How to Become a Cosmetologist: Licensing, Exams and More

Brandi Glass
5 min read
A Woman Consulting with a Cosmetologist Doctor

Interest in cosmetology is on the rise in the United States and globally due to social media platforms. People want to look their best in pictures, videos, and daily life, and cosmetologists help make these desires a reality.

If you are interested in this field and want to know more about how to become a cosmetologist, read on. We’ll cover the basics of the position, the licenses you need, and the earning potential of this position below.

What Is a Cosmetologist?

A cosmetologist is a trained professional who works on hair, nails, and skin to beautify them. They use a variety of cosmetic procedures to treat these three areas. Cosmetologists can specialize in a particular trade segment or juggle all three. Some of the most common roles that they take on include:

  • Washing, cutting, texturing, shaping, curling, and straightening hair
  • Scalp and facial treatments
  • Waxing, shaving, braiding and tweezing
  • Manicures, pedicures, gel tips, acrylic
  • Electrology
  • Affixing hair extensions and weaves
  • Performing color changes, lighting, and tinting of strands
  • Exfoliating, skin conditioning and wrinkle reduction techniques
  • Implement chemical hair texture changes such as perms and relaxers

Although the list is not comprehensive, it gives you an idea of what the daily work of a cosmetologist entails and their most common procedures. Cosmetologists are an essential part of society and play an important role in making people feel better about themselves. Because so many people use their services, the industry undergoes strict regulations to ensure clients’ safety.

How Long Does it Take To Become a Cosmetologist?

The length of time to become a cosmetologist depends on what area you want to specialize in, your state, your program, and whether you want to study full or part-time. Most cosmetology schools take between one and two years to complete. More specialized programs take longer. Additionally, some states have required training hours before you can get your cosmetology license. These hours happen inside the classroom and outside of it through supervised training.

Although you can stick to a short program with minimum time commitments, this field generates more money in the specialization. The more time you invest in your education, the higher your earning potential.

What Are The Requirements of This Role?

The requirements for becoming a cosmetologist in the United States vary by state. However, some factors are universal, including:

  1. Being above 16 years old
  2. Having a high school diploma or a GED
  3. Enrolling in a cosmetology school licensed by your state of residence
  4. Complete the courses, which range between nine months and 12 months
  5. Complete the required training hours, which vary between 1,000 and 2,300
  6. Pass your state licensing exam

Since each state has slightly different rules, research the requirements to plan for these exams appropriately. The more knowledge you have of the conditions and the best schools for your specialty, the higher your chances are of obtaining your license and starting a successful career.

How Much Can Cosmetologists Make Annually? says the average cosmetology salary in the United States is $49,180 annually. The lowest earners make roughly $10,000 annually, while the highest reach $254,111. How you market your business, where you work, your specialization, and your customer base significantly impact these numbers.

For example, suppose your videos become viral on a social media platform and market your services through these channels. In that case, you can generate a significant income. On the other hand, if you have your own business but have no marketing strategy or budget, you may start on the lower end of the earning scale.

What Are The Benefits of Becoming a Cosmetologist?

Becoming a cosmetologist comes with several benefits on a personal, professional, and social level. Primarily, you gain experience and skills that help you professionally groom yourself and your loved ones. These skills also help you with clients because you build meaningful relationships and repeat clients as you develop your techniques.

If you have your own business, you have unlimited earning potential that depends on how far you want to take your business. Finally, you make a difference in the lives of people who often depend on the procedures you do to feel and look good. Some people may also not know how to maintain themselves, and your advice can significantly improve their quality of life.

What Are The Drawbacks of Cosmetology?

As with any career, cosmetology has downsides that you should be aware of before you commit. Primarily, the licensing requirements are an obstacle for some people, especially if they do not have sufficient time. Another drawback is that the job can be physically demanding and involves long hours of standing. Cosmetology also consists of the use of chemicals that can be harmful to your physical health over time.

Finally, working as a cosmetologist for a business may mean a lower salary than you may want. It needs high attentiveness because one mistake may cause heavy damage. However, if you maintain the quality taught during your training, you can avoid costly errors and issues. That’s why some people specialize and invest their time and money in several classes over the years to stay current on the latest trends.

Do Cosmetologists Need a College Degree?

You do not need a college degree to become a licensed cosmetologist in the United States. You can attend cosmetology school with a high school degree or a GED. However, your chances of making higher earnings increase if you have a college degree. That, coupled with your specialization, helps you make better decisions for your future.

Are There Licensing and Exam Requirements for This Role?

Although all cosmetologists need to have a license from the state to practice their trade, exam requirements differ between them. Some only require that you pass one exam, while other states have two. According to the Beauty School Directory, many states administer tests by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) tests. It includes material on scientific concepts, haircare, skincare, and nail services.

Other states may allow you to complete an apprenticeship program instead of attending school. However, this requires nearly double the number of hours to meet as opposed to a standard program. Some states allow cosmetologists to apply for a Master’s license. It has extra exams to pass and requires more intensive training and experience.

How To Apply for Cosmetology Jobs?

After you obtain your license, pass your exams, and receive training, you must create a resume and send it to potential employers. But not just any resume works – you need a CV that showcases your licenses and accomplishments in the most professional light.

Rocket resume allows you to create a customized cosmetologist resume in minutes. With its easy-to-use tools and intuitive options, building your resume is an enjoyable endeavor instead of a tedious task. Rocket Resume CVs come in appropriate formatting so that you don’t have to worry about layouts and how to make them manually.

Rocket Resume templates easily pass Applicant Tracking Systems, removing obstacles to getting your resume into the hands of hiring managers.

Now that you know how to become a cosmetologist in the US, your next step is to create a stellar resume and apply for jobs.

Are you ready to create a personalized cosmetology resume? Start today with Rocket Resume and get $20 off your first order.