How to Become a Cosmetologist

Careers in Cosmetology

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Cosmetologists are licensed beauty professionals. Cosmetologists generally specialize in hair design and hairdressing, though they are usually certified to provide skin care services, do pedicures and manicures, and even apply makeup and advice women on how to do their makeup. Depending on the state where a cosmetologist earns their license, a separate license may be required for each of these tasks.

Learning how to become a cosmetologist means getting proper education and training, learning about the qualifications needed to work as a licensed cosmetologist, and following the steps necessary to working as a full-time cosmetologist.

Potential Earnings and Income of Cosmetologists

How to Become a CosmetologistCosmetologists, like any licensed professional, can earn as much money as they want. The potential earnings and income of cosmetologists is based on how much work they do, how long they've been in practice, and the region of the country where they work. Hairdressers and cosmetologists in wealthy parts of the country naturally make more money because they can charge more. If you have an affluent client base, you'll earn more money, though you can earn just as much money charging less for cosmetology services if you have a large client base.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average income of a cosmetologist was about $20,000 a year, but that number is skewed downward by the fact that many cosmetologists only work part-time. Full-time cosmetologists and hairdressers with a long list of clients can easily make six-figure salaries, especially if they have a lot of experience, perform multiple services (including spa services), and work in affluent parts of the country.

Cosmetologists that work on their own are more likely to keep more of the money they earn, although an association with a salon or spa will increase their client list. You have to find a balance between setting up your own schedule of clients and working independently and getting work through a larger salon or cosmetology service. Remember, if you rent a space at a salon, part of your earnings go to paying rent and other fees to the salon.

Education and Training for Cosmetologists

People interested in becoming cosmetologists train in public or private vocational schools or even two-year colleges. Education and training for cosmetologists should include classroom work as well as practical experience.

A full-time course in cosmetology normally requires six months to a full year of classroom work and practical experience to complete. The courses you take in cosmetology school cover hygiene, cosmetic chemistry, bacteriology (because of the chance of infection from dirty or improperly maintained equipment) and even psychology and business applications.

Because most people in cosmetology school have to work part or full-time while in school, many cosmetology schools offer night classes. If you take night classes, earning your degree in cosmetology will take longer. If you haven't earned your high school diploma, some cosmetology schools provide a GED program in addition to the normal training procedure in cosmetology. Programs that supply a GED as well as a cosmetology degree take up to three years to finish.

Apprenticeship programs are another in road to cosmetology training. These programs are licensed at the state level and involve working one on one with cosmetologists to learn the business directly from a working hairdresser or spa employee.

Every state in America requires some form of license for a cosmetologist or hairdresser to work professional, though these requirements vary widely from one state to another. Candidates for a degree in cosmetology must be at least sixteen years old, certified in good health by a doctor, and be a graduate of an approved cosmetology school. Cosmetologists must also pass a state licensing examination made up of a written test and a test of practical cosmetology skills.

Some states also require an oral exam in which cosmetology degree candidates are asked to explain specific cosmetology procedures in front of a licensing board. Continuing education is also important, as new techniques and styles are common in the field of cosmetology. Cosmetology licenses must be renewed every year or every two years, depending on the state in which a cosmetologist works.

Qualifications to Become a Cosmetologist

If you're interested in becoming a cosmetologist, you should have a wide range of skills and abilities, including:

  • being a people person
  • the ability to budget your time
  • interest and natural ability in design and cosmetology skills
  • a high school diploma, GED, or the desire to earn one or the other
  • financial resources to attend cosmetology school

The specific qualifications for becoming a licensed cosmetologist vary from state to state, so check with your state licensing board to make sure you meet all the qualifications and requirements before applying for cosmetology school. Once you earn your degree and pass the state licensing exams, it will be time to apply for work as a cosmetologist in a spa, hair salon, or even open your own shop if you have the means.

Becoming a Cosmetologist Step by Step

1. Earn your high school diploma or GED.

2. Look into the licensing requirements for cosmetologists in the state where you want to work. If you want to be a licensed cosmetologist to be a hairdresser but are also interested in working in other areas of cosmetology, look into the requirements for earning separate licenses for that work as well.

3. Apply for and enroll in an accredited cosmetology or vocational school offering a degree in cosmetology. To find accredited programs, you can download or view a list from the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts & Sciences web site at Look for a degree that combines classroom and practical training in cosmetology.

4. While you are working on your degree, apply for internships or part-time jobs at salons that can provide you course credit you'll need to complete your degree.

5. Take the state board examination after you graduate from your degree program. This test is part written and part practical application testing. Your cosmetology school will give you mock exams and train you to pass this examination.

Cosmetologists provide a valuable and necessary service. Millions and millions of people turn to cosmetologists to improve their appearance or for regular hair cuts, pedicure, manicures, and other service. The sky is the limit in terms of your work and earning potential.