Education and Training Requirements

High School

High school students interested in the cosmetology field can help build a good foundation for postsecondary training by taking subjects in the areas of art, science (especially a basic chemistry course), health, business, and communication arts. Psychology and speech courses are also helpful.

Postsecondary Training

To become a licensed cosmetologist, you must have completed an education and training program in a school licensed by the state. Some high schools offer courses in hairstyling, skin care, and other personal appearance services, but high school graduates can also take courses at postsecondary schools and schools that specialize in training for cosmetology and other personal appearance careers. Programs last at least nine months. Students in some programs can earn an associate's degree. Shorter programs in specialty services, such as manicure, pedicure, or skin care are also available. Visit the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences' Web site,, for a list of accredited schools.

Applicants must also pass a written test, and some states also give an oral test, before they receive a license. Most states will allow a cosmetologist to work as an apprentice until the license is received, which is normally a matter of weeks.

Some states offer student internship programs. The program allows a student to experience firsthand the expectations of a salon, to perform salon services to be evaluated by their supervisor, and to experience different types of salon settings. The participating salons have the opportunity to pre-qualify potential employees before they graduate and work with the school regarding the skill levels of the student interns. This will also enhance job placement programs already in place in the school. The state requires that each participating salon be licensed and registered with the appropriate state department and file proof of registration with the school, along with the name and license number of their cosmetologist who is assigned to supervise students, before signing a contract or agreement.

Some cosmetologists train for the field by participating in an apprenticeship with an experienced cosmetologist; others complete an a short-term apprenticeship after completing vocational training in order to obtain additional experience. 

Cosmetologists who want to own and run a business may consider additional education in business management, marketing, and sales.

Other Education or Training

Cosmetologists must keep their skills up to date by attending conferences and taking online and in-person continuing education (CE) classes. These opportunities are provided by professional associations. For example, the Association of Cosmetology Salon Professionals offers online classes that cover topics such as basic hair styling techniques, blood borne pathogens, and first aid for cosmetology. The Professional Beauty Association also offers CE opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

At the completion of the proper amount of credit hours, students must pass a formal examination before they can be licensed. The exam takes just a few hours. Some states also require a practical (hands-on) test and oral exams. Most, however, just require written tests. State board examinations are given at regular intervals. After about a month, test scores are available. Those who have passed then send in a licensure application and a specified fee to the appropriate state department. It takes about four to six weeks for a license to be issued.

Temporary permits are issued in most states, allowing students who have passed the test and applied for a license to practice their profession while they wait to receive the actual license.

Graduate courses on advanced techniques and new methods and styles are also available at many cosmetology schools. Many states require licensed cosmetologists to take a specified number of credit hours, called continuing education units, or CEUs. Illinois, for instance, requires each licensed cosmetologist to complete 10 to 14 CEUs each year. Licenses must be renewed in all states, generally every year or every two years.

Other Requirements

In the majority of states, the minimum age for an individual to obtain a cosmetology license is 16. Because standards and requirements vary from state to state, students are urged to contact the licensing board of the state in which they plan to be employed.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Cosmetologists must complete a cosmetology training program in order to be qualified to work in the industry. 

Hairstyles change from season to season, and cosmetologists need to keep up with current fashion trends and procedures to create new looks. They must possess a keen sense of hair style and color to complement their patron’s hair texture, facial features, and skin tone. They should have good communication skills and be able to offer beauty suggestions and styling instructions. In addition, they must be able to take constructive criticism and cope with a patron who may be dissatisfied with a hairstyling outcome.

Physical stamina is important as cosmetologists stand, stoop, and reach throughout the day. Maintaining both a neat personal appearance and a clean work area are also important. Those who own their own business should have some background in business, marketing, and sales.