How to Become a Cosmetologist in California

If you are a Californian looking to launch a career in the cosmetology industry, there are several steps that you are going to have to take to. At Colleen O’Hara’s Beauty Academy, we want to help you take those steps. Here’s an outline of how to become a cosmetologist in California:

  1. Find a cosmetology school
  2. Enroll in school
  3. Complete required hours
  4. Register to take the state board exam
  5. Take the state board exam
  6. Fill out application
  7. Pay licensing fees

Find a Cosmetology School

Step one to becoming a cosmetologist in California is to find a cosmetology school that you like. You can usually set up a tour by contacting the school. Taking a tour is a good idea because you can get a feel for what the school is like and whether it will be a good fit for you.

cosmetology student working in salon


Once you find the school that you think will give you the best education, it’s time to enroll. At Colleen O’Hara’s Beauty Academy our admissions representatives can guide you through the enrollment process.

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Complete Required Hours

You’re required to complete 1600 hours of education in California to get a cosmetology license. While in school you can get training and experience to help launch your career as a cosmetologist and it’s where you will complete these hours.

The curriculum at the school will break these hours up for you. You will get to learn different thing in different settings. At Colleen O’Hara’s Beauty Academy your hours can be spent learning things like:

  • Hair design
  • Safety and sanitation
  • Haircutting
  • Hair coloring and bleaching
  • Scalp and hair treatments
  • Makeup artistry
  • Nail design
  • Much more

The main goal of our cosmetology program is to make the transition from student to beauty professional smooth and natural. To do this we teach our students in class and let them get hands-on experience in our student salon. Working in the student salon gives cosmetology students the opportunity to learn what it will be like when they graduate.

tools that a cosmetologist would use

Register to Sit for the State Board Exam

When you get close to completing your 1600 hours and graduating, you will need to register to take the state board exam. To register for the exam you’ll need to:

  • Go to
  • Follow instructions to set up an account
  • When you get to the “Add Licenses To Registration” page, select “No”
  • Next it will ask for the last four digits of your social security or ITIN number and birthday
  • Under “Start New Application or Take an Exam” select “Board of Barbering and Cosmetology”
  • Under “Choose Application” select “Cosmetologist Exam Application”
  • Fill out the questions on the Cosmetologist Exam Application
  • Select the testing center that is closest to you
  • Input payment information
  • Submit your application

Once your application is submitted, it will be reviewed. After the review process the state board will contact you with exam times.

Take the State Board Exam

Once you have your exam time scheduled, it’s a matter of showing up and taking it. In California you will take the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC) exam to get your cosmetology license. The NIC exam is split into two sections: written and practical. The written section is formatted like a traditional “paper” test. In the practical section of the test you will get to actually practice and show your skills on a mannequin head.

Again, your time in cosmetology school should help prepare you to take the California state board exam. If you apply yourself and learn as much as you can in school you can go into the exam feeling prepared.

hair dresser cutting hair of client

Wrapping it Up

Once you pass your state board exam it’s just a matter of filling out your application and paying the fee for your license. Once you get these loose ends tied off and get your license, you should be good to start working and building your career in the beauty industry.


It may feel like there’s a lot to remember to get your cosmetology license in California. Don’t worry. We’ll help you out! Contact us to get started on your cosmetology education and we’ll walk you through the process of taking the exam and getting your license. In the meantime, get excited about beginning your journey to a new career that you can love!

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