Guide to Online Computer-Aided Drafting (CAD) Associate Degrees

Explore some of the top schools that offer online computer aided design (CAD) associate's degree programs. Learn how long programs take, what classes they include and what types of jobs are available to CAD graduates.

Top Online Computer-Aided Drafting Associate's Programs

When looking for the best schools for online computer-aided (CAD) drafting associate's degree programs, you should consider factors such as program length, cost, flexibility and accreditation. The top schools with online CAD associate's degree programs are listed below.

1. Ridgewater College

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Willmar, MN $5,939 85%

Ridgewater College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an entirely-online Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) Associate in Applied Science program. The program consists of 67 credit hours and includes courses in sheet metal and parametric design, design drafting and engineering drawing. Students in the program learn standard drafting and blueprint skills and develop a comprehensive knowledge of software such as Creo and AutoCAD. Students have a tuition rate of $185 per credit hour and can begin the program in the fall or spring semesters.

2. Minnesota State College Southeast

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Winona, MN $5,686 78%

Minnesota State College Southeast boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 16:1 and is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The school offers a 60-credit-hour online Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Drafting Technologies Associate in Applied Science program. The two-year program includes courses in mold design, drawings, print reading and solid works. Students have a tuition rate of $172 per credit hour and includes job placement services.

3. Kansas City Kansas Community College

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Kansas City, KS $3,120 73%

Kansas City Kansas Community College boasts a student-to-faculty ratio of 13:1 and has some of the most affordable tuition of any school on our list, with online students paying just $88 per credit hour. The school offers a Drafting (Computer-Aided Design) Associate of Applied Science program that consists of 63 credit hours. Students can complete most, or all, of the required coursework online, depending on the course offerings each semester. The program includes courses in drafting technology, advanced computer drafting, print reading and MicroStation.

4. Ivy Tech Community College

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Indianapolis, IN $4,500 74%

Ivy Tech Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and boasts an average class size of just 22 students. The school offers an Associate of Science in Design Technology program that allows students to use electives to focus their studies in areas such as CAD, architectural design and computer graphics. Students focusing in CAD will take courses in architectural design, mechanical graphics and design technology. Students may be able to complete their coursework online, depending on course offerings each semester, and have a tuition rate of $145 to $170 per credit for online courses.

5. Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City

Location Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Oklahoma City, OK $5,034 71%

Oklahoma State University at Oklahoma City awarded more than $70,000 of financial aid to students during the 2017 to 2018 school year and has a student-to-faculty ratio of 22:1. The school offers an Associate of Applied Science in Architectural Technology with an emphasis in CAD Architecture. The program consists of 66 credit hours and includes courses in CAD drafting and drawing, construction drawing and 3D modeling. Students can complete most classes online and have a tuition rate of $151 (in-state) to $395 (out-of-state) per credit hour.

All table data is provided by the National Center for Education Statistics; tuition represents the 2019 to 2020 school year. Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

How to Choose an Online CAD Associate's Degree Program

As you narrow down your candidate schools for an online associate's degree in computer-assisted design degree program, there are several things that you should consider.

Programs Available

Online CAD programs can look different depending on the school. For example, some programs are offered as architectural design while others are drafting technology. While these programs have a similar curriculum, you should review their differences to make sure the program that you choose includes the content and outcomes that you are looking for.

Residency Requirements

While many CAD associate's degree programs are available entirely online, some require students to complete some on-campus components. These could include minimal campus visits or require you to complete entire courses on campus. It's essential that you find out what (if any) on-campus requirements are involved with your program.

Flexibility

Full-time students can complete online CAD associate's degrees in two years, based on standard course loads of 15 credits for fall and spring semesters. Many schools offer flexible programs that allow you to take more (or less) courses each semester, including during summer sessions, finishing your program in less (or more) time than you would otherwise.

Accreditation

When narrowing down your school choices, confirm their accreditation information with each. Accreditation is required for many types of financial aid, including federal aid, and can make a difference in the quality of education that you receive. In addition, if you decide to pursue future education then you'll find transferring courses is easier if they're from an accredited school.

Cost

Ask each of your candidate schools about any cost-saving opportunities, such as flat-rate tuition for full-time students. Review other applicable costs that you will incur, such as registration fees and course fees, as you determine estimated program costs. Compare the total costs for each schools' program and keep in mind that financial aid is available for online CAD programs.

Overview of Online CAD Associate's Degree Programs

Online computer-assisted design associate's degree programs are open to students who have a high school diploma or GED and are usually available either entirely online or mostly online with some required on-campus components. These programs teach students how to use computer technology to create designs based on concepts for architecture, engineering and other industries. Online courses can utilize one or several websites for completing assignments, course communications and lecture delivery. Depending on the class, students may be able to access and complete assignments 24/7 each week, or they may have one or more scheduled items throughout the week, such as live lectures and class discussions.

Program Length

Online CAD associate's degree programs traditionally take two years to complete. However, many students can complete their program faster by taking more courses each semester and/or taking classes over the summer. The table below shows an example of program completion time based on 60 credit hours of curriculum (as an estimate) and traditional summer semesters (typically shorter than fall and spring).

