There are few careers that can offer the same levels of personal satisfaction as those in the arts, but in a STEM-driven economy, technical degrees such as architecture and engineering are where the salaries are at.
Luckily, though, for those who want to balance these aspirations, there’s a compromise. With interior design, you get a combination of both, allowing you to display your creative flair while getting to grips with the technical processes of construction and architecture.
If this sounds interesting, but you’re not sure where to start, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled data and recommendations from the latest QS World University Rankings in order to narrow down your study choices.
So, without further ado, here are the top 10 interior design schools in the world.
10. Pratt Institute
Location: New York City, New York, US
One of the most widely recognised names in the design world, the Pratt Institute offers a BFA in Interior Design from its Brooklyn campus (although it also has satellite campuses in Manhattan and Utica), as well as an MFA option for graduates.
Both programmes are collaborative in nature and involve working on small projects that gradually evolve into larger ones throughout the course. There’s also the opportunity to spend a term at the Copenhagen International School in Denmark, which involves extensive study tours to the interior design mecca that is Scandinavia.
9. School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Location: Chicago, Illinois, US
Home to influential artists, designers and scholars, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) is one of the nation’s leading universities for art and design. In fact, the Bachelor of Interior Architecture is one of very few programmes offered in an art school in the US.
The four-year curriculum gives students the opportunity to rethink how they build, inhabit and transform environments with an exploration of materials and construction. The Graduate programme available at this school is a Master of Architecture with an emphasis on interior architecture.
With the Art Institute of Chicago museum, on-campus galleries and contemporary facilities, students here have access to state-of-the-art resources. Notable alumni and faculty at SAIC have included Michelle Grabner, David Sedaris and Elizabeth Murray.
8. The Glasgow School of Art
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
One of only independent schools in the UK, the Glasgow School of Art has given rise to influential and successful artists, designers and architects. Offering both undergraduate and graduate programmes in interior design, any student at this school becomes proud to be part of its vibrant creative community.
Students can thrive in an environment where the methods of creating and defining interiors are explored – more specifically in the specialised interiors studio within the art school. The BA(Hons) Interior Design programme, in particular, only has around 30 students a year, giving professors the chance to fully support their individual abilities.
7. Aalto University
Location: Espoo, Finland
Only recently established in 2010, the Aalto University has a shining reputation among budding artists and designers. Located in Finland, this school attracts students interested in applying their design skills to architecture.
The Aalto University offers a master's programme in interior architecture, which puts focus on spatial design, furniture design and concrete design. Students can apply their practical design skills, conceptual and strategic design thinking, and research-driven design abilities throughout the two-year programme.
6. Politecnico di Milano
Location: Milan, Italy
Known as one the most prestigious technical universities in Europe, the Politecnico di Milano is also the largest Italian university in engineering, architecture and design. With 7 campuses located in Milan and almost 45,000 students, this school offers interior design programmes at all academic levels.
Undergraduate programmes in this area of study include an Interior Design Laurea programme, which is the equivalent to a Bachelor of Science. Although offered in Italian, this three-year course is ideal for those wanting to delve deeper into the design of private or public interiors. Students can move on to graduate programmes such as Interior and Spatial Design or Product Service System Design, which are offered in English.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts, US
Students can learn the ropes of architectural design through one of the many undergraduate and graduate degree programmes at MIT. Undergraduates can choose to study the Bachelor of Science in Architecture or Bachelor of Science in Architecture Studies, while graduate students can select one of the five architectural programmes offered.
With 12 museums and galleries on campus as well as landmarks designed by the likes of architects Alvar Aalto, Frank Gehry and Steven Holl, MIT provides many ways for students to draw inspiration during their years of study.
4. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
Location: Providence, Rhode Island, US
RISD is a highly prestigious institution that has graduated many famous names in the creative world, including Deborah Berke and Nader Tehrani.
Offering both a four-year BFA and a one-year MA programme in Interior Architecture, students are encouraged to choose one of three pathways (theatre design, exhibition design or retail design), with the theory and teaching aspects of the course counterbalanced by hands-on exposure to the construction industry.
In the final year, students are also required to complete a module in human factors, which is meant to consolidate the humanist and environmentally responsible approach to design that RISD prides itself on.
3. Parsons School of Design at The New School
Location: New York City, New York, US
Based in the trendy Greenwich Village area of Lower Manhattan, the Parsons School of Design is one of the five constituent colleges of the New School and is one of the most famous design institutions in the world.
It offers interior design programmes at both BFA and MFA levels, drawing on the urban inspiration of New York City to illuminate key design concepts. There’s also a multidisciplinary feel to the curriculum, inviting collaboration not just with students in related fields but also with those in business, journalism and the performing arts.
For those who want to spend time abroad, Parsons also has a campus in Paris, while there are exchange opportunities in the UK, Australia, Italy and Denmark.
2. University of the Arts London (UAL)
Location: London, England
UAL offers a three-year BA in Interior Design, taught at the university’s satellite school, the Chelsea College of Arts. Described as a programme with an emphasis on ‘collaborative, provocative and innovative design’, it is partnership-heavy, with regular access to high-profile organisations and figures from within the industry.
Covering a broad range of core and supplementary topics and skills, the course also gives students the opportunity to work on small and large-scale real-life projects, while there’s also a one-year MA option for graduates.
1. Royal College of Art
Location: London, England
Confirming London’s status as a global interior design hub, the Royal College of Art – based in South Kensington – offers a two-year master’s programme which features a strong blend of studio and workshop-oriented study.
Headed by renowned designer Graeme Brooker, there are also opportunities to partake in live, real-life industry projects with selected university partners, while the school’s emphasis on personal growth and development is illustrated by the assigning of dedicated practice mentors.
Of course, there are many great schools and programmes all over the world, with top institutions such as the RMIT University, the Art Center College of Design and the Tongji University all just missing out. Wherever you choose to study, though, the important thing is that your environment is right for you.
Meanwhile, if you feel that your creative skills might be better utilised elsewhere, then don’t forget to check out our list of the best graphic design universities!
Are you thinking of studying interior design at university? Where would you pick? Let us know in the comments below!
This article is an updated version of an earlier article originally published on 16 July 2019 and was written in collaboration with Angela Stephanou.