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How Long Does It Take to Become an Interior Designer? 

Our Houzz Pro guide will help you navigate the right path to becoming an interior designer 

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To become an interior designer, you need to be prepared to invest time and effort to learn the skills needed to help you succeed in this creative field. But just how much time you will need to invest will depend on the type of qualification you choose and path you take to becoming an interior designer. 

The length of time it can take to master the tools and knowledge to become an interior designer can range from six months to four years, depending on the educational path you choose. Read on for Houzz Pro’s guide to how long it takes to be an interior designer and gain a clearer understanding of the right route for you. 

Years to Become an Interior Designer by Type of Education

When choosing a qualification path based on how much time it takes to become an interior designer, it’s worth weighing up the pros and cons so you’re clear on the outcome. Read on and discover the advantages and obstacles for each option.

  • Time to Complete an Interior Design Diploma Course: 6 Months to 1 Year 
    Covering the fundamental techniques of interior design, a diploma course will give you a good understanding of the industry and what’s needed to succeed as an interior designer. A diploma studied in a classroom setting commonly takes one year to complete; however, diplomas can also be studied online as a home study course, and can be reduced to 24 weeks, such as the diploma course with The Interior Design Institute. This makes a diploma a great choice for anyone with family or work commitments, or anyone wanting a speedy yet worthy qualification. That said, diplomas are shorter and more streamlined than degree programs and are built around practical design skills, rather than design theory. Before enrolling, ensure your course is recognized by a certifying body, such as the Certified Interior Decorators International (CID). 

  • Time to Complete Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design: 3 to 4 Years
    With a bachelor’s degree, you’ll delve deep into the theory and history of design allowing you to explore design concepts more fully than you would with a diploma, preparing you well for intermediate and senior positions in the field. What’s more, if you’re looking to work with a top interior design firm, most will require designers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. However, a degree is considerably longer than a diploma and therefore will be a bigger financial investment, not to mention, require more of your time.
    Learn more about The Top 10 Schools in the U.S. to Get Your Interior Design Degree.

    Additionally, it is not uncommon for interior designers to obtain education in fields other than interior design. The majority of interior designers (72%) hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a broad range of disciplines before going into the design industry, according to a survey among the professionals on Houzz. And iIn case you’re wondering, 44% have obtained a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of education.

  • Time to Complete Master’s Degree in Interior Design: 1 to 4 Years
    Expanding your interior design knowledge and expertise with a master’s degree could significantly increase your career options. Graduates with a master’s can go on to become professors, planners, or researchers, as well as innovative leaders in interior design practices. 

    The time it takes to become an interior designer with a master’s degree is typically one to two years full time or four years part time. It’s possible to do a flexible master’s degree online, which may appeal more to working professionals who are looking for a career change. 

    Tip: For more certification information, visit the Council for Interior Design Qualification (CIDQ), the primary interior design organization in the U.S. 

  • Time to Complete National Certification (NCIDQ): 1 Month to 5 Years
    In a Houzz survey, 13% of interior designers reported obtaining the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) certification. To obtain a recognized interior design certificate, many states across the U.S. and Canada require students to sit a state-approved exam, such as the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ), to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency for the industry.
    To be eligible for the exam, you need to have studied an accredited interior design diploma, degree or master’s qualification, either of which will offer sufficient preparation for the exam. Also, depending on your local jurisdiction, you may need to show two years of full-time design work experience.  

    To earn the certification, qualified interior designers can apply to take the NCIDQ exam, which has three sections and must be passed within a specified time frame. 
    Exams take place during April and October, they take around three to four hours each, and applicants have a five-year window in which to complete all three exams. So, depending on your time schedule, you can choose to complete all three exams over one month or spread them out over a few years.

  • Time to Complete State Licensure: Up to 1 Month 
    According to Houzz research, 29% of interior designers obtain state-level licensure or certification. Gaining a recognized interior design certificate is a prerequisite for obtaining your interior design state license or registration, but there is an application process to take. Typically, it takes no more than one month to obtain a license if all the required verifications are correct. It’s worth noting that every state has different requirements around interior design licensing, and therefore you should research your state’s requirements before applying.

  • Time to Become a Self-Taught Interior Designer: At Least 1 Year
    Some of the biggest names in the industry are self-taught — Jonather Adler for one. So, if you have ambition, talent and a passion for learning, it is possible to teach yourself interior design. Watching online tutorials, reading books and learning from industry experts will help equip you with the tools you’ll need. 

    The years it takes to become an interior designer is solely up to the amount of experience and knowledge you want to obtain, but you should give yourself at least a year to produce some completed projects for your portfolio. Start with projects in your own home, plus family and friends properties, so you have plenty of impressive spaces to attract your first clients. 

    Tip: You might also like Everything You Need to Know About Interior Design Certification

Years to Become an Interior Designer by Type of Work Experience

  • Employment with Interior Design-Related Business: 6 Months to 1 Year (Recommended)
    One of the most beneficial ways of learning interior design without a qualification is by gaining experience with an established interior design firm or the interior design department within a firm of architects. The hands-one experience will help you to develop the skills needed to contribute to projects and communicate with clients and contractors. Considering the fastest interior design course (a diploma) takes between six months and one year to complete, you should expect it to take this long to grasp the fundamental knowledge and skills required to be an interior designer. Having a couple of years of experience might be enough for you to feel confident to start your own design business and work with your own clients.

  • Interior Design Internship: 6 Months to 1 Year (Recommended)
    A work placement at an established interior design company is a great way to gain valuable experience, put into practice the skills learnt from studying, and make important contacts. 
    Often this will be as a paid internship for a few months, which can well turn into a full-time job with career progression prospects. As you plan how you will gain industry experience, you may be wondering, how long it takes to complete an interior design internship? Expect to spend between six months and one year gaining experience with project management and dealing with clients before considering yourself an interior designer. 

Other Considerations That May Impact How Long It Takes to Become an Interior Designer

  • Online vs. in-person education
    Online interior design courses often get a bad rap for not providing the same level of success as an in-person design course at college might. However, with huge advancements in online teaching and software tools, many online courses teach you all you need to know to start building your interior design career. 

    Online interior design courses also offer maximum flexibility, allowing you work and fulfill family commitments alongside your online studies, from anywhere in the world. 
    However, are you someone who learns better from face-to-face interaction? Do you like to  ask questions and bounce ideas around? Then an in-person interior design course is more likely to suit your style of learning. 

  • Full time vs. part time
    If you have the time to commit to a full-time interior design course, then you will become qualified and launched into the world of interiors much quicker than if you were doing a part-time course. On the other hand, do you have work or family commitments? If so, a part-time interior design course allows you to study for a new career while also earning money or looking after family. 

When planning how long it will take to become an interior designer, you should expect to study hard and/or conduct hard hands-on work for at least one year to gain valuable interior design experience. Because there’s nothing better than real-life experience in creating triumphant spaces that fulfill the design brief and make a client's home and life better. All top interior designers will agree that they are always learning and evolving throughout their rewarding career. Next up, learn more about how much you can earn as an interior designer to offset your education costs.

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