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What’s the Difference between an Interior Design Certificate and Degree?

By Michelle Ecker on May 23, 2018

What’s the Difference between an Interior Design Certificate and Degree?

If you want to become a professional interior designer, it’s important to explore all the educational options available to you, as well as the industry requirements. Most importantly, there is a crucial distinction to be made between interior design certificates and degrees- what they cost, what they’ll teach you, what they can be used for, and how long they take to complete. Depending on your career aspirations, it’s extremely important to comprehend this differentiation before you invest in your education.

What’s Included in an Interior Design Certificate Course?

When it comes to the curriculum, interior design certificate and degree programs essentially cover the same topics, but there are a few differences you should be aware of.

Interior decorating certificate courses such as NYIAD’s will teach you to design and decorate any interior space (both residential and commercial) like a pro. You’ll learn fundamental concepts of design such as furniture styles, popular decorating trends and fabrics. You will study designer-client interactions as you learn business skills like how to hold a consultation, ask the right questions, draw up a legitimate contract and bill accordingly. You will apply concepts of measurement and spatial planning as you create actual sketches of physical rooms, then you’ll start the process of decorating those rooms you’ve drawn to scale.

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You will master all varieties of lighting and window treatments as you learn how to complete every last detail of a room design from start to finish. You will be able to list and identify different design styles such as Mediterranean or Early American Farmhouse as you grow a comprehensive knowledge of the design industry and its history. The certificate course curriculum will essentially walk you through an entire home design process as you learn how to execute projects in all types of rooms- from bathrooms and kitchens to master bedrooms and home offices. Finally, you will learn concepts of promotion and business management as you make a website, develop a portfolio and a resume, preparing to work with your first real-world clients. This NYIAD student actually blogged throughout every unit of her course, sharing what she learned, what the curriculum covered, as well as her personal feedback.

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What’s Included in an Interior Design Degree Program?

A degree program is much longer than a certificate course, and includes all the aforementioned topics and then some. A degree program might include comprehensive, semester-long AutoCAD or Home Staging courses for example, whereas a certificate-granting institution like NYIAD instead offers those two courses as a separate, optional programs of their own for designers who are interested. Additionally, students who opt for degree programs might find themselves taking more technology-based courses, spending more time with software programs used for computer-based design.

How Long Does It Take To Get Certified in Interior Design?

Generally, certificate programs can be completed in under a year, whereas degree programs can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years of study in order for the student to earn their degree.

Which Interior Design Course Is Right for You?

At the end of the day, there are fulfilling careers in interior decorating to be found for both certificate and degree graduates.

Asking whether it’s necessary for an interior designer to have a design degree is like asking whether you need a writing degree to become a writer. While investing in a college education in creative writing is no doubt a valuable and rewarding pursuit, it’s also expensive and time consuming- and countless writers have successful, rewarding careers without one.

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However, this isn’t the case for say, an architect, who is legally required to earn a degree before working on any legitimate projects. So to answer the question about interior design, we’d have to say that it truly depends on what you want to do with your degree (or lack of one).

You absolutely do not need an interior design degree in order to become a professional interior designer, to complete projects for clients, or even to run your own business. Lauren Liess was a NYIAD student (here’s her grad story), and not only did she launch a massively successful interior design career, she now has her own show on HGTV and is a published author of design. So for aspiring designers who feel like they can’t get into the industry because they can’t afford a degree, that’s simply not the case.

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