Cosmetology License and Test Facts

Read on to learn what it takes to become a licensed cosmetologist. Learn more about what the cosmetology licensing test involves and how to prepare for it. Schools offering Nail Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What You Need to Know

Although each state has different licensing requirements, most states expect aspiring cosmetologists to hold a high school diploma. Cosmetologists seeking licensure also need to be graduates of an accredited cosmetology school. Your state's licensing exam may have a practical, written and oral component. You should research which of these test sections your state includes before preparing for the exam.

Courses Hair and scalp treatment, coloring, make-up application, wigs and extensions, client advising, cutting and styling hair
Licensing Varies by state; must have graduated an accredited cosmetology school via written and oral components to state licensing exam; know the rules and regulations, styling techniques
Salary $23,120 per year (Median salary for Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014)

What Does a Cosmetology License Entail?

The written and oral examinations will test your knowledge of the rules and regulations relating to safety. These exams will also test your knowledge of styling techniques.

For the practical exam, you can expect to perform a series of tasks that you will do as a cosmetologist; these might include client interaction or workstation clean-up. You could also be tested on techniques such as hair cutting, blow drying and chemical enhancements. In some cases, you may have to bring your own equipment, like scissors, tweezers and nail files. You may be asked to bring a model to the exam; the model can be a friend, but must be willing to get his or her hair cut and styled as determined by the practical examination.

Who Needs to Become Licensed?

All states have licensing requirements for workers in the cosmetology field, including barbers, cosmetologists and estheticians; the only exception is shampooers. To operate a business and teach cosmetology, you need to earn alternative licenses. A cosmetology license only qualifies you to act as a practitioner in a licensed hair salon, barbershop or spa.

What Are the Prerequisites?

In general, states require aspiring cosmetologists to graduate from a licensed cosmetology school with both classroom theory and field experience. For example, the state of Illinois requires license applicants to acquire 150 hours of classroom instruction, 500 hours of chemical application and 475 hours of hair styling experience. Similarly, New York requires 1,000 total hours of study and California requires 1,600 total hours.

How Do I Retake or Renew My License?

In general, if you do not pass the first time, you can retake the examination; however, you may have to take a refresher course. Licensed cosmetologists may need to renew their licenses every other year. Some states allow professional cosmetologists to renew their licenses online, while others require you to take continuing education courses.

Keep in mind that if you ever want to move to another state, you may have to take additional courses and even another exam. However, some states have reciprocity, allowing you to transfer your credit hours and professional experience in order to meet licensure requirements.

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