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

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

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the Southwest - 2021 College Rankings
1Texas A&M University at College StationTexas
2University of UtahUtah
3University of ArizonaArizona
4University of Colorado BoulderColorado
5University of Colorado DenverColorado
6Oklahoma State UniversityOklahoma
7Southern Methodist UniversityTexas
8Embry-Riddle Aeronautical UniversityArizona
9Oklahoma Christian UniversityOklahoma
10University of Advancing TechnologyArizona

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

We define the Southwest as Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada.

For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Texas A&M University at College Station, College Station, Texas
Texas A&M University at College Station

Texas A&M University at College Station (TAMU or Texas A&M) was established in 1876 as the state's first public institution of higher learning. Today, the school is a research-intensive, flagship university consisting of 17 academic colleges and schools, two branch campuses, and 71,100 students.

The College of Architecture houses the Visualization Laboratory and Department of Visualization. Established in 1988, the Texas A&M Visualization Laboratory launched the Visualization academic program in 1989. Pathways offered include BS, MS, and MFA degrees in Visualization. A PhD in Architecture with a Concentration in Visualization is also available.

The BS-V highlights studio classes in a specific are of interest supported by courses in programming, art theory, and technical learning. Also part of the program is a required internship, study abroad experience, or study at another university for a semester. Graduates of the program are prepared for a range of careers in Visualization.

The MS-V “is designed to give all students a basic grasp of the artistic, scientific, cognitive, and technical foundations of the discipline,” says the school. Graduates of the program are prepared for a range of long-term careers in Visualization.

“The MFA-V is unique in the State of Texas, and one of only a handful of programs of this kind in the United States.” The “curriculum is highly interdisciplinary and encourages development of new technologies and creative applications to create deeper insight and understanding.” Graduates of the program are “equipped with an uncommon balance of artistic insight and technical prowess that sets them apart from their peers.”

The PhD Program focuses “primarily on research and the development and dissemination of new knowledge.” Graduates are prepared for careers in research and teaching.

Students in all programs have access to HCI@VIZ and the MAESTRO Lab.

HCI@VIZ is lab that conducts research in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Human-Centered Computing, and Interactive Systems. The Lab consists of five research groups: TEILab, The StoryLab, McNamara Lab, INDIE Lab, and the Soft Interaction Lab. Depending on the group, topics covered include AR/VR, Child-Computer Interaction, Data Visualization, Embodied Interaction, Interactive Storytelling, Soft Materials Interaction, and many others. AR/VR students may be drawn to the INDIE Lab and the Soft Interaction Lab, among others.

The INDIE Lab (Interactive Data and Immersive Environments) engages in human-centered research of interactive visualizations. The group actively collaborates with multiple departments and faculty across the university. Research areas include Virtual Reality, 3D Interaction, Visual Analytics, Information Visualization, and Educational Games.

The Soft Interaction Lab integrates “physical and virtual experiences experimenting soft/organic materials and tangible interaction technology.”

Located in the College of Engineering’s Department of Aerospace Engineering, the MAESTRO Lab is a dedicated space designed for the “development of new multi-physical active material actuators and new metrologies and immersive data environments for the experimental assessment and computational analysis of aerospace structures.” Within the Lab is the MAESTRO VR Studio—an Immersive Mechanics Visualization Lab dedicated to the “tasks and goals of the Immersive and Intuitive Data Environments project. Focus areas include AR/VR and 3D Displays.

2. University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah
University of Utah

The School of Computing at University of Utah was founded as the Computer Science Department in 1965. Current research areas for the School include Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning, Visual Computing, Human-Centered Computing/Virtual Reality, Robotics, High Performance Computing, and Programming Languages/Software Engineering, to name a few. Pathways for students interested in AR/VR include BS and MS degrees in Computer Science with a Human-Centered Computing/Virtual Reality Research Area.

