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How to Become a Hairstylist

Are you interested in becoming a hairstylist? Starting a new career can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. First, consider where you want to work – a salon, barbershop, or freelance. This will impact how you obtain your license and what skills you may need to acquire.

Next, research technical schools or apprenticeship programs that offer the necessary training and education. Most states require a cosmetology license, so check the regulations in your area. After completing training and obtaining licensure, consider seeking additional certification in specific areas such as coloring or cutting.

Staying current on trends and techniques through continuing education is also important for success in this constantly evolving industry. So read along to learn more about how to become a stylist to see if this career is the right choice for you.

What does a hairstylist do?

As a hairstylist, each day is filled with various tasks and responsibilities. Every day is different depending on where you work, but for most the day begins with setting up their station, including sanitizing equipment and organizing supplies. Client consultations then come next, during which the stylist works with the client to understand their desired look and determine if it aligns with their hair type and personal style.

Then, it’s time for the actual styling process, during which the hairstylist cuts, colors, blow-dries, and styles hair to create the desired look. Throughout all of these tasks, the stylist must also maintain excellent customer service by ensuring that the client feels comfortable and keeping open channels of communication to be certain the client is happy with their new appearance.

At the end of each day, the station is cleaned and prepared for the next set of clients. As a hairstylist, no two days are ever exactly alike but they all involve creating amazing transformations for clients while maintaining a safe and welcoming salon environment.

For hairstylists who are self-employed, as many are, there are also a variety of other responsibilities related to running the business. Ordering supplies, bookkeeping, paying bills, and much more.

How to become a hairstylist

A hairstylist is an individual who styles hair for a living. This can be done in a salon, barbershop, or even in one’s own home. There are many ways to become a hairstylist, but the most common route is to attend a cosmetology school. At cosmetology school, students learn about hair and skin care science and receive training in haircutting, coloring, and styling.

Some states allow you to forgo beauty school classes and instead do an apprenticeship under a licensed hairstylist.

Whichever route you choose, once you finish your required classroom or apprenticeship hours, you’ll need to pass your state’s exam(s). Most states have two exams, a written and a practical test. The written test requires you to answer questions related to the theory and science of hair care and cosmetology. The practical test requires you to demonstrate your skills. Some states have a third test specific to the laws and requirements for hairstylists and cosmetologists in that state.

Once you’ve passed your exams, you’ll need to apply for your state license, pay any applicable fees and then keep your license in good standing. To retain your license over time you’ll need to periodically renew your license and pay a renewal fee. Most states do renewals every one or two years, and some will require you to achieve continuing education credits between each renewal period.

How long is hair school?

The length of time it takes to complete hair school varies depending on the program and the level of training you are seeking. Most programs can be completed between 12 and 24 months, although some can be done in as few as 6 or 9 months. If you are attending a full-time program, you can expect to spend about 30 hours per week in class and in the lab.

If you are taking a part-time program, your schedule will be more flexible but it will take longer to complete the program.

The level of training you receive will also affect how long it takes to finish hair school. A cosmetology program typically provides more comprehensive training than a barbering program, for example. As a result, cosmetology programs may take longer to complete. However, both types of programs can provide you with the skills and knowledge you need to begin a successful career in the hair industry.

How to choose a hair school?

With so many schools to choose from, how do you know which one is right for you? Here are a few factors to consider before making your decision:

  • Consider the cost of tuition and living expenses. Hair schools can be expensive, so you’ll want to make sure you can afford it.
  • Look at the school’s curriculum. Make sure it covers the topics you’re interested in and that it’s up-to-date with industry standards.
  • Check out the school’s facilities. They should be clean and well-equipped so that you can get the most out of your education.
  • Ask around for recommendations. Talk to other stylists and see if they have any recommendations for good hair schools.

By considering these factors, you’ll be able to find the right hair school for you.

How long does it take to get a hairstylist license?

The amount of time it takes to become a licensed hairstylist varies from state to state. In most states, cosmetology licenses are regulated by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. The board sets the requirements for licensure, which generally include completing a certain number of hours at an accredited cosmetology school and passing a written and practical exam.

The number of hours required can range from 1,000 up to 2,000, depending on the state. If you choose to do an apprenticeship, that could take as many as 3,000 hours. Once the required hours have been completed, students can take the written exam, which covers topics such as hair care, safety, and sanitation. After passing the written exam, students must then take a practical exam in which they demonstrate their skills on a live model or mannequin.

Once both exams have been passed, students will have to apply for a license, pay the fees, and then they will be issued a license that allows them to practice hairstyling professionally. In total, the process of becoming a licensed hairstylist can take anywhere from several months to about two years.

Learn more about earning your hair design license.

What makes someone a good hairstylist?

In theory, just about anyone can cut hair, but it takes a special person to be a good hairstylist. First and foremost, a hairstylist must have good physical dexterity. Cutting hair requires the use of both hands, and the ability to move quickly and smoothly. A good sense of balance is also important, as hairstylists often have to stand for long periods of time.

Along with these physical attributes, hairstylists must also have excellent communication skills. They need to be able to listen to their clients and understand their needs. They should also be able to give clear instructions and provide helpful advice.

Finally, hairstylists must be able to think on their feet and make quick decisions. There is no room for error in this occupation, so being able to stay calm under pressure is essential. Anyone who possesses these attributes has the potential to be a great hairstylist.

Jobs outlook for hairstylists

The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates 11% growth for hairstylist jobs in the United States from 2021 to 2031. That’s an additional 60,800 new jobs, and a great reason to pursue a career as a hairstylist.

Hairdressers can work in many locations, but a surprising 47.3% are self-employed. With solid job growth, it’s not a surprise that many entrepreneurial types have decided to work in this industry. The states that have the most actively working hairdressers are not surprisingly the more populated states:

  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York

Per capita, the states with the highest concentration of hairstylists are:

  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • New Jersey
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts

How much do hairstylists make?

The mean hourly wage for hairstylists according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $17.30 in 2021.

Mean hourly wage Mean annual wage
$ 17.30 $ 35,990


Pay for hairstylists can cover a wide range depending on your clientele, who you work for, and where you are geographically. The top 10% of hairstylists make more than $18 more per hour than those in the bottom 10%, so it literally pays to be picky about where you work.

States with the highest hourly pay for hairstylists are:

  • Washington DC – $34.87
  • Massachusetts – $21.27
  • Michigan – $21.19
  • Washington – $20.96
  • Hawaii – $20.85

Learn more about hairstylist salaries.

More questions?

There are an almost endless amount of questions people have about how to become a hairdresser. While we can’t answer them all, you can definitely find some more answers on our FAQ page.