Best Online Master's Degrees in Interior Design

Apr 08, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Interior Design Degree?

Interior design is the process of designing and building an interior space in residential and public places for maximum functionality, safety, and aesthetics. Online master's degree programs in interior design combine the artistic and practical skills of design with courses in theory, psychology, and culture in order for students to work as top designers, researchers, and professors in the field. Many interior design programs are arts-focused, with a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Interior Design being the common degree title, but some programs offer a Master of Science (MS) as well.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Interior Design

1. Ball State University

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$9512 77% 67% 91% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits

2. Savannah College of Art and Design

Tuition Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
$38975 96% 70% 98% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit Study.com's ranking methodology page.

Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Online Master's Degrees in Interior Design vs. Architecture

The difference between architects and interior designers is primarily the focus of their work. Architects design entire buildings while interior designers design what buildings will look like inside. These two professionals can work together and have similar degree programs, but there are key differences.

Both master's programs cover advanced design and technical skills that teach students how to build spaces that function and look nice. Both degrees typically involve a culminating thesis or project and prepare students for research and critical discussion of their respective fields. Students may even learn how to use some of the same software programs, such as CAD. However similar the programs may be does not qualify individuals in one field to switch to the other without proper training.

If a new company is building an office, for example, they would hire an architect to design the building, which involves planning the structure, exterior look, and overall functionality of the building itself. They would then hire an interior designer to design the interior, which involves deciding on materials, furniture, colors, and fixtures, as well as placement of these objects to achieve beauty and functionality in each room.

Why Should I Get an Online Interior Design Master's Degree?

An online interior design master's degree can be valuable for those who want to advance their careers, hone their skills, and need a flexible degree option to fit their work, family, or personal obligations. A Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design specifically is a terminal degree, meaning if you earn one, you will have earned a top credential. This can improve job prospects and clientele, which is valuable for a job market that is projected to decline in this field.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Interior Design?

Online master's degrees in interior design usually require an average of 33 credits to graduate. Due to the flexibility of an online program, students can typically start classes at almost any time, depending on the individual school's enrollment process and course schedule. Most programs will last about 2 years, but some schools have programs that will last 3 years for students who do not have a background in interior design. Many programs require a culminating thesis or project, which may not be able to be completed at the same time as other courses due to its intensive work requirements. This may affect the pace of an individual's program.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Interior Design

Although free online interior design courses may cover these topics, the curriculum for online master's degree programs in interior design takes a deep dive into courses in design theory, research, and critique in order for students to gain a strong understanding of the field and contribute original ideas. Courses also explore how psychology is connected to interior spaces and how using this knowledge when designing benefits clients. Most programs have one or more courses dedicated to a research project or thesis. Some programs also have portfolio development requirements as well as an optional internship.

Interior Design Foundational Courses

Interior design foundational courses blend artistic design skill-building with practical instruction in areas of theory, academia, and business practice. Students learn the theory of interior design as well as how to conduct original research on the topic and some schools even have courses on teaching or require students to create an undergraduate course for a semester. The foundational curriculum is intended to give students broad yet robust knowledge in how to create interior spaces for functionality as much as beauty. Technical courses in design software, studio courses, and thesis project/portfolio development courses may also be included. Some examples of foundational courses are:

  • Environmental psychology
  • Design theory and criticism
  • Research methods
  • Professional practice
  • Digital imaging
  • Design analysis

Interior Design Specialist and Elective Courses

Interior design specialist and elective courses allow students to study a specific area of interior design. This may include learning how to design particular spaces such as kitchens and bathrooms or how to design using specific materials such as sustainable interior materials. Some colleges may allow elective courses to be taken from an interior design certificate program, such as the planning and design of healthcare environments. Elective courses may also be studio courses where students can develop their illustration skills and build portfolios. Depending on the school, an internship may be considered an elective.

Licensure and Certification in Interior Design

The licensure requirements for interior designers are different for every state. Some states allow licensed and unlicensed designers to perform interior design work and call themselves interior designers, while other states only allow licensed designers to call themselves interior designers and perform interior design work. A common state-approved licensing exam is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. Requirements include an interior design bachelor's degree and 2 years of related work experience.

Certification in interior design is optional and allows professionals to demonstrate their general expertise in interior design or in a particular area of interior design, such as environmental design. There are numerous certifications for specialty areas, but a couple include:

The Certified Healthcare Interior Designer credential by the American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers. Applicants must pass the NCIDQ certification exam and have a minimum of 3 years' work experience in healthcare interior design or 10 years of experience with no NCIDQ certification exam.

The Certified Kitchen and Bath Designer credential offered by the National Kitchen and Bath Association. Applicants must have 4 years of interior design experience, 2 of which must be kitchen and bath design. Applicants must also have 60 hours of NKBA education or equivalent college courses and pass an exam.

Admissions Requirements for Online Interior Design Master's Programs

The admissions requirements for online master's degree programs in interior design can vary by school, with some schools having a more open admissions process than others. In general, a bachelor's degree is needed for entry to any graduate program. Yet, some schools require graduate interior design applicants to have a bachelor's degree in the subject. Depending on the program, students without a bachelor's degree in interior design or a related field can still enter the graduate program as long as they take more courses on the subject. Other requirements can include:

  • Statement of intent/personal essay
  • Resume
  • Portfolio
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Writing sample

What Can I Do with an Interior Design Master's Degree?

