Drafting Design Degrees: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a drafting design degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a drafting design degree and potential careers.
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Study Drafting and Design: Degrees at a Glance

Drafting and design professionals render 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional drawings and schematics for a range of industries. Most drafting professionals use computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) software.

An associate's degree is the common route to drafting jobs; if you complete the 2-year degree, your entry-level roles could include drafting technician or drafting assistant. Bachelor's degrees aren't typically required or even easy to find, but graduates of 4-year degree programs can apply their skills in more specialized fields ranging from civil or electrical engineering to architecture or aeronautics. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree is often needed for an architectural specialization.

For 2010-2020, the BLS predicted a moderate decline in jobs in the 'drafters-all other' category (drafters who aren't specializing in mechanical, architectural, civil or electrical/electronics). The outlook varied based on specializations. Mechanical drafters were projected to see the strongest growth (11%) over that decade.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who Is this Degree for? Anyone wishing to enter the drafting profession Those who want a strong foundation in CADD plus an area of specialization and general education courses
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Examples of entry-level positions include drafter, drafting assistant, CAD operator or CAD technician ($46,000 for 'drafters-all other')*
- Architectural and civil drafters ($47,000)*
- Mechanical drafters ($49,000)*
- Electronics or electrical drafters ($54,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Competence in a wide variety of drawing types
- Proficiency with various software programs
-Understanding of various materials' properties
- Knowledge of engineering and industry standards
All the same competencies as an associate's degree graduate, plus:
- Choice of a specialization
- Completion of an internship (varies by school)
- Completion of general education and non-technical courses, such as management or accounting
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent (math emphasis helpful) High school diploma or equivalent (math emphasis helpful)
Online Availability Extremely rare Although rare, bachelor's degree completion programs or hybrid programs can be found

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

Associate's Degree in Drafting and Design

An associate's degree program for drafting and design emphasizes technical, hands-on training so you can master the software packages, techniques and detailed standards for the profession. If you're an aspiring drafter, you should enjoy using computers and be visually oriented and strong in math. You'll be taught to do very detailed and precise work to assemble different types of drawings. Upon graduating, you can generally land entry-level drafting jobs within manufacturing, electrical, electronic or civil engineering industries. Some programs emphasize a certain industry or use for drafting or design skills, so it's beneficial to research a school's drafting or CADD concentrations before enrolling.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Associate's degree programs for drafting and design are usually offered by community colleges, which are close to home and affordable
  • Students learn to combine strong visual abilities with technology
  • Drafting training can provide an entry into a variety of industries: manufacturing, electrical and electronics design or production, civil engineering or architectural contracting
  • Skills and knowledge learned in a drafting program could be put to use for the companies that develop and improve CADD software packages

Cons

  • Offers fewer options for specialization or advancement than a bachelor's degree program
  • Associate's degree drafting programs have less room in the schedule for electives or general education courses
  • Changes and improvements to technology and software programs are ongoing, so drafters will need to stay current even after graduating
  • As CADD systems improve, the systems and other workers with less training can complete tasks formerly done by drafters.
  • The number of jobs for some drafters was expected to slowly decline over the 2010-2020 decade (a 4% decline for the 'drafters-all other' category*)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

In an associate's degree program for drafting or CADD, you learn to create accurate, detailed drawings of machinery, devices or other systems or spaces. Coursework and hands-on instruction enable future CADD operators to measure, draw and interpret drawings and to research and present technical information. Courses often cover:

  • AutoCAD (beginner through advanced courses)
  • AutoCAD 3-dimensional modeling
  • Technical drawing
  • Geometric dimensions and tolerances
  • Physics

Online Degree Options

Fully online drafting and CADD training degrees are rare. Be sure any program you explore is accredited; you can investigate accreditations using the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) or the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC).

You might find schools that allow you to take some courses or sections of some courses online in conjunction with on-campus work. That option - referred to as a hybrid program - is not very common for this subject matter either, since the software and tools used for CADD are complex and expensive. However, if convenience and flexibility are important to you, it's worth doing the research to find out if a school offers distance-learning formats for some of the general education, elective or core credits you need.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

You may find that your community college has relationships with companies in the area that have a need for drafters. If you live in a region with a concentration of a particular industry, the school may even tailor the drafting curriculum for that industry. Being aware of the local job market and choosing courses that fit in can smooth your entrance into the work force.

Drafters can also set themselves apart by pursuing certification from the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA). The certification is somewhat unusual in that no specific degree or amount of experience is required to be eligible to take the exam. The test for the ADDA Certified Drafter credential emphasizes the concepts of drafting rather than the ever-evolving technologies used; test-takers demonstrate their ability to represent an object and their mastery of general drafting standards and basic geometric construction.

Bachelor's Degree in Drafting and Design

Bachelor's degrees are less typical for drafters and CADD operators, and they take twice as long and cost a lot more. They can, however, provide the facilities, software and equipment necessary to learn a specialization, such as mechanical drafting or architectural drafting. General education and elective courses also help round out your understanding of related subjects; business and communication courses, for example, can prepare you for management roles or advancement. Internships completed during a bachelor's degree program can add further real-world experience and contacts.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Bachelor's degree holders will be the top tier in a profession where diplomas, certificates and associate's degrees are the norm
  • 4-year degrees have more room for business, general education and elective courses
  • Bachelor's programs hone in on specializations
  • Internships that provide experience and networking opportunities may be incorporated into the program

Cons

  • Bachelor's degree programs aren't easy to find (NCES listed just 22 CADD or drafting bachelor's degree programs as of early 2012*)
  • A 4-year degree is expensive
  • Even in specialized drafting categories, job growth over the 2010-2020 decade was expected to be average (11% for mechanical drafters**) or below average (3% and 5%, respectively, for architectural and electrical drafters**)

*National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)' College Navigator **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

The course list for a bachelor's degree includes both general education and core drafting and design courses. Electives could focus on business and management topics, and related skills, such as technical writing and/or technical sketching, might be taught. Most of your courses will teach the CADD technologies. Classes typically include:

  • Drafting communications
  • Descriptive geometry
  • Design methodology
  • Technical rendering
  • Machine tool technology

Bachelor's degree programs may also require you to complete an internship prior to graduating.

Online Degree Options

Online bachelor's degree programs for drafting and design are even more rare than on-campus versions. However, you may be able to find related degree-completion programs online to round out an associate's degree in drafting or CADD. Such a curriculum might focus on the business side of the profession to add to your previous technical training. If you're not interested in the business side of the industry, you could consider an online degree completion program leading to a bachelor's degree in a closely related area, such as engineering technology.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Even if an internship isn't required by the school you choose to attend, you could pursue a formal internship or a summer or part-time job related to drafting. These experiences provide you with an understanding of the real-world tasks and challenges for this field, as well as build up your resume and your list of contacts for the job hunt.

Colleges and universities with bachelor's degree programs may also have a student chapter of the ADDA. Meetings and events held by these chapters give students the chance to interact with practicing professionals and to learn some tips for success in the field.

A bachelor's degree is not a requirement for pursuing the ADDA Certified Drafter credential, but graduates of a 4-year degree program should be well-positioned to pursue that certification, to demonstrate their competence and initiative to employers. Individuals who complete the ADDA application are able to take the 90-minute test at sites around the country; a 75% score is required to pass. Questions focus on drafting principles rather than software or CADD.

Degree Alternatives

If you would like to put your strong spatial sense and love of technology to use in a detail-oriented field that has stronger employment prospects than drafting, you could consider a cartography or photogrammetry career. Cartographers utilize data from numerous sources to create maps. Photogrammetrists (a specialty type of mapmaker) use technological tools, such as satellite images, ranging technologies and aerial photography, to create maps.

The overall number of jobs in this field is small, and a bachelor's degree is the standard for cartography or photogrammetry careers. However, that investment in a full baccalaureate degree can pay off with slightly higher earning potential: the BLS reported a median salary for all cartographers and photogrammetrists of approximately $56,000 in 2011. Furthermore, while drafters as a whole were predicted to see slower-than-average job growth of 6% from 2010-2020, cartographers and photogrammetrists were expected to see faster-than-average growth of 22%, according to the BLS.

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