Hair Stylist School and College Program Overviews

Find out how long it takes to complete certificate, diploma and associate programs for prospective hair stylists. Read about coursework and licensing standards, along with what the potential salary may be for graduates.

Essential Information

College programs in the hair styling field are most often found in the area of cosmetology. Students have the option to complete a diploma or associate degree program in cosmetology. Some schools also offer short certificate programs specifically in hair styling. The basic content of these programs address topics like coloring, styling, sanitation and nail care, and these programs are usually practical training intensive. Hair stylists must be licensed to work, so students should verify what's required in their state. Most programs require applicants to hold a high school diploma or GED.

Hair Stylist Certificate

Certificate programs that focus solely on hair styling can last as little as a week to as long as a year or more, depending on the extent of the education. Students learn shampooing, cutting, styling and treatment techniques through both instructional lecture and hands-on training. Some schools offer beginning, intermediate and advanced levels as student progress through the program. There are usually no prerequisites to enroll in a hair stylist certificate program.

Course Topics

Courses cover different hair textures as well as hair cutting, coloring and styling methods. Students learn about sanitation and safety issues when handling chemicals and other hair styling products. Hands-on lessons are usually offered to allow aspiring hair stylists the opportunity to practice different styles, procedures and techniques. Some schools provide specific instruction on how to dress, style and maintain wigs. Some common course topics include:

  • Curling and straightening hair
  • Styles for short and long hair
  • Hair coloring and highlighting
  • Disinfecting and maintaining equipment
  • Shampooing and conditioning

Licensing Information

All states require licensing for hair stylists and cosmetologists. In most states, individuals must pass practical and written exams to get their cosmetology licenses. In addition to passing exams, requirements for licensing typically include being over the age of 16 and completing a cosmetology or barber program that is approved by the state.

Cosmetology Diploma

In a diploma program in cosmetology, students learn the techniques and science behind cutting, styling and treating hair. Programs could also cover manicure, pedicure, skin care and hair removal techniques. Most programs use a campus salon or affiliated studio to let students practice their skills by working with actual customers. Diploma programs can take less than a year to complete. Most schools have age requirements, though applicants usually need to have a high school diploma or the equivalent.

Course Topics

For students pursuing a cosmetology diploma, a large portion of class time is devoted to mastering the techniques of cutting and styling hair for a range of clients, whether male or female, children or seniors. Some other common topics might include:

  • Specialty haircutting techniques
  • Chemistry and chemical products
  • Salon operations
  • Retail marketing
  • Cosmetology laws
  • Safety and sanitation for salons
  • Permanents and hair coloring

Popular Career Options

A cosmetology diploma program can prepare students to work as cosmetologists or hair stylists after graduation. Graduates could qualify to work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Salons
  • Spas
  • Entertainment businesses
  • Barber shops

Associate Degree in Cosmetology

An associate degree in cosmetology trains students to offer services ranging from haircuts to complete cosmetic makeovers. Individuals pursuing a cosmetology degree study hair, skin and nail care methods. Some programs allow students to specialize in one of these components, such as hair styling. An associate degree program generally takes two years to complete. As with a diploma program in cosmetology, most programs only require students to a hold high school diploma or the equivalent for entry into a program.

Course Topics

The coursework of a cosmetology associate degree program reflects the fact that cosmetologists must be well-versed in all aspects of the salon experience. Through a combination of classroom and hands-on study, programs teach students how to run a cosmetology business, handle all types of hair care procedures and complete other salon services, such as manicures and hair removal. Some topics covered in a program include the following:

  • Cosmetology procedures
  • Hair care business practices
  • Ethnics of hair care
  • Advanced techniques in haircutting
  • Skin and nail care techniques

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for hair stylists and cosmetologists were expected to increase 13% between 2012 and 2022 ( Population growth was predicted to be one factor contributing to this increase in jobs. The BLS reported that the median annual wage for hair stylists and cosmetologists was $23,140 in 2013.

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