How to Become a Cosmetologist

Cosmetologist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $33,370
Avg. Pay / hour $16.04
Education 1-2 Years
Job Outlook 8%

A cosmetologist is a beauty expert.

When you become a cosmetologist, you will be trained in tasks like hairdressing, make up, skin care, and nail care.

To be successful as a cosmetologist, you must have a good eye for design, great coordination skills, along with strong interpersonal skills.

Education Requirements to Become a Cosmetologist

The best educational start when you decide to become a cosmetologist is to complete your high school diploma.

Studying a wide range of subjects will help.

If you can, having a part time job that allows you to mix with a lot of different people, or work within the beauty industry will help.

After high school, there are two different paths you can take to become a cosmetologist.

The first is through practical experience.

You can attain an apprenticeship with a salon, where you will learn the ropes from other cosmetologists.

The second option is to attend vocational college or a specialist cosmetologist school.

Here you will experience a combination of classroom theory as well as practical experience.

Your choice of education will likely depend on what qualifications you wish to end up with.

For example, if you wanted to specialize as a hairdresser, then you could do this by completing an apprenticeship.

If you wanted to be qualified in more than one area, it would be easier to do this by attending cosmetology vocational school.

After you complete the required education, you will also need to be licensed to practice within your state.

Each state has different licensing requirements.

In some places you can be registered as a cosmetologists and be allowed to provide a range of different services.

In others you will need to register separately for each service.

For instance, you will need a different license to provide skin care than nail art.

To become licensed, you will need to also complete the state set exam.

This will be part theory, as well as part practical.

If you attend vocational school or a cosmetology college, your school will set up mock exams for you to prepare.

It’s a good idea to start building up a portfolio of your work while your studying.

Taking photos of hairstyles you create, or make up you apply, will be helpful later on when you are looking for a job.

Cosmetologist Job Description

Depending on your specialization as a cosmetologist, your tasks can vary.

One of the benefits of this job is that you are quite active, and spend a good part of the day standing.

A pair of comfortable shoes is a must.

You’ll spend most of your time one on one with clients, so you will need to be excellent with people.

Being a good listener can really help, as you’ll find many clients will like to have a chat with you while you work.

Here are some of the tasks a cosmetologist may complete:

  • Cut and color hair
  • Apply make up
  • Complete facials and skin treatments
  • Waxing
  • Complete manicures and pedicures
  • Communicating with clients
  • Providing clients with beauty advice
  • Operating a cash register
  • Appointment setting and management

Cosmetologist Salary and Career Path

Cosmetologists work in clinics, small studios, and sometimes from home.

Others will be mobile, and visit people in their own homes.

Cosmetologists can also be employed within film and television.

When you become a cosmetologist, starting out you can expect to earn around $18,000 a year.

With a few years experience you could expect this to increase up to $30,000+.

Cosmetologists that own their own businesses have the potential to earn more.

Most will start working for another company, over time many go own their own businesses.

One of the benefits of this role is that there is opportunity to work for yourself later on.

Many choose cosmetology as a career because it fits in well with their family life.

There is also scope to move into other areas of beauty if you become bored with your role, or simply want to expand your skills.

Cosmetology is a career that offers lots of variety, a good choice of working environments, as well as flexibility.

For those that enjoy a busy working day spent with people from all different walks of life, this can be a very satisfying career choice.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$72,530
New Hampshire$34,140
New Jersey$39,370
New Mexico$26,280
New York$40,330
North Carolina$34,880
North Dakota$35,630
Rhode Island$32,680
South Carolina$29,570
South Dakota$33,870
West Virginia$30,500
Puerto Rico$23,370

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $72,530.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $72,530
Massachusetts - $44,240
Michigan - $44,070
Washington - $43,590
Hawaii - $43,370
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Hairdressers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, OCC Code 39-5012, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cosmetologist?

Cosmetologists are professionals who apply beauty treatments to their clients.

Cosmetologists have to keep themselves informed about the vast range of beauty treatments and the ways they can apply them.

There are many distinct directions in which a cosmetologist can specialize: skincare, cosmetics, hair styling, manicures/pedicures.

They also have to entertain their clients during all those treatments so good communication abilities are important.

Cosmetologists must also have extensive knowledge about hairstyles, makeup, colors and the overall aesthetics of a person: how to achieve the right combination given a skin complexion, hairstyle, and color.

As a cosmetologist, you will also need general good health because you must be able to stand on your feet for long periods of time.

Also, an aesthetically pleasing appearance and a clean and antiseptic work environment are important in order to make your clients want to return to your salon.

As for the occupational hazards, there are many chemicals in nail polish, nail polish removal, hair dyes that can pose potential health risks.

Most cosmetologists work full-time but part-time schedules are also very common.

How much does a cosmetologist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for cosmetologists was $11.89 in May 2018, $24,830 per year.

Salaries in this field vary based on a wide range of factors, such as the region and the employer.

Many transactions are made in cash and cosmetologists can also earn tips.

How much does it cost to become a cosmetologist?

In order to become a cosmetologist, you must graduate from a state-approved training program and pass a state licensing exam.

The licensing exam includes a written test and typically a practical test.

An accredited cosmetology school will usually cost anywhere from $5,000 to $18,000.

Financial aid is also available to those who qualify.

There are federal grants, federal low-interest student loans, GI Bill Assistance, the Workforce Investment Act, but also scholarships.

For the state licensing exam you must also pay a fee.

What is the demand for cosmetologists?

According to, the employment of cosmetologists is projected to grow 8 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations.

As the population grows, more people are expected to need basic and advanced hair services.

Additional job openings will appear from the need to replace workers who retire or leave the occupation.

If you want a job at a higher paying salon, a few years of experience in the field will give you an advantage over your competitors.

How long does it take to become a cosmetologist?

A program at an accredited beauty school can usually be completed in 13-16 months.

You must have a minimum age of 16 and a high school diploma or equivalent in order to qualify for a state-approved training program.

After graduating from cosmetology school you must take a state licensing exam, which usually includes a written test and a practical or oral exam.

Given the fact that a large proportion of those who have this profession are self-employed, they own their own salon, you may also want to invest some time learning about management and improve your business skills.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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