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

Top 10 Augmented/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) Schools on the West Coast - 2021 College Rankings
1Stanford UniversityCalifornia
2University of Southern CaliforniaCalifornia
3University of WashingtonWashington
4University of California - BerkeleyCalifornia
5University of California - San DiegoCalifornia
6California Institute of TechnologyCalifornia
7University of California - Santa CruzCalifornia
8San Jose State UniversityCalifornia
9University of California - Santa BarbaraCalifornia
10Chapman UniversityCalifornia

Our 2022 rankings -our second annual- of the Top 10 AR/AV School Programs in the West. For an explanation of ranking criteria, click here.

1. Stanford University, Stanford, California
Stanford University

Stanford University was established in 1885 by former California Governor and railroad magnate Leland Stanford, and his wife, Jane. The school opened its doors on October 1, 1891 with 555 students. Today, Stanford is home to nearly 17,000 students served by 2,288 faculty members. The school provides more than 69 undergraduate majors and nearly 200 programs leading to 14 degrees at the graduate level.

Programs at Stanford are provided across seven schools, supplemented by dozens of labs, centers, and institutes. Schools include Business; Humanities and Sciences; Sustainability; Education; Engineering; Law; and Medicine.

The School of Engineering at Stanford University houses the Computer Science (CS) Department (est. 1965). Stanford Engineering provides 16 defined undergraduate majors, and the option to design your own major. Graduate programs are offered in all engineering departments, including CS.

All CS students have access to VR/AR courses such as How to Make VR: Introduction to Virtual Reality Design and Development, Coding for Social Good (VR component), Interactive Simulation for Robot Learning, Computer Graphics: Animation and Simulation, Character Animation: Modeling, Simulation, and Control of Human Motion, Topics in Computer Graphics: Agile Hardware Design, and Physically Based Animation and Sound.  Graduate CS programs feature nine predefined specialization options. Examples include AI, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Real-World Computing, and Systems.

In addition to offering a variety of specializations and heavy AR/VR coursework, the CS Department houses research groups in the areas of AI, Computer Graphics/HCI, Robotics, Foundations of Computer Science, Scientific Computing, and many others. CS students interested in AR/VR have opportunities to collaborate on projects and enhance their skills through two centers and labs as well. Options include the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA) Virtual + Augmented Reality Design Lab and the Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL).

The CCRMA Virtual + Augmented Reality Design Lab conducts VR, AR, and XR research for music. The lab also supports collaborations with Computer Science, Art and Art History, and Communication at Stanford, as well as research projects within the CCRMA community.

Founded in 2003, the VHIL studies the psychological and behavioral effects of AR/VR. Just a few of the lab’s current projects include Psychology of Augmented Reality, Virtual Becomes Reality – Immersion and Presence, Medical Virtual Reality, Integrating VR into Classrooms and Curricula, Telepresence, and Design Thinking.

Stanford School of Engineering graduates are prepared for positions at a wide range of top companies and organizations. Stanford graduates are routinely recruited by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Amazon, Google, Walt Disney World, Apple, Meta, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Microsoft, Oracle, the US Army, the US Navy, and Tesla, among others. 

2. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California
University of Southern California

University of Southern California (USC) is one of the oldest private research universities in the state. The school opened its doors in 1880 with just 53 students. Today, University of Southern California serves 49,500 students across 22 schools and units. One of USC’s most recognized schools is the School of Cinematic Arts. Founded in collaboration with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1929, the USC School of Cinematic Arts is home to the Interactive Media and Games Division, which houses three programs for individuals interested in AR/VR: the Immersive Media Minor, Interactive Entertainment BA, and Interactive Media MFA.

The interdisciplinary Immersive Media Minor is open to all undergraduate students at USC. The program explores virtual reality and how to create content effectively. Students have the opportunity choose elective courses within the same area to fit their goals or they can enhance the curriculum by choosing elective courses from two separate areas. BA students may also study AR/VR through the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (USC ICT), which houses the Mixed Reality Lab (MxR) and the ICT Virtual Humans Group.

