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Best Online CAD Certificate Programs

By Michael McCarthy | Updated 9/26/2022
Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Average Tuition: $25,280
Alumni Salary: $34,340

Computer aided drafting (CAD) professionals are responsible for using special software to turn technical plans, drawings, and designs into digital images. Online CAD certificates are available at the undergraduate and graduate 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.

Find an Online Degree:
Full List Accreditation Annual Tuition Recommend Rate
Full List (29)
Penn Foster Career School DEAC Not Provided 46% (158 reviews)
121 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
121 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Drafting with AutoCAD Diploma
  • Drafting with AutoCAD®
Maysville Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 100% (1 reviews)
41 Programs, 3 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
41 Programs, 3 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting & Design
Wiregrass Georgia Technical College SACS COC $5,552 Add Review
35 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
35 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Technical Certificate of Credit in Engineering Drafter's ...
  • Technical Certificate of Credit in Engineering Technology...
Boston Architectural College NECHE $21,924 100% (2 reviews)
15 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
15 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Digital Design and Visualization Certificate - Built Envi...
Brigham Young University - Idaho NWCCU $4,208 100% (8 reviews)
44 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
44 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Design and Drafting
Century College HLC $5,578 Add Review
24 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
24 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Kitchen and Bath Design
Columbus State Community College HLC $9,540 100% (3 reviews)
59 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
59 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in 3D Visualization
Faris Technical Institute COE $11,205 Add Review
4 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
4 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting (CAD)
Hodges University SACS COC $14,300 67% (3 reviews)
57 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
57 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in AutoCAD Drafting
Missouri University of Science and Technology HLC $27,484 Add Review
124 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
124 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Graduate Certificate in CAD/CAM & Rapid Product Realization
Nash Community College SACS COC $8,776 Add Review
47 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
47 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Architectural Technology
New Mexico State University HLC $23,076 Add Review
98 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
98 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Drafting and Graphics Technology
Randolph Community College SACS COC $8,133 Add Review
62 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
62 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Diploma in Computer-Integrated Machining
Ridgewater College HLC $5,939 Add Review
25 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
25 Programs, 2 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design Technician
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design
Santa Monica College WASC ACCJC $8,840 Add Review
50 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
50 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Digital Production and Design (Department)
Somerset Community College SACS COC $14,808 100% (1 reviews)
59 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
59 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design
Stark State College HLC $7,286 0% (1 reviews)
49 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
49 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Career Enhancement Certificate in Civil/Surveying Drafting
Terra State Community College HLC $9,452 Add Review
4 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
4 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in CAD
Ashland Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
31 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
31 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting & Design
Big Sandy Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
128 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
128 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Compu...
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Detailer
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Draft...
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting & Design
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
51 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
51 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design
Hazard Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
34 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
34 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design
Jefferson Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,888 Add Review
101 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
101 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Compu...
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Detailer
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design - Draft...
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design
Minnesota State College Southeast HLC $5,686 Add Review
28 Programs, 3 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
28 Programs, 3 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Basic Drafting Technologies
  • Certificate in Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drafting Techn...
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drafting Technologies
Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
159 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
159 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Computer Aided Drafting & Design Certificate - Computer A...
  • Computer Aided Drafting & Design Certificate - Detailer
  • Computer Aided Drafting & Design Certificate - Drafter As...
  • Computer Aided Drafting & Design Diploma
Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
28 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
28 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting & Design
Tennessee College of Applied Technology - Murfreesboro COE $3,477 Add Review
9 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
9 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Detail Drafter
  • Certificate in Drafting and CAD Technology
  • Diploma in Architectural Drafter
  • Diploma in Mechanical Drafter
Thomas Nelson Community College SACS COC $10,809 Add Review
22 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
22 Programs, 1 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Career Studies Certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and...
West Kentucky Community and Technical College SACS COC $14,808 Add Review
41 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting (view all)
41 Programs, 4 Certificate in CAD/Computer Aided Drafting
  • Certificate in Computer Assisted Drafter
  • Certificate in Detailer
  • Certificate in Drafter Assistant
  • Diploma in Computer Aided Drafting and Design

What Are Online CAD Certificate Programs?

Instructors design CAD certificates to teach the technical skills and knowledge needed to help design and visualize engineering and architecture projects. As a CAD student, you'll receive lessons on one or more specialty software packages, three-dimensional design, and parametric modeling. Programs may be 18-30 credit hours long and typically last two terms, which can take 9-12 months.

