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Interior Decorating Degree Programs and Majors

Learn about interior decorating degree programs and majors. Find out about education requirements, coursework and employment prospects upon completion.

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Essential Information

The terms 'interior decorator' and 'interior designer' are often used interchangeably; however interior designers are generally licensed professionals with academic degrees, while interior decorators are usually not. Interior decorating is one facet of interior design. Typically, certificate programs are available in interior decorating, while associate's, bachelor's and master's degree programs are available in interior design.


Certificate in Interior Decorating

A certificate program in interior decorating familiarizes individuals with aspects of surface decoration, such as fabric, lighting, paint and furnishings. In an interior decorating certificate program, students learn how to select appropriate colors and fabrics for furnishings, arrange furniture, choose accessories and select complementary lighting, window treatments and flooring. Accredited programs are available on campus and online.

Educational Prerequisites

Interior decorating courses are taught at private and public schools throughout the country, with varied prerequisites. Participation in college-level programs generally requires the student to have a high school diploma or GED. Because interior decorating can call for the creation of floor plans, some programs require students to have a basic knowledge of drafting and drawing to scale.

Program Coursework

The number of required courses included in the program varies by school. In some cases, courses need to be taken in a certain order. Students are required to have the basics before exploring advanced material:

  • Fundamentals of interior decorating
  • Use of space
  • Textiles and materials
  • Effective lighting
  • Color design
  • Drawing interiors
  • Styles of interior decorating
  • Decorating private residences

Career Options

A certificate in interior decorating prepares students for entry-level work in the field. Although many interior decorators become independent contractors, some choose to start their careers working for furniture stores, restaurants, galleries or boutiques. Some move on to become staff employees at larger institutions such as hotel chains, home building firms, advertising agencies or architectural firms.

Continuing Education Information

Although neither licensure nor certification is required of interior decorators, Certified Interior Decorators International offers the Certified Interior Decorator designation for graduates of approved certificate programs. Individuals who pass the certification test can use the designation 'C.I.D.' after their names.


Associate in Applied Science in Interior Design

Students enrolled in an associate's degree program in interior design are introduced to kitchen and bath design, residential design and commercial design. Hands-on training is stressed along with aspects of design theory. The program goes further than decorating to expose students to construction and safety principles applicable to design. Participation in competitions and industry organizations, field trips and on-the-job internships are typically part of the degree program.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma or GED, as well as a high school transcript, are usually required to enter an associate's degree program. Should an applicant not have a diploma or GED, a placement test may be required for admission. Schools encourage high school courses that reflect an interest and aptitude for the subject, such as interior design, art, art appreciation, marketing, sales and architectural drawing. Solid computer skills are also strongly recommended.

Program Coursework

General education courses such as public speaking, psychology and composition, in addition to basic interior decorating courses, round out the program leading to an associate's degree in interior design.

  • Drafting
  • Presentations and renderings
  • CAD for interior design
  • Residential design
  • Construction codes
  • Studio practices
  • Design principles
  • Lighting
  • Art survey

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Generally, individuals holding an associate's degree in interior design start out as an assistant to a designer, specializing in residential or kitchen and bath design or as a sales representative. Some graduates practice interior decorating. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that the interior design field would increase at a rate of 19%, which is about average for all occupations in the 10-year period of 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education

Holders of an associate's degree who are working in interior design, qualify for membership in the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Participation attests to competence, and the society offers continuing education classes, some of which are required to maintain membership.

In 23 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, interior designers are required to become registered, certified or licensed through an examination administered by the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ). Associate's degree holders are eligible to sit for the exam once they have 5,280 hours of work experience.


Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design

Programs leading to the Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design familiarize students with art history, theory of color, design, construction, digital and traditional media, fabrics, furnishings, finishes and the effective, aesthetically pleasing use of surface space. Through the study of architecture and art, graduates are prepared to marry creative and technical skills to solve space utilization problems in an efficient and safe yet comfortable and emotionally pleasing manner.