The MxR Lab works with the Interactive Media and Games Division in areas such as Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and immersive systems for education and training simulations using AR/VR.

The ICT Virtual Humans Group conducts research in areas such as Integrated Virtual Humans, Character Animation and Simulation, MultiModal Communication, Natural Language Processing, Cognitive Architecture, and Emotion.

Elective examples for the Interactive Entertainment BA Program include Storytelling for Virtual and Augmented Reality, Alternative Control Workshop, Video Game Programming, Visual Effects, Computer Graphics, Interactive Entertainment, Science, and Healthcare, and Audio Expression. Examples of required courses include Creative Production in Virtual Reality, Experiments in Immersive Design, C++ Programming, and 3D Computer Animation.

The Interactive Entertainment BA Program at USC School of Cinematic Arts explores AAA (triple-A) game development processes and experimental and indie genres from virtual and alternate realities to meaningful and expressive games. Course examples include Reality Starts Here, Producing Interactive Projects, Interface Design for Games, Alternative Control Workshop, Experimental Game Topics, Programming in Python, Interactive Entertainment, and Game Design Workshop.

The Interactive Media MFA is a competitive program that admits just 15 students in the Fall semester only. Program features include the opportunity to take twelve 500-level elective units, access to state-of-the-art computer and digital production facilities, and a mandatory internship or summer job in a professional environment.

MFA students will take courses such as Experiments in Interactivity I & II, Foundations of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Interactive Design Production, Motion Capture Fundamentals, and Tangible and Spatial Computing. To enhance this coursework, like undergraduate students, MFA students can study AR/VR through USC ICT.

USC recently launched the USC Working Group on Scholarly VR, AR, and 3D Modeling. The Group is sponsored by the Humanities in a Digital World Program at USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences (the largest and oldest of the USC schools), and the Ahmanson Lab at the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study. Students in all programs benefit from participation in the Groups workshops, lectures, projects, and discussions. Past workshops have explored Mobile Augmented Reality, Immersive 3D Setting Design, and utilizing AR toolkits and platforms such as Niantic (Pokémon Go), Snap (Snapchat lenses), and others.

Graduates of the programs at University of Southern California have been hired at companies and organizations such as Aerojet Rocketdyne, Walt Disney Company, Amazon, Sony, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Google, Branded Entertainment Network,  Discovery+, Gilead Sciences, VIZIO, Yahoo, DreamWorks Animation, Vayu Technology, the US Army, Disneyland Parks, Disneyland Resorts, United States Navy, META, United Airlines, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Tesla, Boeing, Oracle, FORD, AT&T, and the Federal Aviation Administration.

3. University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
University of Washington

University of Washington (UW) is one of the oldest universities on the West Coast. Founded in 1861, UW is also the largest university the state. Serving more than 54,000 students, University of Washington has three campuses in Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma and it houses 18 colleges and schools.

The College of Arts and Sciences is home of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, which introduced the world’s first augmented reality capstone course in 2016. The school also houses several computer science programs for students interested in AR/VR. Options include the BS in Computer Science (CS), a Combined BS/MS in CS also known as the Fifth Year Master’s Program, a Professional Master’s (PMP) in CS, and a PhD in CS. The BS/MS enables current and recent Allen School undergraduate majors to earn both degrees in approximately five years.

All programs benefit from the Allen School’s research and innovation in AR/VR, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) & Accessible Technology, Machine Learning, Robotics, Computer Graphics, Vision, Animation & Game Science, and Ubiquitous Computing.

Course examples for the program include Advanced Topics in HCI (Graphics & Virtual Reality), Artificial Intelligence (AI) I & II, AI-based Mobile Robotics, Computer Systems Architecture, Computational Fabrication, Interaction Programming, Advanced Topics in Digital Animation, Computational Complexity, Interactive Learning, and Neural Control of Movement: A Computational Perspective.

