When you sit down in a barber’s chair, you can rest assured that your high skin fade or mid taper is in good hands. The person holding the scissors is a trained professional—every barber in the country, after all, has to earn and maintain a license to work. If you decide you want to be the one holding the clippers, however, we can help you navigate the process of earning and maintaining your barber license.
Steps to Obtaining a Barber License
Though barber license requirements vary by state, typical steps are:
Attend a barbering program to complete minimum training hours OR complete a state-approved apprenticeship
Take an exam (sometimes multiple exams) as designated by the state board
Pay a license fee
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Training Hour Requirements
Training hours represent the hours you’ll spend training to become a barber in your program or school. Your state will determine how many hours you must complete before you qualify for licensure, but the concept remains the same in all states.
To ensure you’re qualified to provide barbering services the board needs proof that you’ve spent a significant amount of time learning the trade from qualified instructors in a recognized barbering program. Although the national average is around 1,500 training hours, this number can vary considerably from state to state. In New Jersey, for example, it’s 900 hours. In North Carolina, on the other hand, it’s 1,528.
Note that some states offer an alternate route for getting your license: an apprenticeship. In this scenario you would work with a professional barber who would provide mentoring and on-the-job training. These programs often take longer than traditional schooling—usually more than 2,000 hours and as high as 4,000.
Other states require both barber school and an apprenticeship. In these cases, the apprenticeship is typically shorter.
No matter where you live, you are required to pass a comprehensive test to prove to your state board your retention of knowledge and skills from training. Test content can be created by your state board, or if it’s a national exam, is administered through the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC). In other cases, you might have to take the NIC test as well as a state exam.
In most states, the exam consists of two portions: the theory, or written exam, and the practical, or hands-on portion. The theory section tests your knowledge and the practical portion tests your skills. Your state could test some or all of the areas listed below. For more information refer to the NIC testing site.
Theory Exam - Scientific Concepts
For theory, expect to answer questions about scientific concepts such as...
Infection control and safety
Human anatomy and physiology
Skin and hair disorders
Chemicals used in barbering
Theory Exam - Trade Equipment
The theory exam also emphasizes trade equipment such as...
Scissors and shears
Combs and brushes
Towels, drapes, and neck strips
Theory Exam - Services and Techniques
The largest portion of the theory test focuses on haircare services and techniques, including...
Theory Exam - Facial Hair and Skincare
Other exam focuses include facial hair and skincare services such as...
Shaving and shaving safety
Facial hair design
Electrotherapy and light therapy
For the practical or hands-on portion, barber candidates are expected to successfully perform the following on a mannequin or live model...
Work area and client prep
Straight razor shaving
Blow dryer styling
Hair lightening and hair color retouch
Maintaining Your Barber License
Once you complete your program, pass your test, and receive your license, you can qualify to work as a barber in your state. However, down the road there’s still work to do: You are required to keep your license in good standing by renewing it periodically, generally every two years. Unlike cosmetologists who are required to earn continuing education credits upon license renewal, barbers typically only have to fill out a form and, in more cases than not, pay a renewal fee. This fee can vary from state to state.
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Cosmetologists are required to participate in continuing education to maintain licensing, and despite the inconvenience, that can be a good thing. Just because you don’t have to keep learning doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. What you learn in barbering school today is different than what was taught 15 years ago. Trends, styles, equipment, techniques, tastes, and standards all change over time.
Whether you work for someone else or yourself, it’s important to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. From cosmetology and barbering schools to community colleges and technical schools, there is no shortage of continuing education opportunities for barbers. You can also attend conventions, trade shows, seminars, and other ongoing education opportunities.
Additionally, you can achieve the master barber credential through continuing education. Besides basic barber training, master barbers are required to complete a curriculum in advanced techniques and treatments. This could include hair relaxing, hairpiece fitting, permanent waving, sculpting, dyeing, and massaging. Master barbers also earn a separate, special license. The requirements for this license vary by state but generally involve additional training hours and a new examination. In some states you are required to hold your standard barber license for a certain amount of time before you can even apply.
Once you earn a master barber license, however, you can qualify to work at the most exclusive barber shops and other high-end facilities. You can also command a higher wage or open your own shop.