Choosing an Interior Design School

Michelle Radcliff
college campus

Choosing from the many interior design schools out there can be confusing and overwhelming. Finding a school that is the right fit can take a great amount of time and effort. To narrow it down, know what you are looking for in both general terms and in design specific areas.

Interior Design Schools: Choosing the Right One

Finding the right school is a time consuming and important task. Knowing some basic things to look for in a school may help narrow the field down. For example, most schools should now offer courses in CAD (computer aided drawing) to keep their students knowledgeable in the newest technologies. Additionally, most interior design schools begin by teaching the fundamentals and move upwards to harder classes from there - from drawing and drafting to business ethics and retail design. Other things to consider when choosing an interior design school include:

  • Opportunities to work on different locations (office, home, commercial)
  • General design principles, the application of principles, and problem solving
  • Personal needs regarding size, location, cost, and program emphasis
  • Kinds of practicums/internships offered and what kind of help is given finding them
  • Employment rate for graduates
  • CIDA accreditation

Students looking into an interior design program should be careful not to confuse interior design with interior decorating. Interior decorating, which covers furnishings, floor coverings, paints and placement, is included under the umbrella of design, but design is more involved. Interior design involves ceiling and wall placement, window and door placement, lighting, space planning, and knowing construction, among other areas of expertise. When you look for an interior design school, make sure it offers courses or an emphasis in the area(s) in which you are interested.

Council for Interior Design Accreditation

The Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA), formerly known as Foundation for Interior Design Education Research (FIDER), publishes a list of interior design programs the group has accredited. CIDA sets standards for post-secondary interior design education and evaluates college and universities based on those standards.

Applicant programs must demonstrate that the program culminates in a minimum of a bachelors degree in order to attain CIDA accreditation. If an institution has a CIDA accredited program, that status does not automatically apply to the same degree program delivered on a separate campus. Programs may lose and regain accreditation status and some degree names may change over time.

Schools to Consider

Doing research online is a good place to start looking for interior design schools. Time and money can be saved by checking out programs and requirements before taking the time to do a campus visit. Many of the schools listed by FIDER have websites, as do many other good programs. Try visiting these schools to see if a career in interior design is right for you.

The Art Institutes is one of the most well-known interior design schools and they have campuses all over the country. AI offers up to ten different interior design courses, allowing you to specialize your degree with the following options:

  • Art & Design Technology (Interior Design)
  • Home Furnishings Merchandising
  • Interior Design
  • Interior Design & Foundation for Design
  • Interior Planning with AutoCAD
  • Kitchen & Bath Design
  • Residential Design
  • Residential Interiors
  • Residential Planning
  • Set and Exhibit Design

Academy of Art University was founded in 1929, in San Francisco and is the nation's largest, accredited private art and design university. In addition to the San Francisco campus, courses are offered online. Here you can earn an Associates (AA), Bachelors (BA, BFA) and Masters (MA, MFA, M.Arch) degree in addition to certificate courses and continuing education.

The Art Center Design College offers both an associates and bachelor's degree in interior design. The bachelor's degree covers fundamentals as well as emphasizing space planning, furniture design and study of textures lighting, colors, and fabrics. Students can attend lectures and are encouraged to do internships. A portfolio will be created by students that can be shown to potential employers after graduation.

Interior Design Institute offers three degree options: certificate, associates, and bachelor. Students can choose from the following among the following specialties and more: commercial design, residential interior design, historical restoration, space planning, and interior illustrations.

New York School of Interior Design offers students certificate, associates, bachelors and graduate options for programs. The student to faculty ratio is 10 to 1, so one-on-one teaching is emphasized. Weekend and night options are available for students who work full time.

Finding Your Niche

Interior design is a broad field that can cover a wide range of career specialties. Many designers choose to focus or specialize in a particular area within the interior design field, such as kitchen and bath design. It's important to make sure the school you choose has the proper CIDA accreditation and offers the types of programs you will need to focus on the area of interior design you decide to specialize in.

Choosing an Interior Design School