What are the top AR/VR school programs in the Southwest?

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools in the Southwest - 2022 College Rankings
1Texas A&M University at College StationTexas
2University of UtahUtah
3University of ArizonaArizona
4University of Colorado-BoulderColorado
5Embry-Riddle Aeronautical UniversityArizona
6Southern Methodist UniversityTexas
7University of Colorado-DenverColorado
8Oklahoma State UniversityOklahoma
9Oklahoma Christian UniversityOklahoma
10University of Advancing TechnologyArizona

Our 2022 rankings -our second annual- of the Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) schools in the Southwest.  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

Founded in 1876, Texas A&M University at College Station (TAMU or Texas A&M) is the state's first public institution of higher learning. This research-intensive, flagship university consists of 17 academic colleges and schools, two branch campuses, the Health Science Center, Quatar campus, and 72,982 students.

The new School of Performance, Visualization and Fine Arts at TAMU (TAMU PVFA) houses the Visualization Program. Available pathways for students interested in AR/VR include BS, MS, and MFA degrees in Visualization, and a Minor in Game Design and Development. Students in all programs have access to HCI@VIZ, which is housed in the Department of Visualization in the College of Architecture, and the MAESTRO Lab, located in the Department of Aerospace Engineering in the College of Engineering. The recently launched TAMUVR (Texas A&M University Virtual and Augmented Reality) is also accessible to all students.  

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 fosters experimentation with physical and virtual experiences, organic materials, and interaction technology.

MAESTRO Lab houses the MAESTRO VR Studio—an Immersive Mechanics Visualization Lab dedicated Immersive and Intuitive Data Environments projects. Focus areas include AR/VR and 3D Displays.

TAMUVR is an organization that focuses on AR/VR development, research activities, educational opportunities, discussion, and practical experience.

Graduates of the Visualization Programs at Texas A&M University are prepared for a range of careers from AR/VR and UI/UX Development to Environment Modeling and Game Asset Development.

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

University of Utah (U of U or The U) is Utah’s public flagship institution. This top-tier research institution serves more than 35,000 students enrolled in more than 100 undergraduate programs and 90+ graduate programs across 17 colleges and schools that house nearly 100 departments. One of the most popular Schools at U of U is the School of Computing.

Founded in 1965 as the Computer Science Department. the School of Computing features research areas such as Human-Centered Computing/Virtual Reality, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Machine Learning, Visual Computing, High Performance Computing, and Programming Languages/Software Engineering. Pathways for students interested in AR/VR include BS and MS degrees in Computer Science with a Human-Centered Computing/Virtual Reality Research Area.

Students in both programs have access to the Quantitative Experience Design (QED) Lab, XR Utah, and the state-of-the-art XR Classroom.

The QED Lab is an interdisciplinary research group that explores virtual worlds, human-centered artificial intelligence (AI), experience design, and narrative & game discourse (interface) The Lab is affiliated with the School of Computing and the Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program.

XR Utah is an interdisciplinary research partnership led by the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library (EHSEB) at The U. Artists, computer scientists, educators, and psychologists across more than 16 departments at the University of Utah engage in research that helps develop new ways to learn and discover through the use virtual reality technologies.

The XR Classroom helps support projects that utilize projects using AR/VR. Also led by the EHSEB, the classroom and labs provide spaces where individuals can develop customized experiences involving simulations, interactive displays, and education lessons.

Graduates of the Computer Science Programs at University of Utah work in fields such as Technology, Entertainment, Marketing, Game Design, Engineering, Medicine, and  Education.

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

Faculty at the University of Arizona (UArizona) College of Social & Behavioral Sciences’ School of Information (iSchool) engage in virtual, augmented, extended, and mixed reality, video game design and development, and human-computer interaction (HCI) with a goal to advance these interactive technologies for enhanced user experience and performance. In addition faculty with interests in AR/VR and related areas, students interested in studying augmented and virtual reality have access to several labs that highlight AR/VR research, development, and education. Labs include the Extended Reality and Games Lab (XRG Lab) and the 3D Visualization and Imaging Systems Lab.

In the XRG Lab, researchers and participants focus on the research and development of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality techniques. Ongoing research projects are funded by the National Science Foundation, the University of Arizona Social & Behavioral Sciences Research Institute (SBSRI), and others. Projects include Googly Eyes (VR), Mirrored VR, Bounce: A Mixed Reality Serious Game for Teaching Newtonian Physics Concepts, Grabbable Holograms (mixed reality) and Give Me a Hand? (virtual reality).

The 3D Visualization and Imaging Systems Lab is 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.

Degree programs for students interested in AR/VR are also housed in the UArizona iSchool. Options include 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. Students have the option to customize a focus area based on their interests. Coursework may include Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning, HCI, Neural Networks, and Informatics Applications. The BS Program has a required Individual Studies Component and Senior Capstone course.

