Cosmetologists help clients look their best by providing personal services such as shampoos, haircuts, facials, manicures and pedicures. Cosmetologists must be licensed in every state to ensure that they meet minimum standards for competency and safe practice. Although laws vary from state to state, all licensing boards require cosmetologists to complete state-approved training programs and pass examinations.
In some states you must complete a high school diploma or general equivalency certificate before beginning a cosmetology training program, and most workplaces will require a high school education. Some high schools offer cosmetology training as part of career and technical education curricula, and cosmetology students complete dual academic and career tracks. Some states require a minimum age to begin training, such as 16.
Cosmetology training programs are also available in postsecondary vocational schools and community colleges. To qualify for licensing, you must choose a program recognized by your state board. You can complete a certificate program in as little as nine months or choose an associate degree program. The minimum program length depends on state requirements: for example, Pennsylvania requires 1,250 hours of training. An associate degree program at a community college will require at least 60 semester hours and normally takes two years.
The cosmetology curriculum includes both theoretical classes and hands-on practice. Some typical classes include hair analysis, instrument handling, hair cutting and scalp conditioning. Students also learn the composition of various products, such as tints, dyes and shampoos. They study sterilization procedures, sales techniques, professional ethics and state and federal laws related to the profession, especially in the area of safety. Using both mannequins and live models, they practice procedures such as hair cutting, hair coloring and manicuring. In an associate degree program, students also take general education courses in language arts, mathematics, humanities, social sciences and natural sciences.
The goal of cosmetology training is to develop your skills and prepare you for state licensing exams. State laws vary, but usually you must complete approved training, pass exams and pay a fee. The exams often include both a written test and a practical test or an oral exam. Depending on the state, you may have to renew your license periodically and pay a fee. For example, Arizona requires license renewal every year, while Pennsylvania requires it every two years. Continuing education is recommended but not required in both states.
A cosmetologist or hairdresser earns about $11 per hour, on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that figure does not factor in what a typical professional earns in tips. Hairdressers and cosmetologists can expect a favorable job outlook between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS. The number of positions will increase by 14 percent, similar to the average occupation, but retirement of older cosmetologists will open up more jobs. Competition will be keenest in high-end salons.