Top Interior Design Schools

As creative workers with professional status, interior designers work with other professionals to develop complex structures and spaces with a harmony of function, efficiency and aesthetic appeal.

Residential versus commercial design is a basic industry distinction, although there are numerous emerging fields apart from these broad categories, from museum curation and event planning to theater and TV/film production.

Becoming a professional interior designer requires successful completion of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, or NCIDQ, licensing exam following graduation. For most entry-level positions, applicants need at least a bachelor’s degree from a solid design program, preferably accredited by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA)—although NCIDQ allows other types of accreditation.

Once graduates master the NCIDQ test, they are considered registered interior designers. This distinction obligates them to design safe, healthy and environmentally sound environments with the public welfare in mind.

Click here to view interior design programs available in your area and online.

Undergraduate Programs1. Savannah College of Art and Design

Montgomery Hall at the Savannah College of Art
Montgomery Hall at the Savannah College of Art and Design

A coastal tourist town said to have two seasons–warm and warmer–Savannah, Georgia is home to the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The College is a highly-regarded East Coast option for interior design students. Industry majors have recently named the southern college their undergraduate interior design school of choice for 2013, slotting above all other competitors for the second year running.

A CIDA-accredited Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in Interior Design may be obtained in Savannah or at the school’s satellite campuses in Atlanta or Hong Kong. The Interior Design major is part of the School of Building Arts rather than the School of Design. Undergraduate applicants do not need a portfolio unless they are seeking a scholarship.

2. Rhode Island School of Design220px-Rhode_Island_School_of_Design_sealThe Rhode Island School of Design, often called RISD—pronounced “Riz-Dee”—enjoys an extraordinary location sandwiched between the cultural hotspots of Boston and New York City. One of the top interior design schools, its campus in Providence, Rhode Island is also a noted creative capital of the United States. The bustling metropolitan community prides itself on sponsorship of the arts and hosts year-round opportunities for the expression of students’ developing talents.

The curriculum at RISD is unique as it does not offer degrees in interior design per se, but interior architecture—a related yet distinct discipline. Interior architecture focuses on brainstorming new purposes for existing buildings, especially from an environmentally sustainable perspective. RISD candidates for the B.F.A. in Interior Architecture learn how to redesign and repurpose existing structures—the art of “adaptive reuse.”

As one of the oldest arts colleges in the nation, RISD is the most selective of the best interior design schools on this list, with an average combined SAT score of 1860 for incoming freshmen. It is also the priciest, with tuition and fees costing upwards of $43k for the 2013-2014 academic year.

3. University of Cincinnati

The School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati (Photo credit:
The School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati (Photo credit:

The largest school on this list with some 22,000 undergraduate students, the University of Cincinnati is a public academic institution with a prestigious, nationally-recognized design program. Its location in Cincinnati, Ohio—the ‘Queen City’—is known as an architectural mecca of the Midwest.

The metropolis offers historic neighborhoods whose façades and lines invoke the many phases of American architectural history. The downtown area famously hosts one of the world’s largest samples of Italian architecture, similar to those found in New York City and Vienna across the pond.

The 2013 installment of the annual DesignIntelligence industry survey confirms Cincinnati’s high rank in the eyes of top firms that hire design school graduates: the CIDA-accredited Bachelor of Science Interior Design major ranks second only to Savannah College for 2013.

Graduate Programs1. Savannah College of Art and Design

Montgomery Hall at the Savannah College of Art
Montgomery Hall at the Savannah College of Art and Design

The Savannah College of Art and Design is a popular choice for interior design students because of its genteel, historic architecture and job-oriented graduate design programs. The Design Futures Council reports SCAD has some of the best campus facilities of any American interior design school for 2013. While the city is beautiful and the campus well-endowed, a key drawback is the relatively high crime rate in poor neighborhoods in the urban area; however, on-campus security is tight.

There are two graduate programs available to interior design students, including a 45-hour Master of Arts (M.A.) and a more in-depth 90-hour Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.). Each degree is offered at both the Atlanta and Savannah campuses; only the M.A. is available as an “eLearning” program.

2. Rhode Island School of Design220px-Rhode_Island_School_of_Design_sealDespite its exclusive institutional focus on art and design, the Rhode Island School of Design is not a vocational school. It offers a well-rounded course of study which underscores scientific thinking, social consciousness and design creativity. This interdisciplinary focus is apparent even at the graduate level, when students can attend special seminars and electives outside their concentration requirements under the aegis of the Graduate Studies department.

There are two graduate degrees available related to interior design: an M.A. in Interior Architecture and a Master of Design (MDes) in Interior Studies with a concentration in Adaptive Reuse. RISD’s Interior Architecture programming is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, or NASAD. Because the program is not CIDA-accredited, students who plan to become professional interior designers will need to accrue real-world job experience to qualify for the NCIDQ exam.

3. Pratt Institutepratt_institute_sealNew York City is a global hub for cutting-edge building and space design. It’s an ideal cosmopolitan setting for building an interior design career, offering access to award-winning design resources and numerous, actively recruiting employers from around the Big Apple. Pratt Institute’s twin campuses in Brooklyn and Manhattan are well-placed to help students benefit from this rich cultural setting. On the main Brooklyn campus, the Juliana Curran Terian Design Center houses interior design majors under the aegis of the School of Art and Design.

U.S. News & World Report rated Pratt’s graduate interior design program the best in the nation for 2013. Pratt offers a two-year M.S. in its Department of Interior Design. Applicants must have an undergraduate degree in a design-related field. Unlike many programs, Pratt offers course credit for qualifying work experience.

Click here to view interior design programs available in your area and online.

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