An interior designer has been defined as one who is professionally trained to create a functional and quality interior. The design aspect can range from a house to an entire office complex. To accomplish this, designers must know how to plan a space and how to render that plan visually, so that it can be conveyed to the client. They must also be knowledgeable about the materials and products that will be used to create and furnish the space, and about how texture, color, lighting and other factors combine and interact to give a space its “feel” or “look.” Sounds similar to an interior decorator? The main difference is that a decorator works only with surface decoration – paint, fabric, furnishings, lighting and other materials. Also, in 27 states licensure is required in order to be an Interior Designer.
What are the job prospects for this profession? According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the growth rate is expected to be only 4% through 2024 or 2,200 jobs added. As of 2014, there were a total of 58,900 employed as interior designers, as reported by the BLS, with a median salary of $48,400. This figure is slightly above the compensation site, PayScale, that reports the average income at $43,870.
The following are highly recognized and reputable interior design schools within the United States, worthy of consideration.
1. Savannah College of Art and Design
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) was founded in 1978 to provide college degree programs not previously available in southeast Georgia and to create a specialized professional art college to attract students from throughout the United States and abroad. The university confers Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Master of Architecture, Master of Arts, Master of Fine Arts and Master of Urban Design degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate certificates. The school has been ranked #1 by DesignIntelligence and Design School Hubs. This recognized excellence has spread globally as the school is located in Hong Kong and Lacoste, France, as well as Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia. The SCAD Collaborative Learning Center, or CLC, partners with top businesses, brands and organizations to generate design-based concepts and solutions for experiences, products, media and technology.
SCAD’s accredited interior design degrees are offered in Atlanta, Hong Kong, Savannah and online via eLearning. The undergraduate journey (BFA degree) starts with a series of foundation studies and general education courses, followed by the major curriculum consisting of 80 hours total. The Master of Arts is offered at the Atlanta, Savannah locations as well as online. The graduate curriculum is a total of 45 hours. eLearning courses begin and end on a 10-week schedule to coincide with the university’s academic calendar. An integral part of the MFA program is the Graduate Teaching Internship and Graduate Field Internship. Both are done under the supervision of a faculty member. This curriculum is a total of 90 hours.
All online courses are taught by the same world-class faculty as the on-the-ground courses. SCAD is the first art and design university to receive the Instructional Technology Council’s award for Outstanding Distance Education Program, and the rank of Excellence in Institution-Wide Online Teaching and Learning from the Online Learning Consortium.
Locations: Atlanta and Savannah, GA
Tuition: $35,190; undergraduate; $36,045: graduate
2. Pratt Institute
The Pratt Institute (PI) was founded in 1887 and has remained a global leader in art, design and architecture higher education throughout its 128 year history. Since 2008, the professional survey, DesignIntelligence, has ranked the undergraduate program number two in the country. The interior design program is an architecturally oriented program with emphasis on spatial design as well as surface embellishment. All aspects of space—scale, proportion, configuration, and light source, as well as textures, materials, and color—are studied in relation to their effect on the human spirit. Students begin their interior design studies in the sophomore year, working in a stimulating studio setting where the learning is collective, cooperative, and competitive. Students work closely in small groups with their professor on projects that develop in size and complexity through the six semesters of design studio.
The mission of the Interior Design Department’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA.) program is to enrich the profession and educate leaders in the practice of Interior Design. The educational community encourages philosophical explorations, ethical responsibility, aesthetic expressions, and practical applications in line with professional standards. The school can attest that 93% of the students that graduated in May 2014, with their BFA, were employed by January 1, 2015.
Equally impressive is their graduate program in Interior Design that was ranked number two nationally, number one regionally in the 2016 professional survey by Design Intelligence. The school launched a new Master in Fine Arts (MFA) in Interior Design to replace the existing MS program in Fall 2015. Like its undergraduate counterpart, Pratt’s graduate program continues to be an architecturally oriented program with emphasis on spatial design as well as surface embellishment.