Students in all programs have the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team of faculty and peers in the UW Reality Lab. Launched in 2018 and housed in the Allen School, the Lab includes the Reality Studio, Reality Lab Incubator, and classes. In addition to advancing AR/VR research, Lab participants will work on projects in 3D computer vision and perception, object recognition, graphics, game science and education, distributed computing, stream processing, databases and computer architecture, and privacy and security.

Graduates of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at University of Washington go on to establish careers at some of the world’s top companies, studios, and organizations. Examples include Google, Pixar Animation Studios, Microsoft, Amazon, Epic Software, Adobe, Disney, HBO, Dell, Apple, Hulu, Microsoft, Oracle, Riot Games, Samsung, and Unity Technologies.

4. University of California-Berkeley, Berkeley, California
University of California, Berkeley

University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) sends more graduates to Silicon Valley than just about any other school in the U.S. Chartered in 1868 and named after 18th-century philosopher George Berkely, UC Berkeley serves more than 45,000 students enrolled in more than 350 degree programs across 15 colleges and schools, and dozens of academic departments.

The Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences (EECS) Department at UC Berkeley manages two undergraduate degrees through two different colleges: the BS in EECS in the College of Engineering (CoE), and the BA in Computer Science (CS) in the College of Letters & Science (L&S).

Both programs have the same technical requirements, with differing breadth requirements and admissions processes. Course examples for both programs include The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs, Designing Information Devices and Systems, Machine Structures, and Data Structures and Programming Methodology.

All EECS and CS students have access to the XR [email protected]—a Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality Laboratory (VR/AR/MR)—the student-run Extended [email protected] (est. 2015), and the FHL Vive Center for Enhanced Reality, which sponsors research and applications in AR/VR and AI.

Collectively, the Labs and Centers at UC Berkeley train new engineers in all areas of AR/VR, they advance the field of AR/VR through development plans, actions, and state-of-art research, and they bring attention to technology’s possibilities for humankind.

Graduates of the EECS and CS Programs at UC Berkeley work in a variety of fields such as Computer Systems Design, Computer Vision and Robotics, AI and Machine Learning, Software Development, Defense, Production, Design, Entertainment, Healthcare, Engineering, and Aerospace, among others. Some of the top hiring companies for UC Berkeley graduates include Google, Apple, Meta, and Tesla.

5. University of California-San Diego, San Diego, California
University of California, San Diego

Although the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) wasn’t established until 1961, the campus dates back to the late 1800s when the site was chosen as the location for a marine field station for zoologists at the UC Berkeley campus. The facility, which became a part of the University of California in 1912, was eventually named Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Today, UCSD is one of the nine campuses of the UC System and it supports a community of close to 35,000 students.

UCSD houses seven colleges, including Jacobs School of Engineering—home to the Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) Department. Students who would like to study AR/VR can do so through the BS, MS, BS/MS, and PhD Programs in Computer Science (CS). Required electives allow students to craft a focus area to suit their goals. Undergraduates may choose seven electives worth four units each. Graduate students may choose 16 units of electives and research as well 12 units in a Depth Area such as Graphics and Vision, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Robotics, AI, or Programming Languages, Compilers, And Software Engineering.

The MS Program also allows students to choose from three pathways: MS Plan I: Thesis; MS Plan II: Comprehensive Exam, Standard Option; and MS Plan II: Comprehensive Exam, Interdisciplinary Option. The Interdisciplinary Option provides additional opportunities to focus on a customized or available area of interest. 

CSE Department focus areas include AI, HCI, Robotics, Programming Systems, Software Engineering, and Visual Computing (Computer Graphics and Computer Vision), among others.

A CS Minor is also available as well as a Virtual Reality App Development Certificate Program that can supplement any program or it can be taken alone. Courses for the Certificate Program include How Virtual Reality Works, Computer Graphics, and Creating Virtual Reality Apps.