An additional program for students interested in AR/VR is offered in the College of Fine Arts, Department of Film & Media Arts. The Department’s BA in Film & Media Arts has a Media Arts Production (MAP) Emphasis that covers "transmedia" virtual reality, immersive reality, interactive media, social media, and mobile media.

Course highlights for the program include 3D Computer Animation, Media Arts Production, Digital Effects & Compositing, Sound for Film and Digital Media, Storyboarding/Visual Storytelling, and Editing. Students in all programs have access to the Quantitative Experience Design (QED) Lab and XR Utah.

The University of Utah QED Lab is “an interdisciplinary research group,” says the school, that builds “human-centered artificial intelligence systems in search of invariant properties of experience design: precise relationships that exist between an inner environment (a person’s cognitive states), interface (narrative & game discourse) and outer environment (virtual worlds).” The Lab is affiliated with the School of Computing and the Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program.

XR Utah is an interdisciplinary research partnership “headed by Eccles Health Sciences Library at the University of Utah.” The purpose of the partnership is to build “common infrastructure for information sharing, tech development, and data collection by bringing together” artists, computer scientists, educators, and psychologists across more than 16 departments at the University of Utah. Participants “conduct cutting-edge research in fostering new ways of learning and discovery through the use of innovative forms of virtual reality technologies that span across disciplines.”

Graduates of the Computer Science and Film & Media Arts Programs have landed positions in Utah, across the country, and around the world. They work in fields such as Technology, Entertainment, Marketing, Game Design, Engineering, Medical, Education, and more.

University of Utah was established in 1850. The school serves more than 33,000 students enrolled in hundreds of majors, minors, certificate and graduate programs in 18 colleges and schools and nearly 100 departments.

3. University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona
University of Arizona

Serving nearly 47,000 students, University of Arizona (est. 1885) offers Bachelors, Master’s, and Doctoral degree programs as well as first professional programs and specialist programs, and a variety of undergraduate and graduate minors. Programs are offered in 20 colleges and additional specialized schools. The University of Arizona (UArizona) College of Social & Behavioral Sciences houses the School of Information (iSchool), which offers a BS in Information Science and Technology and a Games and Simulation Certificate.

The BS Program is organized into three tiers: Core Courses, Intensive Computing, and Research Methods, Computational Arts, and Society. The Intensive Computing tier consists of a “customized course selection based on student focus,” says the school. Coursework can include virtual reality, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), neural networks, and informatics applications. The tier has a required Individual Studies Component and Senior Capstone course.

The Games and Simulation Certificate “provides students with the design and development skills necessary to create virtual interactive environments that span across devices and platforms.” Course highlights for the program include Virtual Reality, Game Programming, Computing and the Arts, Technology of Sound, and Advanced Game Development. Students in the program will gain real-world experience through collaboration with peers and the creation of several working prototypes.

Other program highlights include access to several active labs and employment opportunities with major companies. Some top employers hiring UArizona graduates include Amazon, Raytheon Technologies, Microsoft, Intel Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments (TI), and IMB Systems & Technology Group.

The Extended Reality and Games Lab (XRG Lab) is housed within the iSchool. Researchers and participants here study novel interaction techniques and the enhancement of extended (virtual/augmented/mixed) reality systems for improved usability and user experience. Work in the lab “mainly consists of design, development and evaluation (through empirical user studies) of these interaction techniques and enhanced extended reality systems.”

XRG Lab projects are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the UArizona Social & Behavioral Sciences Research Institute (SBSRI), and others. Project examples include Grabbable Holograms, Googly Eyes, Mirrored VR, and Bounce: A Mixed Reality Serious Game for Teaching Newtonian Physics Concepts.

The UArizona Wyant College of Optical Sciences houses an additional lab known as the 3D Visualization and Imaging Systems Lab. Designed for research in emerging technologies such as mixed- and augmented realities (MR-AR), the Lab focuses on the development of 2D/3D display systems, 3D visualization systems, 3D human computer interaction methods, and image acquisition systems. Researchers are interested in applying these technologies in medicine, scientific visualization, and education.