An interior design master's degree can prepare graduates for careers outside of just being an interior designer. Master's degrees in interior design most commonly qualify students to teach the subject in postsecondary education institutions and conduct original research in the field. While the career options with an interior design degree may not be as wide-ranging as other degrees, interior design can be a varied, flexible career due to the ability to specialize in certain areas of the field, such as kitchen and bath design, corporate design, or sustainable design, among others, which involves working in different industries such as furniture design and wholesale trade.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Interior Design

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for interior designers is expected to decrease by 5 percent from 2019-2029. This may mean more job competition for those already employed or who are pursuing employment in the field. Interior designers heavily rely on the construction industry to work on new building projects, and self-employed interior designers rely on residential and commercial clients who want to remodel. If there aren't many new construction projects or money available for renovation, then interior design jobs are limited. These jobs are most successful in high-income areas where wealthy clients are more likely to spend money on renovation.

How to Become an Interior Designer

The job of an interior designer is to create indoor spaces that not only are pleasing to the eye but are functional and compliant with safety regulations. While safety and functionality are important for any building, they are most important when designing interiors for commercial spaces such as healthcare settings and corporate offices that employ many people or are used for certain activities. Interior designers can specialize in areas such as, sustainable, kitchen and bath, universal, healthcare, and corporate design. Each specialty usually determines if a designer works on residential or commercial projects.

The job duties of an interior designer can vary by specialty, but in general, they meet with clients to discuss goals and building plans, review blueprints, and discuss how the space will be used and furnished. They must be mindful of building codes, inspection regulations, and accessibility. Often, they work with other professionals such as construction workers, architects, and engineers, particularly if the project is a new build instead of a renovation. While hand-sketching is still done, most designers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to plan out the look and functionality of a space.

The education requirements for interior designers typically starts with a bachelor's degree in the field. Depending on the state, licensure may be required, which involves an exam and continuing education to stay up to date on the newest design technology. General and specialty certification is optional and available through several professional organizations. The BLS states that interior designers have a median annual salary of $56,040 as of 2019.

How to Become an Interior Design Professor

Those with a master's degree in interior design are qualified to teach the subject in most postsecondary education institutions. Interior design professors develop and teach curriculum, plan a course syllabus, lessons, lectures, and assignments, and grade papers, tests, and exams. Postsecondary professors typically have a more active role in developing curriculum and must keep up to date with current industry technology and practices in their field. Depending on the institution they work at, these professionals may be able to conduct research alongside their teaching work.

Many teaching positions in colleges and universities require a Ph.D., but a master's degree can be sufficient for most interior design teaching positions. As is common with many arts-related professor positions, previous industry experience is encouraged and even required. The BLS states that the annual median wage for postsecondary teachers in the arts, drama, and music fields is $69,530 as of 2019.

Interior Design Professional Organizations

There are various organizations dedicated to the educational and professional growth of interior designers. A few well-known organizations include:

  • The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)- with more than 45 chapters across the U.S., ASID promotes the advancement of its members and the interior design industry as a whole through discussion, advocacy, and education. Membership is open to students and professionals and includes benefits such as advocacy, access to research, participation in a local chapter, business support, and awards.
  • The Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ)- the most recognized association for certifying professional interior designers, CIDQ develops and administers the interior design licensing exam and offers certification. The organization continuously upholds standards in the interior design industry and updates its exams accordingly to ensure interior designers are excellent in their field.
  • The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)- in addition to offering certification, the NKBA offers members benefits such as up-to-date research and market studies, professional networking opportunities, continuing education, and job listings.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Interior Design

Master's degree programs in interior design don't always require a related undergraduate degree, but it may be the best option for learning the necessary skills and software. Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design programs cover introductory design, artistic, business, and software skills that can provide a robust basis for pursuance of a master's program. It is the most relevant and direct option, but an undergraduate architecture degree can also suffice. Bachelor of Architecture and Bachelor of Science in Architecture programs cover design, software, artistic, and business skills much like interior design, just for the purpose of designing a building. Many of the skills learned can translate to an interior design master's program.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Interior Design

With the exception of an MFA degree, a Ph.D. in Interior Design or Interior Environmental Design might be available. However, these programs are usually available as in-person programs. Ph.D. programs are terminal and the highest level of education you can receive in interior design. Doctoral programs in interior design teach students advanced design skills and how to address issues in the industry through conducting research. An original graduate research dissertation is typically required. Doctoral programs vary in length due to each student's dissertation, but it can take around 4 years. Graduates are prepared for top positions in design firms, government facilities, and academic institutions.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Interior Design Programs

Anyone enrolled in a university or similar program can benefit from financial aid. The first step is to see what types of aid you qualify for by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form uses your household financial information to determine what types of federal aid are available to you. The most common are loans and grants. A few eligibility criteria include a valid social security number, current enrollment in a college program, and an academic record that is in good standing.

Federal aid is not the only way to receive money for college. Plenty of schools, organizations, and websites offer scholarships for students who apply. The criteria for these can vary widely, from no criteria at all to needing a certain major, GPA, or geographical location. A few can include:

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