If interior design is your calling, an education plan that best serves the client (you) is critical. Top school rankings – including mainstream "best schools" lists and interior design-specific rankings – can play a key role in your educational options research.
Without doubt, schools that consistently jockey for position in the top 5 or 10 are educational powerhouses.
But future interior design students need to dig deeper. “Students should consider rankings within the appropriate context and be aware of other important considerations for choosing an interior design program,” says Holly Mattson, Executive Director of the Council for Interior Design Accreditation.
Before even considering rankings and school choices, future interior design students need to determine the focus of their interior design professional career track and the corresponding education, examination, state-specific regulation and association membership requirements, Mattson says.
Once you've determined a basic direction, it's time to get familiar with rankings of the top-flight interior design schools as well as mainstream college/university rankings. There are several annual options, including:
Before you dive in, remember that even the creators of interior design school ranking lists urge students look beyond the big name contenders at the top of each list. “We warn students that rankings are imperfect. If someone tells me, "I'm only going to apply at the top three schools," then I say, "I wouldn't." I would never recommend that to a student,” says James Cramer, editor of DesignIntelligence and chairman of the Greenway Group, a management consultancy and parent company to DesignIntelligence.
The same handful of interior design schools may very well appear in the Top 10 slots on each national list. However, differences in methodology from ranking to ranking offer unique perspectives. School rankings benchmark school successes and help hold institutions accountable to graduates and their future employers, explains Cramer.
Students should review the rankings and supporting information such as data, school profiles and articles carefully. Then it is time to design a plan that applies to your needs and circumstances to pinpoint a customized Top 10 list suited to your ambitions and talents.
Factors like location, facilities, price (and potential student aid) and chemistry with faculty determine what makes a school the "best" for a particular student, Cramer says. “Do your research. Look at the school's website, and compare it to other schools' websites.
New or small schools are typically at a disadvantage in rankings. Even a seemingly innocuous ranking weight such as alumni giving can penalize private interior design, art and design colleges. Alumni giving can be a measure of a school's endowments and funding for scholarships, grants, facilities, curriculum development and faculty salaries. However, a high level of alumni giving is often linked to football and other major sports programs.
So it's important to consider the factors are in play for each individual list – the methodology – and the impact on an interior design school's ranking. “To make any sense to the individual student, one needs to know the criteria behind the rankings, I am not even sure that most potential interior design students check out these rankings,” says Joan Long, a fellow of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA) and the IFDA Educational Foundation (IFDA-EF) director of grants and scholarships. Long has 40 years of experience as an interior design professional and educator; in addition to her practice, she currently serves as an adjunct professor at Ohlone Community College in Fremont, Calif.
Considered a "satisfaction survey" of leading design firms on the performance of recent graduates, DesignIntelligence rankings rate the career-readiness of interior design program graduates by surveying the people who know – those who do the hiring. Design and built environment professional hiring authorities are surveyed as the primary base of DesignIntelligence rankings research. DesignIntelligence creates the rankings to help hiring managers in interior design determine which schools excel at preparing students for professional practice.
The U.S. News arts specialty rankings are based on a survey of art and design deans and department chairs at 213 individual fine arts programs. Ranking schools received the most nominations for excellence in a given specialty. U.S. News additionally ranks schools in sub lists including Best Values (schools with above-average academics that cost less than average when need-based grants are factored in); economic diversity; and campus ethnic diversity.
And, of course, lighthearted rankings from The Princeton Review's "Best 371 Colleges” can also be of use. But you should know that the notorious “Best Party Schools” list is only one of 52 peer-institution and student-surveyed rankings in eight different categories, including: Academics, Demographics, Parties, School Type, Politics, Quality of Life, Extracurriculars and Social. The main alphabetical list of 371 top schools is compiled from school-supported data and input from more than 115,000 college students offers detailed info on scores in Admissions Selectivity, Fire Safety Rating, Quality of Life, Academic and Financial Aid. School/major list sorting is featured in the report, along with admissions criteria, deadlines, phone numbers, e-mail addresses and more.
Abbreviated versions of the various published interior design rankings and related lists and articles are available online, and can be useful as a starting point to identify "top-ranked" interior design schools. To get in-depth information, consider purchasing the full and/or expanded rankings of previously printed materials and the supporting interior design education guidance materials.
Well-known and distinguished schools are worth the effort to research and consider. The rankings offer all sorts of detailed information about schools, including, but not limited to: basic city/state location; graduation rates; alumni satisfaction; faculty salaries; housing availability; and tuition.
No matter how detailed the rankings, it will be tough to find specific highlights on a school's interior design specialties, outstanding studio facilities or sought-after interior design internship programs. Weighing an interior design program's business focus is also an important factor, Long says, noting a lack of business training availability in many art school programs.
The physical location (and presence) of a school is an essential part of the decision factor. Some traditional students would prefer to stay in-state or at least in-region for economic reasons, while non-traditional adult students returning to school may have existing careers and family upheaval to consider.
The future interior design student looking to go to a top in-state interior design program can cross-reference the rankings to find potential matches. Regional rankings from DesignIntelligence are also likely to spark consideration.
School location is also sure to impact interior design students' future internship and career opportunities as well as development of a student's mentors and peer network. So in addition to the school, students should research and consider the institution's metropolitan area or region for an interior design program's internship and job placement potential. “Potential interior design students should plan realistically in regards to the location of the school or college, with metropolitan areas being best for future jobs and internships,” Long says.
It is certainly practical to consider an equation that balances your financial position with the costs of both nationally-renowned programs and potentially top-notch in-state programs. “The student's financial position, the location of the school or college and the ambition and talent of the student often have more meaning to the potential selection of the school than the rankings,” Long says. “Frankly, rankings don't mean that much to a student if they can not afford to attend the school, or if the location is not feasible or desirable.”
Good schools can be found in every region and in every type, including private non-profit, private-for-profit and state institution categories, Cramer says, noting DesignIntelligence rankings incorporate a budget-friendly $-sign system that rates schools as $, $$ or $$$, with the most expensive schools rated $$$. U.S. News likewise offers "Best Values" school rankings; most school websites include detailed information about tuition, housing and other additional costs.
While finances, of course, play a role in your educational choices, Cramer encourages students to consider schools that may appear costly. Combine student talent with school endowments plus federal and school loans, grants and scholarships, and you may just find that Top 5 school on the opposite coast is as affordable as (or at least not that much more expensive than) good old State. “It may be possible to go to one of the most expensive schools for the least amount of money,” Cramer says.
You've looked at the rankings, and your research has narrowed things down to a list of schools that seem to fit your interior design aspirations: Time to turn off the computer and hit the road for campus visits. “Before determining whether even the highest-ranked institution is the right one, a visit to the school or college and an interview is very important,” says Long. “Tour the facilities, compare the costs, check out scholarships and interview currently enrolled students before making a selection. Students may also ask about job placement.”
The quality of the faculty and the facilities (including technology accessibility) can be evaluated first hand during a visit. Students should consider the mix of full-time faculty with professional practitioners (DesignIntelligence recommends a mix). “Design is becoming increasingly important in our culture, it's actually driving much of the economy,” Cramer says. “The schools are reaching out to practitioners and bringing them into classroom so that the case studies and the examples used are by and from the leading practitioners. There are many great schools in the country, and design will be a very strong career in the years ahead.”
While visiting interior design schools on the short list, students are likely to find a certain chemistry sparked at likely prospects. “It's especially valuable to get onto the campus, to sit in on a class, to talk to a faculty member,” Cramer says. “Where the chemistry exists, that's likely where the best education can be found for that student.”