4. University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, Colorado
University of Colorado Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) was established in 1876. The school serves 34,975 students enrolled in hundreds of programs in nine colleges and schools. Among CU Boulder’s many programs are several undergraduate and graduate options that allow students to study Augmented and Virtual Reality.

Awarded through the College of Engineering and Applied Science, the BS and Minor Programs in Creative Technology and Design (CTD) offer “a broad, transdisciplinary curriculum that integrates technological skills with a critical, theoretical and historical understanding of creativity, technology and design,” says the school. The BS Creative Technology & Design (BS-CTD) requires 128-130 credit hours of study and the Minor requires 21 credit hours.

BS-CTD students may choose a focus area through elective offerings. Areas include Augmented and Virtual Reality, Interactive Computing, Game Design, Robotics, Physical Computing, Sound Design, User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX), and more. Other program highlights include creative projects, regular professional development opportunities, workshops and guest speakers, internships with industry partners, employment in the CTD research and student labs, and portfolio development.  

To complete the major, BS-CDT students take a two-semester Capstone sequence where they produce one major culminating project.

The College of Engineering and Applied Science also offers an MS in CTD with a Creative Industries Track.  The project-based curriculum allows students to construct their own focus area. Some popular options include Virtual and Augmented Reality, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Interactive Product Design and Development, Game Design and Development, Arts and Media Production, UI/UX, and Learning and Education. “Through workshops, visiting speakers, studios and classes,” MS students also have the opportunity to “work directly with leading professionals on real-world issues, gaining design expertise and technical skills as they learn the business of creativity.”

All CTD programs are housed within the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute, with core courses taught in the Roser ATLAS Center.

Founded in 1998, the ATLAS Institute also houses a number of labs and centers designed to support student work on independent projects. Current labs and centers include ACME Lab, Living Matter Lab, THING Lab, Unstable Design Lab, Laboratory for Emergent Nanomaterials, Center for Media, Arts & Performance, BTU Lab, and Whaaat!? Lab. Past projects include AR Drum Circle, Augmented Reality and Autonomous Systems (ARIAS), Augmented Reality Informs Human-Robot Interaction, Augmented Reality Remote Assistance (ARRA), Haptic VR Wizard, Biolage Reactor, and Jam Station, to name a few.

CTD graduates work in a variety of areas in Art and Entertainment, Technology, Education, Healthcare, Sciences, and more. MS graduates also work in Research in all industries and Government.

5. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) is one of the four campuses that make up the University of Colorado System. The school began as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) in 1912. CU Denver has operated independently since 1973 and currently serves more than 15,000 students. The University is organized into eight schools and colleges that offer 112 different academic degrees and hundreds of certificate and specialty programs.

The College of Engineering, Design, and Computing offers BA, BS, and MS degrees in Computer Science (CS). An 18 credit hour Minor in CS, covering the fundamentals of computer science and programming, is also available. All programs prepare students for creative work in the field. Highlights include opportunities to collaborate on innovative projects, internship opportunities, and the chance to partner with faculty and graduate students on research.

The BA (BA CS+) is a 120 credit hour program that allows students to combine the CS degree with a specialization in other academic disciplines. CS + Education, Healthcare, Human Centered Design and Innovation, Digital Design, or Computer Engineering are just a few examples. Students in the program will take 24 credit hours in the CU Denver core, 43 in CS, seven in mathematics, eight in natural or physical science, and 38 free electives (specialization area). Course highlights include Algorithms, Computing Lab, Object Oriented Programming, Data Structures and Programming Design, and Discrete Structures. 

The 128 credit hour BS in CS requires 24 credit hours in the CU Denver core, 22 in mathematics and science, three in engineering, 46 in CS and CS systems, 21 CS breadth courses, and 12 CS technical electives. Courses cover topics such as computer graphics and game design, machine learning and data science, programming, software engineering, systems, scientific computing, secure computing, theory, and cyber physical systems.

