How to Become a Cosmetologist: Job Description, Education Requirements & Salary

The beauty industry is booming and it’s a good time to wiggle your way into it if you like to play around with fun hair, makeup and nail ideas. A great way to get use those skills is to go to school to become a cosmetologist. Yep, that’s right – you can actually get paid to play beauty shop all day like you did as a little kid. Plus you get to hear all of the juicy gossip that goes around a salon, so it’s kind of a cool bonus…either that, or we are just really nosey. If you’d like to become a cosmetologist, stay tuned because we are going to tell you exactly how to do it.

How to Become a Cosmetologist

Here comes a lot of information, so we hope you ate your Wheaties this morning or at very least had a Red Bull and are ready for some serious note taking!

The very first thing that you will need to do to get on your way to becoming a cosmetologist is to get your high school diploma or GED. There are times when you may be accepted into a cosmo program as a duel enrollment student, so all you youngsters that are wanting to get a jump start should give that option a go.

Each and every state requires cosmetologists to complete a state approved program that is through an accredited school. You can do this at vocational schools or jump into an associate’s degree program at a community college. A standard cosmetology program takes at least nine months of schooling and an associate’s degree will take you about two years if you go full time each semester.

Once you have completed your schooling and have graduated, you may begin the process of preparing for your state board examinations…dun dun dun! Most states require soon to be licensed cosmetologists to take a written test, possibly an oral examination and hands on assessment of your mad cosmetology skills.

There are some fees that go along with licensing, so be prepared to pay those on test day. We don’t want to see you get so close to the finish line only to be sent home without crossing it with an explosion of confetti. There are also renewals and re-certifications that you will have to do every so often, so make sure you know when because you don’t want to be put into cosmetologist time out.

Once you have completed all of these steps you are ready to find a salon to work in and start building your client base! Not too difficult, is it?

Helpful Qualities of a Cosmetologist

Let’s go ahead and cover some helpful qualities that you benefit from having when you become a cosmetologist. It’s nice to have all of your rollers in a row, so pay attention and take some notes.

  • Creativity: This is a very creativity driven industry and you will be able to use your creative skills nearly every day of your working life.
  • Customer Service Skills: You will be working with people ALL the time, so being able to interact and converse with clients is going to be wicked important. Your clients are going to become your walking and talking business cards and if you want to keep them coming and referring you then you better step up your customer service game.
  • Physical Stamina: You will spend long days on your feet or hunched over on a tiny stool, so having a good deal of physical stamina will certainly be very helpful and less tiring for you.

What Does a Cosmetologist Do?

Cosmetologists are kind of like the jack of all trades of the beauty industry. A better question may be “what doesn’t a cosmetologist do?”. As a cosmetologist, you will spend your days working with clients and their hair, skin and nails. It’s really so much more complex than just that though, so how about we get right to it!

  • Hair:

    As a cosmetologist you will cut, color and style hair almost daily. During your schooling you will learn all about the physiological nature of hair and how different medications or health conditions can actually make or break a person’s hair. This is an area where you will likely pay particularly close attention if you are doing a dye job on a client. You’ll be taught how to cut hair properly in a variety of styles based upon a client’s face shape and hair texture. Styling a client’s hair is a fun way to put the finishing touches on all of your hard cutting work. In school you will learn how to properly perform a blow out as well as how to properly use other heating tools for styling

  • Skin:

    During your time a cosmetologist you will likely perform a lot of facials. You will not only be trained in the ways of caring for skin, but you will also learn how to spot specific skin issues that may need to be addressed by a doctor of sorts. It is a great skill to have and your clients will surely appreciate the heads up when you spot that they have dermatitis or other skin issues. A really fun part of your cosmetology arsenal is the ability to do makeup and do it well. We’ve all seen those girls around that look like they fell into a vat of makeup only to pop out looking like the 80’s called and want their blue eye shadow back. Well as a cosmetologist you will be trained in all the ways of makeup and will be able to highlight you client’s features perfectly. Having this awesome skill will also leave you open to making some extra cash on the side, especially around prom time when all those teen girls beg their parents for a professional makeup job. Get those business cards ready and prepare to hear that “ca-ching” sound.

