Drafting is a term for technical drawings and designs used in maps, architectural blueprints, product manuals and other materials used by other professionals or members of the public. The primary aim of drafting is to produce a visual representation of the way something is constructed or arranged. Historically, drafting projects primarily involved pencils and paper -- but today, the field largely relies on computer-aided design (CAD) software and tools. Professional drafters may also utilize geographic information systems (GIS), which map geographic areas by capturing and storing different data sets. Drafting is essential to a wide range of industries, including architecture, engineering, graphic design, marketing and geography.
What are the best computer aided drafting programs? Here are our Top 4:
- Hodges University - Naples, FL
- Ridgewater College - Willmar, MN
- West Kentucky Community and Technical College - Paducah, KY
- Minnesota State College Southeast - Winona, MN
Many aspiring drafters begin their career by earning a drafting associate degree. Drafting associate programs introduce students to the various tools, platforms and methods they will encounter in professional settings. A growing number of students are choosing to earn their associate degree in drafting online. Web-based students follow the same challenging curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to the same number of job opportunities after graduation. The asynchronous (or self-paced) format of many online drafting associate programs is also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other responsibilities that may interfere with campus-based learning.
Learn more about what you can do with an online associate degree in drafting program and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.
The Best Online Computer Aided Drafting Programs
|Naples, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 27%||
Hodges University began as International College in 1990, shifting to its current name in 2007. The university features locations in Fort Myers and Naples, Florida. With regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, Hodges offers associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate programs on campus and online, including an online drafting program.
The online digital design and graphics program offers a 14-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, allowing students individualized attention. The program features certification from the American Digital Design Association and garners the support of organizations, including the International Code Council, the American Society of Testing Materials, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Hodges allows students to transfer from other colleges or universities, applying the credits they earned toward their bachelor's degree at Hodges. Students who started an associate program at Hodges can seamlessly transfer those credits into the bachelor's program.
Students gain communication, research, and critical-thinking skills. Graduates pursue careers as graphic designers, newspaper or periodical designers, public relations specialists, video game designers, and graphic design specialists.
|Willmar, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 34%||
A technical community college with campuses in Willmar and Hutchinson, Minnesota, Ridgewater College was founded as part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System in 1996. Offering more than 100 educational programs, Ridgewater serves nearly 6,000 students. Ridgewater highlights up-to-date technology and small class sizes, offering innovative online options, including an online drafting program.
The computer-aided drafting and design program at Ridgewater College features a fully online format with start dates in the spring and fall. Students learn how to transform mechanical drafting ideas into feasible solutions and how to create 3D plans for production with industry software. Students also learn how to read blueprints, understand ASME standard practices, carry out advanced and basic drafting design, and review manufacturing processes. The curriculum allows students to explore various industry software, including AutoCAD, Creo, Inventor Professional, MasterCAM 3D machining software, Solidworks, and Advanced Solidworks.
Students learn from experienced instructors with state and student recognition for teaching impact and excellence. Instructors record interactive demos and lectures as well as class discussions from on-campus and online students. Most courses boast certification from Quality Matters, the federal benchmark for high-quality education. Drafting students participate in hands-on projects, collaborating with campus manufacturing programs. They also enjoy small class sizes, promoting personalized attention.
West Kentucky Community and Technical College
|Paducah, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
Located in Paducah, West Kentucky Community and Technical College is one of 16 open-admissions, two-year colleges in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Formed in 2003, the college was the result of a consolidation of West Kentucky Technical College and Paducah Community College. The college features several online programs, including an online drafting program.
In the computer-aided drafting and design program at WKCTC, students use 2D- and 3D-modeling along with conventional methods of graphic communication to solve design-related issues. Students develop skills in geometric construction, lettering, technical processes, discipline drawings and media, and orthographic projections.
The curriculum uses the latest rapid prototyping technology to create material objects from CAD solid models. The program prepares students to design 3D models using a variety of computer software programs. Progression in the program requires students to maintain a "C" grade or better in every technical and mathematics course.
Graduates find employment with engineering firms, architectural firms, government agencies, employment services, public utilities, and construction companies. They may work as drafting assistants, 3D modelers, and detailers.
Minnesota State College Southeast
|Winona, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 43%||
A public community and technical college, Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical hosts campuses in Winona and Red Wing. It is part of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, with its Red Wing campus boasting national recognition for its string instrument and brass repair programs. In 2016, the college became a community and technical college, offering associate of art degrees and technical programs, including an online drafting program.
The online computer-aided design drafting technologies associate of applied science requires students to complete at least three courses in liberal arts and sciences. Students must complete 16 general education credits and 44 technical credits. The 60-credit curriculum offers classes in print reading for CAD design, geometric tolerances, mechanisms, Solidworks, and AutoCAD.
Students learn how to complete industry standard assembly drawings, apply and define proper design materials, and calculate mating part conditions. Graduates pursue careers as plant designers, mechanical drafters, CAD technicians, and mechanical designers. All courses are taught using CAD 3D Parametric software.
Choosing a Program
WILL AN ONLINE DRAFTING ASSOCIATE PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?
Students who enroll in online associate in drafting degree programs will learn the fundamentals of sketching, technical illustration, computer-aided design and other key areas of their trade. The curriculum is designed to be cumulative, allowing students to gradually sharpen their skills and technical competencies over the course of the two-year degree plan. Specialized courses will also equip them with niche skills in areas like cartography, geo-mapping and graphic design.
WILL AN ONLINE DRAFTING ASSOCIATE PROGRAM WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?