The Games and Simulation Certificate explores the creation of virtual interactive environments for a variety of platforms and devices. Course examples for the program include Virtual Reality, Game Programming, Computing and the Arts, Technology of Sound, and Advanced Game Development. Students in this 12 credit hour Certificate Program will gain real-world experience through collaboration with peers and the creation of several working prototypes.

Graduates of the iSchool degree and certificate programs have been hired at Amazon, Raytheon Technologies, Microsoft, Intel Corporation, Lockheed Martin, Texas Instruments (TI), and IBM Systems & Technology Group, among others.  

Established in 1885 and serving more than 47,300 students, University of Arizona offers Bachelors, Master’s, and Doctoral degree programs, first professional and specialist programs, and a variety of undergraduate and graduate minors. Programs are housed in 20 colleges and additional specialized schools.

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

Established in 1876 and serving close to 35,900 students, University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) houses the Alliance for Technology, Learning and Society (ATLAS) Institute. Founded in 1998, the ATLAS Institute is home to 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, and BTU 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.

The Atlas Institute also manages the Creative Design & Technology (CTD) Program, with core courses taught in the Roser ATLAS Center and degrees granted through the College of Engineering and Applied Science. Pathways for students interested in AR/VR include the BS and Minor in CTD.

The BS in CTD (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 features 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 ATLAS and the College of Engineering and Applied Science also offer an MS in CTD with a Creative Industries Track.  The project-based curriculum for this program allows students to build 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. Classes, workshops, visiting speakers, and studios provide the opportunity for graduate students to work directly with industry professionals on real-world issues.

Graduates of the CDT Programs at University of Colorado Boulder work in many areas of Art and Entertainment, Technology, Education, Healthcare, Sciences, and Defense, among others. MS graduates also work in Research in all industries and in many departments and agencies of the U.S. government. Examples of employers for CU Boulder graduates include Lockheed Martin, Google, IBM, Walt Disney, Medtronic, Ball Aerospace, CBS Studio Center, Panavision, Hitachi, and Starz Entertainment.

5. 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, ERAU has physical campuses in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Prescott, Arizona, and online campuses including 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 enrolled in the Aeronautical Science Program. Today, the Prescott campus serves more than 3,000 students enrolled in programs administered ERAU’s College of Arts & Sciences, College of Aviation, College of Engineering, and the College of Security & Intelligence.

The College of Arts and Sciences (COAS) houses the Simulation Science, Games, and Animation (SSGA) Department, which provides a popular pathway to study AR/VR. The SSGA BS is a technical, multidisciplinary degree that 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 examples include Mixed Reality, Systems Simulation, Games Systems, Interactive Media, World Building, Procedural Simulation, Multiplayer Systems, Game Engine Architecture, AI, and User Interface Design.

Students in the program will learn how to build virtual worlds and simulations by using the technologies and mathematical algorithms utilized in games, aviation simulators, animation software, streaming video networks, and computer aided design (CAD) systems. Students will have opportunities to work in ERAU computer labs including the Airway Science Lab, Meteorology Lab, College of Engineering Senior Design Lab, and the Design and Computer-Aided Design Lab. In the labs, students will work with development platforms, software, and programming languages such as C#, C++, Python, JavaScript, HTML5, Maya, and Unity3D.

All Embry-Riddle students have access to the STEM Education Center at the Prescott Campus. Launched in 2017, this two-story, 52,529-square-foot building STEM Center features the latest technology and equipment, including a variety of computing, simulation, and robotics labs. The Center houses the LIGO Optics Lab, the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium, The Dr. Charles and Elizabeth Duva Robotics Lab, The Raisbeck Engineering Design Lab, and others.

Graduates of the Simulation Science, Games & Animation BS Program at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University work in AR/VR, Game Design, Software Development, Entertainment, and Virtual Training. Program alumni also work in a variety of roles within the Military and Intelligence Communities, High-Tech Manufacturing, Aviation, and Police Training Simulation. Companies and agencies that have hired ERAU SSGA graduates include Boeing, Microsoft, Blizzard Entertainment, the Department of Defense Modeling and Simulation Office, Mass Virtual, Forge FX Simulations, Win Reality VR Training, and Super League Gaming.

6. Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas
Southern Methodist University

Southern Methodist University (SMU) houses 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. Collectively, these SMU units provide a range of pathways to study AR/VR.

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

In the Lyle School of Engineering, students in the BA, BS, MS and PhD Programs in Computer Science (CS) have the opportunity to choose courses to support Tracks in Game Development, Networks, Research, or Cybersecurity. Most Tracks include a variety of AR/VR related courses. Examples include High Performance Scientific Computing, Game Design, Graphical User Interface Design and Implementation, Digital Computer Design, Fundamentals of Computer Vision, Algorithm Engineering, Programming Languages, and Digital Logic Design.

