With 60 new students and two returning students, the UAB School of Optometry’s class of 2024 is the largest class in the school’s 51-year history.

“While 2020 might be known as a year of challenges, our recruitment cycle for the class of 2024 was a notable exception,” said Dean Kelly Nichols. “We did not experience any difficulty in filling our class at UAB this year. With the leadership of Dr. Gerald Simon, along with determination from the entire Student Affairs team and admissions committee, we were able to go above and beyond with both class size and the quality of the matriculating students.”

The class of 2024 has an average GPA of 3.61 and the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) scores well above the national average.

“Because the number of qualified applicants was so great, we decided to accept students, rather than wait-list them,” said Gerald Simon, OD, director of Student Affairs. “Their qualifications greatly influenced our decision to grow the class.”

It also helped that the Henry Peters Building can now accommodate a higher number of students. During renovations, completed in 2020, classroom, pre-clinic, locker room, and lounge space was added or increased. This includes a new simulation lab on the fourth floor. Existing common areas throughout the building were updated or made larger as well.

Due to COVID-19, the entire class has yet to meet in person. Orientation was held virtually for one week, with only CPR certifications being held at the Henry Peters Building in very small groups. With the exception of labs, their classes are currently online or hybrid courses. Still, administrators haven’t noticed any less enthusiasm from the class of 2024.

Connie Wright, Student Affairs program manager said, “They are as enthusiastic as any other first year class and we are just as excited to have them be part of the UABSO family.”

Class sizes at the UAB School of Optometry have changed several times over the years. Nine students were admitted to the first class in 1969. However, Henry Peters, OD, MPH, founding dean, had his sights set on admitting 40 students once the school was established.

 “Although it was Dr. Peters’ goal to admit 40 students by the mid-1970s, this didn’t actually occur until 1978,” said John Amos, OD, former dean and professor emeritus. “Over the next several decades this was, within one or two students, the number admitted.” 

Fifty students were admitted for the first time in 2012. This remained the maximum number of students prior to reaching 60 entering students in a single class this year.

Nichols views the recent increase as one that’s in keeping with why the optometry school was established 51 years ago.

“The school exists because there was a need for optometrists in Alabama,” she said. “Even though our footprint now extends outside the state, the need still exists to ensure the availability of eye and vision care in both rural and metropolitan areas. What has changed is our ability to effectively educate and train a greater number of students than before.”

Because our class sizes remain smaller than most optometry schools, I have no doubt that our students will still be able to form the lifelong friendships and relationships with instructors that result from a close-knit family atmosphere. We don’t anticipate we will always have a class this size. This was truly a remarkable recruiting year. We are confident the class of 2024 will carry on the hallmark excellence and family spirit that defines UABSO.”