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Tuition: $44,580: annually for 12-18 credits
3. New York School of Interior Design
New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) is ranked among the best in the nation, according to a new survey of practitioners by DesignIntelligence. NYSID’s graduate programs are ranked #4 in the nation and their undergraduate programs are ranked #5 in the nation for 2016. Also, NYSID’s undergraduate and graduate programs are both ranked #3 in the East Coast region. Founded in 1916, New York School of Interior Design has been leading the study of interior design for a century at this non-profit college that focuses exclusively on interior design. The school has more than 600 students studying residential and commercial interior design, with specialties in sustainable design, lighting, and healthcare interiors. Their stellar program allows 92% of students from undergraduate programs gain employment within 6 months of completing their studies, and the rate for postgraduate programs is 94%.
The school offers a one year Basic Interior Design Certificate (BID), that optionally feeds into the second year of the two-year Associate of Applied Science (AAS). The latter includes a core syllabus of practical residential and commercial interior design. Those having completed the AAS have the option to further enhance their interior design education by entering year three of the four year Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design (BFA). This is a Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). The BFA program provides students with professional-level preparation to become practicing interior designers. This program gives students the tools to think analytically; to create functional, safe, and beautiful interior environments; and to communicate verbally and graphically using the latest technology.
At the graduate level, NYSID offers two Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Interior Design degrees: a three year professional and two year post-professional MFA. Additionally, there are three Masters of Professional Studies (MPS) programs: Healthcare Interior Design, Sustainable Interior Environments and Interior Lighting Design. Each is a one year post-professional program. The MPS programs are designed for the working professional, with classes in the evenings and on weekends.
Location: New York, NY
Tuition: $915 per credit: undergraduate; $15,520 per semester: graduate
4. Rhode Island School of Design
The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is one of the more famous and well-ranked design schools in the country. It has been ranked #4 by DesignIntelligence and #3 by Design Schools Hub. The school refers to their interior design program as “Interior Studies” majors at the undergraduate level. At this level, the student has the choice of three specializations or “pathways” through advanced design studios, focusing on design for the theater, exhibition design or retail design. Whichever path is selected, the Bachelor’s program will teach students to:
- Develop design strategies that recognize the importance of social and environmental responsibility
- Recognize the importance of context in the transformation of space and acknowledge its implications in the formulation of design concepts
- Engage with interior interventions in the field and apply this knowledge in design projects of varying scales
- Communicate design ideas through drawings, projections and both physical and digital models
There are approximately 55 undergraduates and 45 graduate students from around the world work together in the Angelo Donghia Studio for Interior Architecture (aka interior design) on the fifth floor of RISD’s Center for Integrative Technologies. Students come from around the world and work with more than 25 full- and part-time faculty members who practice internationally and were educated in Germany, Portugal, Canada, the US and elsewhere. In the first year of the program, which begins after students complete RISD’s required year of Foundation Studies, sophomores take introductory courses that cover the ideas and vocabulary of Interior Architecture and provide the basis for subsequent studios.
Interior Architecture offers two degree options at the graduate level: a Master of Arts (MA) in Interior Architecture and a Master of Design (MDes) in Interior Studies. Both programs take an innovative and progressive approach to addressing design issues intrinsic to the reuse and transformation of existing structures.
Location: Providence, RI
Tuition: $45,530: academic year
5. University of Cincinnati
The School of Architecture and Interior Design (SAID) at the University of Cincinnati (UC) prepares students for critical practice. Students engage with the principles, traditions, and requirements of building in all its aspects, interior and exterior. The goal is to advance the professions of Architecture and Interior Design by combining ethical judgment, creative research and technical proficiency in pursuit of excellence. According to DesignIntelligence (DI), UC’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) Interior Design program is number four in the nation for 2015. DI also lists the Interior Design program as one of the most admired by academic deans and department heads in the country.
