How to Become a Cosmetologist in Wisconsin

If your version of a dream job includes flexibility with your work hours, daily interactions with clients and a chance to use your creative talents, cosmetology may be just the profession you’re looking for.

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Wisconsin happens to be one of the top-five states for cosmetologists, who account for a higher percentage of the total workforce than virtually all other states. Related to this is the fact that the eastern rural region of Wisconsin has a higher concentration of cosmetologists than any other rural area in the nation. Although the secret is out, cosmetologists will continue to be in demand from Milwaukee to Ashland because of the projected job growth in this field.

The Wisconsin Cosmetology Examining Board in conjunction with the state’s Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is responsible for licensing beauty professionals. To become a cosmetologist in Wisconsin – officially referred to as a Cosmetology Practitioner – you will need to navigate your way through these three steps:

Complete an Education Program in Cosmetology
Pass Wisconsin’s Cosmetology Examinations
Begin Your Career as a Wisconsin Cosmetology Practitioner



Step 1. Complete an Education Program in Cosmetology

To be eligible for a cosmetology license in Wisconsin you will need to start by meeting one of the following education requirements:

  • Graduate from an approved cosmetology school in Wisconsin that includes at least 1,550 hours of instruction
  • Complete a cosmetology apprenticeship that includes at least 4,000 hours of theory and practical development

If you elect to pursue your training through a traditional school, you will find that all cosmetology colleges in Wisconsin will include courses in the following subjects:

  • Personal development
  • Hygiene and grooming
  • Sterilization and sanitation
  • Cosmetology equipment and tools
  • Hair, skin, and nail anatomy and physiology
  • Hair cutting and styling techniques and approaches
  • Hair straightening and relaxing
  • Shaving and beard/mustache trimming
  • Manicuring and nail enhancements
  • Product knowledge, sales, and information
  • Cosmetology laws, rules, and ethics
  • Industry trends and cosmetology student needs

There are over 40 approved cosmetology degree programs in Wisconsin, located in cities like:

  • 4 in Appleton
  • 4 in Madison
  • 4 in Milwaukee
  • 2 in Eau Claire
  • 2 in Green Bay
  • 1 in Kenosha
  • 1 in Oshkosh
  • 1 in Racine
  • 1 in Waukesha



Step 2. Pass Wisconsin’s Cosmetology Examinations

Wisconsin contracts with the company Pearson VUE to administer its cosmetology exams. You will need to pass two exams administered through this company:

  • Cosmetology Theory Examination
  • Practical Skills Cosmetology Examination

As you near the completion of your cosmetology education you will be eligible to apply apply online for these exams. This application will also serve as your application for licensure with the Wisconsin Cosmetology Examining Board.

Once you are approved to test through Pearson VUE – and if you have completed your education – you will also have the option of applying for a temporary cosmetology license, which you can do through your Pearson VUE account. This will allow you to practice for up to six months as a cosmetologist while you are waiting to take your examinations and be issued a full cosmetology license. If you fail either of your exams or fail to appear for testing on your scheduled day you temporary license will become immediately invalidated.

Once you pass your exams Pearson VUE will forward your scores to the Board, who will then review your application and make a decision to issue a license. The licensing and exam fee is $391.

Detailed information about both your exams is available in Pearson VUE’s Wisconsin Cosmetology Candidate Handbook.

Cosmetology Theory Exam

The first portion of your theory exam will cover your knowledge of Wisconsin state laws and regulations pertaining to the practice of cosmetology, and is comprised of 20 questions.

An additional 120 questions will cover the following general cosmetology topics:

  • Cosmetology safety, sanitation, rules, and regulation
  • Trichology
  • Shampooing
  • Scalp analysis
  • Styling
  • Hair coloring, bleaching, tinting, and lightening
  • Hair cutting
  • Perms
  • Chemical relaxing and straightening
  • Esthetics
  • Nails

Practical Skills Cosmetology Examination

Your practical skills exam is set in a testing facility designed to mimic a salon. You will need to bring your own supplies – detailed on the Pearson VUE Supply List – to perform the following procedures on a mannequin:

  • Safety and infection control
  • Hair cutting
  • Hair styling
  • Hair bleaching, highlighting, and coloring
  • Chemical relaxing
  • Perms
  • Esthetics and skin care
  • Manicure

Out-of-State Cosmetologists

If you are already a licensed cosmetologist in another state and have practiced as such for at least 4,000 hours, you may be eligible for licensure in Wisconsin and should complete the following for submission to the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) in Madison:

If you completed your cosmetology education outside of Wisconsin you may be eligible for licensure in-state if your school included a curriculum that was at least 1,550 hours and you complete Wisconsin’s testing requirements. Once you pass the cosmetologist exams you will need to send your official school transcripts to the Wisconsin Cosmetology Examining Board and request a transcript review.



Step 3. Begin Your Career as a Wisconsin Cosmetology Practitioner

With your cosmetology license in hand there is nothing standing between you and striking out in your new career. As a new cosmetologist you can start developing your talent and reputation in a local salon, and once you have reached a more advanced level your prospects may include styling in some of Wisconsin’s hottest locations:

As a fully-licensed cosmetologist or cosmetology apprentice you will need to renew your license biannually by March 31st of odd-numbered years. A recently passed law now requires all cosmetologists to earn at least four hours of continuing education before each renewal, with one hour of this relating to cosmetology laws and three hours relating to infection control, safety, and sanitation. You can earn this from any approved cosmetology school.

Once your reputation and skills have progressed you can consider opening up your own day spa.

Throughout Wisconsin, cosmetologists are concentrated in the following areas:

  • 10,750 statewide
  • 3,280 in the greater Milwaukee area
  • 1,750 in the Lake County-Kenosha metropolitan area
  • 1,060 in Madison
  • 730 in the eastern rural area of the state
  • 550 in Appleton
  • 510 in Green Bay
  • 440 in Racine
  • 360 in the Oshkosh-Neenah area

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