Sensory experience begins when neural circuits in the cerebral cortex are still immature; however, the contribution of experience to cortical maturation remains unclear. In the visual cortex, the selectivity of neurons for oriented stimuli at the time of eye opening is poor and increases dramatically after the onset of visual experience. Here we investigate whether visual experience has a significant role in the maturation of orientation selectivity and underlying cortical circuits using two forms of deprivation: dark rearing, which completely eliminates experience, and binocular lid suture, which alters the pattern of sensory driven activity. Orientation maps were present in dark-reared ferrets, but fully mature levels of tuning were never attained. In contrast, only rudimentary levels of orientation selectivity were observed in lid-sutured ferrets. Despite these differences, horizontal connections in both groups were less extensive and less clustered than normal, suggesting that long-range cortical processing is not essential for the expression of orientation selectivity, but may be needed for the full maturation of tuning. Thus, experience is beneficial or highly detrimental to cortical maturation, depending on the pattern of sensory driven activity.