How to Become a Cosmetologist in 5 Steps

Cosmetologists are licensed beauty care specialists who are trained to provide services such as facials, nail care and makeup applications; they also color, cut and style hair. All states require that cosmetologists obtain licensure to practice. Continue reading for a guide to becoming a cosmetologist. Schools offering Culinary Arts degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Step 1: Research Cosmetology Career Duties and Education

Cosmetologists offer an array of beauty services to their clients, including shampooing, coloring, cutting and styling of hair, as well as wigs and hairpieces. Cosmetologists may also advise clients on how to properly care and maintain hair, or how to lighten and darken their hair. Some cosmetologists specialize in other beauty care regimens, such as manicures, pedicures, facials and scalp treatments. All states require cosmetologists to hold a license, which typically requires being at least 16 years old, holding a high school diploma or GED, completing a state-approved cosmetology program and passing exams.

Step 2: Complete a Training Program

Cosmetology training programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools and specialized cosmetology schools. Most cosmetology school programs can be completed within 9-24 months. Students receive training in hairstyling, personal appearance and skin care, as well as sales and marketing.

Various levels of programs are available, including certificate programs, associate's degree programs and apprenticeships. Courses you may take include safety and sanitation, hair cutting, hairstyling, thermal styling, chemical hair treatments, nail technology, facial skin care, hair removal and make-up application. Certificate and degree programs include practical training components, allowing you to work in salons providing beauty treatments. You may also have a class devoted to licensure exam preparation.

Apprenticeships include both college training and employment under a licensed cosmetologist, allowing you to become familiar with the daily activities of the profession and learn to interact with clients while at the same time making a wage. An apprenticeship can help you build a clientele and a portfolio while you're gaining experience. Upon completing an apprenticeship, you may earn a certificate, but apprenticeship programs typically last longer than regular certificate or degree programs.

Step 3: Get Additional Business Training

Many cosmetologists aspire to run their own practices in the future. Therefore, taking a business class with an emphasis on entrepreneurship and financing can help you learn what it will take to open your own salon; bookkeeping, accounting, marketing and management are other business skills that will be put to use when cosmetologists make the leap to business owner. You can find business classes through continuing education departments of colleges and universities nationwide.

Step 4: Become Licensed

Cosmetologists must be licensed in the state where they practice. Licensing involves testing applicant's knowledge through a practical hands-on examination and a written examination. Some states require separate licenses for skin care specialists, manicurist and pedicurists. Contact your state's board of cosmetology for more information.

Step 5: Get a Job

As a cosmetologist, you could find employment in salons, spas, hotels and resorts. Also, as of 2012, approximately half of all cosmetologists were self-employed, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Also per the BLS, a 13% increase in employment that would create 77,600 jobs is expected for hairdressers, hairstylists and cosmetologists from 2012-2022. This job increase is due to a higher demand for hair treatments.

Though job opportunities overall are positive, you are likely to face stiff competition for jobs at luxury salons. As of May 2013, the median annual salary in this field was $23,140, and the middle-half of earners made between $18,680 and $31,110 per year.

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