When most people think of interior design, they think of decorating living rooms or flipping houses. Those things are all well and good, but you could think bigger.
Interior designers work with architects and contractors to create restaurants, exhibits, hotels, places of worship, and more. With a degree in interior design, you could design sets, exhibits, or – yes – homes. A formal education in interior design will familiarize you with the latest technologies and materials so that you can design cutting-edge, accessible, eco-friendly environments.
Consider researching the laws in your state, or the state(s) in which you’d like to build a career. Some states require mandatory registration for interior designers, so consider licensure as you plan your career. In some states — California, for example — becoming a certified interior designer requires six to eight years of education and experience.
Whatever your goals, an excellent education can help you achieve them. We’ve listed ten of the nation’s best interior design schools here for you to consider.
Course offerings vary drastically from one school to another; we’ve offered a sampling of the classes offered by each institution to give you an idea of what to expect. Visit their websites and speak to current students or graduates to learn more.
Did you know that it’s possible to study interior design at an Ivy League university?
Cornell is located in Ithica, New York — about four hours from New York City. At Cornell, the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis is part of the College of Human Ecology. They offer an active learning classroom where student designers complete renovation projects. The College of Human Ecology also offers programs of study in Human Development, Nutritional Sciences, Policy Analysis and Management, and Fiber Science & Apparel Design.
Their site lists four core values:
- Human-Centered Design: improving the human condition
- Ecological Perspective: whole systems view – people, process, technology and place
- Global Awareness and Engagement: global perspective, and outreach
- Leadership & Innovation: quality and creativity
The College of Human Ecology offers degree programs in Design and Environmental Analysis at both the Undergraduate and Graduate levels. Their faculty includes some of the world’s leading experts in interior design, ergonomics, facility planning, and environmental psychology.
The undergraduate curriculum is STEM certified. Students may choose to focus on Design Innovation and Strategy, Sustainable Futures, and/or Health and Well-Being.
DEA core requirements include the following classes:
- Visual Literacy & Design
- Intro to Environmental Psychology
- Making a Difference by Design
- Design Graphics & Visualization
- Career Explorations
- Design Portfolio and Communication
- History of Design Futures
- Human Centered Design Methods
- Problem-Seeking through Programming
- Research Methods
- Professional Practices and Ethics
- Design Accountability: Evaluation of the Physical Environment
Graduate students can pursue a Masters of Art in Design, a Masters of Science in Human Environment Relations (HER), or a Ph.D. in Human Behavior and Design.
Drexel University is a part of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In addition to earning a degree in interior design, undergraduate students receive a well-rounded education in the humanities and sciences.
Drexel offers 15 undergraduate degree programs, including Architecture, Fashion Design, Product Design, and Virtual Reality & Immersive Media. They also offer a wide range of minors, including unique offerings such as Interactive Digital Media and Sustainability in the Built Environment. With peers studying (and performing) everything from dance to playwriting to music composition, Drexel is a fantastic place to spend your college years.
The Interior Design program at Drexel University is accredited by both the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD). It confers a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design. Courses include:
- History of Art
- Composition and Rhetoric
- Math 101: Introduction to Analysis
- Introductory Drawing
- Introduction to Civic Engagement
- History of Modern Architecture and Interiors
- Environmental Design Theory
- Textiles for Interiors
- Light and Sound
- Career Management and Professional Development
- Hospitality Design
- Furniture Design
- Contract Documentation for Interior Design
Students are required to complete six months of professional work experience during their junior year. In their senior year, students undertake a capstone project. This includes case/precedent studies, program definition, analysis and site selection studies, and finally a completed space.
Students have the opportunity to study abroad. Possible locations include Prague and London. The faculty also leads two-week study tours all over the world. Drexel boasts high success rates for its graduates, with 100% acceptance to graduate school for interior design graduates.
If you’re a high schooler who’s interested in pursuing a career in design, consider applying to one of Drexel’s virtual Pre-College Programs.
Fashion Institute of Technology
The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City has been preparing students for careers in interior design for over fifty years. FIT’s Interior Design program is the largest in New York City. Each year, 400 students learn how to design homes, hotels, restaurants, stores, historic settings, hospitals, and more.
Students can either complete a two-year associate’s degree program or earn a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree. Undergraduates are able to take a wide variety of courses, including unusual offerings like Crime Scene Chemistry, Art in New York, or Religion and Religious Dissent in American History.
FIT’s interior design courses include:
- Interior Design Merchandising
- Interior Design for Small Residential Spaces
- Survey of Interior Design throughout History
- Presentation Techniques
- Model Construction
- Basic Drafting Techniques
- Computer Space Modeling and Visualization
- Design, Color, and Lighting Principles and Theory
- Decorative Arts, Architecture, and Interior Design in Italy
- Materials and Methods of Interior Construction
- Professional Practice
FIT’s courses meet National Certification for Interior Design Qualification Exam and New York State certification (Certified Interior Designer) eligibility requirements. They are also accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA).