The MS in CS is an interdisciplinary program that provides opportunities in “state-of-the-art research and professional development,” says the school. Thirty credit hours are required to complete the program Students may choose the Master’s Thesis (Plan I), Master’s Project (Plan II) or the Course Only (Plan III). Students may also choose an Emphasis Area. Examples include Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Computer Graphics, High Performance Computing, Simulation, and Software Engineering.

Students in all CU Denver CS Programs have access to the Computer Graphics and VR Lab (CGVR), which focuses on “the development of interactive computer graphics, physical simulation, and scientific visualization techniques.” Researchers, faculty, and students in the interdisciplinary CGVR Lab explore topics such as animation, physical modeling, AR/VR, and “dynamic interaction with virtual environments for medical and bioinformatics applications.”

“Additional focused research topics include physical material property analysis (materials science), deformable object simulation, 3D object reconstruction, mobile graphics solutions, GPGPU, scientific visualization, motion capture, and game design.”

Current research in the CGVR Lab falls under four categories: AR/VR, Physical Simulation, Medical Applications, and 4D Scanning & Printing. Examples of recent AR/VR projects include Video See-Through Augmented Reality with Passive Haptics for Vision Therapy, Neurocognitive Assessment in Virtual Reality Through Behavioral Response Analysis, HoloNav: An Indoor Navigation HoloLens App, VRInsole: An Unobtrusive and Immersive Mobility Training System for Stroke Rehabilitation, VR Collaborative Conceptual Design, and SwimVR: Improving Swimming Techniques and Endurance.

Graduates of the CS Programs at CU Denver enjoy a 100% employment rate.

6. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State University

Founded on Dec. 25, 1890 as Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College, Oklahoma State University (OSU or OK State) serves around 24,650 from more than 100 countries and all 50 states. The school offers more than 320 programs in five academic colleges, plus a veterinary school and an osteopathic medical school. The College of Arts and Sciences houses the Department of Computer Science, which offers a BS and MS degrees in Computer Science (CS). A Minor in CS is also available.

Course highlights for the Department include Extended Reality (CS 4743 and 5743), Artificial Intelligence I & II), Advanced Topics in Artificial Intelligence, Unix Programming, Machine Learning, Video Game Development, Mobile Applications Development, Video Game Design, Video Game Production, Computer Graphics, Software Engineering,

Research area options include VR/AR, Machine Vision and Digital Environments; AI, Robotics and Machine Learning; Computer Architecture and Systems; Cyber-Physical Systems, Networks and Security; Healthcare & Medical, Cryptography and Security, and Data Analytics.

VR/AR, Machine Vision and Digital Environments highlights include Design of AR/VR Environments, Digital Entertainment, and Graphics & Multimedia. AI, Robotics and Machine Learning highlights Computer Vision & Image Processing, Machine Learning, Applied Algorithms, and Robotics.

Students in all programs have access to OSU’s Mixed Reality Lab.

Housed in the College of Education and Human Sciences and affiliated with the Department of Design, Housing and Merchandising, the Mixed Reality Lab “facilitates technology-driven research used in design education and practice,” says the school. Within the lab is a “state-of-the-art” AR/VR Lab that allows students, faculty, and visitors to conduct research that “utilizes augmented reality, virtual reality, digital prototyping and 3D printing.”

VR Technology includes a passive 3D projector system, Oculus Rift CV 1, HTV Vice and Gear VR mobile head, mounted display systems, interactive screens and digital screens, gesture-based control devices (Myo), basic-control devices (joy sticks), and 3D mobile scanners.

AR Technology includes Microsoft HoloLens, Vuzix STAR XLD and Epson Moverio BT200 augmented reality display system, mobile devices, and desktops with augmented reality capability and software.

3D Printing equipment includes a Maker Bot 3D printer, Ultimaker 2-3D printer, and Matter and Form 3D desktop scanner.

