The Education Exemption for Your CSLB License: A Guide

Been to school for a construction-related degree and wondering if you can use that education to help you get a California contractor’s license?

You’re in luck – the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) allows contractors with a background in higher education related to construction education to be exempt from some of the stringent experience requirements that the state sets forth for licensed Colorado contractors.

What is a CSLB Contractor’s License?

A CSLB contractor’s license is a legal requirement in the state of California for anyone who intends to perform construction work where the total cost (labor and materials) exceeds $500.

Anyone doing construction work over $500 or involving specialized areas of construction (such as HVAC or plumbing) must have a valid CSLB contractor’s license related to the area of construction.

The CSLB oversees the licensing process, ensuring consumer protection and industry regulation. This license allows consumers to hire contractors with the implicit backing of the state, ensuring safety and quality standards are met throughout the state.

Who Needs a Contractor’s License?

Anyone performing work in California that costs over $500 in labor or materials must have a valid CSLB-verified contractor’s license.

Here’s a more detailed list of when a contractor’s license is required:

  • Individuals and businesses undertaking projects over $500 in labor or materials costs.
  • Subcontractors and specialty contractors working in trades on construction jobs
  • The contractor’s license must be valid for the area of specialization
  • Any government or federal-related construction jobs require a contractor’s license

Requirements For A CSLB Contractor’s License

Here are the requirements for getting a contractor’s license in California:

  • Age Requirement: Must be at least 18 years old.
  • Experience: A minimum of four years of relevant experience at a journey level, or as a foreman, supervising employee, contractor, or owner-builder within the last ten years.
    • Education Exemption: Up to three years of the experience requirement can be substituted with relevant educational or technical training, but at least one year must be practical experience.
  • Examination: Pass the CSLB examination, which includes a Law and Business exam and a trade-specific exam.
  • Legal Presence: Provide proof of legal presence in the United States (you cannot be an undocumented migrant).
  • Fingerprinting: Undergo a criminal background check through fingerprinting.
  • Bond Requirement: Post a $25,000 contractor’s bond.
  • Workers’ Compensation: If you have employees, or hold a certain classification, provide proof of workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Business Entity: If applying as a business entity, such as a corporation or LLC, register with the California Secretary of State.
  • Unique Business Name: Register and use a business name that is unique and not misleading or similar to an existing licensee.

What is the Education Exemption?

When it comes to getting your contractor license in California, you have to satisfy the experience requirements. California requires all contractors to have four years of journeyman experience in their area of focus. For example, if you are applying for an HVAC contractor’s license, you need at least four years’ experience as an HVAC journeyman.

But what about aspiring contractors who don’t have experience? Can you still get a contractor’s license?

You can – but the only other route is via the education exemption, which states that contractors only need one year of journeyman experience in their trade of choice, so long as they have three years’ qualifying education as well!

In practice, this means you have three years’ education at a trade school, university or other construction-related educational institution. The education exemption allows aspiring contractors to count formal education or technical training towards the required four years of experience needed to qualify for the CSLB exam, significantly decreasing the time and energy you have to spend to get your license.

How Do You Qualify for the Education Exemption?

In order to qualify for the education exemption, you have to demonstrate to the CSLB that you have the requisite three years’ education in the classification for which you are applying.

In addition to the three years’ education, you also need at least one year’s journeyman experience in that trade, so, for example, if you want to become an electrician via the education exemption, you need three years’ accredited education as an electrician, as well as one year working under a licensed C-10 contractor.

Here’s how you qualify for the education exemption in its simplest terms:

  • To Qualify For The Education Exemption: Three years of credit for relevant educational achievements can be applied toward the four-year experience requirement.
    • Accredited Degrees: Degrees or substantial coursework in construction management, architecture, engineering, and related fields can contribute towards the experience credit.
    • Technical and Vocational Training: Recognized apprenticeship programs or vocational training in the trade seeking licensure can also count.

Do You Still Need Work Experience to Get Your License if You Take the Education Exemption?

Yes. Despite the education exemption, applicants must have at least one year of practical experience. The combination of education and hands-on experience ensures well-rounded qualifications for licensure.

How Do You Know if Your Education Qualifies for the Exemption?

The CSLB evaluates each applicant’s educational background on a case-by-case basis:

  • Documentation: Official, sealed transcripts and certificates of completion from accredited institutions must be submitted for evaluation.
  • Accreditation: Degrees obtained outside the United States require translation and evaluation by an accredited evaluation service.

