Although uncommon, it is possible to find an online diploma or certificate in AutoCAD from a for-profit educational institution. Diploma programs provide an overview of the field to students with no educational background in drafting, while undergraduate certificate programs assume that students have a foundational knowledge in the field, so they cover more advanced topics. Students have the freedom to work at their own pace, but online AutoCAD diplomas can usually be completed in five months or less.
A more comprehensive educational option is an online Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Computer-Aided Drafting and Design, a field that relies heavily on the use of the AutoCAD computer-aided drafting software program.
In addition to online associate's degree programs, interested students can find hybrid programs that combine online and on-campus classes, many of which are offered on weekends or in the evenings in order to meet the needs of working students. In general, associate's degree programs in this field provide a broad overview of drafting and the technology used in the field, as well as liberal arts courses needed to meet general education requirements.
AutoCAD Diploma Program
The courses in an online AutoCAD diploma program provide instruction in technical drawing, applied math and industry software in order to prepare graduates for entry-level drafting jobs. Graduates may find work in organizations such as engineering firms, government agencies, automotive companies, construction firms, and patenting companies. Students can expect to study some of the following topics:
- Drafting terminology
- Size and shape description
- Basic drafting math
- Multiviews and Auxiliary views
- AutoCAD software
- Drafting applications
Certificate in AutoCAD
Online AutoCAD certificate programs from for-profit institutions generally build on diploma programs, offering more advanced courses in AutoCAD use. Some for-profit institutions also offer training programs that prepare students to take professional certification exams offered by third parties. Earning one of these designations may improve job prospects in the future.
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Associate's Degree in Computer-Aided Drafting and Design
In associate's degree programs in computer-aided drafting and design, students learn to use AutoCAD software for mechanical drafting. The technical drafting skills they develop may be applied in multiple industries, including manufacturing, architecture and engineering.
Coursework generally includes a mix of general education courses in the liberal arts and core courses in drafting. While students can generally choose their own general education courses within certain disciplines, it is important to note that some programs require all drafting students to take an introductory physics course. Some of the core drafting courses include:
- Geometric Tolerances and Dimensioning
- Blueprint Reading
- MasterCAM 3D Machining Software
- Manufacturing Processes
- Working Drawings for CAD Design
- CAD Drawing Using Free Software
- Design Project
Information and Requirements
The minimum admissions requirement for an online diploma, certificate or associate's degree in computer-aided drafting and design is a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Incoming students are also expected to have basic computer literacy. For some certificate programs, students may also need to be familiar with AutoCAD software.
Diploma and certificate programs are usually self-paced, so the total time to completion depends on the student's schedule, but it is possible to finish them within a few months.
In most cases, an associate's degree in this field takes two years or less to complete. Online course materials, such as video lectures, are available twenty-four hours a day, which offers flexibility to students with busy schedules, but in most programs, they must still meet certain assignment- and course-completion deadlines. Students may also be required to participate in class discussions, either though real-time streaming platforms or asynchronous communication options such as discussion boards and email.
Before enrolling in one of these programs, students must purchase either a Windows or Apple Macintosh laptop with a minimum Intel Core i5 processor, although core i7 is recommended. Windows laptops should be running either Windows 7 or Windows 8. Because CADD software runs primarily on Windows, Macintosh computer users must also install one of these operating systems on their computers, which requires a separate purchase. Additionally, students must have a headset with a microphone in order to participate in real-time class discussions.
Diploma, certificate and degree programs in this field are designed specifically to prepare students for entry-level work in the mechanical drafting field when they graduate. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of drafters is expected to decline by 3% between 2014 and 2024. The median annual salary for these professionals was $52,720 as of 2015.
After earning a diploma in AutoCAD, students can further their education in a more advanced certificate program, or they can enroll in an associate's degree program in the field. However, credits may not be able to be applied to the degree.
Although associate's degree programs in this field are usually career-focused, graduates may choose to enroll in bachelor's degree programs in a related subject, such as engineering or architecture. Depending on the school, they may be able to apply some of their general education and introductory course credits directly to one of these degrees.
Overall, online diploma, certificate and associate's degree programs in computer-aided drafting and design are ideal for students who want to master AutoCAD software and become drafters. Distance learning programs in this field allow for a greater degree of independent study than on-campus options.