Home » Careers

Is Optometry Worth It? | Comparing the Average Salary to the Student Debt

The question “Is optometry worth it?” is ultimately a personal one that each person will have to answer for themselves. Optometry can certainly be a rewarding career as it helps people improve their eyesight and maintain eye health. And along with this eye care career an OD can earn a nice living.

But the problem is that income has stagnated and private practice isn’t as lucrative as it used to be. The 800-pound gorilla Luxottica and the innovative (now established) Warby Parker have had major influence on the income trajectory of ODs.

Even though incomes have leveled off, the cost of optometry school continues to rise. The average OD we’ve worked with has $267,000 in student debt. So in today's financial environment, is optometry worth it? Here's what prospective optometrists need to know.

How to become an optometrist

The road to becoming a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) begins with undergraduate studies. Optometry programs will require at least three years of post-secondary education with many requiring a bachelor's degree.

Once you've completed your undergraduate requirements, you can begin applying at one of the 22 accredited schools and colleges of optometry in the United States. Most of these schools will also want to see the applicant's Optometry Admission Test (OAT) score. This a computerized exam that covers science, physics, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning.

While optometry school is not the same as med school, both degree paths typically take four years to complete. Coursework for optometry students covers anatomy, physiology, optics biochemistry, visual science, and more.

After earning their Doctor of Optometry degree, some optometrists take the National Board of Examiners in Optometry exam to get their license. Others voluntarily choose to complete a one-year residency program. Examples of residency specializations include: cornea and contact lenses, vision rehabilitation, brain injury rehabilitation, pediatric, and geriatric optometry.

Average optometrist salary

The median optometrist salary is $125,590 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent data for 2022. While this is a nice average salary, it's nearly $46,000 less than what dentistry grads make. And it's nearly $95,000 less than the median salary for physicians.

The top-earning optometrists work in physician offices with a median annual salary of $136,510. Those who work in health and personal care stores, meanwhile, earn $176,400 and those who work in optometrist offices earn the lead at $110,800 per year.

Note that while the BLS doesn't break down optometry career salaries by specialty, Medscape has found that ophthalmologists earn far more with an average salary of $378,000. This made ophthalmology the tenth highest-paid medical specialty in Medscape's survey.

The state in which you choose to practice can also affect the amount of money that you can make as an optometrist. Currently, these are the top five paying states for optometrists:

  • Texas
  • Massachusetts
  • North Carolina
  • Alaska
  • Kentucky

And these are the five states with the highest employment levels for opticians:

  • California
  • Texas
  • Florida
  • Ohio
  • New York

Overall, optometry employment is projected to grow 9% from 2022 to 2032. That puts it much faster than the average for all occupations. While the job outlook for optometry new graduates isn't as strong as it is for other healthcare professionals, it's better than other professions (like pharmacy) that are expecting a decline over the next decade.

Related: Complete Guide to Buying Disability Insurance for Ophthalmologists

Income & Student Debt by Profession
See how you compare
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
We'll send the full salary report
How you compare to other
accountants stats*
Average student debt
Average income
Average Debt-to-Income Ratio

Statistics represent the population of Student Loan Planner clients in the respective profession referenced in the chart from 2017-2023. Sample excludes those in school or in training.*

Optometrists graduate with more student loans than anticipated

The average OD we have worked with here at Student Loan Planner® has about $267,000 in student loans and it’s on the rise due to the tuition hikes from some of the more reputable schools of optometry.

Indiana University tuition is about $34,000 per year for a resident and $47,000 for out-of-state tuition while the Salus University College of Optometry costs $43,000 per year.

Not only that, but higher living expenses, tuition increases each year, interest accruing on the loans, and leftover loans from undergrad push the cost of becoming an OD well above what was anticipated. So is optometry worth it financially? Let's take a closer look.

Optometrist salary comparison

The median optometrist salary of $118,000 is a very nice salary. But how does that compare to the average college graduate without an advanced degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for a bachelor's degree graduate is $1,620 per week or about $84,240 per year. So becoming a Doctor of Optometry leads to an extra $41,000 in earnings per year by the averages.

Let’s just assume that $41,000 in extra income sustains throughout the entire 40 year career of an OD. That works out to an extra $1,640,000 in lifetime earnings for an OD compared to someone with a bachelor’s degree. That is a huge number!

Taking out $267,000 in loans to make an extra $1,640,000 tends to make financial sense on the surface, but remember that the extra earnings will be taxed.

If we assume a combined 40% tax rate for federal and state, then we can reduce that $1,640,000 in earnings down to about $984,000 in extra take-home pay.

So now we’re talking about ODs having an extra $984,000 to pay off the $267,000 of student loan debt that made it possible for an OD to earn that extra money. Seems good on the surface, but those numbers are missing a couple key facets:

1. What these numbers don’t show is that many ODs spend the first 20 to 25 years of their career saddled with loan payments and staring at student loan balances that don’t seem to change and in many cases continue to grow.

2. The other piece of the equation is that the cost of paying back the loans will be higher than the actual loan balance.

Let’s dive deeper into what repayment actually looks like for ODs.

Doctor of Optometry (OD) student loan repayment options

Is optometry worth it?