The school’s Bachelor of Science in Interior design concerns itself with the interior spaces of buildings, emphasizing the physical, psychological, and social needs of people at work and leisure. The Bachelor of Science in Interior Design program is five years in length and requires approximately 1.5 years of cooperative education experience. The Professional Practice program, also known as “co-op,” offers students an opportunity for selected practical experience purposefully intermingled with a gradually expanding academic background. This unique college program originated at the University of Cincinnati in 1906. Students enrolled in the undergraduate program in Interior Design are required to participate in co-op education. Students often utilize co-op as a means of traveling and meeting new people to discover academic interests, personal passions, and post-graduation opportunities.
The School of Design offers the Master of Design degree through a two-year program intended for students with undergraduate degrees and work experience in design, or in a related field. The school faculty support advanced work in industrial design, communication design, and fashion design. Interdisciplinary graduate research is also encouraged.
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Tuition: $381 per credit hour or $4,562 per term-undergraduates: Ohio residents
6. Parsons-The New School of Design
In 1906, Frank Alvah Parsons established the first academic interior design program in the United States. Parsons and the program’s other early leaders understood interior design as both a critical design discipline and a potent social and economic force. The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Interior Design at Parsons School of Design has consistently ranked as a leading program for interior design education. Students work in small groups with faculty to develop design concepts for residences, institutions, commercial spaces, and special building types. After completing their first-year coursework, Interior Design undergraduate students take a multiple-year series of art and design history and theory courses, as well as a six-semester studio sequence that introduces interior and architecture issues of increasing difficulty and detail. Senior students can apply to participate in the Design Workshop, in which students design, develop, and construct a full-scale project for a nonprofit client.
Parsons offers an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in Interior Design. The AAS degree programs are best suited to students with college experience who are clear about their interests in the field of design and prepared for rapid immersion in a professional course of study. The curriculum can be completed in one academic year (intensive) or 18 months (normal). The AAS program is organized around three design studios that focus on residential, retail, workplace, and hospitality spaces.
Their Master of Fine Arts (MFA) was inaugurated in 2009. The MFA program offers instruction of incomparable depth with links to other graduate programs in architecture, product design, and lighting design. All of the Parsons’ Interior Design programs are accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. In addition, The School of Constructed Environments offers students wishing to combine graduate studies in interior design and lighting design a unique double major. In the MFA Interior Design and Lighting Design double major, a three-year, 90-credit-hour curriculum.
Location: New York, NY
Tuition: $21,780: 12-19 credits per term/undergraduate; $22,340 per term or $1,570 per credit
7. Fashion Institute of Technology
The Fashion Institute of Technology opened in 1944 with 100 students, and was located on the top two floors of the High School of Needle Trades. FIT‘s Interior Design program has been preparing students for success for more than 50 years. This rigorous, multidisciplinary program combines the academic study of the history and theory of interior design with practical, hands-on projects. In 1975, an amendment to the Education Law of New York State permitted FIT to offer Bachelor of Science (BS) and BFA programs; another amendment in 1979 authorized master’s programs. Over the years, the school has reached #7 in design programs by Design School Hubs and #8 by DesignIntelligence. Today, the campus encompasses an entire city block, and serves more than 10,000 students. The college offers degrees in diverse subjects, such as Menswear and Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing, which are unique to the college, and Fashion Merchandising Management, Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design, and Toy Design, the first of their kind in the country.
FIT offers an Associate in Applied Science (AAS) and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Interior Design. The two-year AAS program teaches design fundamentals, including space planning, lighting design, and applications of color, materials, and furnishings. In the two-year BFA program, student will master more advanced design techniques, and apply them to complex building types, including townhouses, country and vacation homes, retail stores, and government and religious facilities. Students complete a two-semester senior thesis project, which culminates in a presentation to a jury of practicing professionals. At the graduate level, FIT offers a Master of Arts in Sustainable Interior Environments program that imparts expertise in sustainability to residential, commercial, and institutional spaces.
