Schools with Optical Engineering Programs: How to Choose

Optical engineering programs train students to plan the design and development of optical systems and devices, including laser devices, light-emitting diodes (LEDs), fiber optic communications and radar systems. A number of schools offer bachelor's, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in optical engineering.

How to Choose an Optical Engineering School

A bachelor's degree in optical engineering can prepare a graduate to obtain an entry-level position in the field. Master's and doctoral degree programs are for engineers who want to advance their education or embark on a career in optical research. Individuals should look into program curricula to see if specialized courses are offered that may be aligned with their career objectives. Students also may want to look for schools that offer access to laboratory facilities and classes that concentrate on current trends in technology and engineering standards. Working individuals may seek out online or distance-learning programs so they can set their own pace. Programs at all degree levels should be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professional engineering (PE) licensure may require a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program (

Students interested in optical engineering programs may want to keep these considerations in mind:

  • Laboratory facilities and classes that concentrate on current trends in technology and engineering standards help prepare students for design work in the field.
  • Schools with career centers may help undergraduate and graduate students achieve their employment goals.
  • Some engineering positions may require licensure, for which an applicant may need a degree from an ABET-accredited program.
  • Online programs are available at some schools.

Overview of Optical Engineering Programs

Bachelor of Science in Optical Engineering

A bachelor's degree program in this field is suitable for those looking for entry into the job market or individuals planning to continue their studies at the graduate level. Coursework may include:

  • Calculus
  • Physics
  • Computer applications
  • Engineering statistics
  • Electronic and magnetic fields

Master of Science in Optical Engineering

A master's degree program in optical engineering can provide the student with the education and skills needed to contribute to state-of-the-art optical development and research. Courses may cover topics such as:

  • Quantum mechanics
  • Instrumentation and vision research
  • Complex analysis
  • Radiation and detectors
  • Principles of lasers

In addition, laboratory work and a practicum are typically components of this program. Students may be able to choose from thesis-, course- and project-based program options.

Ph.D. in Optical Science and Engineering

A Ph.D. program in optical science and engineering is for engineers who want to contribute to advancements and research in optical technology. Coursework may include:

  • Advanced optical materials
  • Integrated photonics
  • Advanced physical optics
  • Modern coherence theory

These degree programs usually require students to write a thesis or dissertation based on original research.

Top 10 Engineering Schools

College/University Institution Type
Massachusetts Institute of Technology4-year, Private not-for-profit
Stanford University 4-year, Private not-for-profit
University of California - Berkeley 4-year, Public
California Institute of Technology 4-year, Private not-for-profit
University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign 4-year, Public
Carnegie Mellon University 4-year, Private not-for-profit
Georgia Institute of Technology 4-year, Public
University of Michigan - Ann Arbor 4-year, Public
Cornell University 4-year, Private not-for-profit
Purdue University - West Lafayette 4-year, Public

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