  • Nails:

    Yep, there will be days when this part of the job isn’t all that fun. Stinky feet and toe jam are an inevitable part of the job, but it doesn’t make it any less gross. On the other side of the coin though is the awesome ability to turn nails into art and make people feel nice and relaxed. Nail art is really becoming an in demand thing lately, so again it’s a pretty good way to bring in some dinero!

Cosmetology Schools


You can’t become a cosmetologist without going to school first, so it’s a good idea to see what your schooling options are. There are a metric ton of beauty schools out there and you’ll have to really do some research before deciding on the right one for you. A few things to think about are: is it an accredited school, do they offer financial aid assistant and does it offer the exact program that is needed to pass the state board examination to become a licensed cosmetologist? Here are a few schools that meet all of those standards and hopefully they will provide you will a jumping off point when starting your own research for a school.

Florida Academy

The Florida Academy has the Redken Premier School that offers a cosmetology program from their central location in Fort Myers, Florida. The program teaches students all of the newest and coolest techniques for hair cutting, coloring and design for starters. Once students have mastered those areas, they move on to the nail and skin services that are followed by makeup specialty skills. Lastly, students will learn to develop marketing and effective communication skills. These skills will come in handy in a retail environment to generate more revenue as well as build a solid client base.

There is good news for students that are looking to apply at the Florida Academy’s Redken Premier School! They too are more than willing to help students with the financial aid options that are available to them. Students are able to use Federal Pell Grants as well as a few very specific types of student loans as a means of paying for the cosmetology program.

Beauty Schools of America

The Beauty Schools of America is one of the top schools for cosmetology in the United States. There are currently campuses in South Beach, Miami, Hialeah, North Miami Beach and Homestead. This program is designed to fully prepare students for the Florida State Board of Cosmetology Examination. With a whopping 1,200 hours of course work to clock in, we are sure that this is totally doable too.

The cosmetology program at Beauty Schools of America will prime students with a solid foundation in all things, hair, skin, makeup and nail related. Students will work diligently in a salon like setting under the watchful eye of licensed professionals. This school takes the cosmetology program a bit further and also teaches students techniques in areas of runway fashion, wedding styles, special hair effects and up-dos.

The Beauty Schools of America too accepts Pell grants and students loans. They also accept veterans that are intending to use their GI Bill. Now we think this is pretty cool and a great way to help out our veterans. The ability to use multiple forms of financial assistance besides loans is a great way to reduce the student debt that many students encounter.

Here are a few more good ones:

Sorry, we could not find any matching schools

Glam’s Corner – The Good, Bad and Ugly of Cosmetology School

Here is a video from licensed cosmetologist, Glam. She has been where each of you guys is now and knows her stuff. If you are interested in hearing a real and first-hand account of what you can expect to cover and gain from your time in cosmetology school definitely watch this video. It’s super informative and Glam is also able to keep your attention with her engaging personality. She lays it all out in only 11 minutes, so take the time to watch it. Click here to watch it in YouTube or take a peek right below.

Cosmetologist Salary

By now you are surely wondering how many nails you are going to have to paint, hairs you have to cut and many eyebrows you are going to have to wax to earn a living. Are we right? So let’s find out the details, shall we?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the median annual salary for cosmetologists is $23,140 or $11.12 an hour as of May 2013. There is a range here based upon a bit of experience and the BLS has some good information here as well. Cosmetologist that are a bit on the green side are reported to earn about $17,010 annually and those that have been around the cosmo block a time or two are pulling in around $44,220 a year.

Another thing that will ramp up your earnings is the potential for tips, owning your own salon and/or renting a chair in a salon rather than being an employee. Different states and cities will also play a factor in the amount that you make too, so keep that in mind when looking for a job.

We’d Like You to Meet Georgia – Cosmetologist Diva

We’d like you to meet a lady named Georgia, that is a pretty great cosmetologist and we’re not afraid to say so ourselves. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and has her own salon that serves a wide variety of clients for nearly any of their beauty needs. Georgia’s road to her career has not been very easy and let us be the first to say that she has worked super hard for it every step of the way.

Georgia’s passions for helping people get in touch with their inner and outer beauty started at a very young age. She was always playing beauty shop with her friends and dolls as a child, so it was only natural for her to phase into this career path as an adult. Life, however, had other plans for her.

