The Best Interior Design Schools of 2022

For those who have a knack for improving the functionality and decor of a space, these interior design schools can help aspiring designers get started on a career path.

By Mel Childs | Published Apr 29, 2022 2:57 PM

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The Best Interior Design Schools

Photo: istockphoto.com

Interior design is much more complicated than arranging furniture in a room. It is critical for designers to also know about complex design issues, including the functionality of a space, how lighting affects the area, and how to change the structure of a room without violating building codes. Education can provide a hopeful designer with all of this knowledge, so aspiring interior designers should consider one of the best interior design schools. Below, we’ll outline some of the most important considerations when preparing to take the next career step, along with some of the best schools for interior design.

* The cost per credit hour is obtained from each institution’s most up-to-date information at the time of this article’s last update.

  1. BEST OVERALL: New York School of Interior Design
  2. RUNNER-UP: Savannah College of Art and Design
  3. BEST FOR FLEXIBLE LEARNING: Fashion Institute of Technology
  4. BEST CO-OP EXPERIENCE: Drexel University
  5. BEST FOR PROFESSIONALS: Parsons School of Design
  6. BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: University of Cincinnati
  7. ALSO CONSIDER: Syracuse University
  8. HONORABLE MENTION: Pratt Institute
The Best Interior Design Schools Options

Photo: istockphoto.com

What to Consider When Choosing One of the Best Interior Design Schools

Attending the best college for interior design won’t be the same as signing up for an online course or weekend program. It is more complex, and students have to undergo a rigorous process for getting accepted into on-site, degree-oriented programs. Here are some factors to consider when deciding to attend design school.

Interior Design Schools vs. Courses

When deciding whether to attend school in person or take an online course, it’s a good idea to compare the benefits of both. Interior design colleges offer a pathway for students to earn a degree in the field. Degree-awarding programs will require students to apply, pay tuition, and take a certain number of credits to earn a degree. The pathway to a degree could take 2 to 4 years or more. But some degree programs will still allow students to take some or all of their classes online, which provides more flexibility for the student and can lead to faster graduation. Online interior design courses require students to pay a one-time fee for a course that will last a few weeks to a few months. Online interior design courses are great for students looking to learn the basics in a relatively short amount of time.

Location

When someone decides to pursue one of the best interior design schools, they will likely have to move where the college or university is. While some schools may offer online courses, others do not, or only some of the program may be able to be completed online. So when deciding to pursue interior design education, location will play a key role in decision-making. There are many factors to consider about changing locations, such as the quality of life, how much money it will cost to live comfortably while attending school, the weather, etc. Potential students will also have to determine whether they will live on-campus or off-campus. So when choosing one of the best schools for interior design, determine how the school’s location will factor into the decision.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a student’s assurance that the program or school they attend will adhere to a certain level of educational standards. Most reputable institutions are accredited, but many of the top interior design programs will have a specific interior design accreditation. CIDA (Council for Interior Design Accreditation) is a popular program accreditation for interior design. CIDA is a non-profit organization that provides accreditation for more than 170 interior design programs. Another standard accreditation for interior design programs is NASAD (National Association of Schools of Art and Design). This organization has accredited nearly 350 institutions that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees for art and design-related disciplines. Seeing that a school has accreditation from one of these accrediting organizations when choosing an interior design school when choosing one of the best interior design schools ensures that the programs consistently undergo rigorous reviews to provide quality education to students.

Degrees Offered

With many of the best interior design schools, students can expect to obtain a degree once they finish their coursework. The most common degrees offered at institutions of higher learning are associate’s (AAS), bachelor’s (BA or BS), and master’s degrees (MA or MS). Some programs will specifically confer a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) upon completing an undergraduate program or an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) when finishing graduate school.

Although a degree may not be required to work as an interior designer, not having one may limit a student’s career prospects. Employers may be more likely to hire students who have completed some level of college interior design education. When making decisions to attend an interior design school or just take an online course, it is a good idea for the student to determine their career goals to decide how much schooling is necessary.

Professional and Continuing Education

It’s essential for working interior design professionals to obtain continuing education to stay at the top of the field. Still, they may not have the time to cater to their clientele and attend school full-time. Non-degree certificate courses (especially ones designed for interior designers) are a great option, and many degree-awarding colleges will offer these courses. These courses may take place in person at night or on the weekends, or this option may be available online for those who prefer remote learning.

