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.
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.
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.
Online CAD Program Rankings
|1||West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 52%||
A member of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, West Kentucky Community and Technical College is a public college offering a variety of certificates and two-year associate degrees. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), West Kentucky provides a host of affordable online degrees at an in-state tuition rate for all distance students. For individuals interested in drafting programs, WKCTC offers a fully online Computer Aided Drafting and Design degree. Students learn drafting and design theory, execute drafting projects during labs, and actively explore 3D printing and prototyping. Graduates of the online program can either earn a certificate or complete extra general education classes for an associate degree in Applied Science. Students can attend the required courses online during WKCTC's 16-week rotating semesters.
|2||Holmes Community College Goodman, MS||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 52%||
Though their main campus is located in Goodman, Mississippi, Holmes Community College has a number of satellite campuses throughout the state. Graduates of its Drafting and Design Technology program, are prepared for careers assisting architects, contractors, engineers, and professionals in related fields. Students enrolled in the program can choose to earn a technical certificate, advanced technical certificate, or an associate of Applied Science Degree in Drafting and Design -- the associate degree typically takes four semesters to complete. HCC also supports students who want to continue their studies by offering credit transfers to four-year institutions after earning their associate degree. As part of the Mississippi Virtual Community College (MVCC), HCC provides online courses through its eLearning platform, Canvas. MVCC connects the state's 14 community college districts, so they can share virtual resources to make online learning more accessible for students while providing campus support close to home.
|3||Hazard Community and Technical College Hazard, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 34%||
Part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), Hazard Community and Technical College prepares students in eastern Kentucky to enter the workforce with an array of online degrees. Dedicated to helping learners in search of flexible and accommodating curriculum, more than half of HCTC's student body is made up of part-time students. Students in HCTC's Computer Aided Drafting & Design diploma program learn vital drafting skills in 2D and 3D, lettering, and projection. Students may earn a two-year associate degree, or opt for HCTC's certificate options in drafting, which include basic and computer assisted drafting.
HCTC is a part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). KCTCS colleges provide students the opportunity to study online by sharing resources and teaching duties. Students at HCTC can complete the entire Associate's degree online, though they may be subject to in-person proctored exams.
|4||Somerset Community College Somerset, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 35%||
With six campus locations throughout Kentucky, Somerset Community College offers a variety of degree options which include night and weekend classes as well as fully online courses. In the 2014/15 academic year, SCC awarded more than 2,000 certificates and diplomas in over 60 areas of study.
SCC students can pursue a certificate or an associate degree through the Computer Aided Drafting and Design program. The certificate program teaches students the basics of drafting, while the two-year associate degree program imparts more advanced skills and knowledge of technical processes, preparing students for a rewarding career in drafting. As part of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS), area students interested in online drafting programs can register through SCC and gain access to online courses in drafting in the KCTCS network.
|5||Hodges University Naples, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 47%||
Located in Naples, Florida, Hodges University offers 34 online degree programs for students interested in pursuing a education at a distance. Hodges offers flexible course schedules for many of its programs and also runs a popular English as a Second Language (ESL) program to aid its large Spanish-speaking student population.
Hodges' associate degree in Digital Design and Graphics introduces students to photography, 2D and 3D animation, video game production, and computer drafting for engineering and architecture. Students can choose between a number of electives if they're interested in pursuing a specialized route in design. For students interested in online drafting degree programs, Hodges' utilizes the UPOWER self-paced learning platform. UPOWER allows students can study on their own schedules and at their own pace. The distance learning program also gives students the option to receive academic credit for prior life experiences, such as knowledge gained through employment or military service.
|6||State Fair Community College Sedalia, MO||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 38%||
With campuses across central Missouri, State Fair Community College provides accessible education to a diverse student body. More than a third of SFCC's students are enrolled in the school's 260 online course offerings. SFCC's Engineering Design Technology program grants graduating students an associate in Applied Sciences degree, serving as a gateway to a variety of STEM careers.
