For a career as a hair stylist, enrollment in a cosmetology program is required to learn the trade. A certificate/diploma program might require an apprenticeship with a licensed, established hair stylist for hands-on experience. Associate's degree programs, which last longer and generally provide a wider range of training, are also available.
Most programs typically require a placement test and application fee. Applicants should have a high school degree or a GED and be at least 16 years old. Hair stylists must then seek licensure following graduation. Prerequisites vary by state but, in addition to completing a training program, applicants must generally meet a minimum age requirement and be U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.
Certificate/Diploma in Cosmetology
Aspiring hair stylists in cosmetology certificate or diploma programs can expect to learn basic hair styling, shampooing and cutting techniques, as well as chemical treatment application methods for bleaching, perming and coloring. Students demonstrate beauty skills on mannequins provided by the schools and, sometimes, on other students. Most students take additional hair courses in specialty areas such as:
- Razor cuts
- Skin care
Find schools that offer these popular programs
- Aesthetician and Skin Care
- Barber and Hair Cutting Services
- Beauty Salon Management
- Cosmetology, Hair, and Nail Instructor
- Facial Treatment Specialist
- Hair Design
- Make-Up Artist
- Nail Technician - Manicurist
- Permanent Cosmetics and Tattooing
Associate's Degree in Cosmetology
Students working towards their associate's degree learn to perform manicures, pedicures, scalp treatments, facials and electrolysis. Graduates with an associate's degree in cosmetology typically have more job opportunities since they are trained in several different areas. As with a diploma or certificate program, students receive hands-on training in specific hair styling and beauty treatments, but associate's candidates also study:
- Human anatomy
- Facial structure
- Skin disorders
Popular Career Options
After becoming licensed as a hair stylist and gaining some experience, a beauty professional may seek a career as a consultant or sales representative for a beauty company. Other professionals may pursue ownership of their own salon or become a barber, which requires enrollment in a barber program and the passing of a state licensing exam. Most barbers specialize in cutting men's hair, razor shaving and trimming beards; generally, barbers do not perform advanced hair styling techniques, such as coloring, adding hair extensions or perming, as a hairdresser would.
With an associate's degree in cosmetology, graduates have a range of job opportunities available to them. Some of the positions available include:
- Makeup artist
- Hair stylists
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that hairdressers and stylists earn an average yearly salary of $28,770, while skincare specialists make an average salary of $35,300 per year, according to 2015 data. From 2014 to 2024, the employment for barbers, hairdressers and cosmetologists is expected to grow 10%, according to the BLS.
Continuing Education Information
An oral, written and practical examination is required to become a state-licensed hair stylist. States vary on the number of program and apprenticeship hours required, minimum age and education obtained. Licensure typically mandates that candidates have completed sanitation, health regulations and salon management classes as part of the cosmetology program.
To keep current with hair trends, licensed hair stylists often attend workshops, conferences and seminars to learn more about the industry and interact with peers. Thousands of national and international beauty shows are hosted annually and allow hair stylists to learn new tricks and techniques, as well as network. Beauty shows can last from 2-4 days, with the main objective being to educate new and established beauty professionals.
Aspiring hair stylists can receive training by pursuing either a certificate or diploma in cosmetology or an associate's degree in cosmetology. Licensing exams are required following graduation from either program, and professional hair stylists are encouraged to attend seminars, hair shows and conferences to stay abreast of new trends and techniques in the industry.