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How To Become A Licensed Cosmetologist

Updated on April 19, 2013

1. Choosing A Career Path

There is no single linear path to becoming a licensed cosmetologist. Depending on what aesthetic path you wish to take, and how much time you are are able to devote to learning the trade, acquiring a license can take anything from a few weeks to well over a year.

Our first step will be to decide where you wish to invest your time, energy and passion. Your choices range anywhere from a fully fledged hair stylist, to a shampooer (in certain states becoming a shampooer does not require board certification) and anything in between.

Other cosmetologist career paths include becoming an aesthetician (focused on skin health), nail technician, electrologist (permanent hair removal), manicurist, make-up artist or hair colourist. The choice is yours.


2. Getting Organized

The second step will be to gather all the information and tools we need to get started in earnest. Unfortunately, this can be a time-consuming process for several reasons.

  • Each state has its own guidelines regarding attaining certification. This will mean that your research should be state specific.
  • You will need to find and enrol in a cosmetology school of your choosing. Prices can vary greatly.
  • Most schools will screen candidates and require certain educational prerequisites such as a high school diploma or GED, along with the ability to demonstrate a basic understanding of cosmetology before enrolling. These prerequisites will vary from specialization to specialization and from state to state.

In addition to all of the above, you will need to be at least 16 years old at the time of enrolment.

A Handy Quick Time-saver

You can browse cosmetology schools (and their requirements) in your state by taking a peek at this exhaustive, free directory.

3. Learning The Trade

Cosmetology schools mix classroom education and hands-on supervised work. Once a sufficient amount of practical hours (known as contact hours) and theoretical classroom work have been accrued (again, the amount needed will depend on what kind of cosmetologist you are shooting for) the course ends with a state-sponsored exam.

While some states allow apprenticeship programs to cover the necessary supervised practice hours, not all do. It is imperative to find out in advance whether your apprenticeship qualifies as counting towards meeting your courses' requirement. In any case, know that successfully completing your license can take anywhere between 1000 to 2300 practice hours, which is by no means a walk in the park.

For readers who fear that they might not have sufficient time to complete the course due to factors such as parenting, please bear in mind that many schools offer flexible schedules. As always your best bet is to short-list a selection of candidate schools and contact them directly.

4. Salary, Outlook And Statistics

When it comes to salaries, not all cosmetology paths are created equal. But in general, the practice is expected to grow rapidly through 2018. According to a survey of practising cosmetologists in 2010, the average per hour salary was $11. But bear in mind that many cosmetologists work part-time and thus the figure may be negatively skewed. Many experienced cosmetologists earn well over $50,000 a year. Not bad for such an inherently fun (if challenging) job!


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