Complete Guide to an Online CAD Program
Computer aided drafting (CAD) professionals are responsible for using special software to turn technical plans, drawings, and designs into digital images. Online CAD programs are available at the certificate and associate degree levels. There are a number of high school courses that students can take to prepare them for online CAD programs, such as computer technology, drafting, graphic art, and math.
Many CAD programs are accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), including several online options at technical schools. Accreditation ensures a quality education and assures employers that graduates have specific skills. Those with accredited degrees may also want to consider getting a professional certification for career advancement. Read More
Featured List of Colleges & Universities for an Online CAD/Computer Aided Drafting Degree
Overview of Available Online CAD Degrees
Associate degrees in CAD include a liberal arts component that requires students to fulfill general education courses in addition to drafting courses. These programs are found in a variety of settings, including community and junior colleges, as well as at technical or vocational schools. The coursework for these programs varies somewhat, depending on the setting. Programs at junior colleges and community colleges typically emphasize theory more than those found at vocational and technical institutions. All online drafting programs detail various aspects of the software used for this profession and focus on techniques of sketching and fundamentals of design. Candidates looking to enroll in online associate degree programs in drafting will need to have a high school diploma or its equivalency.
Online certificates and diplomas are available for students who wish to either study general CAD principles or narrow their focus by studying select CAD concepts, such as 3-D modeling or advanced plotting. Certificate programs are also available for specific versions of CAD software.
The associate degree in computer-aided drafting is a career-oriented program that covers the skills for developing the technical plans used to create buildings, electronics, and other complex structures. These programs are commonly offered through community colleges, vocational-technical schools, and career colleges. Students generally complete 20 to 25 classes over the course of two years. Applicants to the CAD program need a high school diploma or GED certificate.
Coursework in the CAD associate program introduces students to the math, science, technology, and design skills necessary for adapting the designs used by architects and engineers into more detailed technical drawings. Foundational courses in topics such as algebra, physics, and metallurgy provide a background in the scientific principles that determine safe building practices. Classes in 2-D applications, AutoCAD, and 3-D CAD teach students to utilize common industry software to create basic designs. Other courses in topics like electronics and electrical drawings, residential construction, and commercial construction cover the skills for more specialized types of drafting.
Students should think about what sort of career they want to pursue before deciding which type of drafting degree program is best for them. An associate degree in drafting will enable students to gain entry-level work converting architectural and other technical plans into detailed drawings. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, many employers prefer to hire drafters with postsecondary training, such as an associate degree. Students interested in obtaining more advanced careers or who wish to work in other fields related to drafting, such as engineering and architecture, should consider earning a bachelor’s degree.
CAD certificate programs provide training using a particular CAD software suite. Although not all certificate programs have admission requirements, it's helpful to have knowledge of computers and design before entering a certification program. Many certificate students already have a degree in a related field and are obtaining a certificate to specialize their skills. The courses required to complete a certificate program vary and can take anywhere from a few weeks to a several months to complete. Depending on the program, students will take between 10 and 30 credits.
Mastery of CAD is helpful in many industries, and some specialized versions of CAD offer their own certificates. Architectural CAD and AutoCAD are popular certificate programs and contain courses including programming; menu commands; and beginner, intermediate, and expert use of the tool. The goal of these certificate programs is to teach students to create actual drawings with CAD so that when they enter the job market, they will be able to use it effectively. Students will gain experience using CAD software to create documents and simulate real-world projects.
Graduates of CAD certificate programs enter various careers that use online modeling and design software. Popular jobs include engineering, interior design, architecture, product design, and landscaping. These jobs will typically require additional formal education in a specific field in addition to the certificate.
Before enrolling in an online CAD program, it is recommended that students verify that the school offering the degree program has been accredited. Accreditation means that the school has been evaluated and approved by a recognized agency with high standards of academic excellence. While attending an accredited school isn't always required to land a job after receiving your degree, it does help ensure that your degree will be honored within professional or educational realms. Without accreditation, you may encounter difficulty when attempting to transfer your earned credits to another educational institution or applying for financial aid.
The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) accredits many schools offering CAD degree programs and is recognized by the US Department of Education as an authoritative accrediting agency in the United States. Please visit Guide to Online Schools' accreditation hub for more information.
Once you have completed a degree program and have a significant amount of experience using CAD, becoming certified is a great way to show potential employers or graduate schools that you're competent. Certification is obtained from a collaboration between Autodesk, the creator of AutoCAD, and Certiport testing centers. Depending on your experience level and career path, you may choose from two main levels of certification: Autodesk Certified User or Autodesk Certified Professional. Additional certifications are also available for Autodesk instructors or Autodesk professionals with specialized experience in road and highway design or mold design.
Certification at the "User" level is designed for those who wish to demonstrate a basic understanding of CAD, such as students or recent graduates. User-level testing examines creating drawings, altering objects, working with layouts, and plotting. Professional-level certification is designed for applicants with at least 400 hours of CAD experience who may be seeking career advancement. The "Professional" exam builds upon the concepts introduced at the Certified User level and also tests applicants on dimensioning, manipulating objects, and working with reusable content. Exam training guides are available through Autodesk.
Autodesk certification exams are offered at satellite testing centers across the United States. In order to remain current, Autodesk certification must be renewed each year that an updated version is released.
- Drafters. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed September 16, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/drafters.htm.
- Training and Certification. Autodesk. Accessed September 17, 2014. http://www.autodesk.com/certification.
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