Schools with Optical Engineering Programs: How to Choose

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

How to Choose an Optical Engineering School

Optical engineering programs are offered by 4-year colleges and universities from the bachelor's level through the doctoral level.

Summary of Important Considerations

  • Career goals
  • Laboratory facilities and course offerings
  • Distance education options and accreditation

Career Goals

Optical engineers design systems and equipment based on the science and properties of light. They may work with lenses, cameras, lasers, telescopes, fiber optic telephone equipment, radar and other types of optical systems. They may also design mounts for certain components and design inspection devices. A bachelor's degree in the field can provide individuals with the basic skills and knowledge to obtain an entry-level position in optical engineering. Master's and doctoral degree programs in optical engineering are for engineers who want to advance their education or embark on a career in optical research. Additionally, schools with career centers may help students achieve their employment goals.

Laboratory Facilities and Course Offerings

Aspiring optical engineers may want to look for schools that offer access to laboratory facilities and classes that concentrate on current trends in technology and engineering standards. These courses help prepare students for design work in the field. Individuals should also look into program curricula to see if specialized courses are offered that may be aligned with their career objectives.

Distance Education Options and Accreditation

Working individuals may want to seek out online or distance-learning programs so they can set their own pace. Students should also look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), because some engineering positions may require licensure. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), applicants for a professional engineering (PE) license may find that their engineering degree has to be earned from an ABET-accredited engineering program (

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.

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