Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the Midwest - 2021 College Rankings

What are the top AR/VR schools in the Midwest for 2021?

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the Midwest - 2021 College Rankings
1University of Michigan Michigan
2University of Illinois at ChicagoIllinois
3Iowa State UniversityIowa
4Northwestern UniversityIllinois
5University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinois
6DePaul UniversityIllinois
7Ohio UniversityOhio
8Purdue UniversityIndiana
9The Ohio State UniversityOhio
10University of ChicagoIllinois

Our 2021 rankings of the Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality AR/VR schools in the Midwest.

We define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota. 

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, Michigan
University of Michigan

The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor (UM) serves more than 40,000 students enrolled in hundreds of programs in 19 schools, colleges, and divisions. Founded in 1817 as one of the first public universities in the nation, UM houses one of the world’s oldest and largest programs in Computation. The area serves nearly 11,000 students.

Pathways for AR/VR students include BS and MS degrees in Computer Science and a Minor. A Graduate Certificate in Extended Reality (XR) is also available in the School of Information. The Computer Science degrees are offered in two colleges—the College of Engineering and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA). Programs are administered by the Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) Division of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) Department. Note that programs are “program requirements are almost exactly the same for both majors,” says the school.

Course highlights for the CS Programs include Interactive Computer Graphics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Programming Languages, Human-Centered Software Design & Development, Computer Game Design and Development, Autonomous Robotics, and Machine Learning.

To enhance the MS degree, graduate students may add the Graduate Certificate in XR. Open to all graduate students regardless of degree program, the XR program requires 12 credit hours of study. Students will learn about the design, construction, and evaluation of XR experiences. Pre-approved previous, current, and future courses include AR/VR for Sustainability, Augmented Tectonics, Developing AR/VR Experiences, Educational Applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, Immersive Media, Sci-Fi Prototyping, and Virtual Engagement in Digital Technologies.

Students in all programs have access to the Center for Academic Innovation’s XR Initiative. Founded in 2019, the Initiative works with all 19 schools, colleges, and divisions to develop new XR related educational technology designed to enhance the learning experience for students. The Initiative also focuses on making XR technology more accessible on campus and encouraging its use in higher education.

Initiative participants “work with university faculty to actively look for new ideas and opportunities to support.” Past projects include Cross-platform XR Tools for Supporting Student Creativity in Immersive Audio Design, Comparison of Student Learning of Head and Neck Anatomy and Diagnosis of Pathology Using XR, and XR Studio.

UM CS and XR graduates are prepared for careers in AR/VR, Digital Arts and Entertainment, Software Engineering, Simulation Engineering, Applications Development, and more.

2. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

Formed in 1982 and serving 33,518 students across 16 colleges and schools, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is the largest university in the Chicago metropolitan area. The College of Engineering at UIC houses the Department of Computer Science (CS), which is the fastest growing program at the school. Pathways include a BS in CS and Design, an MS and BS/MS in CS, and a CS Minor. A PhD in CS is also available for students interested in research or teaching.

UIC is the only public university in the U.S. that offers a Computer Science and Design undergraduate degree “created specifically to prepare students for these opportunities,” says the school. The program “offers professional training in both fields, integrating design courses — fundamental through advanced — with a strong foundation in computer programming.”

Examples of areas covered include AR/VR Design, Computer Graphics, Creative Coding, Human-Centered Computing, Designing and Developing Digital Interfaces and Applications, Media Design, and Virtual Health and Medicine. The program consists of a combination of studio courses and required technical courses that allow students to “work in teams and to practice being a bridge between the technological and the creative.”

The MS in CS consists of 36 credit hours. Students may enroll in the BS/MS Program, which takes just five years to complete. The MS has coursework only, project (capstone), and thesis options (research or PhD preparation). Featured courses include Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Design of Mobile Apps, and Video Game Design and Development.

Students in all programs have access to the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL and the Human-in-Mind Engineering Research Lab (HiMER).

Established in 1973, EVL is an interdisciplinary research laboratory in the College of Engineering’s Computer Science Department “that specializes in collaborative visualization, virtual reality, visual data science, and advanced computing and networking infrastructure.” The Lab is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Argonne National Laboratory, The Joseph and Bessie Feinberg Foundation, the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, the State of Illinois, and UIC.

The HiMER Lab highlights recently funded research including AR/VR, Human Performance Modeling, Human-System Interaction, Data Analytics, and Transportation Safety. Recent AR/VR projects include Projection-Based Mixed Reality Platform-Spatial Mixed Reality, Gaze-Based Multimodal Interactions in AR, and Human Perception and Cognition in AR.

UIC CS graduates have landed positions at Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cisco, Facebook, Google, HP, LG, Microsoft, Redbox, Verizon, and more.

3. Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa
Iowa State University

Iowa State University (ISU) is a public, land-grant university that welcomed its first class in 1869. The school serves 31,825 students enrolled in more than 100 majors in 10 colleges and schools. The Graduate College offers several programs for students interested in AR/VR. Options include MS and PhD degrees in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and a Master of Human-Computer Interaction (MHC – offered on-campus and online). A 12 credit hour HCI Graduate Certificate is also available.

Students in the interdisciplinary HCI program “benefit from interacting with ISU faculty from departments representing every college in the University,” says the school, “as well as researchers” at the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC). Core courses in HCI are divided into four areas: Design, Implementation, Phenomena, and Evaluation.

Course highlights include Virtual Worlds and Applications, Python Application Development in HCI, Computer Graphics and Geometric Modeling, Models and Theories in Human Computer Interaction, Learn to Speak AI, Advanced Learning Environments Design, and User Engagement.

The VRAC leads ISU’s HCI Program. This interdisciplinary research center “supports the research of faculty and students representing all seven of ISU’s colleges, as well as the interests of collaborators from several federal agencies and numerous industry partners.” Participants have a variety of “strengths in state-of-the-art interaction technologies” including virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) mobile computing, developmental robotics, haptics interaction, HCI, and user experience (UX).

Graduates of the HCI Programs at ISU are prepared for careers in the private or public sector. Master’s degree graduates are also prepared for continuation of studies in a PhD program.

4. Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
Northwestern University

The McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University (NU) houses the Computer Science Department, which heads the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Research Area. Supported topics include AR/VR, Mixed-Initiative Systems, Tangible User Interfaces, Cyberlearning, Ubiquitous Computing, User-Centered Design, Mobile Interaction Design, Interactive Audio, and Multi-Touch Interaction, to name a few.

Students in HCI are enrolled in programs in Computer Science (BA, BS, MS, and a Minor), Communication, Learning Sciences, and Technology & Social Behavior. Students also take courses and attend seminars through the Segal Design Institute.

The BA in Computer Science is offered in the Judd A. and Marjorie Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences (est. 1851). The BS and MS are offered in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science (est. 1909). Minors are available at McCormick and Weinberg. Undergraduate course highlights include Artificial Intelligence (AI) Programming, Machine Learning, Resource Virtualization, Advanced Digital Design, Designing & Constructing Models with Multi-Agent Language, Tangible Interaction Design and Learning, HCI, Computer Graphics, Computer Game Design and Development, Machine Perception of Music & Audio, Game Design Studio, Software Construction, and Agile Software Development.

MS students have the opportunity to customize the curriculum to “fit their research interests and career aspirations.” Options include courses and research in AI, HCI, distributed interactive systems, Theoretical Computer Science, and Computer Graphics and Human Computer Interfaces for Spatial Applications, Visualization, and Computer Entertainment.

Students in all programs have access to The Garage—NU’s AR/VR Media Lab.

The Garage consists of an 11,000 square foot space that provides programming and resources, and supports projects, networking, and collaboration between students and more than 250 mentors and experts. To date The Garage has helped produce more than 500 student-founded startups and projects.

Northwestern CS alumni are Computer Programmers, Software Developers and Engineers, Entrepreneurs, and more. They work for Google, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and many others.

Established in 1851, Northwestern University serves 21,000 students enrolled in 12 colleges across three campuses in Chicago, IL, Evanston, IL, and Doha, Qatar. The school also has sites in San Francisco, CA, New York, NY, Washington, DC and Miami, FL.

5. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Champaign, Illinois
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC) serves more than 47,000 students from all 50 states and 100+ countries. Founded in 1867, the school is one of the original 37 public land-grant institutions created after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862.

UIUC offers more than 150 undergraduate programs and over 100 graduate and professional programs in 16 colleges, schools, and academic units. Grainger College of Engineering’s Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science, houses a Computer Science (CS) program suited for students interested in careers in AR/VR. Options include a BS, MS, and 12 credit hour Minor in Computer Science (CS).

Students in the BS in CS have the opportunity to take up to 18 credit hours of technical electives and six hours of CS advanced electives. This allows students focus in an area of interest. The Media, Intelligence and Big Data, and Human and Social Impact areas include course options such as Virtual Reality, AI for Computer Games, Applied Machine Learning, Mobile Interactive Design, Audio Computing Lab, to name a few.

The MS in CS is a research-oriented degree that requires 28 credit hours of coursework and four credit hours of thesis. The program consists of 10 core areas, including Interactive Computing, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Scientific Computing, and Programming Languages to name a few.

In addition to choosing a focus area (BS) or core area courses (MS) that suit their interests, students have access to the VR@Illinois Lab.

