How to Become a Construction Estimator

Pardon the pun, but preconstruction and construction estimating are the foundation on which any construction project—large or small—is built. But it is a career path widely ignored by universities, community colleges, and trade schools. If you are a student interested in the construction field, your career counselors have most likely pushed you towards a degree or certificate in architecture or construction management.

Though those careers are exciting and rewarding, preconstruction offers you the opportunity to understand both the design and engineering aspects of the build process.

What is Preconstruction?

“There is another area of construction that is vitally important to the success of each project and it is called preconstruction.” -Gareth McGlynn

Preconstruction is the first building block to getting a project completed. Preconstruction services include the design, engineering, scope, scheduling, labor, strategy, and estimating the cost of the project. Without preconstruction, construction projects would be delayed, run into engineering problems, and possibly never even get off the ground.

What is a Preconstruction Estimator?


people working in an office The average salary for an estimator in the U.S. is $75,952. (

Construction estimators are the people who put together cost estimates for projects. General contractors use estimators to help bid for building projects. Their knowledge of construction, communication skills, and ability to accurately analyze large data sets help win projects for their company. Estimators are the heartbeat of a preconstruction team. Estimators are crucial to the construction process because they not only price the project but also guide owners and designers where costs should be spent.

Gareth McGlynn from the specialist staffing company Niche and host of The Preconstruction Podcast puts it like this: “Preconstruction is where the single biggest decisions are made to the success of a project.”

Why Should I be an Estimator?

Most of the current demographic of construction estimators are either retiring or preparing to retire, so there is an immediate demand to fill those roles. With the majority of students and graduates more interested in going into the field, there is a labor shortage in preconstruction. sites that the need for construction cost estimators will grow 10.5% from now to 2026. It is also one of the higher-paying construction career paths after receiving a four-year degree in construction engineering.

How to be a Good Estimator in Construction

There are many skills an estimator should have, those include:

  • Advanced math
  • Problem-solving
  • Quantity takeoff
  • Construction engineering
  • Project management
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Relationship building
  • Data analytics
  • Critical thinking
  • Detail-oriented
  • Technological savvy
  • Organized

Being a preconstruction estimator is a highly rewarding career that results in an extremely satisfying visual result to your efforts.

How Do I Become a Construction Estimator? The Path to Preconstruction

There is a small percentage of precon estimators that come in from the field trades like mechanical, electrical, and piping estimators; however, most estimators enter the construction industry with a four-year degree and have experience being either a field engineer or project manager because most general contractors desire a candidate to know the constructability of a project.

However, the shift from using outdated techniques to innovative technologies in the construction industry means entering preconstruction professionals won’t have to spend much time under the hard hat. A lot of exciting technologies are being used in the construction industry such as software, drones, and artificial intelligence (A.I.) to make the construction process safer, more efficient, and eco-friendly.

surveyors at an apartment building When looking at prospective schools, check for programs that offer job site training. (photo courtesy of Scott Blake)

Gareth recommends getting a well-rounded construction degree that includes course choices geared toward preconstruction like BIM (Building Information Modeling), estimating technology, and construction management. One of those degrees is Construction Engineering Technology. (CET)

Louisiana Tech University describes a Construction Engineering Technology degree as, “Construction engineering technologists manage and supervise the conversion of engineering and architectural plans from ideas to reality. A successful construction engineering technologist understands infrastructure life cycles, solves technical challenges, has a strong grasp of math and science, and communicates creative solutions to teams.”

There are quite a few colleges and universities that offer Construction Engineering Technology degrees, and a lot more that offer Construction Management degrees but the following places offer cost-estimating classes and are accredited by the Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology)—a “nonprofit ISO 9001-certified organization that accredits college and university programs in applied and natural science, computing, engineering, and engineering technology.”

The University of Akron, Akron, Ohio

The University of Akron offers both an Associate’s and Bachelor’s Degree in Construction Engineering Technology. The program requires classroom, lab, and co-op work-study with glasses in advanced estimating, construction cost control, and heavy construction estimating.

Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma

OSU’s CET degree offers two courses of study—Building (vertical focus) and Heavy/Highway (horizontal focus) with classes in BIM, estimating, and heavy estimating. They require (2) 400-hour internships and boast 100% job placement after graduation.

 Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana

Louisiana Tech’s track focuses less on math, which most CET degrees require advanced math classes, and more on management and business skills and offers classes like construction data modeling, estimating, and contracts and specifications.

Montana State University, Bozeman, Montana

Montana State’s CET degree falls under the Civil Engineering department and ensures 100% placement in internships. Classes include drafting and design, estimating and bidding, and BIM.

Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The CET major at Temple is designed for those who wish to work while also attending school, with classes arranged around typical daytime working hours with co-op work opportunities before graduating. Classes include estimating, and programming and data management training in preconstruction software.

The University of North Texas, Denton, Texas

UNT’s Bachelor of Engineering Technology (BSET) is a 50/50 split between construction management and construction engineering with classes that include CAD and BIM and estimating.

Other schools to consider:

  • Missouri Western State University
  • Pittsburg State University
  • East Tennessee State University
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University

There is also a plethora of online courses and many regional community colleges that offer estimating degrees and certificates.

When considering schools, Gareth says to look at the different modules and research the professors to see if they embrace new technology and have preconstruction and estimating experience.

Further, he says when recruiting he looks for those candidates with grit and determination. He says it is incredibly important to do more than just get a degree, “Set yourself apart from others, and the only way you do that is by doing extra and having more passion and more commitment to the field of construction.” Those who work in construction during summer breaks have a leg-up when entering the workforce.

Also, Gareth says there are little things you can do to educate yourself to fill in the gap from the education system like teaching yourself how to use preconstruction software by watching free tutorials or accepting internships at companies that use innovative tools like our DESTINI Estimator.

If you are looking for a career or needing high-quality candidates in preconstruction, reach out to Gareth.

This article is for contractors looking to attract talent.


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