Become a Professional Hair Styling Instructor: Requirements and Info

Learn how to become a professional hair styling instructor. Research the education requirements, training information and licensing required for starting a career as a hair styling instructor.

Should I Become a Hair Styling Instructor?

Hair styling or cosmetology instructors train aspiring hair stylists, hairdressers and cosmetologists. They can work in public and private career or technical schools as well as businesses like hair salons.

These professionals typically work during school hours, though some might have to come in early or stay late to meet with parents or students. They might also do most of their grading and lesson planning in the evenings or on weekends; however, most instructors have summers off.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Postsecondary training
Degree Field Cosmetology or related
Licensure All states require licensing
Experience 3-5 years as a licensed cosmetologist or cosmetologist instructor
Key Skills Creativity, ability to stand for prolonged periods, manual dexterity, good communication and relational skills, skill with various pieces of hairstyling equipment
Salary (2015) $35,155 (median for cosmetology instructors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, Job postings by employers (October 2012),

Step 1: Complete an Approved Cosmetology Program

The first step on the road to becoming a cosmetology instructor is to complete a regular cosmetology program. Cosmetology programs generally confer an associate degree or certificate and can be found at community colleges and technical schools. Since many states require licensees to be 16 years or older with a high school diploma or its equivalent, some programs are open to high school students as well.

State-approved programs last around 2 years or less and include lectures and hands-on training. Schools may have their own cosmetology salons on-campus, and students can work with actual clients under instructor supervision. Specific hair-related topics in a cosmetology program include hair styling, hair cutting and chemical treatments. Other topics of study commonly covered in cosmetology programs include sanitation, hygiene, business and computer skills.

Success Tips:

  • Build strong communication and relational skills. Since cosmetologists work directly with clients to improve their personal image and appearance, having good listening and speaking skills are important to building relationships. Use time spent in the practical portion of the training program to develop excellent communication skills with clients, instructors and fellow students.
  • Practice outside the classroom. Hair stylists and cosmetologists need manual dexterity along with an aesthetic eye. Self-study outside of the classroom setting can accelerate mastery of newly learned skills. Students can gain experience practicing on friends and family, or they may opt to use training tools and supplies, such as wigs.

Step 2: Get a Cosmetology License

Although every state has varying requirements to qualify for licensing as a cosmetologist, states commonly mandate the completion of a minimum number of hours of instruction through an approved cosmetology training program. After this requirement is met, most states require individuals to successfully pass an exam. Generally, exams are in a written format, though some may also include practical or oral components.

Step 3: Get Work Experience

After becoming a licensed cosmetologist, an individual needs to acquire the minimum work experience required by the state in which they're employed in order to qualify for licensing as an instructor. Some state boards may not require an individual to have separate work experience; instead, the completion of an approved instructor training program is sufficient. Typically, the work requirement mandated by state boards is around 1-2 years of experience. However, employers typically desire around 3-5 years of total experience along with licensure (cosmetologist and/or instructor) for instructor positions. Generally, having more experience is beneficial for employment opportunities as a cosmetology instructor.

Success Tip:

  • Make sure you check with your state board for exact work experience requirements. Prior to beginning employment as a cosmetologist, make sure to review the length of work experience mandated by the state for cosmetology instructor licensing.

Step 4: Complete a Cosmetology Instructor Program

Training programs for cosmetology instruction are generally shorter in duration than regular cosmetology programs. Many instructor programs have admission requirements that only permit licensed cosmetologists to apply. The curriculum for an instructor program includes courses geared specifically toward training instructors, such as teaching theory and aids, class management and motivation, evaluation methods, practical teaching and curriculum design. Cosmetology-related areas of study include topics in hair, skin and nail care. Programs are usually divided into lectures and practical sessions.

Step 5: Get a Cosmetology Instructor License

The last step to becoming a hair styling or cosmetology instructor is to get the license. This licensing process is similar to that for the regular cosmetology license and usually entails completing an approved education program and successfully passing an exam. However, most states require an individual to be a licensed cosmetologist prior to applying for the instructor license. In addition, some states may also require an individual to have around 1-2 years of work experience as a cosmetologist prior to applying for instructor licensure.

State licensing boards may require continuing education for cosmetologist and cosmetology instructor license renewals. Typically, an individual must take courses that meet the minimum number of hours required to maintain licensure. Other states may not require any continuing education at all. Licensed cosmetologists and instructors need to check with their state board for license renewal requirements.

Step 6: Seek Opportunities for Advancement

Experienced instructors may seek promotions to positions such as senior educator or cosmetology school manager within their current place of employment, or they may consider opening their own cosmetology school. Some hair styling instructors may open their own salon while also working as a guest lecturer at schools and professional organizations.

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