Professionals in the multidisciplinary field of interior design combine technical and creative skills to help people feel comfortable, safe, and happy in their environments. Interior designers work with individuals and businesses to design spaces that serve specific lifestyle and/or professional needs. While many people use the terms “interior decorator” and “interior designer” interchangeably, interior design involves more extensive study into the technical and theoretical elements of design.
This field integrates recent trends in technology, sustainability, and environmental psychology to create environmentally friendly, healthy, and functional spaces. According to the publication Interior Design, design that promotes workplace wellness is a $43.3 billion industry. Additionally, this report projects that healthcare interior design will continue to play a critical role in the field.
A master's degree in interior design gives graduates a distinct salary advantage over individuals without an advanced degree.
A master’s degree in interior design gives graduates a distinct salary advantage over individuals without an advanced degree. It also significantly increases a workers career options. In addition to working as interior designers, graduates can work as facilities planners, professors, and researchers. The information below describes many of the advantages and opportunities provided by this degree.
Should I Get a Master's in Interior Design?
Earning a master’s degree in interior design prepares students to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) examination, which leads to an interior design certificate. Master’s degrees in interior design typically emphasize research and feature experiential learning. As such, this degree suits individuals interested in pursuing interior design scholarship or teaching at the college or graduate level. Most programs require students to hold a bachelor’s degree in architecture, interior design, or a related field.
This master’s degree investigates human behavior and environmental psychology to help designers better understand the needs of their clients. Learners also acquire skills in graphic communication, such as animation and digital trends, and project management strategies and other entrepreneurship skills to become innovative leaders. Finally, a master’s degree in interior design provides ample networking opportunities, which can help students publish their work, find jobs or internships, and collaborate with colleagues. Many graduate programs offer job placement assistance.
Online master’s degrees may appeal more to working professionals or to students who already hold a master’s degree in another field. In contrast, on-campus programs might appeal more to students who recently graduated from college.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Interior Design?
An interior design master’s degree prepares students to work as researchers, professors, and other leaders in the field. Additionally, this degree prepares graduates to work in several other industries, including architecture, urban design, project management, and facilities planning. Successful interior design professionals typically pay close attention to details and possess strong communication, problem-solving, and multi-tasking skills. These professionals also understand design software and other design-related technology. The list below outlines five occupations that candidates with this degree may qualify for.
- Interior Designer
Interior designers work with lighting, color, and many materials to make spaces functional and beautiful. These professionals work for themselves or for design, architecture, and engineering firms. An advanced degree in this field can help professionals find positions in specialized areas, such as healthcare, corporate, or sustainable interior design. A master’s degree also enables professionals to pursue leadership roles and significantly higher salaries.
Median Annual Salary: $51,500
Projected Growth Rate: 4%
Interior design professors work at colleges, universities, and other higher education institutions where they teach undergraduate and/or graduate students. A professor typically needs a master’s degree or a doctorate in their field and may earn significantly more than interior designers who do not teach.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Art Director
Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience in a design-related field, and a master’s degree in interior design can help prepare workers for leadership roles. Art directors work with a variety of media, including television, film, magazines, and product packaging. These professionals supervise and plan the overall design of a project and determine how to best express ideas visually.
Median Annual Salary: $92,500
Projected Growth Rate: 5%
- Craft and Fine Artists
Many design artists earn master’s degrees to refine their practice, gain teaching skills, and make valuable professional connections. Artists work with a variety of materials to create pieces for sale and for exhibition.
Median Annual Salary: $49,160
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
Many universities offer interior design master’s programs through architecture departments. Consequently, interior designers with master’s degrees may also qualify to earn an architect’s license. Architects design homes, buildings, and other structures, and many of their job duties and requirements overlap with those of interior designers.
Median Annual Salary: $78,470
Projected Growth Rate: 4%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Interior Design
While looking for master of interior design programs, first determine whether you want to enroll in an on-campus or online program. On-campus programs tend to benefit students who need more structure and in-person instruction. Alternatively, online programs often work best for learners who require more flexibility and cannot commute to campus every week. Second, compare the overall length of each program. Full-time master’s programs typically last 2-3 years, while part-time programs can take up to four years.
Whether or not a program requires its students to complete an internship or other fieldwork may also affect a program’s length. You should also look into how much a program charges for tuition. Several factors affect tuition costs, including whether you enroll in an on-campus or an online program and whether you choose to live on campus or off campus.
