You need a high school diploma to be accepted into cosmetology school. Once accepted, each state requires a specific number of completed hours to get your cosmetology license. The rules change from state to state, Minnesota required 1,550 hours to graduate. You then need to pay a fee and take three state board tests to get your license (two written, one practical). The majority of people spend their first year out of school as an apprentice, where you assist a lead stylist and continue to take classes through the salon. You need to renew your license every two years by paying a fee and taking specific continued education classes.
I completed school, did an apprenticeship, and worked in that salon until I decided to quit. I think I had a bad experience partially because I joined the industry late. A lot of people skip college and start doing hair right at 18, so they have less financial responsibilities and less of an urgency to excel. I was at a point in my life where I couldn't wait 5+ years to start seeing a decent paycheck.
Be prepared to be working evenings and weekends. A typical weekday shift would be 3-9:30pm, or 8am-4pm on the weekend. You clock in and look at your appointments for the day, set up your station, etc. Every day is different. One day you may be working with two colors that take up the whole day, or you could have seven haircuts that day. It's constantly changing. You could also have a cancellation or empty books, causing you to have to sit in the back room for multiple hours in case there's a walk-in. At the end of your shift, you'll help with sanitation duties and cleaning the salon. Every salon is different, but it's usually up to the manager how long you are there if your books aren't full. You're also never assigned breaks or lunch; if you have full books that day, you'll usually slam your lunch for five minutes while mixing color in the back.
Making people feel good! It's seriously the best feeling to see your client's face when they absolutely love what you did. It can be super rewarding, giving people confidence, and making their day. You feel like you're giving back in a sense. It's also super creative. There's a million different ways to cut or color someone's hair, so you can really express yourself.
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It's physically and mentally exhausting. It's also really hard to make good money. They basically accept anyone into cosmetology school, and then they build you up, making everyone feel like they're going to be the best. What they don't tell you is you're essentially an entrepreneur.
You usually spend your first year out of school, making minimum wage because you are assisting the owner or a lead stylist. This is great for education, but you are spending all day holding foils and shampooing people for no money. So it's easy to lose your inspiration.
Once you make it to a level one stylist, you need to convince every client to stay with you, even though you have no real experience. People want advanced stylists, so it's tough to get going. Clients are insecure. They come into the salon because they don't feel good about their hair, and sometimes they like to take that out on you. You're constantly trying to prove yourself, and there's zero room for error.
In the beginning, you'll be spending a lot of your time waiting around for things to happen, which gets really discouraging. You have to promote yourself like crazy, give people deals, and constantly hustle to fill your week.
When you do have full books, you're absolutely exhausted and still making bad money. The only way to make decent money is by raising your prices, which can take years. Statistically, 9/10 hairstylists do not renew their license after two years. If you want to make really good money, expect to live and breathe hair and not have a life.
It's all up to you and where you live. If you're working in a big city, you'll be able to charge more than a small town or suburb. There are hairstylists making six figures. However, the job is extremely physical no matter what level you are, so expect to be exhausted even with a good paycheck.
Find a really good salon that you click with. Look at every possible option, because it's really hard to move salons if you're not happy. Make sure the owner is invested in you. Make sure you click with the other stylists. Education is everything, so take as many classes as possible. You also can't be timid, take every color, and cut you can. Make sure your heart is fully in it.
It's kind of like a sport or instrument where it helps if you have some natural abilities. You must be a creative person. You need to be outgoing and understand you're also going to be a therapist to your clients. It would help if you were patient, driven, and focused.
It's very social and informal. It's similar to the restaurant industry where everyone is friends. This can make it really fun if you like your team.
It's easy to get a job, but it's competitive with the really good salons. The more popular a salon is, the harder it will be to become a stylist there.
The only way to raise your prices is if you consistently have enough clients on your books. Try and get as many people in your chair as possible.
COVID is a scary thing for hairstylists. Having to wear a mask all day while working with hot tools is tiring. You also have to trust that all your clients are healthy, and realize you're putting yourself at risk. However, it is a job that can't be replaced by a robot. The career itself isn't going anywhere because it's impossible for people to give themselves a good haircut or color without help.
I have a lot of friends who love doing hair. They would agree with what I said, but it's not a deal-breaker for them. It is an incredible industry and can be a fulfilling career. It just wasn't for me.