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Experimental data are presented along with calculations which describe the near‐threshold transverse modes in AlAs/GaAs/InGaAs vertical‐cavity surface‐emitting lasers with two different Bragg reflector systems. The Bragg reflector systems are composed of either AlAs/GaAs quarter‐wave stacks or a combination of AlAs/GaAs and ZnSe/CaF. The temperature dependence of the lasing mode is studied for three different structures, and it is shown that higher‐order lasing modes are favored with strong cavity detuning when the cavity resonance exists at a wavelength greater than the bulk emission peak. Important aspects of the lasing behavior are described by calculating the spontaneous mode which occurs at the lasing wavelength. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.