Location: New York, NY
Tuition: $2,250 per semester (AAS); $3,235 (undergrad); $5,435 (graduate): all based on NY state residency
8. Syracuse University
Ranked as high as #9 by Design School Hubs, Syracuse University’s design programs are housed in The Nancy Cantor Warehouse, located in downtown Syracuse. The “Warehouse” allows students and faculty to benefit from a city atmosphere and to interact with local design firms. The Warehouse’s open, industrial space was renovated to contain professional studio facilities for each design program; two shared computer labs; a printing lab; and Design Works, a fabrication lab. This seven-story building has continually running bus service from the Main Campus with 24/7 security service.
The School of Design offers three majors that lead to the bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree. It also offers a program leading to a Bachelor of Industrial Design (B.I.D.) degree. The BFA degree in Environmental and Interior Design (EDI) prepares students to pursue careers focused on the design of the built environment in the disciplines of environmental design, interior design, interior architecture, adaptive reuse, spatial design, and exhibition design. Students in the EDI program benefit from faculty-led field research trips to major cities and design-oriented points of interest throughout the Northeast and beyond.
At the graduate level, the school offers a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in collaborative design. This is a two-year graduate program that engages students in collaborative practice within a dynamic, multidisciplinary studio environment. Their other master’s degree is a Master of Arts (MA) in museum studies which offers a curriculum based on hands-on training, research, scholarship, and design that prepares graduates for a wide range of positions in various types of museums. The faculty is composed of working professionals from the University and the local museum community.
Location: Syracuse, NY
Tuition: $19,485: 12-19 credits (undergraduate); $1,294 per credit (graduate)
The Interior Design Program at the Antionette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design is committed to develop the leaders of tomorrow.The undergraduate Interior Design Program explores the behavioral, technological, environmental and aesthetic aspects of interior design within the context of increasingly more complex design projects. Combined with Art and Art History and general education requirements, a core of interior design courses creates a unique education at the forefront of design. The fact that 88% of the returning Fall 2011 undergraduate sophomores graduated in June 2014 is a testament to their academic mission to develop skilled designers, creative thinkers, and responsible citizens.
Drexel’s undergraduate program in interior design is a four-year, first professional degree program that confers a Bachelor of Science degree. The program is a full-time, day program requiring a total of 189 credits in Drexel’s quarter-based system. The school also offers a Master of Science program in Interior Architecture & Design which is an internationally recognized CIDA accredited First Professional MS degree. Comprised of 69 graduate credits, most students complete the MS Interior Architecture & Design program in two to three years. Westphal College attests that 100% of the students entering the MS program in the summer or fall of 2011 graduated in June 2014. The MS Interior Architecture & Design program has been in the Top 10 Design Intelligence-America’s Best Design Schools for the past three years.
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Tuition: $15,462 annually (undergraduate); $938 per credit hour (graduate)
10. Cornell University
Cornell’s College of Human Ecology through their Design + Environmental Analysis (DEA) offers an integrative, flexible undergraduate curriculum that is student-centric. Students complete a common core of foundation courses then choose to build expertise within a focus area utilizing electives from the broad course offerings within Human Ecology. The undergraduate curriculum is organized around the following three primary research themes:
- Design Strategy: Human-centered design
- Sustainable Futures: Regenerative and resilient designing
- Health and Well-Being: Healing and healthcare design
Students work with faculty from a broad range of disciplines, combining academic course work, field experience and applied research to solve problems. Strengths of the program include studio-based training in creative process and innovation, and research-based training for understanding human-centered design.
At the graduate level, Cornell offers a two-year Master of Arts in Design consisting of two concentrations:
- Interior Design: Focuses on understanding and defining the expanding role of interior design as it relates to business strategy, environmental sustainability, health and well-being, advances in virtual reality, as well as the theoretical and historical issues which underpin these emerging concerns.
- Sustainable Design Studies: Examines developing a new worldview founded on a skeptical, critical approach to reasoning, a deep sensitivity for things living, and a broad understanding of the historical and cultural contexts of the human/nature relationship.
Location: Ithaca, NY
Tuition: $32,740: undergraduate academic year (NY state resident); $29,500: graduate