How to Become a Cosmetologist in 5 Steps

Cosmetologists are licensed beauty care specialists who are trained to provide services such as facials, nail care and makeup applications; they also color, cut and style hair. All states require that cosmetologists obtain licensure to practice. Continue reading for a guide to becoming a cosmetologist. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cosmetologist?

Cosmetologists are beauty professionals. They provide a variety of services to clients depending on their specialization. Some cosmetologist may work exclusively as hairdressers or barbers and provide hair cutting, styling, and coloring services to clients. Others may be make-up artists, nail artists, or skin care specialists. It is also possible for cosmetologists to be skilled and trained in multiple areas or work in a salon that offers a variety of different services. The following table provides some detailed information about a career in cosmetology.

Degree Required High school diploma; Cosmetology certificate or associate's program
Education Field of Study Cosmetology
Key Responsibilities Listening to clients, cutting and styling hair, mixing color, cleaning work station
Job Growth (2014-2024) 10% (barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists)*
Median Salary (2015) $23,710 (barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Research Cosmetology Career Duties and Education

Cosmetologists offer an array of beauty services to their clients, including shampooing, coloring, cutting and styling of hair, as well as wigs and hairpieces. Cosmetologists may also advise clients on how to properly care and maintain hair, or how to lighten and darken their hair. Some cosmetologists specialize in other beauty care regimens, such as manicures, pedicures, facials and scalp treatments. All states require cosmetologists to hold a license, which typically requires being at least 16 years old, holding a high school diploma or GED, completing a state-approved cosmetology program and passing exams.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

Cosmetology training programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools and specialized cosmetology schools. Most cosmetology school programs can be completed within 9-24 months. Students receive training in hairstyling, personal appearance and skin care, as well as sales and marketing.

Various levels of programs are available, including certificate programs, associate's degree programs and apprenticeships. Courses you may take include safety and sanitation, hair cutting, hairstyling, thermal styling, chemical hair treatments, nail technology, facial skin care, hair removal and make-up application. Certificate and degree programs include practical training components, allowing you to work in salons providing beauty treatments. You may also have a class devoted to licensure exam preparation.

Apprenticeships include both college training and employment under a licensed cosmetologist, allowing you to become familiar with the daily activities of the profession and learn to interact with clients while at the same time making a wage. An apprenticeship can help you build a clientele and a portfolio while you're gaining experience. Upon completing an apprenticeship, you may earn a certificate, but apprenticeship programs typically last longer than regular certificate or degree programs.

Step 3: Get Additional Business Training

Many cosmetologists aspire to run their own practices in the future. Therefore, taking a business class with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and financing can help you learn what it will take to open your own salon; bookkeeping, accounting, marketing and management are other business skills that will be put to use when cosmetologists make the leap to business owner. You can find business classes through continuing education departments of colleges and universities nationwide.

Step 4: Become Licensed

Cosmetologists must be licensed in the state where they practice. Licensing involves testing applicant's knowledge through a practical hands-on examination and a written examination. Some states require separate licenses for skin care specialists, manicurists and pedicurists. Contact your state's board of cosmetology for more information.

Step 5: Get a Job

As a cosmetologist, you could find employment in salons, spas, hotels and resorts. Also, as of 2014, approximately half of all barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists were self-employed, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Also per the BLS, a 10% increase in employment that would create 64,400 jobs is expected for hairdressers, barbers and cosmetologists from 2014-2024. This job increase is due to a higher demand for hair treatments.

Though job opportunities overall are positive, you are likely to face stiff competition for jobs at luxury salons. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for barbers, hairdressers, and cosmetologists was $23,710, and the middle-half of hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists made between $19,150 and $33,170 per year.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Depending on an individual's specific interests, they may want to pursue a more specialized area in the beauty field rather than general cosmetology. They may want to become manicurists or pedicurists and focus on nail art. Another option is becoming an aesthetician, a professional who focuses on skin care. Or if they are more interested in the administrative side of a salon, they could become an office manager.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Virginia College

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  • Northern Michigan University

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  • World A Cuts Barber Institute

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    • Pennsylvania: York
  • Woodward Beauty College

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    • Oklahoma: Woodward
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    • Mississippi: Poplarville
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    • Florida: Inverness