Students in the program will get a foundational education in architectural and mechanical design and will gain the skills needed to draft technical drawings and plans. While the program is not fully a distance degree, some of the courses required to earn a drafting degree at SFCC can be taken online, while others are a hybrid, which combine online coursework with on-campus class requirements. Students can choose to earn a skills certificate in architectural or mechanical design or a professional certificate in engineering design technology, instead of completing the two-year associate degree.
|7||Owensboro Community and Technical College Owensboro, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 44%||
With its main campus in Owensboro, Kentucky, Owensboro Community and Technical College serves students from Kentucky counties Daviess, Ohio, Hancock, and McClean. With a network of educators and distance courses, students from other surrounding areas and states are able to enroll at OCTC and complete a degree thanks to the school's robust Advanced Technology Center.
OCTC students can enroll in a variety of computer assisted design programs that can be completed fully online. Students may opt to earn a certificate that equips them with the skills to become a computer assisted drafter, detailer, or drafter assistant, or they may pursue a diploma through the two-year program in Computer Aided Drafting and Design. OCTC is able to offer its students access to online drafting courses through its membership in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.
|8||Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College Cumberland, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 32%||
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College's original campus in Cumberland, Kentucky, first opened in 1960; today, the school offers over 50 programs to more than 5,000 enrolled students. Southeast offers several online drafting degree program options in partnership with the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. Southeast's students can choose from a drafting certificate or diploma option. Graduates of the school's drafting programs will learn to create freehand technical sketches as well as use advanced 3D technology to design computer assisted drawings. Graduates may go on to pursue careers in architecture or as members of an engineering team. SKCTC also provides a transfer option for graduates of their CAD programs in order to receive a four-year degree in a related field.
|9||Central Georgia Technical College Warner Robins, GA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 31%||
Central Georgia Technical College has a total of 11 campuses in counties throughout the state, where the school provides affordable education and job skills training to approximately 9,000 students. For students interested in online drafting programs, CGTC's Drafting Technology associate of Applied Science program equips students with the skills and technical knowledge needed to pursue careers as technical drafters or computer-aided design (CAD) operators. The program covers the fundamentals of drafting for both the engineering and architecture fields, through courses like 3D Mechanical Modeling and Residential Drawing. The drafting program at CGTC opens enrollment for new students each Fall semester. CGTC offers the program on campus as well as online, and the school supports its distance students by offering free, 24/7 online tutoring.
|10||Minnesota State College Southeast Winona, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 40%||
Minnesota State College Southeast, a technical and community college, is located in Red Wing, Minnesota. The school provides an intimate learning atmosphere, with a small average student-to-instructor ratio of 15:1. Students looking for a well-rounded education within online drafting degree programs may be interested in MSC Southeast's Computer Aided Design and Drafting Technologies. As an associate in Applied Sciences (AAS) program, students must fulfill general education requirements -- such as humanities and social science courses -- in addition to their drafting program coursework in order to complete their degree. Many of the program's courses focus exclusively on CAD (Computer Aided Design) skills, including a course on working with the AutoCAD program, which is widely used in the drafting profession. The drafting program is offered fully online, providing a flexible and affordable alternative to distance students. In addition to the AAS degree, MSC Southeast also offers certificates in basic drafting and computer aided drafting technologies.
|11||Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Elizabethtown, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 33%||
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College offers a fully online certificate and diploma program in drafting through membership in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS). Students may also choose to pursue ECTC's unique associate's degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design, a hybrid program where some courses are offered online with supplemental campus obligations. Students access courses through the Blackboard system and have full access to the Kentucky Virtual Library. This degree program prepares students for careers as mechanical or design drafters. For students interested in continuing on to earn a four-year degree, ECTC recommends that its graduating students transfer to Western Kentucky University to complete their CAD bachelor's degree through distance courses.
|12||Bluegrass Community and Technical College Lexington, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 33%||
With its main campus located in Lexington, Kentucky, Bluegrass Community and Technical College is one of the largest community and technical colleges offering two-year degrees in the state. The school offers over 40 areas study at six campuses throughout central Kentucky, as well as a variety of online program options.