Application Process and Testing Requirements

Getting accepted into a college or university that offers interior design can be rigorous. Institutions will each have their own requirements and standards to vet students who will attend for the year. The application process may involve SAT or ACT score submission for undergraduate students. The school may also ask for portfolios, transcripts, and letters of recommendation. Graduate students may also have to submit graduate test scores like the GRE. Additionally, students will also be required to submit portfolios and transcripts. Additional requirements may include resumes, essays, proof of English proficiency, and application fees.

Credit Requirements

The credit requirements for an interior design degree at a traditional school depend on the type of degree a student pursues. A student seeking an associate’s degree will usually complete about 60 credit hours. For those pursuing an undergraduate degree, the graduation requirements for a bachelor’s degree range from 120 to 130 credit hours. Graduation requirements for a master’s degree are between 30 and 64 credit hours. Each school has different requirements regarding how many credit hours of study it requires to grant a degree. For instance, a specific degree program can require more than the minimum graduation requirement for the school.

Tuition and Additional Costs

One of the significant differences between attending school online and in person at a college is cost. Online coursework is only a tiny fraction of tuition costs at colleges and universities. Additionally, there may be other costs that a student will be responsible for, including room and board, interior design books, and supplies. There could also be nonrefundable fees such as enrollment deposits and technology fees. Additionally, students may have to pay for health insurance, late registration, dropped courses, graduation fees, program change fees, transcript fees, and more. These fees can add thousands of dollars more to the base tuition costs. Therefore, when making plans to attend a traditional college, it’s good to account for the additional funding necessary for the many fees that may arise.

Online, In-Person, and Hybrid Learning

Is it a good idea to attend interior design school in person, online, or in some kind of combination? If a student is willing and able to move to another state, or if commuting to campus is an option, in-person programs may be the best course of action. However, raising a family or working a hectic schedule may make online classes a better option. Since many online courses are self-paced, students can learn when they have time as long as the assignments are turned in by the deadlines. Sometimes a student’s situation may not affect the decision in choosing a school, but the student’s learning style will. Some students will get more out of in-person instruction, while others will have a propensity toward more independent online study. Hybrid online and in-person programs allow students to have a blend of the two.

Financial Assistance

Students attending a degree-granting program will have to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form to access loans, scholarships, and work-study programs from the college or federal government. These loans or scholarships may not cover the entire cost of a student’s education. A financial aid adviser may encourage students to apply for private loans to cover the remaining costs. Financial assistance for undergraduate and graduate students varies. For instance, grants available for undergraduate students may not be available to graduate students.

Additionally, graduate students don’t qualify for subsidized loans, which don’t accrue interest until the student completes the program. Instead, the loans are unsubsidized and start accruing interest when the student receives the funds. Another difference in financial assistance between undergrad and grad school is how much a student can borrow. The maximum amount in unsubsidized and subsidized loans for undergraduates is $57,500, with $23,000 of this amount in subsidized loans. Graduate students can borrow $20,500 a year in unsubsidized loans and may not borrow more than $138,500.

Our Top Picks

Numerous colleges offer interior design programs, so choosing one of the best interior design schools can be challenging. Here are some of the top ones to consider.

Best Overall

Photo: nysid.edu

Why It Made the Cut: The New York School of Interior Design (NYSID) offers an immersive, focused experience to enhance interior design acumen through degree and nondegree programs.

Since 1916, NYSID has transformed people from various backgrounds into some of the most innovative leaders in the interior design industry. While some schools deliver many types of courses, NYSID’s strength lies in the fact that the school’s entire focus is on interior design. Students can choose from certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s programs. And for students who aren’t interested in relocating to New York City, there are online programs available for many of the courses. Students interested in studying abroad can take advantage of NYSID’s international and domestic travel experiences, like studying classic architecture in Rome or contemporary design in Prague. Students who want to pursue an MFA will have to complete it full-time, which may not be ideal for some postgraduate students. But all NYSID students can access NYSID’s housing and amenities regardless of their study path.

