Education Requirements to Become a Cosmetologist

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a cosmetologist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about training, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

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A cosmetologist applies various beauty treatments to clients, working to enhance hair, skin, and nails. Completion of a certified cosmetology training program or apprenticeship is required, after which a state licensing exam must be taken. Specialist programs are also offered.

Essential Information

Cosmetologists help customers change or update their physical appearance. Many cosmetologists focus on cutting, coloring and styling hair. Other cosmetologists specialize in fields such as skincare or nails.

All cosmetologists and specialists have to complete a cosmetology training program to be eligible for state licensing exams. Cosmetology programs generally take 9-12 months to complete, but specialist programs can be completed in about six months.

Required Education Postsecondary training program
Other Requirements State licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 10% for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $23,660 for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Cosmetologists are required to complete training at a certified cosmetology school to get licensed. Most cosmetology schools base their curricula on state licensing requirements, but every state has different requirements. Nevertheless, common cosmetology coursework includes hair cutting and styling, safety procedures and business management. Most cosmetology programs also provide basic training in makeup application, manicures, massage therapy and skincare treatments. Cosmetology programs range from 1,000-1,500 hours.


Students can choose to specialize in individual cosmetology fields. Estheticians, also known as skincare professionals, take courses that cover facial treatments, body wraps, skincare chemicals and body hair removal techniques. Nail technicians, also called manicurists, participate in coursework that covers manicures, pedicures, artificial nails, nail color treatments and nail diseases. Specialist programs typically require around 600 hours of coursework.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Aesthetician and Skin Care
  • Barber and Hair Cutting Services
  • Beauty Salon Management
  • Cosmetology, Hair, and Nail Instructor
  • Electrolysis
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  • Hair Design
  • Make-Up Artist
  • Nail Technician - Manicurist
  • Permanent Cosmetics and Tattooing

License Requirements

Both cosmetologists and specialists have to adhere to state licensing requirements. Most states have age restrictions, as well as minimum education requirements. To be eligible for licensing exams, individuals must complete a set number of training hours during cosmetology school.

Licensing exams can include written or practical tests, and sometimes both. Written exams cover questions about sanitation rules, chemical usage, hair styling techniques and state laws. Practical tests involve applicants following directions to style a mannequin or model. Some states also administer an oral examination in which applicants must provide verbal answers to cosmetology-related questions.

Many states have licenses for each cosmetology specialty. Some states combine specialties under one unified license. After cosmetologists obtain their license, they might have to renew it by periodically paying a fee and filling out appropriate paperwork. Cosmetologists who hold a license in one state might have to get additional licenses to work in other states.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted 10% job growth for cosmetologists, hairdressers and hairstylists, through 2024. In 2015, the BLS reported an annual median wage of $23,660 for individuals in these occupations.

As we have seen, a career as a cosmetologist calls for classroom and on-the-job training, which can be achieved through an apprenticeship or degree program that may provide certification upon completion. State licensure is mandatory for cosmetologists and each individual specialty.

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