All CS students have access to the CSE Virtual Reality Lab (VR Lab). Launched in 2017, the Lab allows is designed for students interested in developing content for virtual environments. The Lab features workshops, research opportunities in the field of AR/VR, projects, and networking opportunities. The VR Lab also houses the 300+ member VR Club at UCSD. 

Graduates of the CS and Certificate Programs at University of California, San Diego are prepared to pursue positions such as AR/VR Maintenance and Support, Graphics Engineer, XR Gameplay and Tools Engineer, VR Developer, VR Technician, Software Developer, and Design/Graphics Engineer, among others.

6. California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
California Institute of Technology

Founded as Throop University in 1891, California Institute of Technology (Caltech) is a science and engineering institute that manages the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for NASA. The school also owns and operates large-scale research facilities such as the Seismological Laboratory and a global network of astronomical observatories, including the W. M. Keck and Palomar Observatories.

Caltech is home to around 2,400 students served by a more than 300 faculty members. The school, which sits on a 124-acre campus in Pasadena, California, is divided into six academic divisions including Biology and Biological Engineering; Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Engineering and Applied Science; Geological and Planetary Sciences; Humanities and Social Sciences; and Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy.

The Division of Engineering and Applied Science houses the Computing and Mathematical Sciences Department, which has a Computer Science (CS) Program with three pathways to study AR/VR: the BS, MS, and Minor. Course examples across programs include Advanced Digital Systems Design, Computer Graphics (including Animation, Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), and Modeling), Computer Language Shop, Digital Logic and Embedded Systems, GPU Programming, Machine Learning, Making Data Visual (including Virtual/Technological Media), Nonlinear Control, and Operating Systems.

Students in all CS programs have access to Caltech’s Virtual Reality Lab, where they have opportunities to create projects, conduct research, and collaborate with peers. The Lab also houses Virtech—an experimental platform for online education. Also part of the Center for Data-Driven Discovery at Caltech, Virtech allows students to create their own 3D content, collaborate, and network. Caltech faculty utilize the platform for group meetings and discussions, seminars, experiments with other online technologies and learning modalities, and online lectures.

Caltech graduates go on to establish successful careers in technology, aerospace, government, science, and business among other areas. They have been hired at Meta, SpaceX, and the National Science Foundation, among others.

7. University of California-Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, California
University of California, Santa Cruz

University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz or UCSC) is home to the Baskin School of Engineering, which houses the Computational Media Department (CM) and the Cave Automatic Virtual Environment (CAVE) Lab. In the Lab, faculty and students have the opportunity to create 3D virtual environments that allow multiple users to interact at the same time. The facility houses a room-sized, advanced visualization system also called the CAVE, which combines high-resolution, stereoscopic projection and 3D computer graphics to create and fully immerse in virtual environments.

The CAVE Lab is also outfitted with Mechdyne CAVE and FLEX technology and adjustable walls that allow environments to be modified for different applications. The Unity development platform is used to create 3D interactive environments.

UCSC has an additional space, known as the VizLab, that’s dedicated to AR/VR. The Lab provides access to high-end VR equipment that can be used to develop virtual or augmented reality content and interact with imagined worlds. Students can check out equipment such as a VIVE headset, Gear VR, Google Cardboard, 360 cameras, GoPros, DSLR cameras, video cameras, and other media capture devices. The VizLab also hosts class sessions, workshops, and project development meetings.

UC Santa Cruz is part of the 10-campus University of California System. The school serves 18,980 students enrolled in 170 undergraduate, graduate, and minor programs across 10 colleges and dozens of schools. Baskin School of Engineering houses the BS and MS Programs in Computer Science (CS), and the MS and PhD degrees in Computational Media.

Course examples across programs include, Introduction to Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, Game AI, Artificial Intelligence (AI), User Experience for Interactive Media, Applied Machine Learning, Software Engineering, Computational Media Methods, Computer Systems and C Programming, Programming Abstractions: Python, Advanced Computer Graphics and Animation Laboratory, and Data Programming for Visualization.

