Interior designers don’t always get their start by studying the craft at a college or university, but many do. A formal education in interior design provides a secure foundation to get started in the industry. That’s because, while it takes creative talent to envision a beautiful space, it takes a great deal of skill to turn that vision into a space that is functional, sustainable, and protects the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
And that’s why Design Manager has partnered with The Interior Design Education Council (IDEC), the only professionally recognized association for interior design educators in North America dedicated to the advancement of interior design education, scholarship and service since its inception in 1963.
“Having a degree in design is critical to the success of an interior designer,” says Phyllis Harbinger, FASID, CID, and the owner and principal of DCI Studio. “It’s a credential that gives you credibility and the knowledge you need to support your practice. It allows you to identify yourself as a designer over a decorator. With everything happening in our world today, the knowledge of sustainability, materials, and how to properly draft is important.”
There are hundreds of interior design degree programs an aspiring designer can pursue, but Phyllis recommends finding a program that is CIDA-accredited, as that credential will strengthen your resume. She also touts the importance of gaining the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification upon graduating, which is a legal requirement in many states, and being eligible to pursue the NCIDQ requires a minimum number of education credits, 60 semester or 90 quarter credits.
With all of that in mind, here is Design Manager’s guide to the top colleges and universities to earn a degree in interior design.
Top Interior Design Schools
- Savannah College of Art and Design: SCAD, as it is more commonly known, consistently makes the top of every authoritative list of best interior design schools, including DesignIntelligence and Red Dot Design Rankings. According to Niche, it offers more programs and specializations than any other art and design university in the U.S., offering a BFA, M.A., and MFA in interior design. It is also CIDA-accredited.
- New York School of Interior Design: NYSID is solely focused on interior design and draws star-quality professors who are thriving interior designers in one of the design capitals of the world, New York City. The academics are rigorous, and the real-world application and opportunities for work experience are also a draw. It offers AAS and BFA degrees and is CIDA-certified.
- Fashion Institute of Technology: FIT, where Phyllis Harbinger is a professor, is another top-ranked school in the field. Much like NYSID, FIT has an impressive roster of faculty that are also successful, working interior designers. FIT is a design- and technology-focused school that can offer multidisciplinary studies while still offering a wide variety of opportunities to gain work experience outside of the classroom. It offers AAS and BFA degrees and is CIDA-certified.
- Drexel University: Located in Philadelphia, Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design offers an interior design degree that follows a progression of art, art history, and core interior design courses to project-based design studios. The undergraduate degree ends with a three-quarter capstone. It offers a B.S. and M.S. and is CIDA-accredited.
- Rhode Island School of Design: At RISD, the interior design program is referred to as the interior architecture program. RISD’s curriculum focuses less on the application of materials and more on concepts surrounding the design of buildings and how they fit into their greater environment. It offers BFA, M.A., and MDes degrees, though it is not CIDA accredited.
- Pratt Institute: Pratt’s interior design program is also heavily architecturally focused, emphasizing space planning and environmental context of buildings. Pratt is located in Brooklyn, N.Y., providing the advantage of being in a design center, while also offering prestigious international study programs through its partnership with the Danish International School. Pratt offers a BFA degree and is CIDA-accredited.
- The New School, Parsons School of Design: The interior design program at Parsons is part of the university’s School of Constructed Environments, which includes several sub-categories that are interrelated to the broader interior design field. The interior design programs are naturally integrated into these complementary disciplines, allowing students to pursue them at varying levels of depth, depending on individual interest. It offers AAS, BFA, and MFA degrees; it is not CIDA-accredited.
- Cornell University: What makes the interior design program at Cornell unique is that it is part of the College of Human Ecology’s Human Centered Design Department and is a sub-sector of the Design and Environmental Analysis program. It has a strong scientific focus and is a STEM-certified program that encourages innovation. It offers B.S. and M.A. degrees and is CIDA-accredited.
If your goal is to one day start your own interior design business, education is paramount in addition to further accreditation and professional affiliations. While creativity is the first foundational stone of your interior design practice, knowledge, skill and experience are the pillars of your future success.