How Long Does It Take to Become a General Contractor?

If you’re a contractor, a journeyman, an apprentice or someone just normally interested in a career in construction, there’s a good chance you have your eye on someday becoming a general contractor.

It’s an appealing proposition – general contractors make good money and doing inspections isn’t nearly as punishing on the body as a day of laying grout.

And yet, despite all the benefits, many contractors are put off from becoming general contractors simply because it can take a long time to get there. There’s a conception around becoming a gen con that it’s a long, grueling path to the top. Is that true?

What do you have to do to become a general contractor? And how long does it take? In this article, we’ll cover what steps to take and how long you can expect to become a licensed general contractor.


The first step towards becoming a general contractor is typically education. While a high school diploma can suffice, many people with the goal of becoming a general contractor will study for a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as construction management or engineering.

The benefits of a traditional education are often underestimated. Sure, you don’t need a degree to be a general contractor, but at the same time, there’s a lot to gain from it. Like a welder may learn tons of trade-specific legal and social skills in their welding classes, a general contracting degree provides a solid foundation of knowledge about the construction industry.

A good construction management class covers a wide range of topics, including project management, cost estimation, building codes and standards, safety regulations, and more. This knowledge is crucial for general contractors, as they need to oversee every aspect of a construction project on a microscopic level to succeed

Formal education can take anywhere from two to four years, depending on your class load and ability. In general, though, the average time to complete a bachelor’s degree in construction management is four years, so expect the full ride if you want to graduate.

Length of Time To Complete: 2-4 years
Notes: Not always necessary, depending on your state! Can also be an exemption from work experience in some states. Check with your state’s contractor regulatory body.

Gaining Practical Experience

Whether you graduate or not, after education, the next step is gaining the necessary hands-on experience to operate as a general contractor. In many states, including California, you need to satisfy the education requirements set forth by the CSLB in order to obtain a Class B General Contractor’s license.

This usually involves working under a licensed contractor to learn the ropes of the trade. The duration of this phase can range from two to five years, depending on the complexity of the projects and the skills required. Again, plan for the long-term on this one: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most construction managers have at least five years of experience in the field.

The good thing is you’ll now be making money as you earn your experience, unlike when you’re in school. Another great part of the practical experience portion of your career is this is where the theoretical knowledge gained from education is put to the test. You learn how to handle unexpected challenges, manage teams, deal with clients, and so on. Oh, and you get to stay up late “hanging out” after work and face no consequences the next morning – a skill not to be underestimated!

Length of Time To Complete: 2-5 years
Notes: Necessary in most states to receive your license and legally work as a contractor!

The Licensing Process

Once you’ve gained sufficient experience to meet your state’s licensing requirement, it’s time to get licensed.

This process involves passing a state-specific exam, which can take a few months of preparation. The licensing process itself can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the state’s regulations – and your own preparation and test-taking skills.

Either way, expect it to take a little while. According to the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies, the average time to obtain a contractor’s license is about six months.

Once you pass the test and get your license, that’s it! You’re ready to start your journey and start doing the job of a general contractor.

Length of Time To Complete: 6 months on average
Notes: Can be longer or shorter depending on how well you prepare for the examination.

Doing The Math

So, how long does it take to become a general contractor? According to our expert math, it’ll take someone between six to twelve years to become a general contractor with no experience, no education, and no license.

Now, that may seem like a long time, but the reality is a lot of that is spent learning your on-the-job skills as a journeyman. In other words, most of the time you spend becoming a general contractor is paid education.

Getting paid (well) to learn the skills needed to get paid more? We’re not complaining.