In the present study optimal design of composite laminates, with and without rectangular cut-out, is carried out for maximizing the buckling load. Optimization study is carried out for obtaining the maximum buckling load with design variables as ply thickness, cut-out size and orientation of cut-out with respect to laminate. Buckling load is evaluated using a ‘simple higher order shear deformation theory’ based on four unknown displacements $u,v,w_b$ and $w_s$. A C1 continuous shear flexible finite element based on HSDT model is developed using Hermite cubic polynomial. It is observed that for thick anti-symmetric laminates, the non-dimensional buckling load decreases with increase in aspect ratio and increase in fibre orientation angle. There is a decrease in the non-dimensional buckling load of symmetric laminate in the presence of cut-out.