Specs

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Degrees offered: AAS, BFA, MFA, certificate
  • Credit hours required: 66 for AAS, 90 for MFA 132 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $1,150 for undergraduate credits; $1,300 for graduate credits
  • Online learning for interior design: Nondegree, AAS, and MFA programs

Pros

  • Rigorous curriculum focused exclusively on interior design
  • Certificate, associate, bachelor, and master programs offered
  • Online programs available for nondegree, associate, and master programs
  • Design-specific study abroad and domestic travel experiences
  • Housing and amenities available for all students

Cons

  • MFA program can only be completed as a full-time student

Runner-Up

The Best Interior Design School Option: Savannah College of Art and Design
Photo: scad.edu

Why It Made the Cut: The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) offers students real-world opportunities in a collaborative, tight-knit art school environment.

SCAD was founded in 1978 and offers degree programs in many facets of media and the arts, including interior design. One of SCAD’s standout features is SCADPro, a collaborative design studio that connects students with design and business professionals “to find creative and inventive solutions to real-world challenges.” Students can study at campuses in Savannah or Atlanta, and the school has a study abroad program at its satellite campus in Lacoste, France. This means that students can take program-specific and core classes at the best location for their wants and needs. While admission guidelines aren’t readily accessible on the website, students can reach out to an admissions counselor for information on BFA, MFA, and MA programs, including SCAD’s online MA program.

Specs

  • Locations: Savannah, GA and Atlanta, GA
  • Degrees offered: BFA, MFA, MA
  • Credit hours required: 45 for MA, 90 for MFA, 180 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $863 for undergraduate credits, $890 for graduate credits
  • Online learning for interior design: MA program

Pros

  • Collaborative design studio program supports student projects
  • Housing and in-person courses offered in two major locations
  • MA program offered online
  • Study abroad opportunities at satellite campus in France

Cons

  • Unclear admission guidelines

Best for Flexible Learning

The Best Interior Design School Option: Fashion Institute of Technology
Photo: fitnyc.edu

Why It Made the Cut: The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) offers in-person, online, and hybrid courses with weekend and evening class options so anyone can pursue their interior design dreams.

Students looking to pursue a program in interior design while simultaneously working or caring for a family can consider FIT. Its main campus is located in New York City, but students can take advantage of select online and hybrid courses, as well as evening and weekend classes. These flexible options allow students to customize their learning experience to create programs that work best with their lives. While there’s no option for a postgraduate degree, students will also appreciate FIT’s relatively low cost per credit hour. Plus, New York State residents can save even more money because FIT is a part of the State University of New York system.

Specs

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Degrees offered: AAS, BFA
  • Credit hours required: 66 for AAS, 90 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $220 to $299 for in-state residents; $661 to $904 for out-of-state residents
  • Online learning for interior design: Select online and hybrid courses

Pros

  • Online and hybrid learning available for select courses
  • Evening and weekend degree options
  • Relatively low cost per credit hour
  • Discounts available for in-state residents

Cons

  • No postgraduate programs in interior design offered

Best Co-Op Experience

The Best Interior Design School Option: Drexel University
Photo: drexel.edu

Why It Made the Cut: Students looking for real-life work experience to accompany their in-class learning will appreciate Drexel University’s co-op program.

Co-op programs, like the ones at Drexel University, allow students to obtain work experience while they’re still in college, giving them a leg up once they’ve entered the workforce. And since interior design is such a hands-on career, the co-op requirement at Drexel makes sense. Drexel also allows students to perform their co-op programs internationally to allow students to engage with cultures and environments outside their own. Students can also jump-start their interior design careers with a 5-year combined BS/MS degree program. Students will only have to apply once, bypassing the stressful postgraduate degree application and interview process, and they’ll come out of the program with two degrees. While the co-op experience won’t be right for every student, Drexel is a great option for those students who are excited to start working right away.

Specs

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Degrees offered: BS, BA, MS
  • Credit hours required: 38 to 69 for MS, 189 for BA/BS
  • Cost per credit hour: $1,088 for graduate credits; $1,212 for undergraduate credits
  • Online learning for interior design: No

Pros

  • Experiential co-op education program prepares students with career experience
  • 5-year dual BS/MS programs offered
  • Global classrooms and international co-ops support students’ multicultural engagement

Cons

  • Nearly all undergraduate and graduate students must participate in co-op program

Best for Professionals

The Best Interior Design School Option: Parsons School of Design
Photo: newschool.edu

Why It Made the Cut: Parsons School of Design offers multiple nondegree certificate courses and an associate degree program for working professionals, making this school an excellent choice for those looking to shift careers or further their knowledge of interior design.

