Interior Design Diploma vs Degree: What's the Big Difference?

Interested in becoming an interior designer? You've probably noticed that there are plenty of training programs to choose from, at both the college and university level.

So how do you know which option is best for you? What's the difference between an interior design diploma and an interior design degree?

Both types of programs cover design concepts, technical skills, and industry software. Both typically offer internship opportunities to help students get real-world experience as part of their training.

But degree programs spend a lot more time on design theory while diploma programs are built around practical design skills. Degree programs are longer and more in-depth; diploma programs are shorter and more streamlined.

In this post, we help you understand the big difference between interior design diplomas and degrees so you can decide which one is right for you.


Interior design diploma programs

Interior design training at the college level typically takes two or three years, though some programs are even shorter. For instance, the interior design program at Herzing College can be completed in just 18 months.

Diploma programs emphasize hands-on design projects and the practical skills you need to get hired. It's a "no frills" approach that skips over theory and gets straight to designing.

You learn the exact skills employers look for when hiring entry-level designers, such as:

☑️ How to create drawings using AutoCAD software

☑️ How to create 3D models using SketchUp

☑️ How to manipulate images in Adobe Photoshop

☑️ The basic principles of colour theory

☑️ Effective space planning techniques

☑️ How to choose materials, furnishings, and light fixtures

☑️ Techniques for designing kitchens and bathrooms

☑️ An understanding of building codes and safety in interior design

Herzing graduate Sergkei Theocaris says the focus on practical skills was his favourite part of the training.

"Everything we learned was highly relevant to working as an interior designer. There wasn't too much reading. It was more about hands-on training and doing real designs, which was perfect for me."


interior design degree programs

Degree programs in interior design are longer than diplomas, generally lasting three to four years.

They cover much of the same material as diploma programs, but they delve deeper into the theory and history of design. They also include more general education and liberal arts courses, such as art, photography, writing, and marketing.

Here's a sample of the types of additional courses included in interior design degree programs:

☑️ History of interior design

☑️ History of art and architecture

☑️ Philosophy of art

☑️ Psychology of design

☑️ Project management

☑️ Environmental design

Are you looking for a broader education in design? Are you interested in academic reading, writing, and research?

These are key questions to consider when choosing between a diploma and degree in interior design.


what do employers look for in new interior designers?

Another key factor to consider is what employers look for in new hires.

Entry-level roles in interior design tend to focus on drafting. In most cases, a senior designer creates the concepts and hands them off to a junior person to develop the actual drawings using specialized software.

Many job postings for junior interior designers call for candidates who:

☑️ Have a university degree or college diploma

☑️ Can take direction from a lead designer and produce clear working drawings

☑️ Are proficient with AutoCAD, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, and 3D modelling software

☑️ Understand construction specifications and building codes

These are the skills you need to land your first job. Whatever program you choose, it needs to provide a solid foundation in these areas.

Interior design instructor Matthew Salmaso agrees. He says people who have a solid grasp of space planning, design software, and building codes tend to have the most success landing jobs.

"In terms of getting hired, the most important skills students learn are space planning, learning how to read an architectural document, understanding the National Building Code, and using software to create and present a design from scratch."


how to choose between an interior design diploma and degree

Choosing an interior design course really comes down to two main things:

1. How much time and money you want to invest in your training.

2. How broad you want your education to be.

Here's a quick recap of points to consider.

Interior design degree programs go deeper into design history and theory.

This lets you explore design concepts more fully. And that knowledge can be helpful as you move into intermediate and senior positions in the field.

But having a degree won't necessarily give you a big advantage when it comes to landing your first job.

Interior design diploma programs are shorter and focus more on the technical skills you need to get hired. You'll skip over theory and history, and start learning design software right from day one.

One isn't better than the other. It all comes down your priorities and goals. What matters most to  you?


Explore the interior design diploma at herzing college

Want to take a closer look at an interior design diploma program?

Explore Herzing's accelerated interior sesign training, which takes just 18 months from start to finish. The program includes an eight-week internship at a local design company.

Click below to get details on courses, careers, and who hires our graduates. You can also chat live with an admissions advisor. We're here to help!

Explore Herzing's Interior Design Program


hard hat icon



Most Read