Fall 1 Spring 1 Summer 1 Fall 2 Spring 2 Summer 2
15 15 0 15 15 0
15 15 9 15 6 0
18 18 9 15 0 0

Common Courses

The specific courses included in online CAD associate's degree programs vary by school but usually include similar content. CAD associate's degree programs usually have two primary types of courses: general education classes, including mathematics, English and science, and program-specific classes. Some of the program-specific classes that are commonly included in online CAD associate's degree programs are listed below.

  • Print Reading - Students develop blueprint reading skills and comprehension and learn about topics such as dimensions, auxiliary views, line types and 2D projections.
  • Intro to Drafting - This class explores basic drafting practices as well as topics such as scaling, line work, applied geometry and other engineering drawing fundamentals.
  • CAD 2D - Students learn about 2D design topics and characteristics, how to use software such as AutoCAD, and how to effectively create and store 2D designs.
  • CAD 3D - This course builds upon the content learned in 2D topics and provides an overview of pictorial drawing, advanced AutoCAD processes and 3D drawing techniques.
  • Geometry for CAD - Students learn about geometric variables of CAD practices, including topics such as datums, form, position and orientation.
  • Graphics of Mechanisms - In this course, students explore graphics and the designs of machines, plus topics such as gears, cams, speed reducers and linkages.

Why Accreditation Matters for Online CAD Programs

In order to become accredited, schools have to meet requirements set by the accrediting organization; this usually includes things like curriculum, graduation rates and faculty experience. When a school is accredited it means that it has voluntarily paid to be review and met all of the required quality standards. Schools that aren't accredited aren't necessarily lower quality, as they may simply choose not to pay for the process. However, attending an accredited school increases the likelihood that students will receive a quality experience. In addition to quality, there are two main benefits to attending accredited schools: financial aid and transfer credits.

  • Financial Aid - Federal financial aid and several privately-funded financial aid options are only available to students who attend accredited institutions. In other words, students of unaccredited schools won't be eligible for financial aid such as Pell Grants and federal loans.
  • Transfer Credits - Students who have attended an accredited school can usually transfer credits from their CAD program into future college programs, but students who attended unaccredited schools may not be able to transfer as many (if any at all) of their CAD courses into another program.

Financial Aid for Online CAD Associate's Degree Programs

There are several types of financial aid that online CAD associate's degree students can obtain, both government and privately funded. Students should first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA shows students some of the types of aid that they may qualify for and also allows students to submit their results to their candidate schools. Some of the types of financial aid available to online CAD associate's degree students are summarized below.

Work-Study

Work-study is typically federally funded and enables students to earn part (or all) of their program costs by working part-time while in school.

Tuition Assistance

Many employers offer tuition assistance to employees who are interested in pursuing programs that allow them to increase their skills in the workplace.

Grants

Grants are awards that do not have to be paid back and are most commonly available through state governments and the federal government.

Student Loans

Student loans are available through the government and private lenders, although private lenders should only be used as a last resort.

Scholarships

Scholarships are available through countless sources and can be found through school financial aid offices as well as the U.S. Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

  • The Branch Out Scholarship - $1,500 is awarded to 2 students each year, based on the submission of an essay.
  • PixelPlex Bi-Annual STEM Scholarship - One award of $2,000 is given to a student in a STEM program (including CAD students).
  • Vision Tech Camps Scholarship - 3 awards ranging from $500 to $1,000 are available to students of programs in computer sciences, engineering and more.

Careers for CAD Associate's Degree Graduates

Although graduates of computer-aided design programs may go on to work in a variety of roles, they are most fitted to work as drafters. Drafters utilize software to create designs for engineers and architects, and they usually work in specialized fields (such as electrical drafting). Their duties often include using CAD software to create and modify designs, working with raw sketches, designing products and specifying product materials and dimensions. Drafters typically need to have an associate's degree in computer-aided design (CAD) or a similar field. While not necessarily required, drafters can obtain certification through the American Design Drafting Association, which enables them to articulate their skills and expertise in their drafting specialty.

  • Electrical and Electronics Drafters: Electrical drafters create diagrams for wiring that are used by construction works and electronics drafters develop wiring diagrams to be used in circuit boards and other electronic components.
  • Mechanical Drafters: These drafters work on designs of mechanical components, medical devices and machinery, and typically specify materials, dimensions and other important characteristics.
  • Architectural and Civil Drafters: Architectural drafters create designs for construction projects and buildings while civil drafters typically create topographical maps that are used in construction and other projects.

Job Title Median Annual Salary (2019) Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)
Electrical and Electronics Drafters $61,530 3%
Mechanical Drafters $57,060 -7%
Architectural and Civil Drafters $56,340 2%

All career data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Professional Resources for CAD Graduates

Graduates of CAD associate's degree programs can join a variety of professional organizations that allow them to access various resources and networking opportunities. Drafters can find resources and associations that are catered to their specialty, as well as broader CAD organizations.

  • The Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture - ACADIA is open to professionals, students and educators interested in computer-aided design. Membership includes subscriptions to publications and research, conferences and online networking opportunities with other CAD professionals.
  • American Design Drafting Association - ADDA offers certification to drafting professionals as well as membership, which allows individuals to connect with other CAD professionals online and in-person through networking and volunteer opportunities.