Educational Prerequisites

Many interior design B.A. programs require minimum SAT or ACT scores and GPAs, along with an essay of intent and interest in the field of interior design. Some schools request letters of recommendation. A portfolio of work related to interior design must be submitted at the time application is made. Students are encouraged to attend industry-related workshops and become familiar with AutoCAD, drawing and composition. Most schools also require applicants to participate in a face-to-face interview.

Program Coursework

General education courses concentrating on English and mathematics are augmented with required core courses and elective courses dealing with all phases of interior design. Typically, an important part of the core curriculum is an extensive, for-credit internship.

  • Design fundamentals
  • Theory of design
  • Global design
  • Contracts
  • Basics of structure
  • Estimating and buying
  • Floor plans
  • Exhibiting and display
  • Materials and furnishings
  • Drafting and design

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, about 27% of interior designers work in specialized areas, and the BLS projected interior design job opportunities in specialized design firms to grow by 27% in the period from 2010-2020. The BLS reported that the median annual income for interior designers was $47,600 in May 2012.

Continuing Education Information

Individuals holding a bachelor's degree need 3,520 hours of work experience to qualify to sit for the NCIDQ certification or licensing examination. This is about one year less than that needed by an individual who holds an associate's degree.

Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design

While a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design is an academic degree with some work experience requirements, a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design is a professional degree that focuses on building experience along with the theoretical studies. The instructional approach sets the two apart. Whereas a B.A. program uses mostly lecture and discussion, with some studio time involved, a BFA program emphasizes hands-on studio sessions.

Educational Prerequisites

Interior design BFA program admission prerequisites are in most cases the same as those for BA programs. Some schools require students to complete a general pre-professional core curriculum in their first year and then apply for a 3-year professional program. Admission is based on faculty review, cumulative GPA and a portfolio of applicable work.

Program Coursework

Emphasis is placed on multiple studio courses in different areas of interior design:

  • Interior design studio
  • Interior design systems
  • Field study
  • Materials studio
  • Computer drafting studio
  • Two- and three-dimensional design
  • Space utilization
  • AutoCAD
  • Communication in interior design
  • Sociology and interior design

Popular Career Options

While some graduates choose to become independent subcontractors as proprietors of their own interior design firm, others ally themselves with existing organizations. Over time and with experience, they advance to managerial or supervisory positions.

  • Chief designer
  • Department head
  • Interior design supervisor
  • Design coordinator

Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design

With an emphasis on formal theoretical, methodological and technical aspects of interior design, the Master of Fine Arts in Interior Design is accepted as a terminal post professional degree. Focusing on creative achievement, the MFA encourages professional designers to research a specific area to contribute to the general body of knowledge in the interior design. Because the degree is can lead to tenure, many MFA program graduates find positions at universities which allows them the freedom to teach, conduct research and publish. University employment also puts them in a position to function as independent contractors, with each assignment acting as a research and development project.

Program Coursework

Although the typical 60-credit interior design Master of Fine Arts program can be completed in as little as five semesters, generally it takes a little longer. Usually, the program culminates with either a thesis or thesis-exhibition, depending on what better suits the subject area. Students who choose the thesis option submit original research work that solves a design problem. The thesis-exhibition option involves a model and an extensive exposition of research methods, objectives, historical and theoretical context of the work. Academic coursework covers:

  • Human factors in design
  • Environmental design issues
  • Social issues in design
  • Historic preservation
  • Design aesthetics
  • Teaching methods
  • Experimental interior design
  • Various art and design seminars
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    Areas of study you may find at University of Florida include:
      • Graduate: Doctorate, First Professional Degree, Master
      • Post Degree Certificate: Post Master's Certificate
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    Areas of study you may find at Iowa State University include:
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      • Undergraduate: Bachelor
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        • Fashion Design
        • General Visual Communications Design
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        • Advertising and Commercial Design
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    Areas of study you may find at George Washington University include:
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