The Lab is also equipped with Psychophysiological Equipment including Perception neuron motion capture, fNIR Functional Near Infrared optical imaging, Biopac ECG electrocardiogram amplifier, and Biopac EDA electrodermal activity amplifier systems, and an Emotiv electroencephalography (EGG) device.

7. Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Southern Methodist University

Founded in 1911, Southern Methodist University (SMU) serves more than 12,000 students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries. The school offers small classes, hands-on research opportunities, leadership development, community service, international study, and more than 100 majors and 85 minors in eight colleges and schools.

The Lyle School of Engineering (Department of Computer Science and Engineering), Meadows School of the Arts, SMU Guildhall, and Simmons School of Education and Human Development offer a variety of opportunities to study AR/VR.

In the Lyle School of Engineering, students in the BA, BS, MS and PhD Programs in Computer Science have the opportunity to choose courses to satisfy Tracks in Game Development, Networks, Research or Cybersecurity. Many of the Tracks, such as Game Development, consist of a number of AR/VR related courses. Examples include Algorithm Engineering, Programming Languages, Graphical User Interface Design and Implementation, Digital Computer Design, High Performance Scientific Computing, Digital Logic Design, and Game Design.

Meadows School of the Arts houses the Creative Computation Program. Leading to a BA or a Minor, Creative Computation “uses technology as a powerful medium to create 2D and 3D works of art, augmented performance, intelligent physical spaces and real-time interactivity,” says the school. The curriculum combines “engineering, computer science, and the arts and humanities.” This “highly interdisciplinary” program is “inclusive of all areas of study at SMU” and requires students to pursue core coursework in both the Meadows School of the Arts and Lyle School of Engineering.

Launched in 2003, SMU Guildhall is the Southern Methodist University’s Graduate School for Game Design. Specialization areas include Art, Design, Production, and Programming. Depending on the Specialization, key focus areas may include Artificial Intelligence, Game Engine Design & Architecture, Virtual Sculpting, Environmental Modeling, Animation, Rigging and Weighting, Interface and Systems Design, Player Immersion, Memory Management, Scripting Languages, Real-Time Application Performance Analysis & Optimization, Player Psychology, and User Research.

The Simmons School of Education and Human Development houses the Center for VR Learning Innovation (CVRL). The Center is home to the Olamaie Curtiss Graney VR Design Lab and the Mixed-Reality Simulation Lab. Research and development areas here include Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality for STEM Collaborative Learning, Virtual Reality in Medical Education and VR Surgery Simulations, Mixed Reality for Education, and Game-based Learning Literacy Applications. The Labs include classrooms, practice spaces for mixed reality, and teaching spaces.

The CVRL collaborates with students and faculty across SMU, including “ongoing strategic collaboration with the SMU Guildhall, the Institute for Leadership Impact, and the AT&T Center for Virtualization.” The Center also collaborates with other universities such as UNC Chapel Hill, UT Dallas, King’s College, and UT Southwestern, to name a few.

8. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU or Embry-Riddle) is the world’s largest university specializing in aviation and aerospace. Founded in 1925 as the Embry-Riddle Company, the school has campuses in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona as well as Embry-Riddle Online and the Worldwide Campus. Embry-Riddle serves nearly 33,700 students enrolled in 100 degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and PhD levels. ERAU’s seven primary fields of study include Aviation, Applied Science, Business, Computers and Technology, Engineering, Security, Intelligence, and Safety, and Space.

The residential campus in Prescott, Arizona opened in 1978 with 268 students in Aeronautical Science. Today, the campus serves more than 3,000 students enrolled in programs administered by the Colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Engineering, and Security & Intelligence.

The College of Arts and Sciences (COAS) houses the Department of Mathematics, which offers a BS in Simulation Science, Games & Animation. This technical, multidisciplinary degree requires coursework in animation, artificial intelligence (AI), simulation, computer graphics, modeling, computer science, engineering, mathematics, and physics. The program also incorporates aspects of art and design. Course highlights include AI, Interactive Media, Multiplayer Game Systems, Game Engine Architecture, and the Gaming Capstone.

