The Top 10 Schools in the U.S. to Get Your Interior Design Degree
While a formal education is not an absolute must, most interior design firms require designers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree provides a more robust body of courses relating to the aesthetic, technical, and business talents needed to be a well-rounded interior designer.
The first step towards choosing a top interior design program is to make sure it has the proper accreditation. Programs accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA) voluntarily place themselves before the scrutiny of Council volunteers to ensure that students receive an education that will serve them as students and prepare them for future professional growth. Students enrolled in an accredited interior design program can be confident that they will be prepared for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ exam) and meet the quality standards recognized by the profession.
Written by Sarah Rebarber
Drexel’s interior design program combines the study of interior design with the study of art and art history. Students explore the behavioral, technological, environmental and aesthetic aspects of interior design within the context of 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. Drexel’s Westphal College offers an impressive range of degree options; 19 in the undergraduate program alone. Building on a solid foundation of visual studies, Westphal inspires a sense of experimentation and expansion of visual horizons.
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. Emphasis is on self-discovery in visual art and design; risk-taking and critical thought. Syracuse’s program is called “Environmental and Interior Design,” which is a bit broader than most of the other programs on this list. At Syracuse, interior design students get a liberal arts education + studio courses in fine arts and crafts to supplement their main course of study. This program may be a good option for students who want to focus on design, but also want parts of a more standard liberal arts experience.
Cornell is the only Ivy League school offering an interior design program, making it competitive and rigorous. Their Design and Environment Analysis program, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, provide students with hands-on experiences in research and innovation, with a special focus on the impact of design on the environment. The curriculum is organized with a focus in three fields: Design Strategy, Sustainable Futures, and Health and Wellbeing. When we asked Cornell Graduate and Ivy Designer Lucie Macelova Ayres about the most important thing she learned from Cornell, she shared, “Project Management – the BEST!”
New York, NY
FIT has consistently amassed international acclaim and recognition for its programs in fashion, design, art, communications and business. 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. Over the years, the school has reached #7 in design programs by Design School Hubs and #8 by Design Intelligence. Its rigorous curriculum is steeped in its commitment to research, experiential learning, adaptable academics and industry partnerships.
New York, NY
Established in 1906, The New School offers over 25 programs, including a B.F.A in Interior Design, B.F.A. in Design and Technology, B.S. in Urban Design, and M.F.A. in Interior Design. Students have access to NYC’s major firms and showrooms, as well as the exclusivity of connections from one of the best and oldest interior design schools. Ranking #5 by Design Intelligence and Design Schools Hub, The New School for Design boasts some well-developed networks in commerce and industry, so this school may be a particularly good option for students who wish to pursue commercial design. The program emphasizes collaborative work, allowing students to work with others in different degree programs. Interior designers have to work with many different types of professionals in order to complete a job, this type of collaboration helps prepare students for their career in interior design.
According to Design Intelligence, the Interior Design program is number four in the nation for 2017-2018, and is consistently in the top 10 from year to year. The School of Architecture and Interior Design at University of Cincinnati offers a 5-year program emphasizing the physical, psychological, and social needs of clients and customer; culminating in a capstone project, which provides students with hands-on practical experiences. 92% of students have been employed within 3 months of graduating (71% with starting salaries higher than $40,000 a year), and are able to resolve problems, think critically, and use cutting-edge technologies in the field. Coursework is hands on in studio, as well as specialized in classes, such as Furniture / Millwork, Communication Skills, Design Science, Business, and Lighting.
New York, NY
NYSID is a specialist interior design school founded in 1916. The school’s focus on interior design has enabled it to provide some of the most in-depth and creative education available in the United States to its 600 undergraduate and graduate students. NYSID’s graduate programs are ranked #4 in the nation and their undergraduate programs are ranked #5 in the nation for 2016. 92% of students from undergraduate programs gained employment within 6 months of completing their studies, and the rate for postgraduate programs was 94%. The school has a strong alumni and professional network that students can draw on to enhance their career prospects. 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.
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 Design Intelligence 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. RISD has one of the highest concentrations of artists in the country, making its interior design program well-known, especially for its practical instruction and coursework.
New York, NY
This interior design school operates from its main Brooklyn campus (PI also has a Manhattan campus), where it has maintained its reputation for both the creative flexibility and practical rigor of its program. Since 2008, the professional survey, Design Intelligence, 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. The Pratt Institute holds impressive statistics with 93% of graduates finding job placements following graduation in May 2014 and of those continuing into postgraduate study 100% were accepted into graduate programs.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) is ranked highly across the board (#1 by Design Intelligence, #1 by Design Schools Hub) for all its art and design programs. The main campus is located in Savannah, GA, but SCAD also has interior design programs based in Atlanta, Hong Kong, and Lacoste (France). These other program locations mean greater opportunities to get internships in metropolitan areas, or opportunities to study abroad! 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 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.
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