Parsons School of Design may be known for its fashion design program, but its interior design program isn’t one to be underestimated. Parsons has certificate, associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s programs, but its selection of courses geared toward working professionals makes it stand out from the crowd. Parsons offers continuing education opportunities both in person and online, including an associate’s degree with a pre-professional curriculum targeted at those looking to switch careers. Plus, with the broad certificate course offerings that allow students to hone in on specific areas of design and executive education options geared toward high-level professionals, there’s something for anyone at any stage of their career. While the cost per credit hour is relatively high, students can feel confident they’re accessing world-class information and teaching from a leader in interior design education.

Specs

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Degrees offered: AAS, BFA, MFA, certificate
  • Credit hours required: 60 for MFA, 120 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $1,810 for BFA; $1,880 for MFA
  • Online learning for interior design: Nondegree programs

Pros

  • Certificate, associate, bachelor, and master programs offered
  • Associate’s degree designed for working professionals
  • Wide selection of nondegree certificate courses
  • In-person and online executive education courses

Cons

  • Relatively high cost per credit hour

Best Bang for the Buck

The Best Interior Design School Option:: University of Cincinnati
Photo: uc.edu

Why It Made the Cut: The University of Cincinnati provides a top-notch interior design learning experience at a relatively low cost per credit hour.

The University of Cincinnati offers a curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving and technical aspects of interior design. Students can obtain a bachelor’s or Master of Interior Design (MINTD) degree at a relatively low cost per credit hour of $459, making this school a standout option for value. The University of Cincinnati has a flexible co-op program with full-time, part-time, and project-based opportunities so students can truly customize their learning experience. Students interested in studying abroad can also take advantage of the design-specific programs that allow students to experience another country without sacrificing degree progress. While the website design is fairly dense, and it can be difficult to find necessary information, student support services should be able to answer any questions prospective students have about the program.

Specs

  • Location: Cincinnati, OH
  • Degrees offered: BS, MINTD
  • Credit hours required: 30 for MS, 120 for BS
  • Cost per credit hour: $459
  • Online learning for interior design: No

Pros

  • Relatively low cost per credit hour
  • Traditional, part-time, and project-based co-op programs
  • Design-specific study abroad experiences

Cons

  • Website is somewhat user-unfriendly

Also Consider

The Best Interior Design School Option: Syracuse University
Photo: syracuse.edu

Why It Made the Cut: Syracuse University’s program emphasizes social responsibility and sustainable design practices through its BFA and MFA programs.

Syracuse University provides BFA and MFA candidates with a rigorous interior design training course that emphasizes environmental and interior design, which offers students a broader understanding of interior design. They not only learn how to solve critical problems but also embrace social responsibility in the design process. Students learn collaboratively in a similar environment to a professional design studio, further preparing them for their future careers. While the MFA program is not specific to interior design, graduate students have the opportunity to obtain a more interdisciplinary approach that will support their interior design aspirations.

Specs

  • Location: Syracuse, NY
  • Degrees offered: BFA, MFA
  • Credit hours required: 60 for MFA, 120 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $695 for undergraduate; $1,734 for graduate credits
  • Online learning for interior design: No

Pros

  • Learning environment mimics professional design studio
  • Program emphasis on humane, sustainable environmental design

Cons

  • MFA program is not specific to interior design

Honorable Mention

The Best Interior Design School Option: Pratt Institute
Photo: pratt.edu

Why It Made the Cut: Pratt Institute is a notable school for art and design for students looking to get all that they can out of New York City.