In her junior year of high school Georgia had a baby and truly though that her future as a cosmetologist was over. She didn’t see how she would be able to juggle a baby and school, so she all but wrote off her goals. One day that all changed for her when one of her mother’s friend’s asked her to do her hair, make-up and nails for her wedding. Georgia of course was eager to dabble in her passion again if even for just one day.

That one day of styling, primping, curling and painting turned into way more than she could have ever expected. Her “client” looked so exceptional on her special day that she had droves of people asking her where she had her hair and makeup done. Georgia’s phone began ringing off the hook with requests for her skills. She suddenly found her dance card full of referred clients and a serious need for a baby sitter, which she was actually able to afford with the small fees that she was bringing in.

Before Georgia knew it her junior year was over, her baby was a year old and her client base was suddenly booming. For the first time in a long time she thought that maybe her dream of becoming a cosmetologist was actually something that could be within her grasp again. At that very moment she decided to enroll herself into the Marinello Schools of Beauty soon thereafter. Sure she was just going into her senior year of high school, but that type of determination knew no bounds. Georgia gained approval to take some summer credits to replace her fall semester of schooling and not only did she get those classes completed, but she also was able to graduate early.

Upon her early graduation, Georgia was rearing and ready to go at Marinello when the spring semester began. She had even lined up and locked in childcare for her daughter. Each day she was the first student to arrive to prep her station and the last to leave. She always stayed behind after the other students had left to ask about different techniques too. This would all weigh out into her favor sooner rather than later.

Before she knew it, her nine months at cosmetology school had passed and she was ready to graduate and then take her state board examinations. Georgia showed her state boards who was boss in every category and soon had a nice little cosmo license to display neatly at her station whenever she found one.

Finding a job didn’t take long either as word of mouth had spread about her awesome skills. She soon became a hot commodity among salons, eventually scoring a spot at one of the top ones. She also had the added bonus of being able to bring along a pretty solid client base for a new position, which left her pretty set up to bring in some Benjamin’s. Oh and boy did she ever!

Georgia soon became one of the top performing employees at her salon. Georgia was smart about this whole situation too and put every cent above what she needed to support her daughter into savings. She didn’t touch a dime of that nest egg money until she felt that the time had come to venture into unknown, scary and exciting territory…that’s right she was going to start her own business.

The time had come when Georgia was ready to venture off on her own and start her own business. She intended to specialize in hair, skin and nails. Soon she was the proud owner of a salon that was not only breaking even but thriving in ways that she never could have imagined.

How to Become a Cosmetologist

Fast forward to today where we find Georgia as a pretty savvy career woman that runs her own salon, takes care of her cute kid and also takes on extra special clients on the side. She really is an inspiration and prime example of what can be accomplished when you have determination, moxie and some serious talents. Now please excuse us while we have her give us a makeover from head to toe. We’ll be back to finish at some point, we promise!

Final Grade

Don’t let the name of this heading fool you and leaving you running like hot wax headed to a hairy dude’s chest. These grades are just a summary of our findings on the career as a cosmetologist, so put the scissors down and read what we’ve got to say before you lop off a few inches.

  • Degree vs. Debt: C

While the schooling may not be incredibly long, that doesn’t negate the fact that you will still have to shell out a pretty penny for it. Throw in the fact that not all schools have a financial aid option and that some students may have to pay directly out of pocket. That hurts and there is no way around it. The pay for cosmetologists is not through the roof either, so that can definitely drag down the degree to debt ratio as well.

  • Difficulty of Degree: B

It’s not a very long degree process for the most part or particularly intense. Having said that though, you will need a good amount of talent and “sheer” (haha get it) determination to get the job done.

  • Happiness Quotient: B

The job as a cosmetologist is one that is definitely for those with a passion for the beauty industry. It’s an industry for creativity and fun, but there will be also times that are filled with impossible to please clients and long hours. As with anything, you have to take the good with the bad and we feel like the job as a cosmetologist is far more good than bad.

  • Job Outlook: B

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting the job growth for cosmetologists to be 13% from 2012 to 2022. This is about as fast of as average for all other occupations. One good thing about this career is that there will always be hair to cut, skin to exfoliate and nails to trim, so it’s likely that you will never be without a job.

Other Career Options

Barber Skills

Nail Technician Job Description

Sources and Recommended Reading

While you are getting your hair blown out, eyebrows waxed and your nails done – check out all of these great resources. We’ve used them all to bring you the information in this article, so we know that they are good.

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