Career Choices: Being a Contractor vs. Being an Engineer

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The construction industry is filled with various businesses and career choices. It’s one of the main reasons it’s one of the biggest industries in the US and globally. This looks good for the general industry as it will never run out of manpower, but this can be quite problematic for the individual.

One of the most occurring for those who want to join the industry is whether they want to get started early and become a general contractor or study for a long time and become an engineer. In this article, we will explain the main differences between the two and which is career path is meant for you.


First, let’s talk about one of the most important pieces of information regarding career choice: salary.

The average annual salary of a contractor is around $62,000. It’s a decent wage because it’s above the median wage of $34,000 of many Americans. On the other hand, civil engineers earn on average a staggering $95,000 annually, surpassing most of the average earnings of professionals out there. But there is a catch, unlike contractors, engineers do have to spend a ridiculous amount of time learning before starting working in their field.


The only degree you’ll need to become a contractor is a bachelor’s degree, and that’s optional. Of course, you can start with only a high school diploma if you choose this path, but having a bachelor’s degree will always be helpful. However, what will take most of your time will be the licenses you need for all sorts of jobs. More on that later.

To become a civil engineer, a bachelor’s degree is required. This means spending at least four years in college studying a related course in the field. Typically, civil engineers also require a master’s degree, another four to five years required to finish. The way to such a path is pretty challenging because you’ll need to learn all sorts of mathematical equations for your field.

Furthermore, the civil engineer board exams are among one of the hardest. It is estimated that only four out of ten graduates pass the exam. If we follow averages, it will take you at least two to three tries to pass your first exam. It is certainly a challenging path, but one that can be worth it in the end.


Contractors might not have licenses, but they do require a license to operate within a state. For example, you are going to need to take a roofing license exam before you can start working on roofs. It’ll be quite some time before you can fully take on all the licenses for all kinds of work as a contractor. There are even some who argue that it’s not worth getting all the licenses open to you. Nonetheless, getting the necessary licenses will still take some time and money, similar to going to school as an engineer.

By the end of the day, you’re not going to get away without studying, even if you’re a contractor. It’s an essential part of your career progression in the future.

Which is More in Demand

It is estimated that there are at least 600,000 general contractors in the US. The number can be much larger if we consider contractors that only work in specific fields like painting and roofing. However, when it comes to civil engineers, there are only about 300,000 workings.

From these numbers, we can see that there can be a growing demand for civil engineers than general contractors, just because there are fewer engineers out there than there are contractors. However, when we look into the work they do, it seems that there’s a right amount of civil engineers out there, and even if you do graduate as one, it’s still going to be quite challenging.

The construction industry is worth at least a trillion dollars, and there are many out there looking for a piece of that trillion-dollar pie. So which is the better option? 

From what we can see, becoming a civil engineer gives you access to one of the most highest-paying wages in the US. However, if you’re planning to start a business, then it is better to become a general contractor instead. This is because it gives you the most versatility when compared to engineers. It will also give you the head start you need for your business. But if you want to improve the industry as a whole, then becoming an engineer is better, as the years spent in school will certainly be worth it.

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