Here at Student Loan Planner®, we have done over 5,300 consults and advised on over $1.3 billion of student debt. Our experience shows that there are two optimal ways for ODs to pay off student loans. They just so happen to be on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Option one — Aggressive Pay Back: For people who owe 1.5 times their income or less (e.g. someone who makes $100,000 with loans at $150,000 or less), their best bet is to throw every dollar they can find to pay back their loans as fast as possible, no more than 10 years.

Option two — Pay the least amount possible: For people who owe more than twice their income (e.g. someone who makes $100,000 and owes $200,000 or more), the goal is to get on an income-driven repayment plan that will keep their payments low and maximize loan forgiveness whether it’s public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) or taxable loan forgiveness.

Most ODs would want to choose option two unless they're married to a high-income earner with little to no student debt.

Best loan repayment options for optometrists

Let’s say that Adam has $280,000 in student loans at 6.8%. Right now, he’s making $100,000 with projected 3% increases in salary for the foreseeable future. He’s not married at the moment.

Ditch the graduated plan

Adam has been an OD for three years and was paying on the graduated plan to keep his payments low. But in almost all circumstances, the graduated plan is going to end up costing ODs more money.

The graduated plan is neither option one nor option two listed above. And it's much more costly because Adam will end up paying off a 6.8% loan in full over 30 years with increasing payments every two years. It sounds like a good idea to help with monthly cash flow, but 99/100 times it’s one of the worst repayment options.

Comparing income-driven repayment vs. refinancing

Choosing income-driven repayment or refinancing to a 10 year fixed rate will both cost less than the graduated plan. As for PAYE vs refinancing, the options look fairly close from an out-of-pocket cost, and here are the pros and cons for each option:


  • Affordable monthly payments which will allow him to save, invest and put money toward other financial goals (pro).
  • Has 20 years to save up for the taxes owed (pro)
  • Loan balance will grow from $280,000 to $435,000 (con)
  • It will take him 10 years longer vs refinancing (con)


  • He’ll be out of debt in 10 years or less (pro).
  • Total out of pocket cost is about $7,000 lower (pro)
  • Once he refinances, the federal loan program benefits are gone for good (con)
  • Stuck with $3,039 monthly payments for 10 years with little to no flexibility (con)

On the surface, it appears that Adam has a decision to make but PAYE is actually the clear winner here. Adam’s payments will be much lower with PAYE than refinancing. In fact, it will free up nearly $2,400 per month. If he saves and invests that freed up money for future financial goals, he will end up well ahead with his wealth.

PAYE would provide more flexibility and lower payments so he can save and invest for his other financial goals. The downside is that he’d have to get comfortable with the fact that his loans are going to grow. This is usually tough for people to wrap their head around.

That is why saving alongside of PAYE is so important. If he can save $2,000 per month for 20 years and earn 7%, he’d have over $1,000,000 in assets with $435,000 in loans that will be forgiven. After paying the tax bomb, he’ll still have a net worth of about $825,000. That’s pretty awesome and makes it worth it financially to let the loans grow.

Using an OD Mortgage to Pay Your Student Debt Tax Efficiently

This is a bit of a niche strategy, but you are actually eligible by virtue of your Doctor of Optometry degree for the OD Mortgage. Using this special mortgage strategy with the banks that offer it, you can pay less than 20% down for your house with no PMI, or private mortgage insurance.

You then use your down payment money to pay down your student loans instead since you don't need a large down payment for your home anymore thanks to the OD Mortgage.

This can save you money in taxes, as student loan interest is not tax-deductible and mortgage interest is if you itemize.

This won't be a game changer, but it could save you a few thousand dollars per year that can get you out of debt faster.

If you're looking for the OD Mortgage, check out OD Mortgage quote tool here.

Is optometry worth it?

So is optometry worth it? The pure financial answer is yes. The projected lifetime earnings of an OD vs. the average college grad is $984,000 after taxes. That's over $604,000 more than the $380,000 in estimated costs of paying back student loans.

The reality is that most optometrists will have to deal with student loans for 20 years. And they won’t necessarily be able to celebrate and enjoy that higher income until their loans are dealt with.

Making student loan payments will be a way of life during that time which lines up with the extra costs of getting married and raising kids. If optometrists can keep that long term perspective, they’ll still have a nice long career with great earnings remaining after becoming student debt-free.

Just like any profession, OD candidates should only choose to pursue this path if they are all in. If that's you, then you your student loans won't cause you to regret your decision.

Having a clear understanding of how loan repayment works is a must. And it's also important to know how to mitigate both the financial and psychological aspects of carrying that amount of debt.

Optometrists need a plan for student loan repayment

ODs can find a clear path to pay back their student loans. A path that could not only save them significant money but help them understand the actions steps to get it done.

Student Loan Planner® has helped more than 5,300 clients take on over $1.3 billion of student loans. We can help you figure out the optimal path in just 1 hour despite your optometrist salary or debt amount. Book your consultation by clicking the button below.

Income & Student Debt by Profession
See how you compare
Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
We'll send the full salary report
How you compare to other
accountants stats*
Average student debt
Average income
Average Debt-to-Income Ratio

Statistics represent the population of Student Loan Planner clients in the respective profession referenced in the chart from 2017-2023. Sample excludes those in school or in training.*

Comments are closed.