Become a Professional Hair Styling Instructor: Requirements and Info

Learn how to become a professional hair styling instructor. Research the education requirements, training information and licensing required for starting a career as a hair styling instructor.

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Do I Want to Be a Hair Styling Instructor?

Hair styling or cosmetology instructors train aspiring hair stylists, hairdressers and cosmetologists. They can work in public and private career or technical schools as well as businesses like hair salons. These professionals typically work during school hours, though some may have to coming in early or stay late to meet with parents or students. They might also do most of their grading and lesson planning in the evenings or on weekends, but most school instructors have summers off. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the median annual salary for career and technical instructors was well above the median for all other occupations in May 2012.

Job Requirements

In order to become a cosmetology instructor, an individual should first become a licensed cosmetologist and get a few years of work experience. He/She can then pursue an instructor training program at a community, technical or vocational college, which typically leads to a career certificate or associate degree.

According to the BLS, every state requires cosmetologists and instructors to be formally licensed for employment. Each state has different requirements for training and licensure, and individuals can make sure that training programs are approved by their state board before enrolling. After completing the training program, students need to pass a state licensing exam as the final requirement. The table below includes general requirements for hair styling or cosmetology instructors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level No degree required, but formal training is required*
Degree Field Cosmetology or related*
Licensure All states require licensing*
Experience 3-5 years as a licensed cosmetologist or cosmetologist instructor***
Key Skills Creativity, ability to stand for prolonged periods, manual dexterity, good communication and relational skills*
Technical Skills Scissors, combs, clippers, trimmers, razors, applicators and brushes**
Additional Requirements Professional appearance*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net OnLine, ***Job postings by employers (October 2012)

Step 1: Complete an Approved Cosmetology Program

The first step on the road to becoming a cosmetology instructor is to complete a regular cosmetology program. Cosmetology programs generally confer an associate degree or certificate and can be found at community colleges and technical schools. Since many states require licensees to be 16 years or older with a high school diploma or its equivalent, some programs are open to high school students as well.

State-approved programs last around 2 years or less and include lectures and hands-on training. Schools may have their own cosmetology salons on-campus, and students can work with actual clients under instructor supervision. Specific hair-related topics in a cosmetology program include hair styling, hair cutting and chemical treatments. Other topics of study commonly covered in cosmetology programs include sanitation, hygiene, business and computer skills.

Success Tips:

  • Build strong communication and relational skills. Since cosmetologists work directly with clients to improve their personal image and appearance, having good listening and speaking skills are important to building relationships. Use time spent in the practical portion of the training program to develop excellent communication skills with clients, instructors and fellow students.
  • Practice outside the classroom. Hair stylists and cosmetologists need manual dexterity along with an aesthetic eye. Self-study outside of the classroom setting can accelerate mastery of newly learned skills. Students can gain experience practicing on friends and family, or they may opt to use training tools and supplies, such as wigs.

Step 2: Get a Cosmetology License

Although every state has varying requirements to qualify for licensing as a cosmetologist, states commonly mandate the completion of a minimum number of hours of instruction through an approved cosmetology training program. After this requirement is met, most states require individuals to successfully pass an exam. Generally, exams are in a written format, though some may also include practical or oral components.

Step 3: Get Work Experience

After becoming a licensed cosmetologist, an individual needs to acquire the minimum work experience required by the state in which they're employed in order to qualify for licensing as an instructor. Some state boards may not require an individual to have separate work experience; instead, the completion of an approved instructor training program is sufficient. Typically, the work requirement mandated by state boards is around 1-2 years of experience. However, employers typically desire around 3-5 years of total experience along with licensure (cosmetologist and/or instructor) for instructor positions. Generally, having more experience is beneficial for employment opportunities as a cosmetology instructor.

Success Tip:

  • Make sure you check with your state board for exact work experience requirements. Prior to beginning employment as a cosmetologist, make sure to review the length of work experience mandated by the state for cosmetology instructor licensing.

Step 4: Complete a Cosmetology Instructor Program

Training programs for cosmetology instruction are generally shorter in duration than regular cosmetology programs. Many instructor programs have admission requirements that only permit licensed cosmetologists to apply. The curriculum for an instructor program includes courses geared specifically toward training instructors, such as teaching theory and aids, class management and motivation, evaluation methods, practical teaching and curriculum design. Cosmetology-related areas of study include topics in hair, skin and nail care. Programs are usually divided into lectures and practical sessions.

Step 5: Get a Cosmetology Instructor License

The last step to becoming a hair styling or cosmetology instructor is to get the license. This licensing process is similar to that for the regular cosmetology license and usually entails completing an approved education program and successfully passing an exam. However, most states require an individual to be a licensed cosmetologist prior to applying for the instructor license. In addition, some states may also require an individual to have around 1-2 years of work experience as a cosmetologist prior to applying for instructor licensure.

Step 6: Maintain Licensure Through Continuing Education

State licensing boards may require continuing education for cosmetologist and cosmetology instructor license renewals. Typically, an individual must take courses that meet the minimum number of hours required to maintain licensure. Other states may not require any continuing education at all. Licensed cosmetologists and instructors need to check with their state board for license renewal requirements.

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