A finite element based sensitivity analysis procedure is developed for buckling and postbuckling of composite plates. This procedure is based on the direct differentiation approach combined with the reference volume concept. Linear elastic material model and nonlinear geometric relations are used. The sensitivity analysis technique results in a set of linear algebraic equations which are easy to solve. The procedure developed provides the sensitivity derivatives directly from the current load and responses by solving the set of linear equations. Numerical results are presented and are compared with those obtained using finite difference technique. The results show good agreement except at points near critical buckling load where discontinuities occur. The procedure is very efficient computationally.