Meadows School of the Arts houses the Creative Computation Program. Leading to a BA or a Minor, the Creative Computation program is interdisciplinary, combining engineering, computer science, and the arts and humanities. Students in this program will pursue core coursework in both the Meadows School of the Arts and Lyle School of Engineering. The program also features a collection of AR/VR related courses such as Intermediate Digital/Hybrid Media, Digitally Augmented Performance and Installation, Advanced Digital/Hybrid Media, Digital/Hybrid Media Directed Studies, Digital/Hybrid Media Workshop, and Nand to Tetris: Elements of Computing Systems.

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, SMU Guildhall, the Institute for Leadership Impact, and the AT&T Center for Virtualization. The Center also collaborates with other universities such as University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UT Southwestern), University of North Carolina Chapel Hill (UNC Chapel Hill), University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas), and King’s College.

Graduates of the Computer Science and Creative Computing Programs at Southern Methodist University are prepared to pursue positions in all industries that utilize AR/VR, among others.

7. University of Colorado Denver, Denver, Colorado
University of Colorado Denver

University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver) is home to the Computer Graphics and VR Lab (CGVR). This interdisciplinary research center explores AR/VR, computer graphics, physical simulation, and scientific visualization techniques for a variety of applications beyond medical and bioinformatics. Additional focused research topics include game design, mobile graphics solutions, general-purpose computing on graphics processing units (GPGPU), motion capture, 3D object reconstruction, physical material property analysis (materials science), and deformable object simulation.

The CU Denver CGVR Lab also provides AR/VR courses and other related coursework. Past courses include Virtual and Augmented Reality, Computer Game Design and Programming, Computer Animation, Structures and Program Design, Introduction to Computer Graphics, Shaders and GPU, and Advanced Computer Graphics.

University of Colorado Denver began in 1912 as an extension of the University of Colorado Boulder. The school became CU Denver in 1973 making it an independent campus. The school serves 15,000 students enrolled in more than 110 academic degrees across eight colleges and schools. The CGVR Lab is housed in the Computer Science and Engineering Department, which is part of the College of Engineering, Design, and Computing. Also housed in the College is the Computer Science (CS) Program, which has BA, BS, MS, PhD, and Minor pathways.

The BA Program has an option to combine the degree with a Specialization in other academic disciplines. Examples include CS + Human Centered Design and Innovation, CS + Digital Design, CS + Computer Engineering, and CS + Data Science. All undergraduate CS students have the option to tailor the degree to specific goals and interests.

Examples of Research and Emphasis areas across Programs include Computer Graphics & Virtual Reality, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cyber-Physical Systems, Computer Graphics, Human-Centric Computing, Computer Graphics and Game Design, Simulation, Machine Learning, Automata Theory, Programming, Software Engineering, Computer Architectures, and High Performance Distributed Computing.

Graduates of the CS Programs at University of Colorado Denver are prepared for careers in all areas of AR/VR, Computer Science, and many others. At CU Denver, 100% of computer science graduates seeking a job have been hired. They work in Entertainment, Government, Law Enforcement Training, Game Design and Development, Architecture, Defense, Aviation, Education, Health Care, and Aerospace, among other industries.

8. Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma
Oklahoma State University

The College of Education and Human Sciences at Oklahoma State University (OSU) houses a state-of-the-art Mixed Reality Lab that utilizes augmented reality, virtual reality, 3D printing, and digital prototyping for projects, in teaching, and for research. VR tools and equipment include 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.

Augmented reality tools and equipment include Microsoft HoloLens, Vuzix STAR XLD and Epson Moverio BT200 augmented reality display system, and mobile devices and desktops with augmented reality capability and software. The Lab is also equipped with a perception neuron motion capture system, fNIR (Functional Near Infrared) optical imaging system, Biopac ECG electrocardiogram amplifier system, Biopac EDA electrodermal activity amplifier system, and Emotiv electroencephalography (EGG) device.

Affiliated with the Department of Design and Merchandising, the Mixed Reality Lab also hosts events and workshops, and the facility is open to all students and faculty. This includes students in the OSU Computer Science (CS) Program.

Established in 1890, Oklahoma State University consists of a five-campus system that houses seven academic colleges, a veterinary school, an osteopathic medical school, and several centers and institutes. The school serves around 26,650 students enrolled in more than 320 undergraduate majors and options, master’s programs, and doctoral degrees.

Housed in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Computer Science, the OSU CS Program allows students to study current, new, and emerging technologies such as AR/VR, artificial intelligence (AI), apps, and games. CS students will also have opportunities to work with industry professionals to gain a better understanding of markets.

