Architectural Drafting Degrees: Diploma, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in an architectural drafting degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of certificates and associate degrees and potential careers.
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Study Architectural Drafting: Degrees at a Glance

Architectural drafters work primarily in the construction industry, creating rough or detailed 2-D and 3-D technical drawings and plans. As an architectural drafter, you may also analyze building codes, site requirements and other technical documents to determine their effects on architectural designs. You'll probably use some type of computer-assisted drafting (CAD) software program in your work.

Jobs for architectural drafters were expected to grow at a much slower-than-average rate (3%) from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Though an associate degree is still the standard requirement for an entry-level job, you may need a bachelor's degree in a field like architecture or engineering in order to be competitive.

Certificate/Diploma Associate Degree
Who Is this Program for? Individuals who want to gain focused training in either the basics of architectural drafting or in one particular aspect of the field, such as operating CAD programs Those who want a full degree program, with general education courses, along with training in architectural drafting
Common Career Paths (with median salary) CAD Drafter ($42,000 - this job more commonly requires an associate degree)* - Entry-level architectural drafter ($39,000)*
- CAD Drafter ($42,000)*
Time to Completion 1 year or less, full- or part-time, depending on the program Typically 2 years of full-time study
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED
- High school classes in math, drafting and computer literacy are recommended
- High school diploma or GED
- Admission process may include a skills evaluation
Online Availability Rare, may be a hybrid program with some on-campus labs Rare, may be a hybrid program

Source: *Salary.com, with HR reported data as of April 2012

Certificate or Diploma in Architectural Drafting

Students in an architectural drafting certificate program gain drafting skills that can prepare them for entry-level work in architectural and engineering firms, the construction industry or building and planning departments. Some programs focus on a particular aspect of drafting, such as residential design, or 3-D computer modeling programs, such as AutoCAD or Revit. Certificate programs typically take a year or less to complete.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Allows you to obtain more focused training in a specific technical area
  • Generally take less time than an associate degree program, though program length and scope varies
  • Drafters typically work full-time indoors in climate-controlled environments

Cons

  • A certificate by itself may not be enough for an entry-level job
  • Drafting, like other construction jobs, is dependent on the economy and employment can fluctuate
  • New, easier-to-use CAD programs may reduce demand for drafters

Courses and Requirements

The curriculum in a diploma or certificate program can vary depending on length and whether it's geared to a particular specialty. Some programs focus on architectural drawing and using different types of construction materials, while others concentrate on computer-assisted drafting techniques. Drafting programs include technical mathematics classes that cover topics in algebra, geometry and trigonometry. Knowledge of algebra in particular is helpful for computing the coordinates for the lines and angles needed when drawing models. Here are some additional topics you may find in a certificate program:

  • Architectural graphics
  • Blueprint reading
  • Construction methods
  • Technical drawing and illustration

Online Program Info

Architectural drafting certificate programs, though rare, are also available online, giving you the flexibility to take classes at your convenience. Some programs are taught completely online, and some are hybrid programs that require students to make occasional campus visits and work in lab settings, especially for CAD instruction. Online students should review their program's hardware and software requirements to make sure they're equipped for their classes. Some software programs that may be required include Autodesk, as well as Microsoft Excel, Power Point and Photo Editor. Some schools offer programs like Autodesk as free downloads to registered students.

Standing Out with This Degree

One way that you can stand out in the job market with your diploma or certificate is to get involved with the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA). Students can enhance their education by joining a student chapter of the ADDA. The purpose of the chapters is to help students stay informed about changing technology in the field of drafting and get the latest information on industry trends, salaries and educational requirements. Students can join an existing chapter or start one of their own.

You may also want to apply for ADDA certification. Although certification isn't required for employment, it demonstrates familiarity with national standards and practices and may give applicants added credibility. The certification exam is open to all, regardless of formal education or amount of experience. The test covers general drafting standards, object representation, geometric construction and analysis, but not CAD or similar software programs.

