9 Best Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs

September 10, 2023

master's in interior design online

Interior design dates back to Ancient Egypt, where thick rugs, ostentatious wall art, and the color terracotta were as much in demand as they are today. In fact, most cultures have customs for how to make an interior space both aesthetically and environmentally pleasing. The architecture of a building is in conversation with its surroundings–and what happens inside is equally, if not more important. If badly arranged rooms make you nauseous, or if you dream of luscious color combinations, a Master’s in Interior Design online could be a great way to channel your skills.

What’s the difference between interior decoration and design?

Contrary to popular belief, interior design is not interior decoration. If you’re into textiles, textures, and shopping for treasures, interior design may not actually be the field for you.

Interior design is a specialized branch of architecture. It is sometimes called “interior architecture.” In a perfect world, the interior of a building seamlessly corresponds to its exterior, and the interior of a space mirrors its structure, while serving the needs of the people using it and the environment around it. In short, an interior designer harnesses lighting, furniture, and environmental design to create a cutting-edge interior where form meets function.

For this reason, interior design includes the study of architectural plans, computer imaging and computer-aided design, color theory, environmental psychology, communication, and more. From there, you may choose a specialty within the field. There are generally two types of interior design: residential, and non-residential. Consider the layout of a sleek corporate office, or the welcoming feel of a senior living residence. It takes vision and understanding to make each room fit its function, and to encourage positive experiences inside it.

How to Become an Interior Designer

First of all, how do you know if you’d make a good fit as an interior designer? (Or even what to look for if you’re hiring one?) A great interior designer has a sharp sense of space, someone with great coordination skills, strong vision, and a creative instinct. They must have strong communication and business skills, but also an artistic foundation. On any given day, an interior designer merges aesthetics, psychology, function, and spatial and logistical planning to create a unified whole in a scheduled amount of time.

So how can you achieve your dreams of creating joyful school spaces, stage sets, intuitive libraries, or calming hospitals? It’s true that many interior designers train as architects, yet just as many study interior design as a field of its own. You might study interior design for a bachelor’s degree at one of the best interior design colleges. But the best way to get an edge on your interior design career is to have a master’s degree in interior design.

Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs (Continued)

There are two reasons why a Master’s degree in Interior Design might be the ideal way to boost your career. (Besides the general perks of increased salary that graduate school tends to bring.) First: whether you are trying to rise at a major interior design studio, or even start your own company, a Master’s in Interior Design will show employers (or clients) that you have a deep knowledge of the skills in the field. Second: Beyond work experience or arch school, a Master’s in Interior Design will provide a deep knowledge and skill-set in topics specific to the field, such as Design Theory or Environmental Psychology.

The Best Online Master’s in Interior Design

For this competitive field, there are just as many online programs allowing you the opportunity to pursue this career while working (or at least without too many life changes).

As with writing your graduate school statement of purpose, the more clear you are about your goals at the outset, the easier it will be to choose programs to submit an application. When it comes to grad school, it’s all about specialty. The so-called “best” program may not be strong in your area of focus. An MFA, for example, will give a more comprehensive study of interior design and more advanced topics–but it will also take longer. A Master’s of Science will be more research-oriented. Some programs are more design-focused, and others specialize in the newest technologies. Think about why you’re interested in interior design, and choose accordingly.

Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs (Continued)

The following are some broad branches of interior design to think about:

  • production design for theater/television/film
  • exhibition design
  • visual merchandising
  • design in the healthcare sector, education sector, or corporate sector
  • teaching interior design academically

The following top programs are accredited universities renowned for offering the best educational experience and value, with specialties highlighted.

1) Ball State University

This program is versatile and inclusive–which is what they also teach their students to be.

You can choose an MA or MS degree, one being more humanities-focused and the other more science-oriented. Students can start at any time of year. You can take synchronous or asynchronous courses. You can complete the program in 3 years, or take a fast track to finish in two or less. Students will learn about interior design for diverse populations–from children with autism, to different cultures with different senses of proxemics. In other words: Ball State is not just well-respected, but also respectful. And it’s also a great price, at around $13,535/year.