Some of the courses required for BCTC's signature Computer Aided Drafting and Design associate in Applied Science program are offered online, but the program has campus requirements, making it a hybrid degree. Students looking for fully online drafting degree programs can pursue such through BCTC's offerings thanks to membership in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. These drafting certificate and diploma programs are offered fully online. In the diploma program, students will complete both general education and drafting-specific course requirements, so that they'll graduate equipped with critical thinking and communication skills as well as advanced technical drafting and design skills in preparation for a career as a technical specialist.
|13||Big Sandy Community and Technical College Prestonsburg, KY||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 25%||
With four campuses located in Kentucky, Big Sandy Community and Technical College serves more than 4,700 students while offering 25 academic and technical programs. Through its partnership with the Kentucky Virtual Campus, BSCTC make distance learning possible for students in search of education flexibility. BSCTC's Computer-Aided Drafting and Design Program prepares students for careers working in engineering or architecture firms, construction companies, and manufacturing industries. The program offers some courses online, with several campus components, and typically takes four semesters to complete. Students can explore more drafting certificate and diploma programs available online through the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, of which BSCTC is a member. Students who study through the KCTCS online portal benefit from both the support of a local college like BSCTC and the online resources provided by all member colleges.
|14||Ridgewater College Willmar, MN||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
With two campuses in Minnesota, Ridgewater College has an impressive job placement rate for graduates and offers more than 100 degree and career training programs. Ridgewater's Computer Aided Drafting and Design degree is offered fully via distance education, making it a top choice for students in search of online drafting degree programs. This unique associate in Applied Sciences degree program is closely aligned with Ridgewater's welding program, so students are introduced to the relationship between drafting, robotic welding, and programming. Ridgewater also offers a special interdisciplinary drafting course about automated systems and machine tool trades. These interactive, interdisciplinary courses are only offered at certain Ridgewater campuses, and are not available online due to hands-on campus requirements. Students with more flexibility can design hybrid class schedules that include courses taken both online and on campus, so they can take advantage of Ridgewater's unique program offerings.
|15||Thomas Nelson Community College Hampton, VA||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 32%||
Thomas Nelson Community College provides a plethora of two-year degree programs and continuing education opportunities. A sizable number of TNCC's students earn their associate degree at the college in preparation for transferring to a four-year institution, which is made possible by TNCC's transfer agreements with 30 Virginia colleges and universities.
At TNCC, students interested in online drafting degree programs can earn an associate degree in Computer Aided Drafting and Design Technology. Throughout the course of the program, students will gain hands-on experience with drafting, prototyping, and modeling, preparing them for careers working with engineers and architects, or for advanced study at another institution. TNCC's drafting program has a strong focus on cutting-edge drafting technologies, including programs like AutoCAD, CREO, and SiemensNX. Some of the program's courses can be taken online, though students in search of distance-only curriculum will not have access to some of TNCC's on-campus tools and amenities, such as 3D printers.
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 Design||$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.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Computer Aided Drafting Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah, KY 2 Holmes Community College Goodman, MS 3 Hazard Community and Technical College Hazard, KY 4 Somerset Community College Somerset, KY 5 Hodges University Naples, FL 6 State Fair Community College Sedalia, MO 7 Owensboro Community and Technical College Owensboro, KY 8 Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College Cumberland, KY 9 Central Georgia Technical College Warner Robins, GA 10 Minnesota State College Southeast Winona, MN 11 Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Elizabethtown, KY 12 Bluegrass Community and Technical College Lexington, KY 13 Big Sandy Community and Technical College Prestonsburg, KY 14 Ridgewater College Willmar, MN 15 Thomas Nelson Community College Hampton, VA
- Best Online Computer Aided Drafting Programs of 2016
Rank School Location 1 West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah, KY 2 Tennessee College of Applied Technology Memphis, TN 3 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Shelbyville Shelbyville, TN 4 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Crump Crump, TN 5 Owensboro Community and Technical College Owensboro, KY 6 Hazard Community and Technical College Hazard, KY 7 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Newbern Newbern, TN 8 Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College Cumberland, KY 9 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Nashville Nashville, TN 10 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Jackson Jackson, TN 11 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Crossville, TN Crossville, TN 12 Bluegrass Community and Technical College Lexington, KY 13 Big Sandy Community and Technical College Prestonburg, KY 14 Elizabethtown Community and Technical College Elizabethtown, KY 15 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Dickson Dickson, TN 16 Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Murfreesboro Murfreesboro, TN 17 Somerset Community College Somerset, KY 18 Minnesota State College - Southeast Technical Winona, MN 19 Thomas Nelson Community College Hampton, VA 20 Central Alabama Community College Alexander City, AL