FIT also has other interesting undergraduate programs to explore. Options include Visual Presentation and Exhibition Design, Home Products Development, and Fashion Business Management.
Florida State University
The Department of Interior Architecture and Design at FSU offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in interior design. Undergraduates can pursue either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science degree; both are accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of the Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
In their first year, students follow FSU’s Liberal Studies curriculum, which includes Quantitative and Logical Thinking, Ethics, English Composition, History, Cultural Practice, and Natural Science. Freshmen also take courses in Design Fundamentals.
Subsequent coursework includes:
- Furniture Design Studio
- Graphic Techniques
- Social/Psychological Aspects of Design
- Computer-Aided Design
- History of Interiors
- Construction Documents
- Materials and Methods
- Construction Systems
- Portfolio Development
- Business Practices
Students also must complete a professional internship.
FSU offers an international program called Studies in Design. Participating students study the history of architecture, interiors, and furniture in London.
Kansas State University
K-State offers over 250 undergraduate programs, one of which is its highly regarded interior design program offered by the Department of Apparel, Textiles, and Interior Design. Students can pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design or a 5-year Master’s Degree in Interior Architecture & Product Design.
The interior design program instructs its students in the following subjects:
- design history
- design thinking
- collaboration and problem-solving
- codes and regulations
- environmental comfort
- sustainability and resiliency
- design communication skills
- application of the design process
- project planning and management
- building construction methods
- interior construction methods and materials
- creative two- and three-dimensional design
Coursework includes a mixture of common core and interior design:
- Expository Writing
- Western Civilization
- The Physical World
- General Psychology
- Survey of Western Art Hist.
- Introduction to Well Being
- Community Well Being
- College Algebra
- Social Well Being
- Financial Well Being
- Construction Methods & Materials
- History of Interior Design
- Expository Writing
- Public Speaking
- Introduction to Sociology
- Textiles for Interior Design
- Lighting for Interiors
- Principles of Macroeconomics
This program is significantly more affordable than others listed here, particularly for Kansas residents. Students have the opportunity to study abroad in Guatemala, Great Britain, Korea, Italy, or France. The employment rate for interior design graduates of K-State is one hundred percent.
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The New School, Parsons School of Design
Parsons School of Design in New York City offers a BFA in Interior Design. Its program is research-based and design-intensive.
At Parsons, first-year students all start out together, regardless of their choice of major. Classes include Sustainable Systems, Space / Materiality, Drawing / Imaging, and Objects as History. In their second year, students “learn to conceptualize and develop interior designs using hand and digital drawings, physical models, collage, and renderings.”
Juniors and Seniors can choose from a wide range of advanced electives prior to completing an advanced research seminar, capstone project, and a professional internship.
Classes offered by Parsons School of Design include:
- Designing Lighting
- Ephemeral Constructions
- Upholstery and Soft Goods
- Interactive Interiors
- Portfolio and Promotion
- The Luminous Object
- Racism, Classism, and the Constructed Environment
- Accounting Fundamentals
- Community Supported Textiles
- Financial Management
- Navigating the Field: Personal and Professional Development
With students from over one hundred different countries and study abroad opportunities available in over thirty countries, Parsons was recently ranked the number one most international university by U.S. News and World Report. Students live in the heart of New York City; there are residence halls in Greenwich Village and Chelsea.
The New School considers all applicants for merit scholarships on the basis of artistic and academic ability.
New York School of Interior Design
New York School of Interior Design is a private, not-for-profit college that is “devoted to the design of the interior environment.” Their mission statement reads: “New York School of Interior Design’s singular focus is to provide the most innovative, immersive, and transformative interior design education in the world.”
In recent years, the employment rate for NYSID graduates (both undergraduates and graduate students) has been one hundred percent. Every member of the class of 2018 was either employed or pursuing higher education within six months of graduation.
They offer three distinct undergraduate programs: the Basic Interior Design Certificate Program, an Associate in Applied Science in Interior Design, or a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design. There are also four graduate programs available: Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design, Post-Professional Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design, Master of Professional Studies in Sustainable Interior Environments, and Master of Professional Studies in Lighting Design.
The coursework required to earn a BFA in Interior Design includes:
- Historical Styles
- Textiles for Interiors
- Basic Drafting
- Color for Interiors
- English Composition
- Basic Mathematics
- Visual Concepts
- Residential Design
- Hand Drawing and Rendering
- Design Process
- Materials & Methods of Construction
- Modern Architecture & Design
- Intro to Sustainability and the Built Environment
- Environment & Behavior
- Presentation Techniques
- Building Systems
Students study online and/or onsite in New York City. The building is located on the Upper East Side, walking distance from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Guggenheim Museum.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you wish to pursue a degree in Interior Design, consider enrolling in their Introduction to Interior Design workshop offered through the NYSID Institute of Continuing and Professional Studies. They often accept transfer students from other schools.
