Online Master's Programs in Interior Design

Updated on: 12/12/18

Interior designers decide how rooms and other interior spaces should be arranged and furnished. The occupation is optimal for students with a good eye for aesthetics and a firm understanding of architectural standards and building regulations. Interior designers can earn high salaries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the field is relatively small and competitive. For this reason, a master's degree can help job seekers stand out to employers.

This page discusses different components of online interior design master's programs, including courses and final projects. Some of the most common careers among graduates of these programs and some professional resources for job seeking graduates are also explored in detail.

What to Know About Online Master's in Interior Design Coursework

Interior designers are the creative visionaries who determine how rooms and other interior spaces should look, feel, and function. They choose paint colors, furnishings, lighting fixtures, and decorative elements based on factors like space requirements and visual appeal. Designers also possess extensive knowledge about building codes, inspections, and accessibility needs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree is generally needed for most entry-level interior design roles. Certain positions — including leadership roles — may require a master's degree.

In addition to on-campus programs, students may choose to enroll in an online master's in interior design. Coursework usually tackles subjects such as interior design research, interior materials, environmental psychology, and design analysis. Students sharpen their architectural drawing and design software skills, which are required for most interior design positions. Most online master's degree in interior design pathways can be completed in 2-3 years and consist of 33-45 credits.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Interior Design Program?

The specific course curriculum of an online interior design master's degree program varies by school, but most programs incorporate the same general elements. Below are sample core courses often found in an online interior design master's program.

Design Analysis

Interior designers must carefully analyze their workspaces to determine which elements work best for a particular setting. This course looks at different methods for collecting and interpreting design data, as well as using key factors — such as the client's needs and aspirations for the room and building regulations — to plan designs.

Inclusive Design

Interior design is a comprehensive field that incorporates the considerations and needs of users with different levels of physical ability. This course focuses on aspects such as accessibility and ergonomics, functionality, and cultural considerations that come into play when designing spaces for multiple users, as well as concepts related to universal design.

Historic Preservation and Environment Issues

Certain spaces, such as rooms in historical buildings, pose special requirements for interior designers. This course discusses design criteria for structures registered as historic places, including LEED certification standards, as well as concepts related to sustainable design and interior modernization.

Contemporary Issues in Interior Design

Historical, social, and cultural contexts of past architectural and interior design inform emerging trends and practices for today's interior designers. Students also draw on readings and class discussions to broaden their critical thinking and problem solving skills and also gain an understanding of practical and comparative aesthetic approaches.

Environmental Psychology in Interior Design

The field of environmental psychology explores the relationship between rooms and spaces and the people who use them, as well as how a room can impact one's health, behavior, and safety. This course examines these psychosocial elements of interior design. Environmental psychology also addresses strategies for reducing stress and optimizing room functionality.

What Elective Courses are Available in a Master's in Interior Design Program?

In addition to core courses, most interior design master's online programs require students to complete elective courses. These courses tackle specific topics related to the student's field. In most cases, students choose their electives from a list of options. Common electives in interior design master's programs online include the following:

Effects of Lighting on People and the Interior Environment

Lighting subtly impacts the aesthetics of a room, as well as the mood and behavior of anyone using the space. This course tackles the use of both natural and artificial light, and the effect that both have on human psychology and physiology.

Advanced Color Theory

Color theory pinpoints colors that complement or clash with one another. This course explores how designers use color theory to select different shades and hues for a given space, and the different ways humans perceive colors.

Material Culture

Throughout history, material objects played an important role in interior design. This course examines different theories and approaches to material culture, and the importance of incorporating the right material elements within different interior spaces.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Some online master's in interior design programs culminate in a final project. In most cases, this project takes the form of a portfolio assignment. Students gather samples of their work from past courses that best reflect the skills, knowledge, and aesthetic principles related to their specific professional goals. Additionally, the curriculum may call for a capstone project that mirrors the design theories and processes students learned over the course of their program. An internship may also be required for interior design master's students.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Interior Design Program?

Students pursuing a master's in interior design online program should consider several variables, including cost of attendance, institutional financial aid opportunities, resources for distance learners, class sizes, and student outcomes such as graduation and retention rates. Prospective students should be wary of schools with high rates of students who default on their student loan payments, which often indicates a lack of employment opportunities for degree holders.

Accreditation is also important. Master's in interior design programs may receive programmatic accreditation from the Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). CIDA currently recognizes 195 bachelor's and master's in interior design programs, including online degrees and programs outside of the United States. Additionally, students should ensure the school they select has received regional or national accreditation from authorized accrediting agencies. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation both maintain full lists of recognized accreditors.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Interior Design Degree

Earning a master's in interior design online can lead to several career opportunities. Established interior designers may use the degree to advance into leadership positions. An online master's also benefits those searching for positions in fields related to interior design, such as architecture, landscape design, or construction management. Although a master's can greatly increase one's chances of being considered for certain jobs, the degree does not guarantee employment. Additionally, candidates may need to obtain licensure or certification in order to qualify for some roles. Five common occupations for interior design master's students are profiled below.

