How to Get a Cosmetology License
If you've ever considered a career in cosmetology, there has never been a more profitable time to enter the field than now. As part of a $445 billion industry, health and beauty businesses continue to grow in revenue, and the opportunities for self-made beauty professionals are rising with it.
Cosmetology offers a wide range of focuses and can become a job that communicates your personal flair and technique. Think you've got what it takes to be your clients' go-to style aficionado? These steps to getting your cosmetology license may help you figure out if the beauty industry is a good fit for you.
What It Means: Cosmetology and Areas of Specialization
As a cosmetologist, you will become an expert in all things health and beauty, offering services that range from styling and coloring hair to giving skin and nail treatments. Cosmetology as a profession is broad and dynamic in definition, and the primary requirements for the job are your excellent social skills and an eye for the styles that best suit your clients.
You will find most cosmetologists choose a specific focus or specialization, despite being well-versed in the many areas the beauty industry covers. Some specializations will require additional coursework in certain states, but one of the benefits of specializing is a higher chance of securing a job quickly.
Here are some areas of specialization within the broad realm of cosmetology and their respective responsibilities:
- Hair Stylist — Providing haircare services, including washing, bleaching, or dyeing, cutting and shaping, blow-drying, and styling. Often also giving makeover recommendations for client's look, style, and preferences.
- Nail Technician — Giving basic manicures, nail cleaning and polishing, hand massages, and pedicures, offering artificial and gel nail treatments, and often even spa therapies like hot-oil or paraffin wraps.
- Makeup Artist — Choosing and applying makeup to achieve a specific look for a special performance or event. This process can include applying prosthetic features and styling hair to complement the face.
- Esthetician — Providing skincare services from cleansing to deep treatments like chemical peels and pore extraction. Hair removal and massages are also everyday tasks for estheticians, along with handling the clinical responsibilities of working in a sterile environment.
- Beautician — Offering the services of both hair stylist, including hair care, coloring, and styling, and skincare services, such as facial treatments and waxing.
These specializations create a myriad of possibilities for how your career in cosmetology can look. Down the line, imagine yourself managing a spa or salon of your own or becoming a cosmetology instructor in your area of expertise. Stylists and makeup artists also have the opportunity to operate in diverse workplaces like film sets, theater stages, fashion runways, modeling shoots, weddings, and special events. With all of this potential, the future ahead of you is truly limitless.
The first step in your journey toward being a full-fledged cosmetologist is choosing your path. You don't have to select your specialization right away, but if extra classes are necessary, you will want to keep them in mind as you move forward to the second step, which is furthering your education. This process involves taking classes, training the required number of hours, and staying licensed.
What It Takes: Taking Classes & Receiving Training in Cosmetology
If you meet the foundational requirements of being at least sixteen years old and having your GED or high school diploma, you can enroll in a cosmetology program. Some states and schools have additional requirements for new enrollees, so do your research to make sure you qualify for the program of your choice.
You may find yourself looking into beauty programs offered in unlikely places. There are a variety of ways that schools will provide cosmetology programs, so searching for and finding the right plan for your needs may require some digging. For the most part, your options will include:
- State licensing beauty school programs
- Degree-granting beauty schools
- Community college beauty programs
- Private or for-profit beauty schools
Compare tuition prices, duration of the programs, and the rates at which graduating students find jobs if that information is available. The school should offer part-time hours or night classes to fit your schedule if you have other responsibilities while furthering your education. And if you have to commute, take the distance from the school to where you live into consideration as well.
What Do You Cover in Cosmetology Classes?
Receiving your cosmetology diploma or certificate can take anywhere from 9 to 15 months of coursework, and these courses will aim to teach you techniques on hair, skin, and nail care and treatment. You will also take classes in human anatomy, chemistry, hygiene, human physiology, and safety practices to help control infections. Your class topics may include:
- Observing the temperatures and chemicals that allow hair to curl or straighten
- Practicing the right techniques for a skin-tightening facial
- Studying safe waxing practices and other hair removal procedures
- Learning about different skin areas and their level of sensitivity
Additionally, you may find that cosmetology school has much more to offer than what you can learn about skin, hair, and makeup. You will navigate the process of becoming a focused professional, grow in your social skills and learn about the joys and stresses of working in the beauty industry. At the end of the day, if you decide to pull through your courses and work toward that cosmetology license, you will want to make sure you have met the right requirements.
Getting Licensed: Cosmetology License Training Hours and Requirements
In addition to your regular coursework of studying and taking quizzes, you will need to complete anywhere hundreds to thousands of hours of training in a variety of specialties before taking your licensing exam. The exact amount of hours will depend on your state, but you can expect to put in long days of instruction and hands-on practice.
Some states, like Pennsylvania, allow apprenticeship hours to take the place of these training hours if you have managed to secure an apprenticeship during your studies. However, for your cosmetology license, the number of apprenticeship hours required may be much higher than if you opted for just training hours. In PA, for example, it's 2,000 as opposed to 1,250.