Students in the program will learn the “principles behind building virtual worlds and simulations by using mathematical algorithms and technologies underlying aviation simulators, computer aided design (CAD) systems, animation software, streaming video networks, and games,” says the school. They will work in the ERAU computer labs with development platforms, software, and programming languages such as C#, C++, Python, JavaScript, HTML5, Maya, and Unity3D.

Labs include the Airway Science Lab, Meteorology Lab, College of Engineering Senior Design Lab, and the Design and Computer-Aided Design Lab.

Graduates of the BS in Simulation Science, Games & Animation go on to careers in Entertainment, Game Design, Software Development, and Virtual Training. They also work in the Military and Intelligence Communities, High-Tech Manufacturing, and Aviation. Companies and agencies that have hired ERAU graduates include Microsoft, Boeing, and the Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, to name a few.

9. Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) opened its doors in 1950 as Central Christian College at Bartlesville with just 97 students and a campus of three buildings. Today, OC serves more than 2,200 students on a 200-acre campus in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Colleges include Humanities and the Bible (CHB), Professional Studies (CPS), and the New College. Housed within these colleges are dozens of divisions and programs.

Examples include the BA, BFA and BS in Gaming & Animation in the Division of Fine and Performing Arts (CHB), the BS in Motion Media Design in the Division of Language, Literature, and Communication (CHB), and the BS in Computer Science with Gaming & Animation in the Division of Engineering and Computer Science (CPS).

Students in all programs have access to a number of labs that provide industry leading hardware and equipment. The labs provide equipment and collaborative spaces for AR/VR, Digital Painting, 3D, and Graphic Design, Motion Capture, and Audio. Labs include Sparks Advanced Visualization Lab, Cox Digital Art Lab (houses 24 iMac workstations with Wacom Cintiq drawing tablets), Kicker Audio Lab (includes 22-watt bank of speakers known as the "Wall of Boom), and Baugh Motion Capture Lab, which houses a Optitrack Motion Capture system supported by student workstations and a dedicated computer and Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 camera.

The Sparks Advanced Visualization Lab is The hub for AR/VR. The space houses 20 workstations with a 27” PC display and 22” Dell Canvas drawing tablet along with a number of four-person pods surrounding a 65” HD display for group collaboration. The Lab also includes a Formlabs 3D Printer, Glowforge CNC Plotter and HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens equipment.

10. University of Advancing Technology, Tempe, Arizona
University of Advancing Technology

Founded in 1983 as the CAD Institute, University of Advancing Technology (UAT) is among a select few 100% STEM-based universities in the nation. The school serves around 1,000 students enrolled in programs in areas such as Digital Arts, Creation & Simulation, Software Engineering, Game Studies, Cyber Security and Business & Innovation.

Examples of available degree programs include an AS, BA, BS or MS in Virtual Reality, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Software Engineering, Advancing Computer Science, Game Programming, Game Production, Game Design, Game Art & Animation, Digital Video, Digital Marketing, Advertising Art, Networking Engineering, and Technology Innovation.

Although students interested in AR/VR have a number of options, the BA in Virtual Reality is the most popular. The program “uses game design as a base and applies the design principles of gaming to virtual reality applications such as corporate training, medical and therapeutic, military and education,” says the school. Students in the program are exposed to “all the tools of the trade as well as mid-level programming and asset creation skill sets.”

Coursework emphasizes design skills, the study of gameplay, player interaction, and community dynamics. “Applying all the elements of the game creation process, students will also develop the mentorship and leadership skills to complete projects from initial concept to publishing a final product.”

Graduates of the BA in Virtual Reality will have the skills needed to Create Augmented Reality Apps, Build Immersive Games, Apply Code to VR Head Gear and Motion Tracking, Build Immersive Simulations, and Simulate Big Data. UAT graduates go on to become “top technology executives, master programmers, cyber warriors, forensic sleuths, robotic engineers, interactive filmmakers, game innovators,” and more.