Interior Designer

Interior designers incorporate creativity and technical skill into their work, as they are responsible for selecting colors, furnishings, fixtures, and decorative elements in rooms and other interior spaces. Designers also possess extensive knowledge about building codes and environmental requirements for a space. Some interior designers specialize in certain types of structures, such as homes, office buildings, or healthcare facilities. A bachelor's degree is required for most positions.

Median Salary: $51,500 per year

Currently Employed: 66,500

Expected Job Growth (2016-26): +4%

Architect

Architects design and plan the construction of homes, commercial buildings, and other structures. Their work may involve public facilities or privately owned buildings, as well as outdoor structures. Duties include organizing building specifications, drafting blueprints, handling and negotiating contractors, and visiting worksites to ensure projects are on schedule. All states require architects to be fully licensed. Some schools offer online master's in architecture programs with specializations in interior design.

Median Salary: $78,470 per year

Currently Employed: 128,800

Expected Job Growth (2016-26): +4%

Landscape Architects

Landscape architects design and plan outdoor spaces, such as parks, college campuses, and business parks. They may also work on private residences. Most landscape architects use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), software that allows them to prepare realistic graphic renderings. They also acquire materials, determine a project budget, and inspect finished landscapes.

Median Salary: $65,760 per year

Currently Employed: 24,700

Expected Job Growth (2016-26): +6%

Set and Exhibit Designers

Set and exhibit designers arrange the furnishings and aesthetics for movie, television, and theatre sets, as well as temporary exhibitions at museums and other establishments. They frequently meet with event directors and other lead personnel to determine specific project needs, and also research different architectural styles to ensure their designs are suitable and, in some cases, period-appropriate. The vast majority of set and exhibit designers are employed in the motion picture and video industries.

Median Salary: $53,090 per year

Currently Employed: 11,490

Expected Job Growth (2016-26): +4.4%

Industrial Designers

Industrial designers, like interior designers, combine artistic creativity and technical skills. They design and develop automobiles, appliances, and manufactured products of all sorts. During the course of planning, industrial designers consider several variables, including cost, functionality, and aesthetic appearance. They also build their designs using drawings and sketches, software programs, and modeling techniques.

Median Salary: $65,970 per year

Currently Employed: 39,700

Expected Job Growth (2016-26): +4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Interior Design Careers?

According to the BLS, the projected growth rate for all occupations in the U.S. is 7%. Comparatively, jobs for interior designers are expected to increase 4% between 2016 and 2026, indicating a slower than average rate of job openings. Growth expectations are similar for related occupations, such as architects and set and exhibit designers.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Interior Design

Professional organizations create valuable connections for recent graduates of online interior design master's programs, as well as established professionals. Many also offer continuing education courses, access to online publications, and career resources. Some organizations offer discounted membership rates to current students. Five of the most prominent organizations for interior designers are profiled below.

  • Interior Design Society

    The IDS operates nationwide with more than 2,000 current members. The society hosts numerous events throughout the year and offers dozens of online continuing education courses.

  • Commercial Interior Design Association

    The IIDA represents more than 15,000 members across the globe, including 24 regional U.S. chapters. In addition to live events, the association sponsors various design competitions throughout the year.

  • American Society of Interior Designers

    ASID represents more than 13,500 members, including roughly 5,500 students, with 350 separate chapters. The society offers continuing education courses, six professional certifications, and a student portfolio competition.

  • Interior Design Educators Council

    Founded in 1963, the IDEC focuses on improving educational and professional opportunities for interior design students. The council also houses the Journal of Interior Design and offers design competitions and grants for students.

  • Designer Society of America

    The DSA represents members working in kitchen, window, and residential design. Two professional certifications and continuing education courses are offered through the organization.

How to Pay for a Master's in Interior Design Degree

An online master's degree in interior design represents a significant financial investment for most students. In order to cover tuition, housing, and other costs, many students turn to financial aid, including federal loans, grants, and scholarships. Five financial aid options for interior design master's students are outlined below.

Federal Financial Aid

Online interior design master's students may qualify for certain federal loans, including Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct Plus Loans, neither of which carry a financial need requirement. Candidates must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to qualify.

American Society of Interior Designers Foundation Grants and Scholarships

ASID offers six scholarships and grants for interior design students, including the Legacy Scholarship for Graduate Students, a $4,000 award for those enrolled in graduate programs at accredited institutions.

International Furnishings and Design Association Student Member Scholarships

The IFDA offers seven scholarships to current student members, including two for graduate students. The $2,000 Vercille Voss IFDA Graduate Student Scholarship is awarded to full- or part-time interior design graduate students.

Interior Design Educators Council Foundation, Inc.

The IDECF offers the Graduate Scholars Fund, a competitive grant program that enables graduate students to attend the IDEC annual conference. Additionally, the Polsky/Fixtures Furniture/IDEC Fund is available to graduate students who conduct research and plan educational initiatives in the field of interior design.

NEWH Green Voice Design Competition

The Hospitality Industry Network, or NEWH, sponsors this annual competition for students pursuing degrees in architecture and interior design. Participants design a project that incorporates green practices, such as water efficiency and energy conservation. The winner receives a $7,500 scholarship.