Specific degree options include the BS, MS, and PhD in CS, and Minors in CS and Applied Computer Programming (APCP). Course and elective examples across programs include Extended Reality, AI, Computer Graphics, Cloud Computing and Distributed Systems, Scripting Essentials, Computer Science I-II, Programing Languages, Machine Learning, Video Game Development, Software Engineering, Video Game Design, C/C++ Programming, Computer Systems, Advanced Topics in Parallel and Distributed Systems, Design and Implementation of Operating Systems, Data Structures and Algorithm Analysis., Advanced Topics in Operating Systems, Video Game Production, and Organization of Programming Languages.

Graduates of the Computer Science Programs at Oklahoma State University are prepared for careers in all industries that utilize AR/VR. Examples include Entertainment, Aerospace, Education, HealthCare, Aviation, Manufacturing, Science and Medicine, Policing and Law Enforcement Training, Corporate Training, Ecommerce, Legal, Game Design and Development, Navigation, Sports, Travel, Real Estate, and Marketing.

Recent OSU graduates have been hired by Lockheed Martin, Tyco, Amazon.com, IBM, Merck, ConocoPhillips, Dell, Halliburton Industries, and Merck. 

9. Oklahoma Christian University, Edmond, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Christian University

Oklahoma Christian University (OC) opened with less than 100 students in 1950 under the name Central Christian College. Today, OC serves 2,250 students enrolled in more than 100 programs. Among the schools programs are several suitable options for students interested in studying AR/VR.

The College of Engineering, Department of Computer Science, offers a Gaming and Animation BS, and a Computer Science (CS) BS with Gaming and Animation. The Department of Art and Design in the College of Liberal Arts offers BA and BFA degrees in Gaming and Animation, and a 21 credit hour Minor in 3D Modeling and Animation.

All programs provide access to several on-campus labs that support AR/VR and other related projects. Labs include: Sparks Advanced Visualization Lab, Baugh Motion Capture Lab, Cox Digital Art Lab, and Kicker Audio Lab.

Sparks Advanced Visualization Lab is a hub for AR/VR that houses 20 workstations with a 27” PC display and 22” Dell Canvas drawing tablet. Four-person pods surround a 65” HD display for group collaboration. Other equipment and tools in the Lab include a Glowforge CNC Plotter and HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Microsoft HoloLens equipment, and a Formlabs 3D Printer.

Baugh Motion Capture Lab features an Optitrack Motion Capture system supported by student workstations,  plus a new dedicated computer and Panasonic Lumix DC-GH5 camera.

Cox Digital Art Lab supports graphic design, digital painting, and 3D modeling projects. Equipment includes 24 iMac workstations with Wacom Cintiq drawing tablets.

Kicker Audio Lab houses a 22-watt bank of speakers known as the Wall of Boom.

Across programs, students will have access to courses and electives such as Game Technology, Object Oriented Programming, Assembly Language, Programming I-II, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Computer Simulation, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Software Engineering I-V (multiple topics), Game Programming-Unreal, Interactive Media Design I-II, Audio for Gaming, Motion Imagery, Game Programming-Unity, Texturing, Rendering, and Lighting, Game History and Development, Cryptography, Gaming and Animation Studio, and Mobile Application Development.

Graduates of the Computer Science and Gaming & Animation Programs at Oklahoma Christian University are prepared to pursue positions in industries that utilize AR/VR, Programming, Game Design, Animation, Computer Science, Engineering, Serious Games, Science and Health, Simulation Design, Architecture, and Multimedia, among others.

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

University of Advancing Technology (UAT) is a 100% STEM-based, private, family-owned University. Established in 1983 as the CAD Institute, the school serves 1,000+ students enrolled in more than 20 technology-based degree programs. Among UAT’s programs is a BS in Virtual Reality (VR) and several other programs that may be suitable for AR/VR students. Additional options include BS degrees in Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Software Engineering, Advancing Computer Science, Game Programming, Technology Innovation, and Robotics and Embedded Systems.

While all programs provide the opportunity to take AR/VR-related courses, VR BS has the largest number of AR/VR courses. In addition, students in the VR BS Program will have the opportunity to build virtual worlds, design in virtual space, code VR headgear, motion tracking, and haptics, create digital media strategies, simulate and interact with creative situations, and create simulations and training.

Graduates of the Technology Programs at University of Advancing Technology are prepared for positions in just about every industry. Companies that have hired UAT graduates include Raytheon Missile Systems, Electronic Arts (EA), Honeywell, Intel, the U.S. Department of Defense, Disney Interactive Studios, Sony Online Entertainment, Epic Games, MTV Networks, HP, and Big Huge Games.