Many distance learning computer-aided design (CAD) and drafting programs culminate in a diploma or certificate. However, there are a few options out there for students looking to complete the additional general education and technical coursework required for a CAD associate degree. There are fully online programs in AutoCAD training, though they are mainly designed to prepare students for certification and don't result in a degree.
Prospective students might want to note that programs available entirely online are relatively uncommon; hybrid programs offering a combination of on-campus and online drafting coursework may be more readily available.
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Associate Degree in CAD Drafting
CAD drafting associate degree programs teach students how to use software packages - such as Solidworks, AutoCAD and Inventor - to turn blueprints and product specifications into technical drawings and design plans. Some schools recommend that applicants to these CAD drafting programs have completed high school technical education coursework in an area like construction or welding. Applicants will also need to be proficient in math and possess basic computer skills.
Program Information and Requirements
An associate degree program takes around two years to complete, depending on a student's enrollment status. Schools offering online CAD drafting programs might also give students the option of combining distance education with campus-based instruction during the day and evening. Students enrolled in hybrid programs, however, will need to come to campus to complete much of their general education and upper-level drafting coursework.
To take online courses, students will need a high-speed Internet connection and a computer that meets the hardware and software specifications needed to access a school's course management system. CAD students will also want to check with their school to see if any special software is required to complete class assignments or projects.
List of Common CAD Courses
CAD drafting associate degree programs include general education courses in English, communications and math, in addition to humanities electives. The remaining requirements consist of technical core courses and electives that allow students to focus on such areas as manufacturing or engineering technology. Common courses are outlined below:
Students in this course learn how to interpret the line types, symbols and dimensions found in engineering drawings. They also get exposure to both 2-dimensional view projections and auxiliary views.
This class introduces students to industry-standard dimensioning and tolerancing standards outlined by the American National Standards Institute and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Topics of study include positional tolerances, datums, runouts and geometric controls.
Students learn how to use this CAD software to render both 2- and 3-dimensional drawings. They study basic commands as well as its advanced applications.
Career Information for Graduates
Graduates of CAD associate degree programs are prepared for careers as drafters. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job applicants with a 2-year drafting degree are preferred over those who've only earned a certificate or diploma.
According to the BLS, a 3% job decline was projected for drafters, overall, through the 2014-2024 decade. However, an individual's employment outlook could vary according to the type of drawings he or she prepares. Electrical and electronics drafters, for example, could see a 5% increase in employment opportunities over this 10-year period, while mechanical drafters were expected to experience a 7% decline in job openings.
Salaries can also vary by drafting specialty. As of May 2015, drafters earned an average salary of $55,820, per the BLS. Electrical and electronics drafters took home a slightly higher average annual wage of $62,890, while mechanical drafters earned an average of $56,610 per year. Architectural and civil drafters earned average salaries of $53,470.
Continuing Education Information
Continuing education options for drafters include 4-year degrees in drafting and design technology. They might also pursue bachelor's degrees in fields related to drafting, such as civil and construction engineering technology, mechanical engineering technology or industrial technology. However, these programs are typically available in a traditional on-campus format.
Online CAD programs that culminate in a degree or diploma are rare, though there are hybrid degree programs for students willing to complete some in-person components. Students seeking a fully online program may consider a short-term CAD certification prep program. While job prospects in the field of drafting are not as strong as other professions, there is some growth in the drafting subfields, like electrical and electronics drafting.