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How to Become a Cosmetologist

First and foremost, if you want to become a cosmetologist, it's all about getting your license. In fact, all 50 U.S. states require cosmetologists to be licensed in order to work in the field. Step one in achieving your license? Attend an accredited cosmetology school.

Although each state has their own rules as to how many hours of training and education are required in order to sit for the licensing exam (ranging from 600 to 1600 hours), you will need to pursue at least some type of formal classroom training. Courses will consist of hair styling, skin care, make-up application, health and safety, and other specialized beauty techniques. Often, some business and communication skills will be incorporated into the curriculum to prepare budding salon professionals to work with the public.

For Lisa D. Crane, co-owner of Platform Color Style Salon, based in the Los Angeles area, she only hires cosmetologists who have completed 1,600 hours of state board training. While most of the time training takes place in a beauty school, some learning can be done on the job as well, says Crane. "Some salons offer education in an assistant program, which can be between two to six years long. This assistant program should consist of advanced color, cutting and guest services," she says. Other training options are an apprenticeship program where the student trains in a state board-licensed salon for two years.

Like most upscale salons, Platform Color Style Salon puts an emphasis on education, and staying on top of color and hair-cutting techniques on an ongoing basis. And that doesn't necessarily have to end with just the latest cutting and styling trends. "Customer relations and front desk skills are very important for all salon personnel. When a salon owner is busy (and big enough) to hire staff, he/she tends to not be at the front desk," says Crane. That's why all salon professionals must have excellent people skills, and must love the people they are servicing.

"They must care about the individual they work on, and be willing to listen with their heart. Hair is very emotional, so a stylist must be empathetic, caring, and also kindly realistic," says Crane. She even makes it a point to train her staff to know everybody's first names, especially the regulars, and encourage each person to be a good listener.

Before you start your beauty school journey to become a cosmetologist, or while you're a student, it's a wise move to get some hands-on experience. It could be as simple as going into your local hair salon to observe and start to get a feel for the business. It might mean that you'll offer to work for free (shampooing, sweeping, etc.), but the lessons learned are worth your time. Another idea is to ask a well-known stylist in your area if you can shadow him/her for the day. You'll be amazed at how much you could learn from a seasoned professional before you even finish beauty school.

Speaking of finishing beauty school, once you become a cosmetologist with a license, your job prospects should be strong, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth to be 20 percent through 2018 for cosmetologists and other personal appearance workers and stylists. As far as income potential, although wages start out on the lower end, the potential for growth in the field is tremendous for those who are talented, build their clientele, and especially those who work in larger cities at upscale salons.

Disclaimer: This site is not connected with any government agency or the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Student Aid office. If you would like to find more information about government funding please visit: