Drafting Technology Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a drafting technology degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Drafting Technology: Degrees at a Glance

As a drafter, also known as CAD (computer-aided design) operator, you'll typically work under the supervision of architects or engineers. You'll create a visual guideline of a product or building, which includes the technical requirements and dimensions to be used in the manufacturing or construction process. Drafting skills are needed in a wide range of engineering fields, including civil, aeronautical, electrical, electronic and mechanical, as well as in manufacturing and architecture.

Programs in drafting technology or CAD are more common at the associate level. At the bachelor's level, you'll typically find drafting training within an engineering or technology discipline. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that drafters would see only a 6% job growth from 2010-2020, this is largely due to the increased ease of use of CAD programs. The specialty with the highest projected growth was mechanical drafters at 11% during that period .

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals with no prior knowledge in drafting or CAD Individuals interested in a drafting or CAD specialty, such as architecture or construction technology
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Furniture drafter ($43,000)*
- Electrical drafter ($49,000 )*
- Machinery drafter ($48,000)*
- Architectural drafter ($50,000)*
- Civil drafter ($51,000)*
- Electrical power drafter ($62,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements No additional requirements beyond those for a typical associate degree Capstone project, typically completed in the final year
Prerequisites A high school diploma or GED, high school coursework in advanced mathematics, basic knowledge in computer use Same as associate programs
Online Availability Some hybrid programs available None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate in Drafting Technology

Drafting associate programs are technology-based programs that usually result in an applied science or applied technology degree. In these programs, you'll receive a combination of classroom study and hands-on practice performed in a computer lab equipped with CAD software.

While some programs specialize solely in CAD or CADD (computer-aided design and drafting), most drafting programs also train you in the fundamentals of mechanical and technical drawing. Some associate programs offer transfer options that allow you to transfer your credits to a 4-year program, such as electrical engineering or architecture, at an affiliated college or university.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Formal training in drafting is required by most employers
  • High wages, 2011 average hourly wage for drafters was $23.25*
  • Programs may be found at local community colleges and technical schools

Cons

  • Overall job growth is slower than average from 2010-2020*
  • In order to qualify for some positions, you may need additional training or to participate in an apprenticeship
  • Some associate programs do not offer transferable credits to 4-year programs

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Common Courses and Requirement

Coursework in an associate program in drafting is typically a mix of foundational mathematics courses, such as trigonometry and algebra, and classes that explore the techniques and software used in drafting. Examples of some of the courses you may find in a drafting program include:

  • CAD basics
  • 3D modeling
  • Technical drawing
  • Graphic visualization

Online Course Info

Hybrid drafting programs at the associate level allow you to take some of your courses online. Coursework available online can include CAD, modeling and 3D modeling. In order to complete the online courses, you may be required to purchase and install CAD software on your personal computer.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Since knowledge in mathematics and CAD are essential for this career, you may want to consider programs with a strong focus or elective courses in math and CAD. Math is often used to solve problems in drafting, as well as in many of the fields where drafters work, such as engineering and architecture. It is also fundamental in the creation of technical drawings.

With the increased prevalence of computer-aided drafting used in the field, you may want to opt to fill your drafting electives with advanced CAD coursework. Knowledge in CAD is mandatory for many jobs, as well as knowledge in other programs used in the industry, such as building information modeling (BIM) and product data management (PDM).

Other Degrees to Consider

An alternative to training solely in drafting is a degree program that combines practical training in drafting within a specialization. Ideally, training in drafting can be used in a variety of fields, but some fields, such as mechanical drafting, often require additional training.

Programs with a mechanical drafting specialization provide training in technical drafting with coursework in areas such as blueprint reading, machine shop practices and engineering documentation. The field of mechanical drafting will experience a higher employment growth rate from 2010-2020 compared to other drafting fields. In 2011, the average salary for mechanical drafters was about $52,000 stated the BLS.

Bachelor's in Drafting Technology

Bachelor's programs in drafting are rare, but do exist, typically in the engineering or technology departments or schools of 4-year universities. Programs found in engineering schools may be teamed up with training in computer-aided manufacturing (CAM). Bachelor's programs that accept credits from 2-year drafting programs may have math requirements, which students must meet before they can begin the program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Drafting careers that require a bachelor's degree are typically better paying (average salary for architectural & civil drafters was over $50,000 in 2011)*
  • Advanced practical experiences available (internships, capstone projects and labs)
  • The demand for drafters with knowledge in specialized areas, such as electronic and mechanical engineering, will be markedly higher than other drafting fields in the 2010-2020 decade*

Cons

  • Many entry-level positions only require an associate degree
  • Few schools offer bachelor's programs specifically in drafting technology
  • Professional certification typically does not require an advanced degree

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Courses and Requirements

Most bachelor's programs have a program sequence that students are advised to follow. Typically, in the first two years, you'll acquire a strong background in advanced mathematics, such as trigonometry, calculus and algebra, as well as basic CAD practices. In the last two years of the program, you'll usually concentrate on drafting techniques within a variety of design areas, such as electronics, architecture and engineering. Some programs offer internships within the design departments of local businesses during the last portion of the program.

Common coursework at the bachelor's level can include:

  • Drafting techniques
  • Blueprint reading
  • Mechanism design
  • Sustainable design
  • Industrial design

Programs often include a capstone project completed during your senior year in which you'll design a project that includes the specifications needed to build it. Depending on the program, you may be required to create a model of your design, conduct testing and analyze the results.

Online Degree Options

Online programs in drafting at the bachelor's level aren't typically available. Attending a traditional campus-based program gives you access to computer labs that are equipped with the software programs, as well as the hands-on guidance you'll need for this career. An online option worth considering is completing some of your CAD training in a hybrid associate program before transferring to an on-campus bachelor's program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Participation in a student organization dedicated to drafting may aid you in a drafting program. Professional organizations, such as the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA), sponsor student chapters where you'll be able to network with professional drafters, learn about new drafting technology and participate in continuing education programs and contests while completing your degree program.

Additionally, the ADDA offers certification that doesn't specify any educational or work experience requirements, which can be completed once you have mastered the fundamental concepts. This can demonstrate your professional capabilities to potential employers upon graduation.

Other Degrees to Consider

Only a few schools offer bachelor's degree programs solely in drafting technology; the majority of programs at this level combine drafting and CAD training within a specialty area, such as architecture, mechanical engineering, building construction or engineering technology.

Architectural drafting is a common area where employers often require a bachelor's degree. In this specialization, you'll learn how to read architectural blueprints and render 3D models of buildings, as well as become well-versed in the fundamentals of architecture. Drafters specializing in architectural drafting would experience a slow employment growth rate of 6% between 2010 and 2020. The average salary of architectural drafters in 2011 was around $50,000, stated the BLS.

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