Founded in 1887, Pratt Institute is a small private college based in Brooklyn, New York. The program is architecturally based, and students learn about all facets of spatial design, including proportion, lighting, and configuration. The cost per credit hour is relatively high, and the MFA program is not accredited by CIDA like its BFA program. But some standout perks include housing for graduate students and free admission to some of New York’s best museums, including the Guggenheim Museum, the Frick Collection, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Specs

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Degrees offered: BFA, MFA
  • Credit hours required: 84 for MFA, 126 for BFA
  • Cost per credit hour: $1,793 for undergraduate credits; $1,984 for graduate credits
  • Online learning for interior design: No

Pros

  • On-campus housing available for graduate students
  • Free admission to select New York museums

Cons

  • Relatively high cost per credit hour
  • MFA program is not CIDA accredited

Our Verdict

After reviewing numerous traditional design schools, New York School of Interior Design is our number one choice for its sole focus on interior design, considerable degree and nondegree offerings, a plethora of online programs, and outstanding housing accommodations for all students. Savannah College of Art and Design is our runner-up for its collaborative learning programs and multiple campuses.

How We Chose the Best Interior Design Schools

Picking the best interior design schools was challenging because many schools have great offerings. Ultimately, our final decision was based on schools that provide flexibility in curriculum delivery and a range of degree programs. Many of the programs also offer a collaborative approach to learning so that students can get hands-on experience in the interior design industry.

Before You Apply to One of the Best Interior Design Schools

Before enrolling in one of the best interior design programs, it’s a good idea for students to determine what they want out of attending school. The most significant consideration will be whether a degree-granting program or a nondegree certificate program is the correct route. Attending an interior design college program will be time-intensive and financially demanding, but it may allow for faster career progression. Students who aren’t sure if interior design is the right choice may want to go with a lower-risk certificate course to gauge whether or not the field is right.

Regardless of the path chosen, there are options for everyone, from high school graduates to seasoned professionals. New students may wish to attend college to get the knowledge and credentials necessary to practice their chosen profession, especially if their state has specific requirements for who is qualified to practice interior design. Practicing interior designers may want to attend a nondegree course to brush up on old skills or focus on a new aspect of the field.

Cost of Attending One of the Best Interior Design Schools

It’s no surprise that attending college in the U.S. is a pricey endeavor. The current average tuition for a private university in the U.S. is $38,185 per year. A student attending a public college from out of state will pay an average of $22,698 per year, and an in-state student will pay $10,338. For comparison, the best interior design schools will run between $27,932 and $55,575 per year. On top of tuition, students will have to consider additional fees, including enrollment, housing, and meal plan fees—not to mention any books or materials students will need for classes. Financial aid or scholarships are always options, but applying for these comes with its own hurdles. Students who aren’t ready to commit financially can consider one of the best online interior design courses that cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to just over $1,000.

The Advantages of Attending One of the Best Interior Design Schools

It is not necessary to acquire a degree to become an interior designer. Some online courses that allow students to sit for certification after completing the course may suffice, depending on a student’s experience. And since these online courses last for only a year or less, eager students can get started with their careers much quicker. However, attending one of the traditional best schools for interior design can allow students to participate in a much more interactive, hands-on educational experience. They will also have access to networks with faculty and other students throughout their design careers. Here are some more advantages students will experience when choosing a traditional interior design school.

  • Learn about the latest trends in interior design.
  • Work with other aspiring design professionals.
  • Access state-of-the-art resources and knowledgeable faculty.
  • Learn critical parts of interior design, such as history, theory, and building codes.
  • Work on challenging projects to enhance knowledge of the industry.
  • Get assistance with finding work in the field right after graduation.
  • Discover how to become an entrepreneur in interior design.

FAQs

Attending one of the best interior design schools in the world is a rewarding experience. But choosing the right school is a significant decision, so you’ll want to be prepared with all the information you can get. Here are some frequently asked questions about attending one of the best interior design colleges.

Q. Are there any prerequisites for becoming an interior designer?

An aspiring interior designer should have at least an associate’s degree. Most states require prospective interior designers to pass a qualifying exam to become licensed in the field.

Q. How do I prepare for interior design school?

It can be helpful to expose yourself to as many styles as possible, even ones you don’t naturally gravitate toward. It may also be beneficial to start learning some computer-aided design (CAD) software, as this is some of the best software for interior design and will be a cornerstone of your future in the industry.

Q. Is interior design school difficult?

Interior design school is challenging. It’s a combination of art, science, and utility, and the skills don’t always come naturally. However, using the resources available such as peers, tutors, professors, and studying will help ease the difficulty.

Q. Which degree is best for a career in interior design?

Students who are serious about pursuing a career in the field can consider a specialized interior design degree.