Rhode Island School of Design
RISD is located in Providence, Rhode Island. The Rhode Island School of Design was founded by a group of women in 1877 — that’s forty years before women won the right to vote! They began offering bachelor’s degrees in the 1930s.
During their first year at RISD, undergraduates follow a studio curriculum called Experimental and Foundational Studies. Students work closely with faculty as they study Drawing, Design, and Spacial Dynamics. They’re encouraged to compare and combine disciplines in a program that emphasizes process, experimentation, and critical thinking. First-year students also study literature, history, and philosophy.
The BFA Interior Studies program at RISD is a four-year program that focuses on Adaptive Reuse. Professors focus on bettering lives through design by creating affordable housing and sustainable modular solutions. Students can specialize in theater, exhibition, or retail design.
In their Sophomore and Junior years, students study:
- Introduction to Interior Studies
- Drawing for Interior Architecture
- Building Materials
- History of Interior Architecture
- Digital Representation and Visual Narrative
- Human Factors
- Building Structures and Systems for Adaptive Reuse
- Spatial Perception: Light and Color
- Liberal Arts Electives
Senior year is dedicated to advanced design studios and a final project.
Savannah College of Art and Design
The Savannah College of Art and Design, popularly known as SCAD, was founded in 1978. Students of interior design can attend either of the school’s Georgia campuses; there’s one in Savannah and one in Atlanta.
This school is dedicated to the professional fine arts. It offers degrees in dozens of different fields. Offerings include Architecture, Creative Business Leadership, Design For Sustainability, Furniture Design, Preservation Design, and Visual Effects.
SCAD aims to develop six core competencies in each of its students:
- Research analysis and synthesis
- Historical investigation and contextualization
- Cross-cultural knowledge and engagement
- Strategic communication
- Digital fluency
- Leadership and professionalism
The interior design program offered by SCAD is considered by many to be the best in the country. Their in-house creative consultancy offers students the opportunity to collaborate with corporate partners as they learn how to “maximize health, wellness, style, and sustainable practices across corporate, residential, retail, and hospitality design.”
SCAD offers three degrees in Interior Design: a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), MA (Master of Arts), or MFA (Master of Fine Arts).
Foundational studies for the BFA include:
- Drawing I: Form and Space
- Design I: Elements and Organization
- Drawing II: Composition and Media
- Color: Theory and Application
- Design II: 3D Form in Space
- Graphics for the Building Arts
General education courses include:
- Ink to Ideas: Critical Concepts in Literature and Writing
- Digital Communication
- Modern Architecture I: 1750-1900
- Modern Architecture II: 1900-Present
- Survey of World Architecture and Urbanism
- World Vernacular Architecture
Advanced classes for undergraduates include:
- Interior Design Seminar
- Interior Design Theory and Criticism
- Research Methods for Interior Design
- Environmental Psychology for Interior Design
- Contemporary Issues in Interior Design
- Lighting for the Interior
- Building Construction and Systems for the Interior
Undergraduate students will then move on to capstone courses and complete an internship. SCAD also offers an e-learning program and study-abroad opportunities in Lacoste, France.
SCAD interior design graduates can count on a 98% chance of placement in design positions or enrollment in graduate school after they earn their BFA.
University of Cincinnati
The School of Architecture and Interior Design offers undergraduate students the opportunity to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in either Architecture or Interior Design. At SAID, these degrees usually require five years of study. They also offer masters programs and historic preservation certificates.
The interior design program is accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).
SAID students spend their first three semesters studying a common curriculum. Coursework in the first three semesters includes:
- Design Lab
- Communication Skills
- Human Dimension of Space
- English Composition
- Modernism and Form: History of Architecture 1750 to Present
- Design Science
- Ritual and Space
- Building Construction
The interior design curriculum offered by the School of Architecture and Interior Design includes:
- Interior Design Studio
- Professional Practice
- Materials and Fibers / Construction
- Interior Design Advanced Communication Skills
- Intermediate Composition
- Furniture / Millwork
- Interior Lighting
- Senior Capstone Studio
Are you still wondering whether these programs would be a good fit for you, or whether you have what it takes to forge a successful career in interior design? Here’s what the professionals at the University of Cincinnati have to say:
People who are successful in the interior design field typically have visual and kinesthetic/tactile learning styles. Interior designers are creative, imaginative and artistic, as well as disciplined and highly organized. They enjoy putting things together. Combining technical knowledge (involving structural requirements, materials and products) with aesthetic vision, interior designers work with clients and other design professionals to develop design solutions that are safe, functional, attractive and meet the needs of the people using the space.
Successful interior designers must possess strong communication skills and be comfortable in meeting with many different types of people, as well as being attentive listeners. Interior designers must have excellent time- and project management skills, and must understand business planning. They need to know how to create informative and persuasive proposals and maintain good client relationships.
If you need help figuring out which schools to apply to, don’t hesitate to reach out! That’s what we do, all day every day. We can create a customized list of universities and guide you through every step of the application process. Schedule a free consultation today.