Best Interior Design Schools

Have you ever walked into a room, taken one look at the décor, and known it didn’t create the right atmosphere? Have you found yourself rearranging the furniture in a particular room until it was “just right?” Do you have an eye for detail and often find yourself admiring a particular room, wondering who created it? If so, a career in interior design may be right for you.

More Than A Decorator

A common misconception about interior designers is that they are just decorators.

“I used to hate it when my friends and family would refer to me as a ‘Daisy Decorator,’” said interior designer Karen Pelzer. “What I do is so much more than that.”

In addition to owning her own interior decorating business, Ms. Pelzer also is the associate director of the interior and architectural design program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pa.

Defining what an interior designer does can be hard, Ms. Pelzer said.

Interior designers are responsible for the inside design of a building. An interior designer’s main job is to help create a unique space according to the client’s needs, while also improving the quality of life and enhancing the function of any interior space.

Interior designers also must follow current building and safety codes when planning their designs. They consult with licensed mechanical, electrical and load-bearing designers when preparing their schematics for a design.
“Decorators can make a room look great, but interior designers make it safe and functional,” said Ms. Pelzer.

Is A Career In Interior Design Right For You?

If being an interior designer sounds appealing, the next step is to assess whether you possess the qualities to be successful in the field.

“It’s hard to put into words how I knew I wanted to be (an interior designer),” said Ms. Pelzer. “It was always just a part of me. I would rearrange our bedroom a million times as a kid. I always liked to build things, but I was always more interested in the inside of a building . . . the interior part of the design.”

An interior designer must be creative, original and definitely able to “think in 3-D.”
Multitasking also is a good quality to possess when considering a career in interior design.
The job can be very demanding, so being able to handle high-pressure situations also is a good attribute to possess in this field.

“Above all else, you have to ask yourself, ‘what would I do with myself otherwise?’” said Ms. Pelzer. “If you can ask that and not have an answer other than to be an interior designer, then you know it’s right for you.”

Choosing An Interior Design School

There are several options available when choosing an interior design training program. Interior design colleges vary in the types of courses they offer, in addition to how 'hands-on' their interior design classes are.

Online training programs are available, as well as traditional brick and mortar colleges. The type of degree earned also varies, from associate degrees, to bachelors and master’s degrees from accredited colleges and universities.

While still an available option, Ms. Pelzer said it is her opinion that associate degree programs are quickly becoming obsolete because they do not provide the same depth and scope as a bachelor or master degree program.

The biggest advantage of a four-year program is the added learning opportunity. Students in these types of programs learn not only the basics of interior design, but also how to keep people safe while creating their designs.

“We’re now trained technically in how to design space for public safety,” said Ms. Pelzer.

Some colleges and universities, like Drexel, also offer masters programs in interior design. The more training an interior designer has, the better his chances of being successful in the field.

Choosing an interior design school should not be based solely on the length of the program. Finding an interior design program that is accredited is very important.

“It gives us more credibility as designers if we’ve attended a program that is accredited,” said Ms. Pelzer.
Drexel University is accredited through the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. It is the primary accrediting body for interior design programs. In order to be accredited through the council, a program must be able to prove its curriculum provides a bachelor or higher level degree, or be able to do so by 2010.

The council puts a program through a thorough review to ensure its students are receiving the kind of education that will prepare them for a successful career, which includes future professional growth.

There are several other accrediting agencies, and before a program is selected, a prospective student should check to see if the program is accredited, and by whom. Some states will not award professional licenses to interior designers whose school was accredited by an agency other than the Council for Interior Design Accreditation, so it’s important to review the licensing requirements for the state in which you plan to practice before choosing a program.

Choosing an accredited program also sets the student up to become licensed after they have a minimum of six years of total training-----including their formal education, as well as time in the field under the guidance of another licensed interior designer. Once those requirements are met, in order to become licensed, an interior designer must then take and pass the NCIDQ exam.

“The other professionals we work with are licensed, and an interior designer should be as well,” said Ms. Pelzer.
Accreditation is only one factor in choosing a program. The focus of the program also should be examined.
Bachelor degree programs are more fine arts related instead of technical arts, so those interested in becoming interior designers should seek out programs that offer a Bachelor of Science degree in interior design. Masters degrees also are available at several colleges and universities, but may not be right for everyone. The level of schooling depends on the person’s overall goal once they reach the field.

Online training programs also are offered through various sources, but Ms. Pelzer said she did not recommend online-only training.

Online programs can prevent the kind of one-on-one training that is essential for all interior designers. The ability to meet face to face with a professor, who can work with the student to show them what can be improved on in a design, cannot be achieved online.

“Core courses online would probably be OK, but even then, they don’t always translate well,” said Ms. Pelzer.
Another factor to consider is hands-on training through an internship. All students enrolled in the interior design program at Drexel must complete an internship. Other schools with interior design programs have similar requirements. Internships are vital for providing hands-on experience, which is an invaluable tool when learning the trade.

The Market For Interior Designers

Once you have the degree, what are your chances of earning a living at your new career?

An interior designer is definitely considered to be a “luxury profession,” said Ms. Pelzer. “When the economy is bad, our services are usually the first thing to get cut.”

However, when times are good, the job can be very lucrative, she said.

The “green movement” among the younger generation is helping to spur some new interest in the field. Being able to design energy efficient, eco-friendly spaces is becoming the wave of the future. The movement is providing better prospects for interior designers who are willing to embrace the concept and receive the necessary training to be able to provide green designs, even in tough economic times.

According to the American Society of Interior Designers, staying on top of the latest trends makes one more marketable. The green movement is among those trends, according to the society.

Many colleges and universities which offer degrees in interior design also help students find permanent jobs following graduation, so don’t be afraid to ask if these services are available.

As with any career, be prepared to improve on existing skills or learn new ones to stay current and therefore in demand.

“It’s definitely the kind of career where you have to be able to ride the wave,” said Ms. Pelzer.

As you can see there are many doors just waiting for you to open after you finish your degree in interior design.

Article by Shari Berg,