The CSLB states that they may accept the following as proof of satisfying the educational requirements:

A maximum of one (1) to one-and-a-half (1.5) years upon submission of official transcripts of an A.A. degree from an accredited school or college in building or construction management.

  • A maximum of two (2) years upon submission of official transcripts of any of the following:
    • A four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the fields of accounting, architecture (Class B Only!), business, economics, mathematics, physics, or areas related to the specific trade or craft for which application is being made
    • A professional degree in law
    • Substantial accredited college or university coursework in accounting, architecture, business, construction technology, drafting, economics, engineering, mathematics, or physics.

A maximum of three (3) years upon submission of any of the following:

  • A Certificate of Completion of Apprenticeship from an accredited apprenticeship program or a certified statement of completion of apprenticeship training from a union in the classification for which the application is being made. The Division of Apprenticeship Standards can help you verify this.
    • Submission of official transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in construction technology/management, or any field of engineering that is directly related to the classification for which application is being made.
    • Submission of official transcripts for a four-year degree from an accredited college or university in the field of horticulture, landscape horticulture, or landscape architecture for the Landscaping (C-27) classification, or in the field of interior design for the Painting and
    • Decorating (C-33) classification.

Which License Classifications Are Best for Education Exemption?

While most classifications can benefit from the education exemption, those with a direct correlation to specific educational programs—such as engineering, architecture, and construction management—are particularly advantageous.

As you can see in the previous section, those with more defined ideas and backing of hard scientific rigor are the best for directly applying education to real-world experience. Class A General Engineering license holders, in particular, need the four-year classroom education on physics, dynamics, and all the various day-to-day, real-world considerations needed for safe and effective construction.

Can You Skip the CSLB Exam if You Qualify for the Education Exemption?

Generally speaking, all applicants, regardless of education or experience, must pass the CSLB examination to obtain their license.

However, you can apply for a waiver of examination, if you think you qualify. The CSLB gives out waivers of examination for the CSLB exam if you meet the following requirements:

  • The qualifying individual is a member of the immediate family of a licensee whose individual license was active and in good standing for five of the seven years immediately preceding the application;
  • The qualifying individual must have been actively engaged in the licensee’s business for five of the previous seven years and must be applying in the same classification(s); and
  • The license must be required in order to continue the operations of an existing family business in the event of the absence or death of the licensee.

So it doesn’t really depend on you, but rather the qualifying individual who is “sponsoring” your license.

See our full article on skipping the CSLB exam for more information.


If you already have three years of schooling in your area of expertise – great! You probably qualify to be exempt from the four years of journeyman experience requirement.

However, you still need to get some on-the-job training – at least one year’s worth. Now it’s time to hit the bricks and get some work under an experienced, licensed contractor.

Partnering with a mentor or an expert in your area is a great way to fulfill this requirement and get you that one step closer to becoming a licensed contractor in California! Reach out to your local network and find somewhere where you can grow your skills and ultimately get your license!

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About CSLS

Contractors State License Service (CSLS) is the largest school in California devoted to the Construction professional. For over 23 years, CSLS has helped its students pass the exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California, licensing more students than any other school. From our main offices in Southern California, CSLS operates over 25 locations with full-service support and classrooms. We have grown to this extent by providing quality, professional services. In comparison, this provides 7 times the number of convenient locations than the second largest contractor school. Contractors State License Services is one of the only contractor schools in the state that is run by educators, not lawyers or people mostly interested in the bonding and insurance business. Contractors State License Services formerly operated under the oversight of the State of California's Bureau for Private Post Secondary and Vocational Education. As of January 1 2010, the new Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) came into existence replacing the BPPVE. CSLS now operates under the provisions of the California Private Postsecondary Education Act of 2009 (CPPEA), Article 4 Section 94874(f). Our Mission is simple; We can help you pass your California Contractors License Exam. Celebrating our 25th year, CSLS has helped over 120,000 students pass the California contractor licensing exam to become licensed contractors in the State of California. Additionally, we offer complete home study and online contractor’s license programs to help you pass your California contractors license exam. CSLS offers licensing classes for all types of contractor licenses, including General Engineering Contractor, General Building Contractor, Specialty Contractor, Insulation and Acoustical Contractor, Framing and Rough Carpentry Contractor, Cabinet, Millwork and Finish Carpentry Contractor, Concrete Contractor, Drywall Contractor, Electrical Contractor, Elevator Contractor, Landscaping Contractor, Warm-Air Heating, Ventilating and Air-Conditioning Contractor, and many others. For a complete list of contractor licenses, visit and tuned for more informative posts.