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How to Become a Dispensing Optician

Opticians typically have a high school diploma or equivalent and some form of on-the-job training. Licensure also is required in some states.

Education and Training

Most opticians have at least a high school diploma. Opticians typically learn job skills through formal on-the-job programs. This training includes technical instruction in which, for example, new opticians measure a customer’s eyes or adjust frames under the supervision of an experienced optician. Trainees also learn sales and office management practices.

A number of community colleges and technical schools offer formal education in opticianry. Some award an associate’s degree, which takes two years. Others offer a certificate, which takes one year. As of 2010, the Commission on Opticianry Accreditation accredited 21 associate's degree programs in 14 states.

Coursework includes classes in optics, eye physiology, and business management, among others. Also, students do supervised clinical work that gives them hands-on experience working as opticians and learning optical mathematics, optical physics, and the use of precision measuring instruments. Some programs have distance-learning options.

Courses in physics, basic anatomy, algebra, and trigonometry are particularly valuable. 


Twenty-three states require opticians to be licensed. Licensure usually requires completing formal education through an approved program or completing an apprenticeship. In addition to being licensed, states require opticians to pass one or more of the following (depending on the state): a state written exam, a state practical exam, or certification exams, described in the certification section.

In most states, opticians must renew their licenses periodically, and they must take continuing education.


Opticians may choose to become certified in eyeglass dispensing or contact lens dispensing or both. Certification requires passing exams from the American Board of Opticianry (ABO) and National Contact Lens Examiners (NCLE). Nearly all state licensing boards use the ABO and NCLE exams as the basis for state licensing.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Opticians must be able to listen closely to what customers want. They must be able to explain options and instructions for care in ways that customers understand.

Customer service skills. Because most opticians work in stores, they must answer questions and know about the products they sell. They interact with customers on a very personal level, fitting eyeglasses or contact lenses. To succeed, they must be friendly, courteous, patient, and helpful to customers.

Management skills. Opticians are often responsible for the business aspects of running an optical store. They should be comfortable making decisions and have some knowledge of sales and inventory management.

Manual dexterity. Opticians frequently use special tools to make final adjustments and repairs to eyeglasses. They must have good hand-eye coordination to do that work quickly and accurately.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition