The Best Online Certificate in Design (CAD) Programs

| Matthew Sweeney

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CAD skills can prepare candidates for many professional opportunities, including 3D modeling, architectural drawing, and animation.

Skilled artists interested in turning their talents into architecture or civil engineering careers can benefit from computer-aided design (CAD) certificates. CAD professionals use computer software to visualize designs for buildings, products, and machines. Drafters use CAD to create digital models that follow designers' and architects' specifications.

The quickest path to becoming a full-time drafter, technician, or animator is by earning a CAD certificate online from an accredited school. CAD-related careers have not diminished due to the COVID-19 epidemic, as work occurs primarily in a digital environment and can be done remotely.

Read on for information on how to get the most out of an online CAD certificate, along with available professional pathways for graduates.

Top 10 Online Certificate in Design (CAD) Programs 2021
#1 Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro Murfreesboro, TN
#2 Alexandria Technical & Community College Alexandria, MN
#3 Ridgewater College Wilmar, MN
#4 St Charles Community College Cottleville, MO
#5 Central Georgia Technical College Warner Robins, GA
#6 Quinsigamond Community College Worcester, MA
#7 West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah, KY
#8 Mountain View College Dallas, TX

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The Best Online Certificate in Design (CAD) Programs

Tennessee College of Applied Technology-Murfreesboro View School Profile $ Murfreesboro, TN 92% Tennessee College of Applied Technology is accredited by the Council on Occupational Education.

Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Murfreesboro is one of 46 institutions in the Tennessee Board of Regents System. The school offers dozens of programs, including an online computer aided design option that leads to five credentials. Students can earn certificates in assistant drafter or detail drafter. They can also opt for diplomas in residential architecture drafter, mechanical drafter, or drafting and CAD technician.

The assistant drafter and detail drafter certificates require 432 and 864 hours of work, respectively. Students working toward a drafting diploma Typically, spend around 1,728 hours earning the credential. Part-time online learners usually earn a diploma in 16 months.

For admission, students must hold a high school diploma or be at least 18 years old. TCAT accepts students on a first-come, first-served basis.

Alexandria Technical & Community College View School Profile $$ Alexandria, MN 67% Tennessee College of Applied Technology – Murfreesboro is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Alexandria Technical and Community College is a public, two-year institution based in Alexandria, Minnesota. The school offers certificates, diplomas, and associate degrees in around 40 areas of study.

ATCC offers a hybrid diploma in mechanical drafting, design, and engineering, as well as some unique course options. The rapid prototyping course teaches students to operate and maintain a rapid prototype printer. In the mechatronics class, students learn about electricity and construct basic circuits. Through a required machining course, students explore the basics of turning, milling, and grinding.

The certificate in drafting and design consists of 69 credits and takes just under two years to complete. Students enroll in 5-6 courses in the fall and spring semesters and take two summer courses. The time commitment ranges from 14-24 hours per week, depending on how many courses a student takes at once.

Ridgewater College View School Profile $ Wilmar, MN 60% Ridgewater College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

Ridgewater College’s Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Technology division offers a computer aided drafting program that students can complete entirely online. The program covers topics including elementary and advanced drafting, common manufacturing processes, and blueprint interpretation. Students also learn about the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ standards and best practices. Learners practice using popular industry tools, including AutoCad, Creo, Solidworks, and MasterCam 3D. Students gain hands-on experience through collaborative projects with Ridgewater’s manufacturing students.

Many of Ridgewater’s online courses hold certification from Quality Matters, an organization that evaluates web-based learning programs. The certificate in computer aided drafting and design boasts start dates in the fall and spring semesters.

Prospective students must submit an application along with a high school diploma or GED certificate. They do not need to submit transcripts, standardized test scores, or other materials.

St Charles Community College View School Profile Cottleville, MO 51% St. Charles Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).

St. Charles Community College, based in Cottleville, Missouri, offers associate degrees, certificates, and vocational training in more than 50 subject areas. The school offers 16 online degrees and certificates, including a certificate of achievement in computer aided drafting.

The online certificate in drafting and design comprises 34-35 credits, and students can complete 65% of the curriculum online. Learners take 13 credits of general education courses, which cover topics like algebra, English composition, U.S. history, and microcomputer applications. Students also take four core drafting courses and four electives. Elective options include 3D modeling, geographic information systems, and sustainable design. St. Charles delivers online classes through Canvas.

Online students gain access to helpful student services including online tutoring and tech support. Distance learners can schedule virtual tutoring sessions in math, science, English, or writing.

Central Georgia Technical College View School Profile Warner Robins, GA 31% Central Georgia Technical College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Located in Warner Robins, Central Georgia Technical College offers training in industries including aerospace, computer technology, and health sciences.

Drafting students can earn three credentials through CGTC’s online courses. Learners can pursue technical certificates in computer aided design (CAD) operator or advanced computer aided design technician. Learners can also opt for a diploma in drafting technology. The CAD operator and CAD technician certificates require 20 and 31 credits, respectively. The drafting technology diploma comprises 46 credits, including eight general education credits. Certificate in drafting and design holders can go on to earn a 60-credit associate degree in drafting from CGTC.

Applicants must be at least 16 years old and hold a GED or high school diploma. For course placement, prospective students must submit standardized test scores, take the ACCUPLACER exam, or provide a postsecondary transcript.

Quinsigamond Community College View School Profile $ Worcester, MA 32% Quinsigamond Community College is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE).

Based in Worcester, Massachusetts, Quinsigamond Community College offers more than 120 programs of study to over 13,000 students each year.

Quinsigamond offers a computer aided design certificate through its engineering technology department. The program, which emphasizes manufacturing technology, covers topics including manufacturing processes, materials, metallurgy, and electro-mechanical drafting. Students also learn to effectively convey their ideas through coursework on technical communication. Students complete 25 credits and Typically, finish the curriculum in two semesters. Learners can take at least 50% of their courses online.

The program includes a solid modeling course that prepares students for industry certification. Through hands-on projects, students learn to build complicated 3D models from 2D drawings. At the end of the course, students sit for the Certified SolidWorks Associate exam.

After completing the certificate in computer aided drafting and design, learners can apply their credits toward an associate degree in manufacturing technology.

West Kentucky Community and Technical College View School Profile $ Paducah, KY West Kentucky Community and Technical College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

A member of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System, West Kentucky Community and Technical College offers 17 programs entirely online, including a diploma in computer aided drafting and design.

The drafting and design diploma comprises 48-50 credits and takes four semesters to complete. Students must complete two general education classes: humanities and quantitative reasoning. Learners build a drafting foundation through six technical core courses including drafting fundamentals and engineering graphics. Students can complete the rest of the 22 required credits through technical electives. Some electives include introduction to architecture, 3D printing technology, and construction management. Students take online courses in two 16-week terms each year.

Certificate in drafting and design holders can earn WKCTC’s associate in applied science by taking additional general education courses.

Mountain View College View School Profile Dallas, TX 36% Mountain View College is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).

Mountain View College, founded in 1970, is one of seven institutions in the Dallas Community College District. Mountain View offers dozens of certificates and degrees that students can complete entirely online.

The college offers a fully online certificate in computer aided drafting and design that focuses on architectural drafting. The program includes unique courses in architectural blueprint reading and architectural illustration. In addition, students learn to use AutoCAD software to create architectural drawings for residential and commercial projects. Notably, the program includes a topographical drafting class, which introduces map drafting and contour drawings.

Drafting students complete 29-30 credits and finish the program in two semesters. Students take seven required courses and one elective. Elective options include 3D animation, pipe drafting, and civil drafting. Online learners take courses asynchronously through eight-week sessions.

Best Online Programs

Online Certificate in Design (CAD) Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Our Methodology

Here at TheBestSchools.org, we take the trust and welfare of our readers very seriously. When making our school and program rankings, our top priority is ensuring that our readers get accurate, unbiased information that can help them make informed decisions about online education. That's why we've developed a rigorous ranking methodology that keeps the needs of our readers front and center.

Our proprietary, multi-criteria ranking algorithm analyzes key data indicators — as collected by the federal government — for each school or program. What data we use depends on the focus of each specific ranking, but in all cases, our ranking methodology is impartial: Schools cannot buy better rankings at TBS.

While specific criteria under consideration can vary by ranking, there are a few data points that we value most highly. They are affordability, academic quality, and online enrollment. Below, we break down our algorithm to help you understand what you're getting when you use one of our rankings.

  • Academics
  • Affordability
  • Online Enrollment

Data Sources

The data used in TBS rankings comes primarily from the federal government, and much of it is provided by the schools themselves. We aggregate and analyze this data to build our rankings.

The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) is our primary source. Its data comes from annual surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Every college, university, or technical school with access to federal financial aid must participate in these surveys, which include questions about enrollment, graduation rates, finances, and faculty qualifications. This is publicly available data, which you can access yourself through the College Navigator.

Additionally, because we value a personal touch and the professional experience of our staff and Academic Advisory Board, we vet all results and adjust rankings as necessary based on our collected knowledge of schools and degree programs. Depending on the ranking, we may obtain additional input from AcademicInfluence.com, subject matter experts, prior TBS ranking lists, or other sources we deem relevant to a particular ranking.

Breakdown of Our Rankings Methodology

About Our Ranking Factors

Here at TBS, we value what you value: quality education, affordability, and the accessibility of online education. These factors guide all of our program rankings.

Each of these factors are further broken down into weighted subfactors. For example, retention rates are weighted more heavily than availability of program options because they are a better indicator of student success.

We chose the following factors for our rankings because of their influence on learning experiences and graduate outcomes. However, students should always balance our rankings against their personal priorities. For instance, a learner who needs a fully online program may prioritize online flexibility more than our rankings do. Our rankings are designed to help you make a decision — not to make a decision for you.

Academics - 75%
Affordability - 15%
Online Enrollment - 10%

In all our school rankings and recommendations, we work for objectivity and balance. We carefully research and compile each ranking list, and as stated in our advertising disclosure, we do NOT permit financial incentives to influence rankings. Our articles never promote or disregard a school for financial gain.

If you have questions about our ranking methodology, please feel free to connect with our staff through contact page.

We thank you for your readership and trust.

What Is an Online Certificate in Design?

Online certificate in design programs prepare learners for careers working with CAD technology. Enrollees learn to use CAD industry-standard software to create 2D and 3D models and related documentation — essential skills for architectural and civil drafters. Earning certificates also prepares individuals to pursue professional credentials in drafting or design.

Online CAD certificates can help students kick-start careers in drafting before going on to earn their degrees. A graduate can expect to transition directly into an entry-level position as a drafter or specialized technician.

What's the Difference Between a Certificate in Design and an Associate Degree in Computer-Aided Design?

Aspiring enrollees should know the differences between CAD certificates and associate degrees in CAD before committing to their programs. A certificate program's coursework focuses entirely on preparing the learner for a career working with CAD. An associate degree covers CAD fundamentals and electives, but also includes general education coursework. A CAD certificate takes two semesters to earn, while an associate usually takes two years.

An associate degree offers more customizable learning tracks and can lead to employment as an architectural manager or senior drafter.

What Can You Do With a Certificate in Design?

Most people with CAD certificates pursue careers as drafters or designers in architecture, civil engineering, and manufacturing. However, the skills developed by this certificate can also apply to other fields, including industrial engineering and animation.

The following section explores common career paths for students with certificates in design.

Architectural and Civil Drafter

Architectural and civil drafters prepare detailed drawings and plans for architectural structures and products, according to specifications from architects and designers. A certificate in design is generally the minimum requirement for this work, as the job requires familiarity with using CAD software and systems for 2D and 3D documentation modeling. Learners who want to work as architectural drafters and civil drafters must complete coursework in architectural drawing and building code foundations.

Animator

Animators create video imagery for various forms of media, including film, commercials, and video games. A CAD certificate can lead to a career in this field because it familiarizes you with the tools used to create 2D and 3D imagery on a computer. For instance, the skills you gain from taking courses in modeling, rendering, and animating for presentations and 3D modeling techniques also apply to industry tools for 3D animation, such as Unity.

Mapping Technician

These engineers make new maps of the Earth's surface, modify existing maps, and collect field data to help make mapping more accurate. A certificate in design can give you a competitive edge in this field, as it will familiarize you with CAD software used in computerized mapping. Future mapping technicians usually take coursework in advanced 3D modeling techniques and math for computer-aided design.

Choosing an Online Program

When choosing an online CAD certificate program, it's best to consider accreditation, cost, and curriculum. Learn more about how to choose an online program with the following links.

Accreditation for CAD Programs

Always research accreditation status for any prospective academic program before applying. Accreditation ensures that programs and schools meet educational standards, and attending an accredited school means you will be able to transfer credits and qualify for employment later.