Degree Alternatives

Though architectural drafting doesn't require an advanced degree, you may find your employment opportunities are limited if you possess only a certificate in the field. However, if you're proficient in software programs like AutoCAD and understand GIS (Geographic Information Systems) technology, a career as a field survey or mapping technician may be within your reach.

Field survey and mapping technicians set up and operate equipment to measure distances and geographic features such as elevations, contours, angles and curves on the Earth's surface. They use the data they collect to create maps and charts for architectural and engineering firms, government agencies and utility companies.

According to the BLS, surveying technicians only need a high school diploma, but some postsecondary education in GIS technology is typically required for mapping technicians, and an associate or bachelor's degree in geomatics or a related field is useful. Certificate programs for field surveyors are also available.

The BLS reported that in 2011 surveying and mapping technicians made a median salary of about $39,000. Employment growth was expected to be about average (16%) from 2010-2020.

Associate Degree in Architectural Drafting

An associate degree program in architectural drafting is typically more extensive than a certificate program and takes longer to complete. An advantage of this program is that graduates can use it as a step towards a bachelor's degree. Associate degree programs include courses in the humanities, sciences and social sciences, making for a more well-rounded education. They may also offer more elective courses in drafting, such as commercial architectural design, materials science and green building trends and technology.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An associate degree is the standard minimum degree required for most entry-level drafting jobs
  • The program includes general education courses, which provide added skills for working with engineers and architects
  • You can continue your education at a 4-year institution and get a degree in architecture, mathematics or engineering

Cons

  • Architectural drafters often need a bachelor's degree in architecture, engineering or a related field to get jobs
  • Job growth is projected to be much slower than average from 2010-2020*
  • Drafting jobs may be outsourced to other countries where workers are paid less

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

An associate degree program in architectural drafting may contain some of the same courses as a diploma or certificate program, but in general, the curriculum will be broader. Also, an associate degree program will have a general education component. Other courses may include:

  • Architectural detailing
  • Computer-aided drafting
  • Uniform building codes
  • Architectural design and drawing
  • 3-D modeling
  • Computer science fundamentals
  • Intermediate algebra

Online Degree Info

Though not common, online programs in architectural drafting do exist at the associate degree level and have technology requirements similar to certificate programs. Some programs are hybrid and may require you to come to campus for instruction in a drafting laboratory. Although you won't be reporting to a classroom, you still need to be aware of your school's attendance policies and log into your classes on a regular basis. You may also be required to participate in class discussions via e-mail or online chat.

Standing Out with This Degree

Because architectural drafting technology changes rapidly and can result in reduced construction costs, job applicants who developed skills in industry-relevant computer programs as students may have an edge in the job market. In particular, mastering collaborative software programs such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) could prove to be an advantage.

BIM programs are changing the way architectural drafters, architects and engineers perform their jobs. The programs create 3-D renderings that allow these professionals to see how the design elements of their projects work together. BIM programs involve building and maintaining large databases, and architectural drafters who are well-versed in this software will be in a good position to showcase their skills and versatility.

Degree Alternatives

If you like to read blueprints or schematic drawings and use rough sketches to construct models or prototypes, you might want to explore a career as an electrical or electronic engineering technician. These professionals assist engineers in designing and developing equipment, including communications and navigational equipment, medical monitoring devices and computers. Their work also entails installation, repair and maintenance, as well as testing and calibration of equipment and systems.

According to the BLS, postsecondary training for this career usually leads to an associate degree in electrical or electronic engineering technology. Courses include physics, microprocessors, C++ programming and circuitry. Look for programs that are accredited by ABET, a non-profit organization consisting of 31 professional engineering, science and technology societies.

In May 2011, the median annual salary for electrical and electronic engineering technicians was about $57,000, reported the BLS. A 2% employment increase in jobs (which is virtually no change) was projected from 2010-2020.

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