In addition to these considerations, look up each program’s curriculum and degree requirements. What kinds of classes does a program offer? Does a program require you to complete an internship or practicum? Do you need to complete a written project, such as a research paper? Many MA in interior design programs require students to write a paper and give a presentation at the end of their studies.
Finally, if you plan to study in person, figure out the pros and cons of a school’s location. What is the cost of living in the area? Can you afford housing and other daily necessities if you live on or close to campus? Does an area offer enough employment and/or internship opportunities nearby? Once you research some of these questions, finding the best program should feel less daunting.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Interior Design
Accreditation refers to the process in which exterior accrediting agencies evaluate a school’s programs, faculty, and classes to make sure that they satisfy certain academic standards. Earning a degree from an accredited school helps you prove to future higher education institutions or employers that you received a valid education.
Programmatic accreditation refers to when specialized agencies accredit particular programs at a school, ensuring that curricula adhere to industry standards. Master’s in interior design programs often receive accreditation from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). Additionally, because some schools host interior design programs through their architecture departments, interior design programs may also hold accreditation from the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).
Master's in Interior Design Program Admissions
Admissions for interior design graduate programs tend to be competitive. Additionally, students should keep in mind that applying to graduate programs may take more time than applying to undergraduate programs. On-campus and online programs typically require similar application materials, including transcripts, a resume or a CV, and letters of recommendation.
Admissions and financial aid professionals generally recommend that students apply to 4-8 schools, including two safety schools and 1-2 higher ranking institutions. However, keep in mind that many master’s programs require students to submit an application fee when they apply; these fees usually range from $40-$50, and applying to several schools can become expensive. Fortunately, some admissions programs waive these fees for students who demonstrate financial need.
- Bachelor’s Degree: Master’s in interior design programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree; these degrees usually need to be in interior design or a closely related field.
- Professional Experience: Prospective students should hold some professional experience, typically obtained through previous jobs, internships, or practicum experiences. Applicants may also need to submit a portfolio of their design work with their application.
- Minimum GPA: Many interior design master’s programs do not state specific minimum GPA requirements. However, many schools require that applicants earned at least a 3.0 GPA in any graduate-level classes they hope to transfer.
- Application: Gathering the information required to complete a graduate program application can take anywhere from a few hours to several days. Additionally, many of the required documents in an application packet, such as a design portfolio, may require much more time to organize.
- Transcripts: Interior design programs require students to submit transcripts from previous undergraduate and graduate programs. These transcripts allow schools to verify an applicant’s completed coursework and ensure that they hold the experience and knowledge needed to succeed in graduate school. To acquire transcripts, students should contact the registrar’s office at their former higher education institutions. Some institutions charge a small fee for this service.
- Letters of Recommendation: Programs typically require applicants to submit 2-3 letters of recommendation. Students should ask former professors and supervisors who can attest to their academic and/or professional abilities to write these documents.
- Test Scores: Most interior design programs do not require students to submit any test scores, although international applicants typically need to submit TOEFL scores.
- Application Fee: Application fees usually cost around $45, although some schools waive these fees for students with significant financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Interior Design?
The specific courses and areas of focus may vary widely depending on the school or program. For example, colleges may offer either a master of fine arts (MFA) or an MA in interior design; this distinction affects the types of classes and experiences students can expect from a program.
Courses in a Master’s in Interior Design Program
The exact curricula differ depending on your school and area of interest. However, most master’s in interior design programs cover similar introductory subjects, such as research methods, interior design theory and criticism, and environmental psychology. Most programs also allow students to take a certain number of electives to further tailor their degree track. The list below describes five courses common to master’s in interior design programs.
- Design Innovation and Leadership
This class prepares students to become interior design entrepreneurs and assume leadership roles, such as art directors and project managers. Participants learn the major theories behind contemporary design innovation, studying the history of the field as well as creative business strategies and processes.
- Research Methods
Research methods classes prepare students for the rigorous scholarship required in graduate programs. These classes teach students how to think analytically and read critically.
- Environmental Psychology
Environmental psychology examines the ways that small-scale and large-scale architecture and location affect humans economically, socially, mentally, and physically. Students learn environmental psychology policies and strategies. This class prepares graduates to work in specific areas of interior design, such as healthcare.
- Theory and Criticism of Interior Design
Students in this class learn how to approach design from a theoretical perspective, covering issues pertaining to design ethics, history, social science, and sustainability.
- Interior Design Studio
Many programs — especially MFA programs — require students to participate in a studio class. Through this class, learners plan and create their own design projects. Students gain skills related to site analysis, initial concepts, preliminary design, development, constructional design stages, and presentation. This class prepares students to find work as interior designers and fine artists.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Interior Design?
