Online Interior Design & Degree Programs
- "Selecting a School or Program, American Society of Interior Designers,"
- "NCIDQ Examination, National Council on Interior Design Qualification,"
- Interior Designers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
- State Licensing Regulations, American Society of Interior Designers,
- "How to Become a Certified Interior Designer," California Council for Interior Design Certification,
If you spend your nights glued to HGTV and have a stack of home design magazines on your end table, you might be interested in earning an interior design degree. Interior designers take spaces of every size and transform them to suit a client's vision and needs. However, their work isn't only about making beautiful living spaces; they also implement practical solutions to make a home or building functional. Awkward rooms and dated finishes are no match for a properly trained interior designer.
For most designers, that proper training includes getting a post-secondary degree. Although you could try to use your natural ability and knowledge gained through magazines and books to launch a career as a decorator, this profession goes beyond simply matching colors and selecting patterns, and a degree in interior design will help build a strong foundation of the knowledge and skills required to be successful.
Interior design degrees to consider
Interior designers must know how to analyze spaces, determine their best use and then implement a strategic plan. According to the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), interior design is more than a creative process — it is also a technical one. Earning a degree is the best way to learn about design fundamentals, as well as how to use software and other necessary tools.
A degree in interior design is also required for anyone wishing to be certified by the NCIDQ. The following are the three levels of interior design degrees most commonly available.
Associate degrees in interior design can be a good choice for someone who wants to enter the workforce quickly. While associate degrees are traditionally earned in about two years for full-time students, some accelerated programs in interior design may be completed in as little as a year (though it also depends on whether students are attending full or part time). Course topics may include construction methods, drawing, computer drafting and the history of design.
Those hoping to gain more extensive experience may want to pursue a bachelor's degree in interior design. Generally running four years, these programs may delve further into topics such as 3-D design, space planning and specialty designs. Students may graduate with a portfolio of work to show potential employers, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes a bachelor's degree may be the required level of education for many interior design positions.
Graduate degrees in the field are most commonly named either a master's degree in interior design or a master's degree in interior architecture. Depending on the school, admission to one of these degree programs may require a bachelor's degree in interior design, or may be open to those with an undergraduate degree in any field.
For students seeking the most flexibility with their education, online degrees in interior design are available from some institutions, such as the Art Institutes and career-oriented schools like Penn Foster. These programs typically cover the same subjects as traditional campus-based degrees, such as computer-aided drafting. Depending on what type of certification you're interested in (see below), be sure to check which accrediting body is connected with schools that interest you.
Q&A with an interior design pro
What's the best part about being an interior designer?
The best part of being an interior designer is I am able to use my creative brain to help make people's homes and lives easier, more functional, and more beautiful at the same time. There's no bigger compliment at the end of a project than a client saying they've loved and used their homes in ways they never have before.
What was the most important thing you learned while earning your interior design degree?
The most important thing I learned was flexibility; every project, client, and day is different and it's so important to be able to roll with the punches.
What did you like most about your degree program?
I enjoyed my degree program because it allowed me the chance to explore so many of the different fields within interior design and how they each require a very unique skill set. We tackled projects in commercial design, residential design, institutional design, and then lots of different niches within those categories. It really helped me determine that residential was my calling while still equipping me for any specific project that may come my way.
What advice would you give to others considering an interior design degree?
When considering an interior design degree, I would strongly recommend first considering what you want to do with your degree. Every program has a strong point, be it in CAD work or renderings, a strong business perspective, or even a great internship program. Just make sure the program is hands-on and has a great blend of opportunities so you are well-rounded and ready to take on the design world when you're done!
Interior design school accreditation
When it comes time to research interior design schools in your area, special attention should be paid to an institution's accreditation.
Colleges and universities can be accredited by a number of different organizations, most notably regional accrediting bodies. However, for the field of interior design, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation is the main accrediting body, and at least one state — Kentucky — requires interior designers have a degree from a CIDA-accredited school in order to be state certified. Other states may make similar requirements as they consider legislation to regulate the practice of interior design.
However, while CIDA approval can be considered the gold standard of accreditation for interior design schools, it is not required for NCIDQ certification. Any interior design degree earned from a school approved by a nationally recognized accrediting body will make you eligible to sit for the NCIDQ exam.
Starting your career as an interior designer
After earning your degree, the next step to starting your career is to consider certification and licensure.
Currently, 28 states plus Puerto Rico have licensure or certification requirements for their interior designers. Education requirements vary by state, though most require individuals to have NCIDQ certification, which is only available to those with a minimum of an associate degree in interior degree. You can contact your state's licensing board for further information, or check the compilation of state requirements on the American Society of Interior Designers' website.
Even in states where licensure is not required, students may want to consider voluntary certification. The NCIDQ certification is the main credential available to interior designers and has both education and experience requirements. Once those requirements have been satisfied, an individual can sit for the NCIDQ exam.
California (which is home to some of the highest-paying cities for interior designers) maintains a separate certification program, administered by the California Council for Interior Design Certification, for designers working in that state. Other certifications in specialty fields such as kitchen and bath may also be available from professional groups.
Once licensed and certified, interior designers may need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials. Designers may find it helpful to join professional organizations such as the following:
- The American Society of Interior Designers
- The International Interior Design Association
- The Interior Design Society
These groups can help professional designers stay abreast of developments in the field and potential changes to state licensure and professional requirements.