal, on-the-job training. This means you might have an easier time finding work, and might be able to negotiate a higher starting salary.
There are not actually bachelor’s degrees in ophthalmic dispensing, as it is a vocation that can be sufficiently covered in two years of study. However, some people do go on to earn bachelor’s degrees for other reasons. For example, if you want to become a manager at a health or eye care store, or you want to become an office administrator in a physician’s office, you may want to transfer your associate’s degree to another institution and earn a bachelor’s in business. This will take about two years after you complete your associate’s degree, and some schools offer special programs, like a concentration in optical business management. Of course the other option is for you to become an optometrist or ophthalmologist, but that requires you to get a doctoral degree, which takes significantly more schooling.