Students will complete a variety of projects throughout all CS programs. In the final year, graduate students will complete a thesis OR additional project with written report.

Graduates of the Computer Science Programs at University of California, Santa Cruz are prepared for in-demand jobs such as AR/VR Maintenance and Support, XR Gameplay and Tools Engineer, Software Developer, Senior Software Engineer, Design/Graphics Engineer, and Software Engineer.

8. San Jose State University, San Jose, California
San Jose State University

The eCampus Immersive Learning Institute at San Jose State University (San Jose State or SJSU) focuses on AR/VR technology and learning. Faculty in the program work together to explore AR/VR and create immersive learning activities for their courses through workshops, hands-on activities, and resources. Workshops include Building Immersive Learning Experienced, Hands-on AR/VR Exploration, Integrating AR/VR into Curriculums, and Best Practices and Showcase. The Immersive Learning Institute provides the opportunity for faculty to apply what they have learned to their classrooms, while helping students learn about and develop skills in AR/VR.

In addition to access to instructors who are heavily involved in AR/VR education and development, San Jose State University has several pathways for students interested in studying AR/VR. Housed in the College of Professional and Global Education’s School of Information, the BS in Information Science and Data Analytics (BSISDA) explores AR/VR, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Blockchain, and Big Data. The Computer Science Department in the College of Science has BS and MS degree options with heavy VR/AR related coursework.

Across programs, course examples include Python Programming, Human Centered Design, Information Visualization, User Centered Interface Architecture, Tools Lab, Object-Oriented Design, Query Languages, The Emerging Future: Technology Issues and Trends, Software Engineering, Programming Paradigms, and Technology, Culture, and Society.

To enhance both the BS and MS degrees, students may choose six to 12 elective units from upper or lower division courses. Elective examples include Computer Game Design and Programming, Advanced C++ Programming, Machine Learning, Computer Graphics Algorithms, Advanced programming with Python, Programming in Java, Game Studies, Computer Vision, and Advanced Practical Computing Topics.

Established in 1857 as the first State Normal School, San Jose State University is Silicon Valley’s Public University. The school is home to approximately 36,000 students, served by nearly 4,300 employees. Bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are available in 250 areas of study. Programs at SJSU are managed across nine academic colleges housing dozens of schools and departments.

San Jose State University graduates are routinely hired across industries at companies with headquarters across Silicon Valley and offices around the world. Graduates work in Aerospace, Internet & Software, Government, Computer Networking, Healthcare, Design, Electronic and Computer Hardware, Advertising, and Education, among others. Top hiring companies for San Jose State graduates include Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Oracle, Intel, NASA, SAP America, and Western Digital. 

9. University of California-Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California
University of California, Santa Barbara

Founded in 1891, the University of California Santa Barbara (UC Santa Barbara or UCSB) serves around 26,180 students enrolled in more than 200 graduate programs, undergraduate majors, degrees, and credentials across five schools. Programs for students interested in AR/VR are housed in the College of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science or offered jointly by the College of Engineering and the College of Arts and Letters. Options include BS and MS degrees in Computer Science (CS), and jointly offered MS and PhD degrees in Media Arts and Technology (MAT).

Courses examples from the Department of Computer Science include Mixed and Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Automata and Formal Languages, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Translation of Programming Languages, Perception, Software Engineering, and Computer Graphics.

The MAT MS and PhD allow students to focus on specific areas of emphasis, based on their career goals and interests. In addition to AR/VR, emphasis area examples  include Visual and Spatial Arts, Multimedia Engineering, Electronic Music, and Sound Design.

Depending on the program, students have access to a number of labs. Among them are the UCSB Four Eyes Lab and The Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (ReCVEB).

