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

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

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the South - 2021 College Rankings
1University of North Carolina at Chapel HillNorth Carolina
2Georgia Institute of TechnologyGeorgia
3Savannah College of Art and DesignGeorgia
4North Carolina State UniversityNorth Carolina
5University of Central FloridaFlorida
6Full Sail UniversityFlorida
7University of FloridaFlorida
8Emory UniversityGeorgia
9Florida Gulf Coast UniversityFlorida
10University of South Carolina-AikenSouth Carolina

Our 2021 rankings of the top Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) schools in the South.

We define the South as Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas.

For an explanation of our ranking criteria, click here.

1. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Established in 1789, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) is the only public university in the U.S. to award degrees in 18th century. The school offers 74 bachelors, 104 masters, 65 doctorate, and seven professional degree programs through 14 schools. A member of the UNC System (16 universities), UNC-Chapel Hill serves around 30,100 students.

Program options for AR/VR students are housed in the College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Computer Science. Established in 1964, the Department was one of the first independent computer science departments in the U.S.

Pathways include BS and MS degrees in Computer Science with a Computer Graphics or HCI Research Area. Computer Graphics subareas include Animation & Simulation, Virtual Environments, and Visualization. HCI offers a Virtual Environments subarea. A PhD in Computer Science is also available.

Department course highlights include 2D Computer Graphics, Connecting Language to Vision and Robotics, Digital Culture, Digital Logic and Computer Design, Human Robot Interaction, Machine Learning, Models of Languages & Computation, Scientific Programming, and Software Engineering Laboratory.

Students in all programs have access the Graphics, Imaging, and Robotics Lab and the Graphics and 3D Vision Laboratory. The Graphics, Imaging, and Robotics Lab is a 3,500 sq. ft. space located in J. Carlyle Sitterson Hall. Most of the Lab is dedicated to work in effective virtual environments. The remaining area, which houses a variety of robots, focuses on robotics research.

Housed in the Frederick P. Brooks Jr. Computer Science Building and Sitterson Hall, the new Graphics and 3D Vision Laboratory is situated in a noise-controlled, 2,500 sq. ft. space divided into three research zones by floor-to-ceiling blackout curtains for light and sound suppression. Zones include Projective Display Research, Computer Vision and Optical Tracking Research, and Physical Simulation and Audio Synthesis Research with a focus on GPU processing. The space has “11-foot ceilings and a Unistrut mounting grid to mount hardware as needed.”

Other facilities include “specialized research laboratories for graphics and image processing, computer building and design, and collaborative, distributed, and parallel systems.” Past and present projects and groups include the Ultrasound/Medical Augmented Reality Group, Effective Virtual Environments Project, Geometric Algorithms for Modeling, Motion, and Animation Group (GAMMA) Project, and the Walkthrough Group (simulated walkthroughs of architectural models).

UNC-Chapel Hill graduates work in a range of industries, in companies ranging from small start-up operations to government laboratories and large research and development corporations.

2. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia
Georgia Institute of Technology

Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has campuses in Atlanta, Georgia; Metz, France; and Shenzhen, China. The school opened as the Georgia School of Technology in October 1888 with just 84 students. Today, Georgia Tech serves nearly 40,000 students from 50 states and 149 countries.

Majors and degrees are offered through the colleges of Design, Computing, Engineering, and Sciences, the Scheller College of Business, and the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts. Programs for AR/VR students are offered in the Ivan College of Liberal Arts, School of Literature, Media, and Communication, and the College of Computing, Schools of Computer Science, Interactive Computing, and Computational Science & Engineering. Options include a BS in Computational Media, MS and PhD degrees in Computer Science, and Minors in Computing & Devices, Computing & Intelligence, and Computing & People, to name a few.

With 300 students, the BS in Computational Media is one of Georgia Tech’s fastest growing programs. Students have opportunities to focus in Interaction, Games, Narrative, and more. Course highlights include Constructing the Moving Image, Interaction Design, Computer Animation, and Experimental Media. Sample careers include Virtual and Augmented Reality, Special Effects Creation, Interactive Game Design and Simulation, Robotics, and Animation.