Online associate in drafting programs offer a flexible alternative to traditional, classroom-based education. Students are able to access course lectures and readings, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors from the comfort of their home computer. Current technology also allows them to practice drafting skills using web-based tools and software programs that mirror industry techniques.
WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY DRAFTING ASSOCIATE DEGREE?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 200,000 professional drafters are currently employed in the United States; nearly half of them work in architectural and/or engineering. Niche occupations in this field include mechanical drafting, architectural/civil drafting, electrical drafting and cartography. Presently, most jobs in the industry are concentrated in computer-aided design.
WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE DRAFTING ASSOCIATE PROGRAMS?
Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online drafting associate degree programs in the United States. If you are considering an online drafting associate program, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific associate degree requirements and offerings.
What Else Can I Expect from an Online Associate in Drafting Program
|Timeline||18 months to 2 years|
|Program Costs||$6,000 to $20,000 in annual tuition|
|Popular Minors and Dual Areas of Study||Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Graphic Design, Industrial Arts, Mathematics, Art, Illustration, Interior Design, Architecture, Geography, Technical Writing|
|Accreditation||There is no programmatic accreditation for this major field of study at the undergraduate level. Students should defer to the regional/national accreditation of their four-year college or university.|
Employment Outlook for Associate in Drafting Graduates
The employment outlook for drafting professionals largely depends on their occupational specialties. The BLS notes that jobs for drafters are expected to decline in the coming years; between 2014 and 2024, this industry is expected to shrink by 6,200 jobs. However, certain areas of drafting and industrial design are projected to grow by a considerable margin. Cartographers and photogrammetrists, for example, are responsible for collecting geographic data and using their findings to create spatial maps; the BLS has predicted 29% growth for jobs in this industry between 2014 and 2024. The demand for GPS services and satellite-based maps is one of the primary drivers behind this rising sector.
Using data from U.S. News & World Report, the following table explores current unemployment rates for some of the most popular job titles associated with drafting.
|Occupation||Unemployment Rate (2016)|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
The average unemployment rate of all occupations listed on the table is 4.0%. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for all occupations currently sits at 4.9%.
Earning a Living
According to the BLS, drafters in the U.S. earn a median annual salary of $52,720 -- roughly 45.6% higher than the median salary for all occupations nationwide. However, the earning potential for drafting professionals will somewhat depend on their area of academic study. The table below looks at median annual earnings at two career benchmarks for graduates with associate degrees in drafting-related fields.
|Associate Degree Field of Study||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)|
|Drafting and Designd||$39,000||$58,400|
|Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Design||$39,400||$58,200|
|Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)||$37,400||$53,000|
As the table indicates, all five fields of study are linked to similar earnings at the entry-level and mid-career stages. Additionally, all five fields experience salary growth of at least 41% after 10 years on the job; drafting and design degree-holders enjoyed the highest rate of growth at 49.7%.
In addition to academic studies, specific job title will also determine the salary expectations for professional drafters. Other factors to consider include certification level, employer size and city/state of employment. The next table features 20-year salary growth rates for five common careers in drafting and technical illustration.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ Years)||Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years)||Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ Years)|
|Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drafter||$39,639||$43,339||$49,341||$50,759|
|Electrical/ Electronics Drafter||$39,600||$46,150||$50,562||$59,565|
All five occupations experience at least 26% salary growth over the course of a 20-year career. Electrical/electronics drafters saw the highest growth rate: a 50.1% increase in earnings between the entry-level and late-career stages. The second-highest growth rate went to mechanical drafters, whose salaries rise 47.7% after two decades in the workforce.
Career and Further Education Opportunities
Students who graduate with an associate degree in drafting will be qualified for dozens of entry-level roles, and those with specialized skills will enjoy additional opportunities. Four common career pathways for drafting associate degree recipients are outlined below.
Drafters: Most of today's drafters utilize CAD software to create spatial images and layouts used for building information modeling (BIM) systems and other three-dimensional platforms. Specializations in this field include architectural, civil, electrical/electronics and mechanical drafting. Certification for these professionals is available through the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA).
Industrial Designers: Industrial designers create sketches, computer-based models and prototypes of different products geared toward consumers; their projects may range from office supplies and machine parts to automobiles and home appliances. Roughly one-third of employed industrial designers work in manufacturing.
Cartographers and Photogrammetrists: Cartographers and photogrammetrists gather and evaluate data used to create maps and charts. These materials are then used for civil engineering projects, residential and commercial construction, emergency planning and other urban and regional planning initiatives.
Geographers: Geographers study specific areas of the planet -- both inhabited and undeveloped -- to learn about physical features, topography and natural resources. Their job entails a mix of satellite and computer imaging, graphing and charting, sample collection and interviews with members of the public.
|Occupation||Median Annual Salary|
|Cartographers and Photogrammetrists||$61,880|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to the drafting occupation are crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for professional drafters. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.
- American Design Drafting Association: Established in 1948, the ADDA offers professional certification for drafters that is valid for three years. The association also provides job listings and continuing education courses, sponsors drafting contests for official members and hosts an annual U.S. conference.
- American Society of Civil Engineers: The ASCE was founded in 1852, and today represents more than 150,000 civil engineers around the world. Members are eligible for up to five free webinars per year, as well as discounts on continuing ed courses, organizational publications and conference entrance fees.
- American Society of Mechanical Engineers: Originally founded in 1880 to address professional challenges related to steam boilers, the ASME today represents more than 150,000 mechanical engineers. The organization regularly sponsors engineering contests and competitions, and each year holds dozens of conferences around the world.
Financing Your Online Associate in Drafting
Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
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