What are the top AR/VR school programs in the Midwest for 2022?

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the Midwest - 2022 College Rankings
1University of MichiganMichigan
2University of Illinois at Urbana-ChampaignIllinois
3Iowa State UniversityIowa
4University of Illinois at ChicagoIllinois
5Purdue UniversityIndiana
6Northwestern UniversityIllinois
7The Ohio State UniversityOhio
8DePaul UniversityIllinois
9Columbia College ChicagoIllinois
10University of ChicagoIllinois

Our 2022 rankings -our second annual- of the top AR/VR programs in the Midwest. For reference, we define the Midwest as Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Idaho, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

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

The University of Michigan (UM) serves more than 40,000 students enrolled in hundreds of programs housed across 19 schools, colleges, and divisions. Founded in 1817 as one of the first public universities in the nation, UM is home to one of the world’s largest and oldest programs in Computation. The area, which consist of several departments and divisions, serves nearly 11,000 students, and provides access to degree and certificate programs, coursework, studios, and initiatives that explore extended reality (XR/AR/VR).

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.

Course features across 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 XR Initiative - Center for Academic Innovation and the studios of the James and Anne Duderstadt Center (DC). Founded in 2019, the XR 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.

Past XR Initiative 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.

The DC houses the Fabrication Studio, the DC Visualization Studio, M.I.D.E.N (Michigan Immersive Digital Experience Nexus), and VizHubs. All studios are equipped with state-of-the art equipment and individual workstations, advanced software, collaborative workstations, the Vicon Motion Capture System, Leap Motion System for hand tracking in VR environments, and the Perception Neuron Full Body Tracking Suit, and more.

Graduates of the Computer Science and XR Programs at University of Michigan are prepared for careers in AR/VR, Simulation Engineering, Applications Development, Digital Arts and Entertainment, and Software Engineering, among others.

2. 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, among others.

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 (VR LAB).

Supported by the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (CITL) and University Library’s IDEA Lab and Media Commons, the VR Lab is a collaborative initiative that supports AR/VR and extended reality research, exploration, and teaching at UIUC.

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

Adjacent to the VR Lab is the Innovation Studio—an active, experimental and emerging technology studio with VR headsets, a video wall, gaming computers, and a range of innovative technologies.

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

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

Iowa State University (ISU or Iowa State) opened on March 17, 1869 as Iowa State Agricultural College. The school was one of the first of a new generation of American colleges. Today, this public, land-grant university serves around 30,700 students (2021-2022), making it the second largest university in Iowa. Serving around 31,317 students (as of 2022), University of Iowa is the first largest university in the state.

ISU students have access to more than 300 degree, certificate, and minor programs housed in eight colleges and two schools. The Graduate College at Iowa State 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. The MS is interdisciplinary, the MHC is delivered on-campus and online, and a 12 credit hour HCI Graduate Certificate is also available. Across programs, students will take courses such as Virtual Worlds and Applications, Visual Design for HCI, Computer Graphics and Geometric Modeling, Learn to Speak AI, Design and Evaluation of Human Computer Interaction, Python Application Development in HCI, and Foundations in Game-Based Learning.

Students in all programs have access to the Virtual Reality Applications Center (VRAC), which leads ISU’s HCI Program. This interdisciplinary research center supports the research of students and faculty from ISU’s seven colleges, as well as a number of industry partners and collaborators from several federal agencies.

VRAC participants have skills and interests in virtual, augmented, and mixed reality (VR/AR/MR) user experience (UX), developmental robotics, haptics interaction, HCI, and mobile computing.

Graduates of the HCI Programs at Iowa State University are prepared for careers in both the private and public sectors. Master’s degree graduates are also prepared for to continue their studies by enrolling in a PhD program.

4. University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
University of Illinois at Chicago

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is the largest university in the Chicago area. Established in 1982, the school serves nearly 34,000 students enrolled in 95 bachelor’s, 100 master’s, and 63 doctoral degree programs across 16 academic colleges.

The College of Engineering at UIC houses the Department of Computer Science (CS)—the fastest growing program at the school. Pathways include a BS in CS and Design—the only such program at a public university, 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.

Across programs, areas explored 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. Programs consist  of a combination of studio courses and required technical courses that allow students to collaborate in teams on research and projects.

