How to Become an Interior Designer: Steps to Take from High School

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For students with an artistic eye, spatial awareness, and business sense, one job in particular comes to mind: interior design. 

 

Combining technology, art, entrepreneurship, and several other skills, this career path is an exciting and fulfilling one for many. Sometimes confused with interior decorators, interior designers bring spaces to life for their clients by transforming homes, offices, and more into appealing environments.

 

What Does an Interior Designer Do?

 

Interior designers work with clients to turn spaces into aesthetically pleasing and comfortable environments. The career sits at the intersection of many fields, including architecture, engineering, design, and more.

 

Sometimes, interior designers work as independent contractors, collaborating with clients to understand their needs and devise project plans that meet their requirements and budgets. Alternatively, they can work at firms as part of a team. 

 

Responsibilities include:

  • Taking stock of the client’s needs
  • Creating plans for the spatial layout using software
  • Selecting materials, including everything from light fixtures to furniture
  • Establishing a budget and timeline
  • Working with and supervising vendors to bring the vision to life

 

Some interior designers specialize in certain spaces such as homes, commercial buildings, or offices.

 

Although interior design and interior decoration are sometimes confused, the two professions are different. Interior designers usually need a bachelor’s degree and must be licensed to practice, while interior decorators don’t need these credentials. Interior decorators focus exclusively on the aesthetic elements of spaces, making them visually attractive, while interior designers are tasked with making the space comfortable and livable, going beyond aesthetics to make it environmentally sustainable, cohesive, and functional for the people using it.

 

How Much Do Interior Designers Make?

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for interior designers was $57,060 as of May 2020. However, salaries can vary widely based on factors like location, experience, specialty, and more.

 

How to Become an Interior Designer: Steps to Take from High School

 

High School

 

Interior design involves many fields, and high school is a great time to build foundational skills and gain knowledge you’ll need later on. Take plenty of art classes in school, especially ones related to drawing, and consider pursuing extracurricular art programs, too.

 

It’s a good idea to gain experience with technology and study advanced STEM concepts through courses such as AP Calculus and Computer Science. You should also hone your communication and problem-solving skills through humanities courses, like advanced English classes, and extracurriculars, like writing for your school’s newspaper. 

 

Interior designers often work as independent contractors, so you’ll want to work on building your leadership skills by becoming a board member of a club, running for student council, or pursuing an independent project.

 

To gain exposure to the field, seek out internship or job opportunities with experienced, certified interior designers or professionals in related fields, like architecture. 

 

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College

 

Most people interested in pursuing interior design start by earning a bachelor’s degree. Look for a program accredited by the Council for Interior Design. These programs will help you earn your certification later on. CollegeVine’s school-search tool makes it easy to find schools with interior design programs that also meet your other criteria, like size and location. 

 

To find a good fit and create a balanced school list, check out CollegeVine’s free chancing engine. This tool factors in your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and more to calculate your chances of acceptance at hundreds of schools across the country.

 

 

During college, you’ll learn how to use technology that will be critical for your career, including Computer Aided Design (CAD) software. You’ll also study coursework such as design, sustainability, drawing and sketching, color theory, textiles, business practices, and interior design history.

 

Many programs give you exposure to different specializations in interior design, such as corporate, kitchen, lighting, and sustainability.

 

You should seek out experiential learning opportunities, including internships or apprenticeships, to gain real-world experience in interior design. This will also give you the opportunity to develop a portfolio, which is important for applying to jobs later on.

 

Certification

 

In order to become certified, a requirement in many states, you’ll usually need an interior design degree (or a degree in a related field) and some experience working under a registered interior designer. Then, you’ll sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification (NCIDQ) exam. This comprehensive test will evaluate your knowledge of concepts like construction standards, building codes and permits, projection coordination, professional practice, design application, and more.

 

 

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Short Bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.

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