Once you have the hours complete and have finished your courses, there is just one more step you must complete — pass your state's licensing exam. Here's what you should do for the testing process:
- Know what the exam covers: In beauty school, at least one of your classes will address the written licensure exam for your state. The exam will likely include state regulations on sanitation and negligence laws, which you'll probably start to pick up on through your practical experience.
- Enroll in a prep course: Typically, beauty school students will also enroll in an online test prep course. These classes allow you to become comfortable with the multiple choice nature of the written exam and will also give you an opportunity to brush up on some of the details you have learned in your cosmetology school classes.
- Sign up for your test: You will want to sign up online and pay your test fee before exam day. For licensing examinations, your city will have testing locations for exam takers to submit their responses in a regulated environment. Be sure to sign up for your test well in advance, so that you can secure a spot at the testing facility of your choice.
- Take your test: Arrive at your testing facility early to make sure you find the exam location with plenty of time. Come well fed and rested, and make sure to leave most personal belongings at home. Chances are, the facility will provide you a temporary locker to secure your wallet, keys, and cell phone before you enter the test room, as you won't be permitted to take anything inside with you.
- Get your results: Within two weeks, you should know whether you passed your exam or not. If you pass, you'll receive your newly earned license in the mail. If not, you can go online and find the next possible exam date to give the test another shot.
Having completed all of those classes and practice hours will leave you more than prepared to pass the exam with flying colors, so relax and take good care of yourself in the days leading up to your test. In some cases, license reciprocity may allow you to transfer to another state if you prefer to practice elsewhere, but you will need to research those laws and requirements to see which states would accept your new license.
Entering the Workforce: Finding a Job and Succeeding in Cosmetology
You can opt for an apprenticeship in a local salon if you have any difficulty finding a position right off the bat. Apprenticeships are paid jobs and can give you some further instruction for up to two years.
Beauty salons are not the only places you can search for cosmetology jobs, however. Barber shops, retail locations, spas, and studios are all good locations to check for position availability. As with any job search, you may find yourself submitting resumes and making phone calls until you discover the right fit. Use the connections you made in beauty school to your advantage, and you can always do some searching online. You never know who may be in the market for a new stylist.
If you want to excel in your field, go the extra mile wherever possible. Acquaint yourself with both trendy and niche styles, learn about all different skin types, and spend a lot of time socializing with your customers. Listen to their concerns and desires for their look, and offer them your best work. Learn about their lives, remember their children's names, and know what makes your clients laugh and relax. Happy customers produce referrals, after all, which means you'll never be out of a job.
Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, there will always be new opportunities waiting for you:
- Will you turn to teaching?
- Accept an upper management role?
- Open your own spa or salon?
As you create a loyal client base and make a name for yourself, you will find you no longer need to limit yourself and your potential in your industry. Cosmetology done right sets you up for long-term joy and success in your work. Who wouldn't want to flourish in that way?
Attaining a Lifestyle of Possibility: Is Cosmetology Right for You?
Life as a cosmetologist indeed offers endless career options for you to explore. Despite all of the cosmetology license requirements and the demands of the job itself, cosmetologists rank among those with the highest job satisfaction around. This comes as a surprise to a lot of people, but definitely not to those who have spent their careers making others happy through their beautifying services.
Part of the reason cosmetology is so rewarding is the fact that it is result-oriented, fast-paced both in getting your career off the ground and daily workflow, and offers an abundance of passionate, creative pursuits. Your friends will love your services and expertise, and your job will always be in high demand for special events. Specializing can also get your foot in the door in a new field, so you'll never get tired of the beauty industry.
Furthering Your Career: Cosmetology License Renewal and Continuing Education
As you progress through your cosmetology career, you will have to keep your skills and expertise up to date and stay current on beauty trends in your field. Some ways to do that include:
- Talking frequently with other cosmetologists in your line of work
- Attending health and beauty trade shows
- Reading style-focused blogs and subscribing to popular beauty magazines
Not only will you want to be on top of the skills and trends, but depending on state laws, you will need to renew your license every few years, which can require proving you've taken continuing education (CE) coursework.
Consider taking online or self-study courses through StateCE that will enable you to fit these required classes around your busy work schedule. These online cosmetology CE classes are written by experts who keep the material up to date on the latest trends and practices while maintaining a user-friendly interface that you can navigate through at your own pace. Here are some other features you can expect from your cosmetology CE courses:
- Geared to help you stay current on laws, regulations, sanitation requirements, and teaching methods
- Available for subjects ranging from shampooing and wigs to manicurist instructing
- Certified by the licensing authorities so you can trust the course material is reliable and up-to-date
- Allows you the ability to log in and make progress with ample flexibility and sensitivity to your schedule
- Budget-friendly and competitive thanks to our price match guarantee
Once you've completed your course requirements, you will be able to print out a certificate confirming your course completion. StateCE will also report your CE credits to your state's licensing body by the end of the following business day to help make your CE experience as hassle-free as possible. Check out our course catalog to see how we can help get started on your license renewal CE coursework.
Are you ready to glam up your career? Getting your cosmetology license can help you do just that. Get started today.