The Computer Science programs at Georgia Tech provide opportunities for students to select from research areas such Virtual & Augmented Environments, Ubicomp & Wearable Computing, AI and Machine Learning, Robotics and Perception, and Geometry, Graphics, and Animation.

Students in all programs have access to Georgia Techs GVU Center, which supports AI, AR/VR, HCI, Robotics, Wearable Computing and other research. Within the GVU Center is the Augmented Environments Lab, which focuses on “understanding how to build interactive computing environments that directly augment a user's senses with computer-generated material,” says the school.

Also located in the GVU Center is the Prototyping eNarrative Lab. Also known as PeN Lab, the Lab “applies digital information design and interaction design principles to digital storytelling to create more complex and expressive narratives, focusing on emerging platforms like experimental television, virtual reality, and augmented reality, and on the intersection of storytelling with game design and simulation design.”

Sample Lab projects include Bringing Interactivity to Static Data Visualizations through Augmented Reality, Escape Room VR, Interaction Techniques for Children's AR Education, Invisible Cities: Multi-user AR Public Monuments, The Lights of St. Etienne: An AR/MR Experience in the Cathedral in Metz, France, WebXR: Experiences in AR and VR for the Web, and Pipping: Exploring Passive Haptics in Virtual Reality.

Georgia Tech graduates can be found working in leadership positions in consulting, engineering, financial services, healthcare, law, manufacturing, retailing, transportation, humanitarian logistics, and more. They have been hired by companies such as Apple, Boeing, Cisco Systems, Delta Airlines, Disney, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Tesla, and many others.

3. Savannah College of Art and Design, Atlanta, Georgia
Savannah College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) houses the School of Digital Media, which offers a BFA in Immersive Reality. Launched in 2018, the 180 credit hours program allows students to explore related fields such as User Experience (UX) Design, Visual Effects, Film and Television, Interactive Design, and more. Students may add an additional major or minor in any of these areas.

BFA Program highlights include collaboration with students and faculty across disciplines, access to panels and presentations from top companies in gaming, including Cartoon Network, EA Sports, and Ubisoft, and study abroad opportunities at SCAD Lacoste, France. Students also have access to Montgomery Hall, which houses “AR/VR resources, a green screen, a motion media lab, and more than 800 computers networked to reduce render times,” says the school. And in The Shed, “immersive reality classrooms and labs host the latest technology for creating groundbreaking visual experiences.”

Course highlights for the BFA in Immersive Reality include Augmented Reality Lab, Immersive Revolution: Augmented to Virtual Reality, Virtual Reality for Motion Media, Visual Effects for Immersive Environments, Integration of Immersive Realities, Visual Storytelling: Virtual Reality to Interactive, Immersive Innovation Lab, and Advanced Application Scripting.

Soon, students in all programs will have access to the expanded Savannah Film Studios. Once completed, the expanded Savannah Film Studios “will be the largest and most comprehensive university film studio complex in the nation.”

Launching in three phases in fall 2021, 2022 and 2023, the 10.9-acre facility will include “a Hollywood-style film backlot, a next-generation XR stage for virtual productions, and new soundstages, among other features.” The existing Savannah Film Studios building is a 22,000-square-foot facility, which opened in 2014, and houses three soundstages, green rooms, lighting grids, postproduction suites, a multi-purpose recording booth for ADR and Foley recordings, screening rooms, and production offices for SCAD’s film and television program.

Founded in 1978 and serving more than 15,000 students, SCAD has a high alumni employment rate. “In a recent study, 99% of SCAD graduates were employed, pursuing further education, or both within 10 months of graduation.” Graduates work in Georgia’s entertainment industry and others across the U.S.

4. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina
North Carolina State University

Founded in 1887 as the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts, North Carolina State University (NC State or NCSU) serves more than 36,000 students. The school offers more than 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in 12 colleges and schools housing 65 departments.

The College of Design houses the Art + Design Department, which offers BA and MA degrees in Art + Design. A Minor is also available. Students in all programs have access to the College of Design’s Experience Design and Mixed Reality Labs, and the College of Engineering’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab.

The Experience Design Lab (IX) is a cross-disciplinary community of artists, designers, humanists, scientists and engineers that explore “virtual and augmented experiences as a cultural practice,” says the school.