2) University of Nebraska – Lincoln

Lincoln, Nebraska has been called by the New York Times “the Greenwich Village of the Midwest.” So it’s fitting that one of the best Master’s degrees in Interior Design is available there (even if it’s online). This program will technically grant you a Master’s in Architecture, but it offers a specialization in Interior Design. Even more than that, it is particularly renowned for its focus on gerontology. So if you’re interested in retirement communities, homes, and senior care facilities, this is the spot for you! Another great feature of UNL is its focus on research and evidence-based design: if you’re interested in the academic side of interior design, this is also for you.  In/out of state tuition varies, but it comes out to $16,813.

3) Savannah College of Art & Design

At $38,475/year, SCAD is definitely pricier than the other programs mentioned, but you definitely get what you pay for. First of all, their interior design programs have been ranked number one by multiple rankings. They have high-tech resources, a focus on industry-readiness and communication skills, and support for alumni and job-seeking throughout their careers, through SCADPro. In addition, SCAD is also a leader in online learning. This 2-year program offers peer tutoring, a writer’s studio, mentorship, and even study abroad! All the classes are asynchronous, but with the option of in-person classes as well.

Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs (Continued)

4) Brenau University

This is a program for forward-thinkers. Brenau’s online MFA in Interior design is a terminal degree designed to help prepare you to teach, research, or gain an advanced interior design position. The program specializes in emerging problems and topics in interior design, as well as how to teach interior design at the university level. They also offer one-on-one support, a fast track, and small class sizes. Students choose a concentration for their studies, and have the pick of excellent faculty to support that interest. At $21,021, it’s also great value.

5) Academy of Art University

This program is an all-around great choice, and with the most prestigious accreditation, the Council for Interior Design Accreditation. It has probably the best value on this list, with $1,031/credit, and high rankings and excellent student resources. The Academy of Art also puts a lot of effort into a strong online learning environment, with cutting-edge videos and multiple ways of receiving feedback and exchanging ideas with professors and students. There’s equal focus on theory and practice, and the choice between Masters of Arts and MFA.

6) Boston Architectural College

Attention practical learners: this Master’s of Science in Interior Architecture program is only 3-semesters, with the first on theory and the other two on your own research. Pretty nice! It’s also a low-residency model, which allows you to meet your professors and colleagues in two weekend meetings in Boston’s historic Back Bay neighborhood–also a great way of networking. (Or hanging out in Boston.) BAC’s faculty are all working interior designers, and the program partners with over 350 firms, so you can also work while you study for your degree. This program is particularly strong in the commercial and residential areas, and will help you get a running start on your career before it even begins! The cost is $27,870, but in 3 semesters and a job you’re likely to earn it back quickly.

Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs (Continued)

7) Stephen F. Austin State University

Long live public schools! This Master’s of Science in Human Science with an Interior Design focus is $504.50/credit, and extremely highly-ranked. The same professors teach online and in-person, so you know you’re getting the same quality of education as in-person peers. And the proof is in the pudding: SFAS’s Interior Design program boasts the highest job placement rate possible i.e. 100% of grads were employed within 5 months of graduation in the past three years.

 8) UCLA Extension

Attention working professionals! This is the only program in the nation that can be pursued part-time. It’s also an incredible bang for your buck. Master’s of Arts in Interior Architecture is only $500/credit, and ends with a shiny UCLA degree, and mentorship from some of the country’s top professionals in the field. Yes friends, it’s CIDA-accredited to boot!

9) Chatham University

Chatham is for those of us who are most focused on the design element of interior design. You’re also encouraged as a student to develop a specialization in a topic of your choice, and it’s one of the few programs that offers supervised teaching practice. Lastly, it’s $1089/credit–but for only 30 credits, which is almost half of what other programs require.

Best Online Master’s in Interior Design Programs – Additional Resources

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