Steps to Becoming a Cosmetologist



A creative nature, a friendly, gregarious personality, and a love of beauty are certainly the hallmarks of a great cosmetologist. But beyond fitting the mold to work in this exciting field, individuals interested in the artistry of nail, hair, and makeup styling must meet the education, training and examination requirements necessary to become licensed.

Cosmetologists virtually always specialize as hairstylists and hairdressers, but they may concentrate on providing a broad range of services related to haircare, nailcare, and makeup artistry.

Most states have similar licensing processes, which include the successful completion of a formal training program as well as a hands-on practical exam and a written exam before completing an application for licensure.

What are the State Requirements for Licensure?

Most states license cosmetologists through their board of cosmetology or department of health. It is common for states to license general cosmetologists, professionals permitted to serve as manicurists/pedicurists, hairstylists/hairdressers, and/or makeup artists. Many states, however, also allow candidates to be licensed in a specific area of cosmetology, as well. A full cosmetology license requires more substantial practice requirements, while specializations may require significantly fewer practice hours for licensure.

For example, to earn a cosmetology license in Arizona, candidates must possess at least 1,600 practice hours, although those interested in working solely as nail technicians may achieve licensure after just 600 nail technician practice hours.

In general, a full cosmetology license requires between 1000 and 2000 hours of formal training and education. For example, the Vermont Board of Cosmetology requires 1,500 hours, while the New York Board of Cosmetology requires just 1,000 practice hours.

Entry requirements for cosmetology programs may include a minimum age (usually 16) and a high school diploma or GED.

What Kind of Training and Experience is Required?

Once a firm understanding of state licensure requirements has been established, individuals can then being searching for a cosmetology school that best fits their needs and career goals. Most state boards maintain a list of approved institutions or programs on their website. Many times, state boards will only approve programs that are accredited by one of the accrediting bodies for cosmetology programs:

  • Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT)
  • Accrediting Council for Continued Education & Training (ACCET)
  • American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
  • The National Accrediting Commission for Cosmetology Arts & Sciences (NACCAS)

Candidates who want to complete a program that does not appear on a state board of cosmetology’s approved program list should always receive approval from the board before beginning the program.

The cost, curriculum, and duration of a cosmetology program depends on whether it is an associate degree or certificate/diploma program, whether it is a part-time or full-time program, and whether it is a specialized beauty program or a comprehensive cosmetology program.

Specialized beauty programs may be completed in as little as 6 months, while full cosmetology programs generally take significantly longer, with the longest associate degree (Associate of Science, Associate of Applied Science, or Associate of Occupational Science) programs taking about 2 years to complete when taking courses on a full-time basis.

In addition to the beauty curriculum that includes hair styling, manicuring, skin care, and scalp care, a comprehensive cosmetology program covers everything from hygiene and sanitation to salon operations and practice laws.

Cosmetology programs may be found through vocational schools, community colleges, and dedicated cosmetology schools. Programs include a great deal of practical training, and many programs have a class devoted specifically to state licensure exam preparation.

It is also common for licensed cosmetologists and students to seek additional training in everything from marketing to business management if they anticipate owning their own salon or working as a salon manager.

What about Apprenticeships?

An apprenticeship involves working under a licensed cosmetologist on a full-time basis for a specific length of time. Some states, such as California, recognize the completion of an apprenticeship program in lieu of a formal education. However, candidates interested in pursuing this route to licensure should be aware that requirements for apprenticeships are often more stringent.

The difference between required practice hours for the education route versus the apprenticeship route can be dramatic. Requirements for the education route typically means completing around 1,500 hours, while apprenticeship programs often require at least 3,000 practice hours.

Further, some state boards of cosmetology allow only those individuals who can prove they are unable to afford a cosmetology program to complete an apprenticeship program, and some state boards, such as Illinois, do not recognize apprenticeships at all.

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