Supported by members from the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) and University Library’s IDEA Lab and Media Commons and funded by investments from campus Technology Services, VR@Illinois is a collaborative initiative that supports “virtual, augmented, and extended reality teaching, research, and exploration” at UIUC, says the school.

The Lab houses studio spaces for VR creation and exploration, mobile virtual reality classrooms, and loanable headsets and cameras for viewing and capturing 360 media. Lab experts provide consultations on implementing VR in the classroom and assistance with VR research projects.

Graduates of the Computer Science and other related programs at UIUC are routinely hired by some of the world’s top companies. Top employers include Amazon, Google, Microsoft Corp., Deloitte, Ernst & Young and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Other employers include Apple Inc., Tesla, Facebook, IBM, Caterpillar and ADM.

6. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University is the nation’s largest Catholic university. The school serves nearly 22,000 students enrolled in more than 300 programs in 10 colleges and schools. The Colleges of Computing and Digital Media and Communication house several Labs that support AR/VR collaboration, learning, research and development, and projects on emerging platforms.

The Virtual and Augmented Design (VAD) Lab is part of the College of Computing and Digital Media. Located on the concourse level of the DePaul Center, the Lab is equipped with AR headsets/visors, VR headsets with hand and foot trackers, iPhones for augmented reality development, Oculus Rifts, iPhones for augmented reality development, Microsoft HoloLenses, HTC Vives, and Macs and PCs.

The Virtual and Augmented Reality Communication Lab (VARC) in the College of Communication serves to advance “ethical communication in VR and VR,” says the school. Equipped with “state-of-the-art” AR/VR equipment, the Lab allows students and faculty to “experience AR/VR technology firsthand and explore how these tools impact society, culture, media and interpersonal relationships.” The VARC Lab also offers classes and workshops, and supports courses at DePaul that utilize AR/VR in the classroom.

In addition to the Labs at DePaul, students interested in AR/VR careers have access to several degree programs that can help them reach their goals. Options in the College of Computing and Digital Media’s School of Computing include a BS in Computer Science (CS), and MS degrees in Computer Science and Software Engineering. BS and MS in Software Engineering students may concentrate in Software and Systems Development. Other noteworthy graduate concentration options include Game and Real-Time Systems, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Graduates of the BS in CS Program have landed positions at Abbott Laboratories, Microsoft, GitHub, Vivid Seats, CME Group, and more. MS graduates have been hired by Argonne National Laboratory, Disney Interactive, Facebook, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, and many others.

7. Ohio University, Athens, Ohio
Ohio University

Established in 1804, Ohio University is the state’s first public university. Serving nearly 30,000 students across more than 10 campuses and centers, the school houses nine colleges that offers more than 250 programs of study.

The Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University is home to the J. Warren McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies (ECT), which offers an Information and Telecommunication Systems Major, (ITS ECT) with a VR/AR Track. In partnership with the School of Media Arts & Studies, the McClure School also offers a VR and Game Development Emphasis, which is part of the Games and Animation Major.

The VR/AR Track , which leads to a BS degree, is “dedicated to emerging communication technologies production, e.g., virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) while also covering information networking and telecommunication systems,” says the school. Students in the program develop a “competitive edge by combining courses that build competency in both networking and content production.”

They will learn “about the design, management, regulation, and application of information network technology; the production, use, and implementation of VR/AR; as well as how businesses acquire and sell such products and services.”

The VR and Game Development Emphasis leads to a BS in Media Arts and Studies – Games and Animation. Students begin the program “with a game design or animation pathway, with many options to enhance either area,” including courses in AR/VR offered by the McClure School. The emphasis area is “enhanced with courses exploring information technology and networks, as well as scripting and coding.” Students also “pursue additional credentials such as a business or communication minor, or certificates in entrepreneurship or social media.”

Students in all programs have access to Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab. Established in 2005, the GRID Lab is an initiative of Scripps College. Developed by the School of Media Arts and Studies, the Lab focuses on the research and development of virtual reality, serious and educational games, simulations, and computer animation. It “provides Ohio University with the personnel, facilities, and tools to create such interactive digital media and technologies.”

The McClure School has the highest job placement rate in the Scripps College of Communication. VR/AR graduates have gone on to work for Warner Brothers, Sony, Disney, Bethesda, Microsoft, Unity, and many other major tech and entertainment companies. ITS graduates are also employed in branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and in state and federal government offices and with consulting companies like Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, PwC, and Capgemini.

VR and Game Development graduates have been hired at Blizzard, Disney/Disney Imagineering, EA, Google, Sony PlayStation, Riot Games, Unity, and many others.

8. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University

Founded in 1869, Purdue opened its doors on September 16, 1874 with six instructors and 39 students. Today, the West Lafayette campus serves 46,000 students, and approximately 2,000 full-time faculty teach and conduct research in Purdue’s 12 colleges and schools, and Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

For students interested in AR/VR, Purdue Polytechnic Institute offers an MS in Computer Graphics Technology (MS CGT). This “highly flexible degree,” enables students to take coursework in one or more areas and “create an individualized plan of study,” says the school. AR/VR coursework includes Augmented Reality, Collaborative Virtual and Augmented Environments, Product Development Using Virtual Environments, Virtual Environments, Cognition & Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Special Topics In Human-Centered Design And Development, Computer Graphics Programming, and Advanced Real-Time Computer Graphics.

Students will also complete several projects including Computer Graphics Project, Directed MS Capstone, and Directed MS Project.

Graduates of the MS CGT Program are prepared to seek careers in all sectors that utilize Virtual and Augmented Reality. Graduates have been hired at DreamWorks, Google, Deloitte, Salesforce, and more.

9. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University

The Ohio State University (OSU) was founded on March 22, 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. Today, OSU offers programs in all areas across 18 colleges and schools. The school houses 200 academic centers and institutes and nearly 68,000 students across all campuses.

The College of Arts and Sciences at OSU houses the Department of Design, which offers an MFA in Design with Digital Animation and Interactive Media (DAIM) Track. Also housed in the College of Arts and Design is the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD).

ACCAD is a “is creative hub for scholars and practitioners of digital arts and sciences,” says the school. The Center conducts “research centered on the use and integration of emerging arts technologies,” in a “generous physical space, complemented by specialized and flexible studios for animation, motion capture, interactive design, media production and mediated performance design.”

In addition to having access to the ACCAD, DAIM students have the opportunity to take 12 studio elective credits that “provide hands-on experiences.” The 60 credit hour program includes core design courses, open electives in the themes of studio/lab, history/theory/criticism, and collaborative/interdisciplinary studio, writing development, and a thesis project. Areas covered include real time graphics and virtual environments, performance animation, game art, responsive and interactive media, and installations, to name a few.

Students in the program will “work closely with a three-person thesis committee to develop their thesis topics and the vehicles best used for their development.”

Graduates of the MFA DAIM Program hold positions such as Augmented Reality Designer, Mixed Reality Designer, Virtual Reality Designer, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Designer, Interaction Designer, Motion Graphics Designer, Game Designer, Experiential Designer, Multimedia Designer, CG Generalist or Specialist, Visualization Specialists, and many others.

10. University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Chicago

The University of Chicago (UChicago) was founded in 1890 by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. A private research university, UChicago has hundreds of programs, initiatives, and partnerships in over 48 nations and on every continent. The school serves more than 17,000 students, and enrolls more than 4,400 students each year from nearly 115 countries.

UChicago offers well over 150 degree and academic programs across the undergraduate College, four graduate divisions, seven professional schools, and the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies. The College of Arts and Sciences houses the Department of Computer Science, which offers BS and MS Degrees in Computer Science (CS) and a Minor. The Department also offers three BA/MS and BS/MS degree options (Bx/MS) including a research-oriented option for CS majors, a professionally oriented option for CS majors, and a professionally oriented option for non-CS majors.

Students in the Department may specialize in areas such as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Machine Learning, Programming Languages, and Computer Architecture. They also have the opportunity to focus in an additional field by following an approved course of study in a related area.

Department course highlights include Emergent Interface Technologies, Planning, Learning, and Estimation for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Scientific Visualization, Programming Languages and Systems, Natural Language Processing, Robotics, Mobile Computing, Computer Vision, Software Development, and Engineering Interactive Electronics onto Printed Circuit Boards.

In addition to internship and study abroad opportunities at the UChicago Center in Beijing and others, students in the Department of Computer Science have access to the Weston Game Lab.

Housed in the Media Arts, Data, and Design Center (MADD Center), the Weston Game Lab launched in in 2019. MADD Center groups focus on “teaching and research that takes place across digital fabrication, virtual reality, GIS, data visualization, and other cutting-edge technologies,” says the school. Through the Lab, faculty, students and staff “collaborate the research and development of games—whether digital, board, card, or alternate reality—that produce social impact or experiment with form.

Lab participants also “research the history of games from technical and theoretical perspectives, attend workshops that afford new development skills, and organize collaborative groups for game-based experiments.” The 3,800-square-foot space houses classrooms and studio spaces, along with “open work areas for collaborative design and development.”

UChicago graduates secure positions at more than 400 organizations each year. In addition, graduates from past three years are working in over 40 countries across six continents. Graduates work at "leading" organizations in a variety of industries, they are pursuing advanced degrees at top graduate programs, and many start their own businesses.