Depending on your specific program and course schedule, it usually takes 2-3 years to complete a master’s degree in interior design. Program characteristics that affect length include your enrollment status (i.e., full time or part time) and whether you choose to take an online program or attend classes on campus. If you enroll in an online program, you can better balance work and other personal responsibilities; however, this format often results in a longer timeline to graduation.
Some interior design graduate programs host two-year and three-year graduation tracks. Two-year tracks generally serve students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in interior design or architecture, whereas three-year tracks serve students who do not have previous interior design experience; the extra year of study teaches students basic concepts related to the field.
How Much Is a Master’s in Interior Design?
Tuition for this degree varies widely, ranging from below $20,000 to well over $100,000 for 2-3 years of study. Many public schools offer significant tuition discounts for in-state residents; these students often pay 50% less than out-of-state learners. Several other factors affect tuition-related expenses, including whether or not a student takes extra credits or secures scholarships and/or grants. Additionally, many online interior design programs charge all distance learners the same tuition, regardless of their state of residency.
You should also consider other costs associated with completing a graduate degree, beyond tuition. If you choose to live on campus, you may pay more for room and board. Housing costs also depend on a program’s location — larger cities generally feature higher costs of living than small towns and rural areas. In addition to housing, costs related to technology and other class materials affect a graduate program’s overall cost. To help limit expenses, many on-campus students take advantage of their school’s technology resources, which often include computer labs, printing stations, and laptop rentals.
Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Interior Design Prepares For
- Certified Interior Designer
Offered by the Council for Interior Design Qualification, the NCIDQ exam allows individuals to earn the foremost certification for interior designers in the U.S. To sit for this test, candidates must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in interior design and adequate work experience. Candidates with degrees from non-CIDA accredited programs may need to complete additional work hours before taking this exam.
- Certified Healthcare Interior Designer
The American Academy of Healthcare and Interior Designers offers this certification for healthcare interior designers interested in earning professional recognition. Candidates must hold at least three years of healthcare interior design experience, NCIDQ or National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) certification, and a sufficient portfolio. Candidates without NCIDQ or NCARB certification may also sit for the exam, but they must hold at least 10 years of experience and a larger portfolio.
- Certified Architect
Students with a master’s degree from an NAAB-accredited program may qualify to take the architecture registration exam. This exam allows candidates to work as licensed architects. The exact requirements needed to sit for this exam vary by state.
Resources for Graduate Interior Design Students
Available digitally and in print, Metropolis has published articles on design research and trends for over 35 years. The magazine features sections devoted to retail, healthcare, hospitality, residential, and workplace interiors. Other areas of focus include architecture and urban landscapes.
Students pursuing interior design and other human sciences degrees can enroll in the KON National Honor Society. KON hosts nearly 100 active chapters across the country and focuses on giving its members leadership, research, and scholarship opportunities.
This company helps interior design, engineering, construction, and architecture firms integrate successful business practices with innovative design. DI publishes research and other articles and hosts an annual summit that brings together professionals from all areas of the design field.
Established more than 80 years ago, Interior Design promotes collaboration and leadership within the field by hosting conferences and roundtable discussions.
This online resource serves the international design community, featuring information about companies that use cutting-edge interior design. The website also highlights industry trends and the latest products and research.
Professional Organizations in Interior Design
Professional interior design organizations help current students and graduates prepare for various certification exams. They also provide excellent networking opportunities by hosting events like annual conferences. Interior design professionals can sometimes register and create profiles with these organizations to market themselves and attract potential clients.
In addition to offering the certified healthcare interior designer certification, AAHID provides scholarships and research grants. Professionals in this field can register with the academy, allowing potential clients to look up their profiles through AAHID’s directory of interior designers.
While NCARB focuses on architecture, architects and interior designers often work together. This organization’s website features a blog with architecture news, information about licensure, and continuing education opportunities.
As the primary interior design organization, CIDQ provides aspiring designers with certification information and helps them prepare to sit for exams.
IIDA hosts several events each year, including an advocacy symposium, a hotelier summit, and a healthcare design expo and conference. In addition to these networking opportunities, the association offers several resources to students interested in commercial interior design, such as access to a discounted membership, design competitions, and mentoring programs.
ASID focuses on supporting interior design professionals and increasing awareness about interior design’s impact on society. This organization also hosts a research database, annual award programs, and insurance programs.