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

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What will you learn in an associate or bachelor's engineering drafting degree program? Read about program requirements, the pros and cons of associate and bachelor's degrees and a potential career as an engineering drafter.
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Studying Engineering Drafting: Associate and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Engineering drafters or CADD (computer-aided design and drafting) operators create technical drawings for engineers' designs. There are different kinds of drafters, just as there are different engineering specialties. Civil drafters, for example, prepare cross-sections and topographical maps for projects like roads, while mechanical drafters draw details of machinery and mechanical devices. Electrical drafters draw wiring diagrams for buildings, power plants and electrical distribution systems. There are also drafters who create designs for architecture, aeronautics and electronics.

In general, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 6% growth for engineering drafting occupations from 2010-2020, against 14% for all occupations. An exception is mechanical drafting, which the BLS anticipates should see a 10%-19% growth during this period. The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) lists certified programs at high schools, vocational and technical schools and 2- and 4-year colleges that can lead to progressively responsible positions or certifications as apprentice drafter, drafter or design/drafter. Generally, an associate degree may qualify you for a technician track, while a bachelor's degree may prepare you for a more advanced or management position.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want an entry-level position in engineering drafting Individuals interested in advancement or management
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - CAD Drafter ($42,000)
- CAD Drafter, Sr. ($52,000 - 4 or more years of experience needed)*
- Drafting Supervisor ($76,000 - 4-6 years of experience needed)*
- Mechanical Designer III ($62,000 - 4 years of experience needed)*
- Architectural Drafter III ($57,000 - 4 years of experience needed)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years, full-time 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Typically 60-70 credits, including major area subjects and liberal arts core requirements
- Hands-on laboratory course components
- Technical work experience or internships
- Approximately 120 credits
- May include supervised industrial internships
- Laboratory requirements
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED High school diploma or GED
Online Availability Online degrees may be available Hard to find in traditional schools

Source: *Salary.com (2012 median salary figures).

Associate Degree in Engineering Drafting

An associate degree program may help you land an entry-level drafting position. Along with your general education requirements, such as math, English and social science courses, you'll study computer technology, applicable software, design and graphics.

These degree programs are most often available at community colleges. Technical institutes may include similar technical courses but place less emphasis on drafting theory and general education courses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Credits may be transferable to a 4-year degree
  • Available in many geographic areas
  • Possible qualification to take one of ADDA's Certified Drafter exams
  • Provides entry-level experience through internships and laboratory work

Cons

  • Advanced education may be required for management positions
  • Some positions may be available to high school graduates with appropriate training
  • Online programs may not incorporate the necessary hands-on learning opportunities

Courses and Requirements

In these programs, you'll learn computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs. Your coursework may include 3-D prototyping and modeling, product drawing, metal stamping or design of plastic molds. You may spend time in a machine shop or metrology lab. You might be able to take electives, such as technical sketching, machine tool design or product design.

Courses might include:

  • Engineering drawing
  • Civil drafting
  • Process and tool design laboratory
  • Machine tool fundamentals
  • Power transmission
  • Statics and strength of materials
  • Math (algebra, trigonometry and geometry)

Online Course Options

Though fully online programs may be hard to find, you may find programs that offer some online coursework. You might want to ask your school what hands-on options and laboratory experience their program requires of if they offer any preparation for ADDA certification examinations.

Online courses follow the same basic format as on-campus courses; however, online course materials and activities are available to you at any time. You may also be required to access or buy specific software.

Standing Out with This Degree

According to job ads from 2012, employers look for candidates with proficiency in drafting-related computer programs like AutoCAD and Solidworks. For this reason, making sure you find programs that train you in the most commonly used software will be to your advantage. Graduation from programs that help you earn ADDA certifications may be viewed favorably. Part-time work or co-op experience could lead to a job offer after graduation.

Bachelor's Degree in Engineering Drafting

Bachelor's degree programs help you develop professional technology and management skills. Some schools offer '2+2' programs, which are designed for a seamless transition between associate and bachelor's degrees. You will develop digital fabrication skills using CAD software or programs like SolidWorks. You'll learn drafting and design, advanced freehand technical drawing and technical illustration. You might learn ways to improve products and engineering processes from a management standpoint.

Degrees with this precise name are rare to non-existent. You may find related programs in product design, engineering technology, manufacturing engineering or plastics engineering technology. You can also enroll in a business management degree program with added technical training.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You could qualify for management-level or executive trainee positions
  • You can tailor your education to your area of interest through elective courses and internships
  • Offers hands-on training through field experiences and internships
  • Some schools may offer flexible part-time or evening options
  • Work experience can sometimes be counted toward degree

Cons

  • Field experiences and internship requirements may make other work difficult
  • Bachelor's degree holders may still be required to complete training experiences before qualifying for positions
  • Master's or MBA grads with enhanced skill sets may be preferred for highly paid positions in a competitive market

Courses and Requirements

As a bachelor's degree candidate in an applied engineering and technology or mechanical engineering technology program, you're likely to complete general education and technical literacy core courses similar to those of an associate degree program. You also be able to specialize in an area or take management courses. Subjects that you may study in a bachelor's degree program include:

  • Energy, power, transportation
  • Production materials and processes
  • Industrial design
  • Architectural design
  • Technical sketching
  • Manufacturing and assembly design
  • Machine design

Online Class Options

Fully online degree programs in engineering drafting are rare to non-existent. However, you may find multiple online options for training in specific computer drafting software training, either as individual courses or as components of certificate or degree programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Job, internship and field experiences during your program can give you a head start, since management positions may require several years of experience. You could network and make contacts through professional training and communications outlets sponsored by ADDA. Attending an ADDA-certified program might help as well.

It may be a good idea to focus electives on areas that offer more job opportunities. You might be able to develop a niche specialty, like nanofabrication, that supports the semiconductor, pharmaceutical or biomedicine industry. Special programs may be available in conjunction with university research facilities that provide state-of-the-art training.

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