There are two main types of CAD programs:

1

Undergraduate certificates for candidates with high school diplomas who want to become full-time drafters

2

Graduate certificates for professionals, such as architects, engineers, and interior designers, who want to add CAD skills to their toolkit

As a computer-based discipline, CAD translates well to online learning. Most courses are asynchronous, without set class times. You sign in to a learning management system at your convenience to view recorded lectures, complete CAD software assignments, and take tests.

Admission Requirements

Vocational or trade schools and community colleges usually offer undergraduate CAD certificates. These institutions often have open admissions that require little more than official high school or GED transcripts. You may need to take a technology or mathematics aptitude test, and the school might ask for letters of recommendation from teachers.

Graduate certificates are more common at four-year colleges or universities, which typically have stricter admission standards. However, the requirements for graduate certificates are lower than for master's degrees or doctoral programs. You'll submit official bachelor's degree transcripts showing your undergraduate studies in a relevant field. Beyond this, you may need letters of recommendation and a personal statement, but this is at the discretion of the program administrators.

For more information on college admission requirements, check out our Guide to Applying to Online College or University.

Are Online CAD Certificate Programs Worth It?

A CAD certificate's worth differs depending on your educational and work experience. An undergraduate certificate might not be worth the investment, especially given the decline of drafting as a separate profession. But professionals who use drafting in their work are perfectly placed to learn these skills in a graduate certificate program and make themselves more marketable to employers.

Potential Benefits

Drafting pays higher than most careers that call for a certificate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employees with some college but no degree earn median yearly salaries of $46,748. But professional CAD-trained drafters make median wages of $60,290 per year.

Employees with bachelor's degrees might improve their value with a CAD credential. The need for computer designs isn't declining at engineering, architecture, and other types of firms — only the drafting occupation. Professionals in those fields may help fill CAD knowledge gaps as employers cut drafter positions.

Potential Drawbacks

Pure drafting jobs are in decline. The BLS projects a 3% decrease in positions for drafters in the 2021-2031 period as employers add CAD duties to engineers' and architects' workloads.

If you have a college degree, your time may be better spent earning a master's degree than a certificate. We examined architecture and engineering job data from the analytics company, Lightcast, and found that employers offer an average of $12,000 more per year to master's graduates than they do to bachelor's graduates.

CAD Certificate Curriculum

CAD certificate programs often feature a similar curriculum. As a student, you'll typically start with a course on computer drafting fundamentals alongside coursework on mathematics, modeling, and computer rendering and animation. Your second term may contain more specialized classes on drafting for particular professions, such as residential architecture or civil engineering.

Your software training may differ by program, but AutoCAD is one of the most commonly taught suites. Some programs may help meet the requirements for an AutoCAD certification — see the CAD Certification section for more details.

How To Choose an Online CAD Program

A number of factors matter when selecting a CAD certificate program. No matter which route you take, you might consider a program's accreditation, cost, and learning format to help inform your decision. You can decide which of these factors matter most to you.

Accreditation

It's important to enroll in an accredited school because this is the best indication of a school's instructional and curricular quality. Institutional accreditation is complex. For example, your school may have stamps of approval from more than one accreditor, but you should ensure that it's passed at least one organization's review in recent years.

Programmatic accreditation isn't a factor for certificate students because no organization accredits CAD certificate programs. Instead, the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering accredits CAD programs at the associate degree level.

Cost

Our research indicates that trade school certificates can average between $15,000 and $26,000 in total, but there are also more affordable options on our rankings list. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the following amounts represent the latest average cost of tuition and fees at various types of colleges:

Community colleges average $9,700 per year.

Four-year colleges can cost an annual average of anywhere from $9,400 for public schools to $37,600 for private nonprofit schools, depending on whether you live independently or with family.

Of course, tuition and fees can vary widely between institutions. One of the benefits of community colleges is that it offers the most favorable tuition rates to nearby residents because these schools rely on local property taxes for much of their funding. You'll probably pay a higher out-of-area rate for attending a distant community college remotely. Similarly, public colleges offer the best tuition rates to in-state residents.

Learning Format

Most distance learning programs feature asynchronous courses, but some may have synchronous components, such as occasional live lectures or live proctored exams. A school may also offer a hybrid program with a mix of online and on-campus coursework.

For more information about studying online, explore our Guide to Starting Your Online Education, where we cover the online learning format.

CAD Career Opportunities

Your career path will differ depending on whether you earn an undergraduate or graduate CAD certificate. Undergraduate certificate graduates might become drafters, but each of the other occupations requires a bachelor's diploma. Graduate certificate students are more likely to land one of these roles.

Architect

Annual Median Salary:  $80,180
Job Growth: 3% growth in 2021-2031

Architects design buildings, so they find CAD useful in modeling structural and remodeling plans. You need a bachelor's degree in architecture and a license to practice this role due to safety concerns about structural integrity. Government architects tend to earn the highest median wages. This field is growing but slower than the 5% U.S. average for all jobs combined.