The USCB Four Eyes Lab is part of the Department of Computer Science and the MAT Program. The Lab focuses on research in Imaging, Interaction, and Innovative Interfaces. Graduate and undergraduate students, postdocs, and visitors work in areas such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Computer Vision, Mobile and Wearable Computing, Recommender Systems, Visualization, User Interface and Human-Computer Interaction (UI/HCI), and Data Mining/Machine Learning.

Examples of current research in the Lab include Enhanced Geometric Techniques for Point Marking in Model-Free Augmented Reality; Hybrid Orbiting-to-Photos in 3D Reconstructed Visual Reality; Gesture-based Augmented Reality Annotation; Sphere in Hand: Exploring Tangible Interaction with Immersive Spherical Visualizations; and Relative Effects of Real-world and Virtual-World Latency on an Augmented Reality Training Task: An AR Simulation Experiment.

The Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior (ReCVEB) is open to graduate students, postdocs, and faculty members. Established in the 1990s, ReCVEB was designed for the use of virtual environments in psychological research. Today, the Lab is open to all forms of VR research and projects. Current ReCVEB research groups include Future of Interactive Technologies; Navigation and Spatial Cognition; Social Interactions and Communication; Education and Training; and Low Vision & Sight Restoration. In addition, the Center houses a 30-by-30 foot open room and a tracking system, which allows for experiments in fully immersive walking VR.

Other UCSB labs include the RE Touch Lab (Haptics, Robotics, and VR), Systemics Lab (Robotics, Interface Design, Sustainable Computing Paradigms), and transLAB (Worldmaking + Social VR, Immersion, Performative Interactive Arts).

University of California Santa Barbara is one of the top 20 universities that are most likely to lead to a job in Silicon Valley. Some of the top hiring companies in Silicon Valley include Amazon, Apple, Google, Meta, Cisco, Intel, Nvidia, Dell, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, HP, Adobe, Tesla, and Gilead Sciences.

10. Chapman University, Orange, California
Chapman University

Chapman University has a VR and AR Minor that can be taken with programs such as the Computer Science BS or Computer Engineering BS, housed in Fowler School of Engineering; the Animation and Visual Effects BFA or the Digital Media BFA, housed in Dodge College of Film & Media Arts; or the Computational & Data Sciences MS, housed in Schmid College of Science and Technology, among others.  

The VR and AR Minor consists of 15 credit hours of required courses and six credit hours of electives.  Required courses include Introduction to VR and AR, Visual Programming, Storytelling in Immersive Media, Advanced VR/AR Workshop, and The Landscape of Emerging Media. Elective options include Immersive Cinematography, Spatial Audio Design, Overview of Post-Production for Emerging Media, and the Independent Internship.

Students in all programs have access to the Institute for Creative Reality (ICR) and they may participate in the Virtual Reality/AR Club. Housed in the Dodge College of Film & Media Arts and supported by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), the ICR focuses on the research and development of virtual and augmented reality. Dodge also houses NoctVRnal, which provides audio services for VR/AR/MR, 360 video, installations, and location-based entertainment. NoctVRnal partners include TedxMileHigh, Embodied Labs, Light Sail VR, USC School of Cinematic Arts, Culturehub, Prosper VR, World Light, Eye Q Productions, and VRLA. The VR Club supports student projects in games, AR/VR, and other emerging technologies. The Club also hosts workshops and showcases.

Depending on the program, Chapman University students may have opportunities to intern at major companies and studios such as Amazon, Lockheed Martin, Disney, Blizzard Entertainment, Google, Blur, DreamWorks, Boeing, The Aerospace Corporation, and Pixar. Chapman University students are often hired by many of these companies after graduation.

Chapman University opened in 1861 as Hesperian College. Serving 10,000 students from 82 countries and just about every state, Chapman offers more than 200 programs at all degree levels. Programs at Chapman University are administered across 11 colleges and schools from Arts, Humanities, & Social Sciences to Business, Engineering, and Science & Technology.