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 (VR/AR/MR), 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. EVL specializes in virtual reality, visual data science, collaborative visualization, 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.

Graduates of the Computer Science Programs at University of Illinois at Chicago have been hired at some of the world’s top companies including Microsoft, Amazon, Cisco, Meta, Adobe, Google, Apple, LG, Blue Cross Blue Shield, HP, Redbox, and Verizon, among others.  

5. Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana
Purdue University

This fall, Purdue University reached a record 50,884 students, topping last year’s 49,639 students. This is the university’s eighth straight record high. Founded in 1869, Purdue opened its doors on September 16, 1874 with six instructors and just 39 students. Today, the school employs 2,000 full-time faculty that teach and conduct research in Purdue’s 12 colleges and schools, and Purdue Polytechnic Institute.

For students interested in AR/VR, Purdue Polytechnic Institute has a flexible MS in Computer Graphics Technology (MS CGT) Program that allows students to take coursework in one or more areas and customize their plan of study. 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 in the program have access to the Purdue HRD Virtual Lab, which is equipped with Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headsets to deliver virtual reality simulations, Microsoft HoloLens for augmented reality training simulations, GoPro Omni and GoPro Hero to create 360-degree training simulation content, and iMotions software to collect biometric data on facial expression analysis (FEA), eye tracking (ET), electrocardiography (ECG), galvanic skin responses (GSR), and facial electromyography (fEMG).

To graduate, MS CGT students will complete several projects including the Computer Graphics Project, Directed MS Capstone, and Directed MS Project.

Graduates of the MS CGT Program at Purdue University-Purdue Polytechnic Institute are prepared to seek careers in all sectors that utilize AR/VR. Graduates have been hired at Google, DreamWorks, Google, Salesforce, Deloitte, and other major companies and studios.

6. Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois
Northwestern University

Northwestern University (NU or Northwestern) serves 8,000+ undergraduate students and 13,000+ graduate students enrolled in hundreds of programs across 12 colleges and schools and three campuses in Chicago, IL, Evanston, IL, and Doha, Qatar. Established in 1851, Northwestern also has sites in San Francisco, CA, New York, NY, Washington, DC, and Miami, FL.

The McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University 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, among others.

Northwestern HCI students are enrolled programs in Computer Science (BA, BS, MS, and a Minor), Communication, Learning Sciences, and Technology & Social Behavior. HCI 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.

Course examples at the undergraduate level include Artificial Intelligence (AI) Programming, HCI, Machine Learning, Tangible Interaction Design and Learning, HCI, Computer Graphics, Computer Game Design and Development, Machine Perception of Music & Audio, Game Design Studio, Agile Software Development, Software Construction, Resource Virtualization, Designing & Constructing Models with Multi-Agent Language, and Advanced Digital Design.

MS students have the opportunity to customize the curriculum to support their goals. Options include courses and research in AI, HCI, distributed interactive systems, AR/VR for Virtual Analytics, 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—Northwestern’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 Computer Science alumni are Computer Programmers, Software Developers, Engineers, and Entrepreneurs. They work for global companies such as IBM, Intel, Google, and Microsoft, among others.

7. The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
The Ohio State University

The College of Arts and Sciences at The Ohio State University (OSU) houses the Department of Design, which has a program that’s suitable for individuals interested in a career in AR/VR. Leading to an MFA in Design, the program has a Digital Animation and Interactive Media (DAIM) Track. Also housed OSU’s College of Arts and Design is the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design (ACCAD), which conducts research that focuses on emerging arts technologies. ACCAD houses complemented by specialized and flexible studios for interactive design, animation, mediated performance design, motion capture, and media production.

In addition to access to the ACCAD, DAIM students have the opportunity to take 12 studio elective credits that provide hands-on experience. The 60 credit hour MFA Program also 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.

Graduates of the Design MFA Program have been hired in a variety of roles in a range of  industries. They hold positions such as Augmented Reality Designer, Mixed Reality Designer, Virtual Reality Designer, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) Designer, Interaction Designer, Visualization Specialist,  Motion Graphics Designer, Game Designer, Experiential Designer, Multimedia Designer, and CG Generalist.

The Ohio State University (OSU) was established on March 22, 1870 as Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The school serves nearly 67,800 students across six campuses that house 18 colleges and schools and 200 academic centers and institutes.

8. DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois
DePaul University

DePaul University (DePaul) was founded in 1898 as St. Vincents College. Serving 21,670 students, DePaul is the nation’s largest Roman Catholic university. Students at DePaul have access to more than 300 programs across 10 colleges and schools.

The Eugene P. Jarvis College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM) 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 Jarvis College of CDM. 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 goal of the Virtual and Augmented Reality Communication Lab (VARC) in the College of Communication is to advance ethical communication in VR and VR. Equipped with the latest AR/VR equipment, the Lab allows students and faculty to experience AR/VR technology and explore how these tools impact society. 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 pathways. Options in School of Computing within the Jarvis College of CDM include a BS in Computer Science (CS), and MS degrees in Computer Science and Software Engineering. Software Engineering students may concentrate in Software and Systems Development. Other noteworthy graduate concentrations include Game and Real-Time Systems, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Graduates of the Computer Science and Software Engineering Programs at DePaul University have been hired by Lockheed Martin, Abbott Laboratories, Microsoft, Disney Interactive, Meta, Argonne National Laboratory, GitHub, Vivid Seats, and CME Group, among others.

9. Columbia College Chicago, Chicago, Illinois
Columbia College Chicago

Founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory, Columbia College Chicago (Columbia) provides more than 150 majors, minors, and graduate programs to nearly 7,000 students from the U.S. and abroad. Columbia features small class sizes, internship opportunities, and real-world opportunities to display works at a number of conferences and other events.

For students interested in AR/VR, Columbia has an Immersive Media (IM) BA Program that requires a Minor. This allows students to develop skills in multiple areas. An 18 credit hour IM Minor is also available for students in other degree programs. Minors that complement the IM BA include Interactive Media Development, Programming, User Experience, Game Design, Video Production, and Animation.

Follow the path from prototyping to deployment, students in the Immersive Media Program will develop the skills needed to produce augmented, mixed, and virtual reality experiences for games, entertainment, healthcare, engineering, and the sciences, among others. Other program features include a collaborative environment, portfolio development, and the opportunity to participate in or present at events such as the Augmented World Expo (AWE), the VRAR Association of Chicago (career fairs and events), the Game Developers Conference (GDC), the Chicago Toy and Game Fair (required), and Industry Night and Manifest.

Nearly 90% of Columbia College graduates report being employed within a year of earning their degrees. Immersive Media graduates hold positions such as Augmented Reality Designer and Developer, Virtual Reality Design and Developer, Immersive Information Visualization, Immersive Media Artist, Simulation Design and Developer, User Experience Design for Immersive Media, and Immersive Storytelling.

Columbia College alumni have been hired at Microsoft, Meta, Steam, Snapchat, Google, Midwest Immersive, Within, Adobe, 8i Virtual Reality Studio (8i), Riot Games, , CNN, NY Times, Midwest Immersive, Moxie, Edelman, and TIME Studios, among others.

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

University of Chicago (UChicago) is a private research university established in 1890 by oil magnate John D. Rockefeller. The school, which houses hundreds of programs and initiatives, has partnerships in over 48 nations and on every continent. UChicago serves 17,470 students, with more than 4,400 students enrolling each year from nearly 115 countries.

University of Chicago 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 has BS and MS Degrees in Computer Science (CS). The Department also offers a CS Minor and 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. This provides a pathway to develop additional skills in AR/VR.

Across programs, students will have access to courses such as 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.

Other program features include internship and study abroad opportunities at the UChicago Center in Beijing and others, and 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 virtual reality, GIS, digital fabrication, data visualization, and other new, evolving, and emerging technologies. Through the Lab, faculty, students and staff collaborate on the research and development of games of all kinds. Examples include alternate reality, digital, board, and card.

Lab participants will also attend workshops and collaborate on game-based experiments and development projects in the 3,800-square-foot space, which houses classrooms, studio spaces, and open work areas.

University of Chicago graduates are recruited for a variety of positions at more than 400 organizations annually. UChicago graduates from the past three years work in over 40 countries across six continents. University of Chicago alumni can be found at leading organizations in a variety of industries, they are enrolled in some of the top graduate programs, and many alumni start their own studios, businesses, companies, and organizations.