Exam results not what you hoped for? A career in eyecare can offer a bright future

The government in England is planning to reduce the number of top A level grades this year. Ministers want to return to pre-pandemic statistics, the proportion awarded in 2019. Scotland and Wales are moving more slowly. It may be bad news for some students, parents and schools. But if you miss out, there are still plenty of options for a rewarding career in eyecare. Whether you are into science and technology, fashion or engaging with people, there’s a great future waiting for you. 

Check with your preferred university

If you just miss the required grades, the university may welcome you anyway. Check whether your offer has been changed into an unconditional one on the UCAS system, or ask the institution.

Look at your secondary offers

Many students who originally wanted to study medicine opt for a degree in optometry instead. Optometrists are skilled healthcare professionals who:

  • Examine eyesight
  • Prescribe glasses or contact lenses 
  • Check for eye conditions
  • Look for underlying health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure 

Consider clearing

UCAS says more than 25,000 courses will be offered via clearing this year. A different university or course – such as optometry – might be a great alternative. 

Investigate apprenticeships

You could earn while you learn, gaining a qualification at a number of different levels. Many eyecare employers, from big firms to independent stores, offer apprenticeships. 

Optical assistants (OA) develop strong communication skills. You should show a passion for working with others to deliver great service, with products that look good and are clinically correct. You will learn to understand a spectacle prescription. OAs acquire a broad range of technical knowledge about spectacle frame materials and fitting to ensure the best product for the customer. You will use a range of equipment and tools to take measurements, adjust and even repair spectacles.

Find out more about becoming an optical assistant. A Level 2 apprenticeship takes no less than 12 months.

You can go on to train as dispensing optician (DO) advising on, fitting and supplying the most appropriate spectacles after taking account of each person’s visual, lifestyle and vocational needs. 

Dispensing opticians also play an important role in advising and dispensing low vision aids to people who are partially sighted as well as advising on and dispensing to children. They may also fit and provide aftercare for contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training. They can go onto take up  career opportunities in business and practice management, or concentrate on styling.

Optical technicians Apprenticeships are also available for spectacle makers, known as optical lab technicians. This is a hands-on and practical career that will be great if you like technology, craft or science. You may be working within a small glazing workshop in an optician’s practice or in a larger manufacturing company.

Spectacles come in a wide range of prescriptions, coatings and finishes, frame types and styles. You will be using a range of materials for frames and lenses that will have their own unique properties. You will need to learn both traditional skills and how to use computerised technology to glaze lenses into spectacle frames. You will use optical manufacturing machinery and repair tools to carry out the role.

Find out more about becoming an optical lab technician here. This Level 3 apprenticeship takes no less than 24 months.

Go straight into work

You can apply for jobs as an optical assistant without an apprenticeship. There are still career development opportunities. Once you’ve gained experience, you may be interested in training as  a dispensing optician or an optical sales rep, or going into the business side and becoming a practice manager. 

More information