Complete Guide to Online CAD Degrees

By OnlineU Staff | Updated March 18, 2020
Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Degree Levels: Master's, Certificate
Average Tuition: $21,717
Average Salary: $82,221

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 associate, bachelor's, master's, and certificate 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

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - CAD/Computer Aided Drafting Degrees

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School Accreditation Annual Tuition Recommend Rate
Columbus State University SACS COC $16,920 22% (9 reviews)
55 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
55 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Master of Science in Applied Computer Science - Modeling and Simulation (Thesis Option)
Missouri University of Science and Technology HLC $26,461 Add Review
124 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
124 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Graduate Certificate in CAD/CAM & Rapid Product Realization
New Mexico State University HLC $21,770 Add Review
76 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
76 Programs, 1 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Drafting and Graphics Technology
Penn Foster Career School DEAC Not Provided 48% (151 reviews)
121 Programs, 2 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
121 Programs, 2 in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Drafting with AutoCAD Diploma
  • Drafting with AutoCAD®

Online CAD/Computer Aided Drafting Degree Overview & Career Information

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. 

Online Associate Degrees in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting

The online 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 online 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 online associate degree in drafting may 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.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting

With on-the-job experience gained as an entry-level drafter, an online bachelor’s in computer-aided drafting (CAD) may prepare you for senior- or management-level positions in architectural and interior design drafting, computer animation, mechanical engineering, and solid modeling. Some colleges and universities may refer to CAD as 3D modeling or animation. Higher education institutions offering CAD, or similar, degree programs typically require students to complete 120 academic credits to graduate, which take four years to complete when enrolled on a full-time basis.

Students transferring credits from two-year CAD programs usually transfer core curriculum and some CAD foundations courses to their new school, which cuts the time required to complete an online BA in CAD in half. In addition to general education courses, CAD students take courses in digital sculpting, 3D modeling, and animation. Students also are encouraged to take fine arts electives in graphic design, color theory, photography, and typography.

Aspiring online CAD students must have a high school diploma or GED. Associate degree holders must submit copies of their academic transcripts to their new schools to gain admission. International students must submit TOEFL scores as proof of English language proficiency. Arts colleges and universities typically offer CAD or similar programs, although few offer such programs online. Select colleges and universities with applied engineering departments also may offer online BA in CAD programs.

Online Master's Degrees in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting

An online master’s in computer-aided drafting (CAD), which is a computer science master’s degree, may prepare graduates for analyst, consultant, or leadership roles in companies that create real-life simulations for study such as the United States military and technology companies. Some online graduate degree holders may find positions as software engineers, while others may find employment as college instructors or university researchers. An online master’s in CAD, which also may be referred to as modeling or simulation master’s, usually requires 36 academic credits; full-time students can finish such programs in about two years.

Online CAD graduate students take foundations, or core, courses required for a computer science master’s degree such as programming languages, computer architecture, and database systems. Online CAD concentration courses include computer graphics, simulation, gaming, and human-computer interface development. Students who wish to earn an online master’s degree in CAD must demonstrate an understanding of computer science and computer programming fundamentals by their undergraduate grade point average. They must also submit GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and letters of recommendation. Public and private universities with computer science departments are most likely to offer online master’s in CAD, or similar, programs.

Online Certificates in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting

Online CAD certificate programs provide training using a particular CAD software suite. Although not all online certificate programs have admission requirements, it's helpful to have knowledge of computers and design before entering a certification program. Many online certificate students already have a degree in a related field and are obtaining a certificate to specialize their skills. The courses required to complete an online certificate program vary and can take anywhere from a few weeks to a several months to complete. Depending on the online 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 online 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.

The Importance of An Accredited Online CAD Degree

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 OnlineU's accreditation hub for more information.

CAD Certification Requirements

Once you have completed an online 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.


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