It's best to attend programs from schools that hold regional accreditation. For vocational schools that are nationally accredited, check whether they have earned an endorsement from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges or the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training. If not, the program might not be legitimate.

What to Expect From a Certificate in Design Program

The typical CAD certificate curriculum covers the fundamentals for using industry-standard software for architecture, manufacturing, and mechanical engineering. Enrollees explore coursework in mechanisms, building codes, and manufacturing methods. Below are a few commonly included courses.

CAD Certificate Curriculum

  • AutoCAD: Students learn to use the most popular drafting software. The course reviews AutoCAD functions used in drawing, including basic and advanced commands. Enrollees can also experiment with 3D CAD.
  • Mechanisms: Coursework explores the inner workings of machines, including linkages, belt and chain drives, cams, speed reducers, and gears. Students also explore topics in fluid power.
  • Print Reading for CAD Design: Coursework covers drafting essentials, including line types, tolerances, auxiliary views, dimensions, and other basics required to create basic engineering drawings.
  • CAD Drawing Using Free Software: Enrollees learn about CAD programs commonly used by both professionals and amateurs. They take a practical approach to coursework, learning in a 3D environment using Google Sketchup or other free CAD software.
  • Manufacturing Processes for CAD Design: This course explores machining, steels, plastics, molding, casting, and material selections. Students also learn about material handling and inventory reductions, helping them understand manufacturing processes and systems.

How Long Does It Take To Get a CAD Certificate?

It typically takes one year to earn a CAD certificate. This can depend, however, on your course load and school. Some programs offer an accelerated track that may only take a few months or even a single semester to earn. Other schools might require you to take courses in a precise sequence with a regular course load and might not allow you to finish your certificate at an accelerated pace.

CAD Certifications

Earning a certificate prepares you to apply for a professional CAD certification, such as the certified drafter credential from the American Design Drafting Association (ADDA). To apply, you usually need around 1,000 hours of practical education (which your CAD certificate typically covers) or work experience. You then take an exam and pay a fee.

You can renew your CAD certification, which remains valid for around five years, by retesting or documenting consistent employment in the field.

This credential, offered by ADDA, measures competency in drafting theory and principles. The exam does not cover CAD software specifically but instead focuses on the quality drafting foundations. Individuals starting in the industry who want to prove their competency as generalists can consider this credential. Autodesk has created several professional credentials for drafters and designers. This credential certifies a professional's mastery in using the Autodesk drafting software's functions for drawing, editing, and annotating output. An Autodesk certification best serves the needs of professionals working as architectural or civil engineering drafters.

Drafting and Design Careers

The field of drafting and design encompasses many diverse careers. Most students with CAD certificates or degrees pursue careers as drafters, designers, or specialized technicians in architecture, civil engineering, and manufacturing. However, a CAD degree is a versatile credential that can open up careers beyond these industries.

Below are a few of the most common careers for students with CAD degrees, along with each career's median salary and projected employment growth rate.

Career Median Salary (2020) Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)
Drafter $57,960 -4%
Industrial Engineering Technicians $57,320 1%
Civil Engineering Technicians $54,080 3%
Surveying and Mapping Technicians $46,200 1%
Source: BLS

Drafting and Design Organizations

Drafting and design professionals can benefit from joining a professional organization, such as the American Design Drafting Association, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, or the Association for Women in Architecture.

These organizations usually tailor to a specialized focus, such as architecture or mechanical engineering, and offer discounted professional networking events, job services, and scholarships. Joining a professional organization helps you develop professionally and connects you to a larger community.

Frequently Asked Questions

true How Do You Become CAD-Certified?

You can become professionally CAD-certified by earning a certificate from an accredited school and then applying for a professional credential in your area of interest. There are several CAD-related certification options to pursue.

How Long Does It Take To Get a CAD Certificate?

It usually takes two semesters or one year to earn a CAD certificate, depending on whether a program offers accelerated or part-time options.

Are CAD Jobs in Demand?

Entry-level CAD jobs in drafting have seen slower growth in recent years, but industrial engineering technicians and civil engineering technicians still have positive employment projections. However, many employers now expect architects and designers to have CAD skills, so CAD skills remain in demand.

Header Image Credit: Klaus Vedfelt | Getty Images

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