The Mixed Reality (MxR) Lab consists of designers, engineers and “tinkerers” working on the “challenge of creating impactful changes in the user experience of Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality (VR, AR, MR) technologies.” Current projects include Axe One, Pop’n’Play, and Morphaces.

The Virtual and Augmented Reality Lab (VR) in the College of Engineering’s Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering studies the interaction between humans and AR/VR. Researchers in the Lab also explore “the potentials in VR/AR for various real-world applications.” Current active projects include User Performance Training and Patient Motor Learning.

Available equipment includes four-sided (C4) Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) with full-body tracking capability, several head-mounted displays (HMDs), and a head-up display (HUD). In addition, a number of other peripheral devices that support movement tracking are available.

In the College of Design’s interdisciplinary BA in Art + Design, students have the opportunity to learn about and develop creative portfolios in areas such as AR/VR, Interactive and Computational Media, Motion Graphics, Visual Effects, Graphic and Interactive Narratives, Game Design, 3D Modeling, and many others. Course highlights include Art + Design Laboratory, Creative Technology, Digital Imaging, Advanced Digital Techniques, Digital Motion, Animation, and Visualization.  

The MA in Art + Design (M.A.D) focuses on Experimental Media Arts. The program “encourages students to explore the intersection of digital and material technologies,” says the school, “to create interactive and engaging experiences that push the boundaries of storytelling, learning and play.” Depending on the student’s academic background and experience, they may enroll in the 30-, 48- or 72-credit Track. Course highlights include Digital Motion, Special Effects, Animation, Dynamic Data, Digital Modeling, Coding for Designers, Sequential Imaging, and Visualizing Narratives.

Graduates of the Art + Design Department are currently working in fields such as Software Design, Multimedia, Illustration, Textile Design, Fashion and Apparel Design, Art and Design Education, Photography, Filmmaking, Special Effects-Digital, Set Design, Exhibition Design, Museum Education, Public Art and Entrepreneurs.

5. University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida
University of Central Florida

University of Central Florida (UCF) offers more than 230 degree programs in 13 colleges. The College of Engineering and Computer Science, Department of Computer Science offer several programs of interest for aspiring AR/VR professionals. Options include a BS in Computer Science (CS), an Accelerated BS/MS in CS, and MS and PhD degrees in Modeling and Simulation.

Course highlights for the BS in CS include Advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI), AI for Game Programming, Algorithms for Machine Learning, Computer Architecture, Computer Graphics, Game Programming, Robot Vision, and Software Engineering. Graduates of the program are prepared for careers in AR/VR, Computer Architecture, Computer Gaming, Computer Vision, Evolutionary Computing, Media Convergence, Robotics, and many others.

The MS in CS allows students to specialize in a research area. This includes options such as Virtual Reality and Human Computer Interaction (HCI), AI, Mixed and Virtual Reality Mobile Computing, Machine Learning, and Modeling and Simulation. Pairing (combining two research areas) is also an option. In addition to the Specialization, students in the program “receive a broad background in the areas of programming systems and languages, computer architecture, and computer science theory.”

In addition to working in AR/VR, graduates of the MS in CS Program work in Computer Science, Computer Systems, Software Development, Cyber/Information Security, Software Engineering, and more.

In addition to the CS Programs, UCF’s Computer Science Department houses the SREAL Synthetic Reality Lab and the Interactive Systems and User Experience Lab.

The SREAL Synthetic Reality Lab is a center for researchers, software developers, artists (modelers/animators), interactors (digital puppeteers), PhD students, and affiliated faculty members. With 7,000 square feet of experimental and office space, SREAL houses areas for the development of mixed reality experiences, the delivery of interactive training using digital avatar technology, human surrogate and robotics research, and developing cultural heritage and STEM experiences.

SREAL (pronounced Surreal) is part of several larger UCF entities, most notably the Institute for Simulation & Training (IST), which houses it.

The Interactive Systems and User Experience Lab focuses on “the creation and evaluation of advanced interfaces that support education, entertainment, and general work productivity.” The mission of the Lab is to “develop innovative techniques, tools, and applications that improve the overall experience between humans and machines.”

6. Full Sail University, Winter Park, Florida
Full Sail University

Full Sail University began in 1979 as an audio recording workshop in Dayton, Ohio. The school serves 21,000 students enrolled in Entertainment, Media, Arts, and Technology programs leading to Associate, Bachelor, and Master’s degrees. Programs provide “an immersive, fast-paced, and relevant learning experience that mirrors the workflow and collaboration found throughout today's rapidly evolving industries,” says the school. Options for students interested in AR/VR include a BS in Simulation and Visualization with access to Full Sail’s VR/AR Lab and FabLab.

In the Full Sail VR/AR Lab, students have access to “headsets from a variety of manufacturers, including Oculus, Magic Leap, Microsoft, HTC, and more.” A green screen, which “dominates the back wall of the space,” is used for student’s final projects. “They can go into VR, but we can also see them in VR,” says Lab Head Dan Mapes. “We record them inside a simulated environment, and that video becomes a portfolio piece they can use to show off their work.”

The Full Sail FabLab is set up like a workshop. The space includes 3D printers, laser scanners, injection molding machines, and more. Students in the lab can work on projects, collaborate, and network. Full Sail’s VR/AR Lab and FabLab launched in 2016.

The BS in Simulation and Visualization Program, which launched around two years before the Labs, “combines software and hardware development into one cohesive track focused on emerging technologies,” says the school. The program equips students “with the programming and critical-thinking skills needed to study and design virtual systems.” Students will develop “tech savvy through hands-on experience, in order to keep pace with an ever-evolving industry.” Course highlights for the program include Virtual and Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Programming I & II, Technology in the Entertainment and Media Industries, Simulation and Visualization Software, Computer Graphics and Simulation Production.

Throughout the program, students will complete a project and build a portfolio through a series of seven courses—Project and Portfolio I-VII: Simulation and Visualization. The BS Program can be completed in just 20 months, on campus.

Graduates enjoy a 92% employment rate. Companies that have hired Full Sail graduates include Universal Studios, DreamWorks, Bunim Murray Productions, HBO Studios, Disney, Rockstar Games, Blizzard Entertainment, Industrial Light & Magic, Pixar,  MTV, Cirque du Soleil, Nickelodeon, Miramax, NFL Films, and many others.

7. University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
University of Florida

University of Florida (UF) serves nearly 58,000 students making it one of the top five largest universities in the state. The school offers 100 undergraduate majors and 200 graduate programs in 16 colleges. Among UF’s colleges is the College of the Arts, which houses the Digital Worlds Institute. Here, students interested in AR/VR can earn a Master’s in Digital Arts & Sciences (MiDAS).

This one year, accelerated master’s program in emerging technologies (specifically AR/VR) accepts individuals from all backgrounds. Program highlights include a collaborative environment, personal attention from faculty and content area experts and opportunities to work on industry-standard projects and create a professional portfolio.

The MiDAS Program covers Technical Skills: Game Engines and Development (i.e. Unity 3D) and Software and Hardware Integration; Design and Interactivity: Visual Design Tools/Tech, 3D for VR/AR UI-UX, Audio, Digital Compositing, and Digital Storytelling; and Professional Skills: Project Proposals, Production Pipelines, Project Management, and Critical Thinking and Analysis.

Students will have access to the UF Reality Lab at the Digital Worlds Institute. The Lab explores and promotes research and educational endeavors in AR/VR. Sample courses in the Lab include Production of Immersive Environments, Digital Storytelling, Movement, Media, and Machines, and Interdisciplinary Research Seminar.

Past student projects have included include Space Mail, ScootVR, HoloTouch, Virtual Standardized Patient, WonderLab, Metrolia VR Multiplayer Mech Duel, and SpArc: Animate Using Your Hands in Virtual Reality.

Graduates of the MiDAS Program and others at UF have landed positions at 22squared, Aramark, Cox Media Group, ESPN, Glaxo Smith Klein, Reed Exhibitions, Boeing, Walt Disney, GE Digital and Meridium, Spirit Airlines, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Navy.

8. Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia
Emory University

Founded in 1836, Emory University consists of two campuses—Oxford, Georgia and Atlanta. The Oxford Campus is a residential college consisting of only first- and second-year students. The University serves 15,000 students across the two campuses. Programs are offered in four undergraduate colleges and seven graduate and professional schools.

Emory College of Arts and Sciences houses the Department of Computer Science where students can earn a BA, BS, and MS in Computer Science (CS) or a Combined BA/BS + CS MS Degree known as the 4+1 Computer Science Program. A Minor in CS is also available. The programs encourage exploration of other disciplines. This means, CS students may take courses or create a focus in an additional area in Art, Design, Healthcare, Science, Medicine, and more.

Department course highlights include Artificial Intelligence (AI), Advanced Computer Systems, Adaptive Machine Learning, Machine Learning, Programming Languages and Compilers, Systems Programming, Information Visualization, and Professional Development.

Students in all programs have access to Emory Center for Digital Scholarship’s Digital Visualization Laboratory (VR/AR/MR), which says it “implements emerging technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) to visualize academic content.” Specialists in the Lab “help students and faculty members with interactive, multidisciplinary media design, research insights, visual analytics, educational gaming, and various simulation and training activities.”

Current Lab projects include Apollo 15 Hub, Battle of Atlanta Cyclorama, and Openworld Atlanta, to name a few.

9. Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Meyers, Florida
Florida Gulf Coast University

Founded in 1991, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) is the second youngest member of the State University System of Florida. The school serves around 15,330 students enrolled in more than 100 degree and certificate programs in 11 colleges and schools.

Serving just over 1,100 students, the U.A. Whitaker College of Engineering at FGCU offers a BS Software Engineering (BS SE). Just a few required courses include Design & Analysis of Algorithms, Data Structures & Algorithms, Operating Systems, Programming, Software Architecture and Design, and Senior Software Engineering Project I&II.

The program also offers specialized coursework and electives in Intelligent Systems, Simulation and Modeling, Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Robotics, Computer Graphics, Real-Time Embedded Systems, and Special Topics in Software Engineering. Students may also take electives in Computer Information Systems.

To enhance learning in AR/VR and other areas, BS students will study and create in the Virtual Immersive Portal for Engineering Research, commonly known as the "VIPER Lab."

Part of the Whitaker College of Engineering, the VIPER Lab “provides various computer-generated, three-dimensional environments where students can interact and explore by immersing themselves in multiple virtual reality scenarios,” says the school. “Students are able to understand how this technology is being used in the real world.”

The Lab provides 1,000 sq. ft. of space and enables applications of both VR and AR. In addition, “The Cave” by WorldViz, is a Showroom VR, that provides “immersion for warehouse-scale, collaborative experiences.” The asset is “configured to run multiple 3D projectors for various levels of immersion, on a multi-wall setup.”

Students and faculty in the VIPER Lab are currently engaged in a number of projects. Among them is a virtual-reality model of FGCU’s campus for flood simulation.

10. University of South Carolina-Aiken, Aiken, South Carolina
University of South Carolina-Aiken

Established in 1961, University of South Carolina-Aiken (UofSC Aiken) is part of the University of South Carolina System (USC). With eight universities across 20 locations, USC offers over 400 degree programs to more than 45,000 students.

The fourth campus of the USC System, UofSC Aiken serves 3,250 students enrolled in 47 programs of study. Programs in this Liberal Arts institution are housed in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, the College of Sciences and Engineering, and the Schools of Business Administration, Education, and Nursing.

The College of Sciences and Engineering houses the Department of Mathematical Sciences, which offers a BS in Applied Computer Science. Three focus areas are available including Applied Gaming, Traditional Computer Science, and Cybersecurity. Applied Gaming Option is the best option for students interested in AR/VR.

Students pursuing this option will “learn how to design virtual and augmented reality learning environments, using programming (python, object-oriented), graphics, computer organization, physics engines, haptics, 3D and animation, educational design (development, evaluation), physics, and psychology (sensation, perception),” says the school. Students in all options will “learn how to work with data structures, algorithmic design, information security, and software engineering.”

Graduates of the BS Program are prepared to enter the computer services industry, both locally and nationwide, as well as entertainment, game design, healthcare, science, and more.