Drafter

Annual Median Salary:  $60,290
Job Growth: 3% loss in 2021-2031

This role emerged to help save engineers, architects, and other professionals the time spent creating blueprints and other technical images. Today, drafters use advanced software to create 3D models of building spaces, construction projects, and civil infrastructure. They make higher wages than many careers that only require a certificate or associate degree, but the field is contracting.

Engineer

Annual Median Salary:  $82,640-$130,850, depending on type
Job Growth: Varies by type

There are many kinds of engineers, all of whom use their creativity and mathematical knowledge to design and maintain products, structures, or processes. They use CAD to visualize their designs, which can range from mechanical manufacturing spaces to highway bridges.

You must earn a bachelor's degree in engineering to work these jobs, usually in a specific discipline, such as aerospace or electrical engineering. Most varieties don't require licensure, though civil engineers do need state licenses to work on public infrastructure. Petroleum engineers earn the highest median pay at $130,850 per year, and chemical engineering is the fastest growing field, with 14% expansion in 2021-2031. However, most engineering fields are growing at or below the average rate.

Interior designer

Annual Median Salary:  $60,340
Job Growth: 1% growth in 2021-2031

Interior designers create and revamp interior spaces for clients' aesthetic and functionality needs. Three-dimensional CAD modeling helps them conceive of possibilities and pitch their ideas to clients.

You typically need a bachelor's degree to become an interior designer, with many employers preferring degrees with programmatic accreditation. Earning an accredited degree may also help secure a license in states where this is required. The BLS doesn't expect this occupation to grow much through 2031 due to limited new construction.

How Can You Advance Your CAD Career?

Drafters often pursue certification for a potential boost to both salary and employability. They can also seek further education. An associate degree in CAD might be worthwhile if all of your certificate credits transfer because then you won't need to repeat CAD classes you've already taken. Otherwise, you might pursue a related subject, such as engineering technology, or consider bachelor's degree options in engineering, architecture, or interior design.

Professionals who already have a college education are already advancing their careers by seeking CAD credentials. But they can also earn certifications or seek higher degrees in their field.

CAD Certification

The software company, Autodesk, offers certifications so users can demonstrate their knowledge of the firm's software suites, particularly AutoCAD, to employers. These credentials may attest to one of three levels of expertise: associate, professional, or expert.

You can choose the certification that's most useful to your career, whether that's the Certified Professional in AutoCAD for Design and Drafting, Certified Associate in CAD for Mechanical Design, or something else.

How Do You Become CAD-Certified?

The details vary for individual certifications, but for each, you'll need to do the following:

  • Gain experience with the relevant software — Autodesk recommends at least 150 hours for associate certifications and 400-1,200 hours for professional or expert certifications.
  • Study for the exam using a test-preparation book and Autodesk's free online modules (linked to from each certification page).
  • Pay the exam fee and pass the online test.

Most Autodesk certifications last for three years. You need to retest in order to renew your credential.

How Long Does It Take To Get Certified in CAD?

You might earn an associate certification in approximately 12 months: about nine months to earn your CAD certificate and then another three to study, gain experience, and pass the online exam. Technically, you can be certified without any experience as soon as you pay for and pass the exam, but it's better to earn the recommended hours of software experience — during a certificate program, personal time, or on the job — and study to achieve the best results.

How Much Does CAD Certification Cost?

Autodesk charges $150-250, depending on the certification. Investing in a study guide might set you back another $30-40, unless you get one from your local library.

FAQs About CAD Certificate Programs

What Is a CAD Certificate?


A CAD certificate is an educational credential, typically lasting 9-12 months, that trains students to use computer-aided drafting software. Professional drafters use these programs to help architects, engineers, and other types of designers create technical drawings that are useful in their work. The engineers and architects may also become proficient in CAD suites and use them without a drafter's help.

Which Is the Best Certificate for AutoCAD?


It depends on your career goals, but many CAD experts get the Certified Professional in AutoCAD for Design and Drafting qualification first. After this, they might earn further certifications that test advanced tools in AutoCAD.

How Long Does It Take To Get a CAD Certificate?


Most CAD certificate programs last 9-12 months, or two academic terms if you take it at a community college.

Are CAD Jobs in Demand?


Pure drafting jobs are actually in decline. The BLS projects a 3% job loss in the 2021-2031 period as employers expect more architects, engineers, and designers to do their own CAD visualizing. Still, regular turnover should lead to about 19,000 annual job openings in that period.

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