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How Much Does it Cost to Become an Interior Designer?

We drill down on how much it’s going to cost to become an interior designer whether you’re choosing the degree path, a certification program or the NCIDQ exam.

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Interior design is a highly rewarding career, bringing functional and aesthetically pleasing spaces to residential and commercial properties. So, it’s no wonder more and more people are embarking on a recognized qualification to become a respected and sought-after interior designer. But just how much does education and interior design certification cost? Well, in short, the average cost to become an interior designer based on the most common paths of education or certification was around $20,250 for the academic year 2019-2020. This included tuition, fees and materials. However, there are other more affordable options.

Here, we look at how much it costs to become an interior designer for the different educational paths open to aspiring interior designers, providing you with the valuable information you’ll need to make the right choice for you.

How much does an interior design education cost?

While it’s not essential to have a formal education to become an interior designer, if you want to work for a respected interior design firm, or want to leverage your earning power as a freelance designer, then a degree is the route to take. Obtaining an interior design degree will give you a wide and varied understanding of the aesthetic, technical and business side of becoming a multi-skilled designer. In fact, in a recent Houzz 2022 survey, more than 2 in 5 interior designers (44%) surveyed obtained a bachelor’s degree, while 27% went on to earn a master’s degree. 

Of course, there are factors that are going to affect the overall cost of an interior design degree, such as whether you choose to study part-time or full time. Then there’s the in-state versus out-of-state conundrum. Not only are tuition fees more expensive for out-of-state students, you’ll also have to factor in other costs, such as rent and food, if you can’t live at home. Read on for more details.

  • Cost of an interior design bachelor’s degree - As educational institutions typically grant tuition discounts to students who study in-state, they will pay a considerable amount less than students considered out-of-state. For example, the average cost for an undergraduate degree program for state students was around $6,062  for the academic year 2021-2022, while out-of-state students spent around $19,790 on tuition and fees. However, these costs can rise dramatically for out-of-state students who have to pay for rent, energy bills and food. There are ways out-of-state students can fund their degree course, such as scholarships and grants they may be eligible for, a student loan, and, of course, part-time work. 

Considering applying? Research your options first with The Top 10 Schools for Interior Design Education in the US.

  • Cost of an interior design masters degree - Advancing your interior design education with a masters degree not only elevates your skill set and knowledge of the profession, it also increases your earning power, with masters educated designers earning an average salary of $90,316 per year. A masters degree can be studied in just one year full time, but is also available as a part-time course over 3 years, with tuition fees for an interior design masters ranging from  from $10,000 to $30,000 for 1 to 3 years of study. Be sure to check if the fees include the cost of books, materials and any insurance charges, as these could be on top. Fees will also vary for in-state and out-of-state students. There is financial aid you can seek in the form of funding, such as merit scholarships for students who achieve top results in their bachelors degree, need-based scholarships for students on a low income, and Research Assistantships where students assist professors with research work in return for a fee waiver. 

Need help determining what level of education you need to hit your financial goals? Check out How Much Can Interior Designers Make?

  • Cost of an interior design certificate - There are many alternative interior design certifications you can obtain that won’t cost as much as a degree or take as long, but will ensure you are certified as an interior designer once you’ve passed. For example, The Interior Designers Institute’s certification program will cost you around $2,781 including supplies for a 11-12 week course. At the end of the course, you then have the option of stepping out into the interior design world, or furthering your skills and education with the institute's degree program. 

Another example is the New York Institute of Art and Design, which offers a self-paced and online, certified interior design course that costs $999, plus an exam fee of $60.  On passing the online course, you have five years to pass the exam and earn a Residential Interior Design Qualifying Certification (RIDQC) Certificate from the Designer Society of America.

Of course, some programs are just for fun and aimed at DIYers looking for tips for their own home. For example, there are some interior design courses that cost as little as $24.99, but these will only cover the basics of design principles and nothing about working within the interior design industry.

In addition to interior design certification cost, the main thing to consider when choosing the right course for you, is the depth of the course topics, what skills you’ll take away from the program and if you’ll receive an industry recognized certification at the end of it. 

Top tip: Rules on certification of interior designers vary from state to state, so before you embark on a qualification, it’s worth checking your state’s criteria so you can be sure to follow the guidelines. 

How much does an interior design certification cost?

While not all states require certification to work as an interior designer, to do so will give your clients a sense of confidence and trust in your skills, and ensure you stand out from other designers in your area who may not be certified. What’s more, earning a respected certification can potentially secure you a higher salary, as well as opportunities to work on commercial projects and within design firms. 

The industry’s gold-standard certification is the National Council for Interior Design Qualification, which is a three-part exam taken by students who have qualified with a degree or similar diploma. The NCIDQ one-time application fee is $225 (if you apply for all three exams simultaneously), the IDFX exam is $295, the IDPX exam is $355 and the final PRAC exam is $460, adding up to a total of around $1,335 to obtain the certification, depending if you apply for all three exams at once, or separately. Also, be mindful that rescheduling and canceling any of the exams will also incur a cost. 

There are many other interior design certification costs to consider depending on how you wish to further your skill set and job opportunities. For example, the LEED or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a green building certification recognized throughout the world, and offers two exams that start from $200 for USGBC members, or $250 for non-members. 

There’s also the NARI or National Association of the Remodeling Industry that offers interior designers the Certified Remodeler Associate (CRA) certification, so they can become recognized as experts in the best practices and standards of remodeling homes. For NARI members, the certification fee is $600, while non-members pay $850. Other costs include an online prep course at $249 for members and $399 for non-members, as well as an annual renewal fee of $89 for members and $178 for non-members.

Want to know more about interesting certifications that can propel your career to new heights? Check out these Interior Design Professional Communities that offer certificates as well as other forms of education.

Conclusion

So, are qualifications and certifications worth the investment, we hear you ask? Absolutely. Not only does it set you apart from other not so qualified designers, it enhances your knowledge and skills, gains respect from other industry professionals and it displays your commitment to the profession. 

But don’t just take our word for it, check out these indisputable facts. In a survey conducted by Houzz in 2022, we compared groups of licensed or certified interior designers with those who did not obtain a license on state or national level, and learned that a quarter of those who have a license or certification made $500,000 or more in gross revenue, compared with only 9% of those who did not obtain license or certificate related to interior design bringing in that level of revenue in 2021. 

The most important factor in your decision should involve how much a qualification or certification will increase your overall earning potential. To continue learning how much it costs to become an interior designer, read How Long Does it Take to Become an Interior Designer? and inch closer to deciding if Interior Design is the right career for you.

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