How to Become a Barber
When a client sits in your barbershop chair, they’re not simply there for a haircut. They’re trusting you to apply your craft to hone the style they present to the world. They’re also trusting you to create a comfortable environment, bring knowledge of all the latest tools and styles, and offer expert advice when they can’t settle on which cut to choose.
There are many reasons to pursue barbering as a career. And while it’s a trade that demands years of study, practice, and experience, it can be a rewarding path for many. First, though, you must learn how to become a barber.
From understanding how to get a barber license in your state to choosing an educational route that will prepare you well, there are many steps you’ll need to take along your chosen career path. Here, we’ll run through what those steps entail.
#1 Check Local or State Requirements
Your first step should be to check in with your state cosmetology board, since requirements may be different from state to state. Depending on where you live, you may be required to complete only a training program, only an apprenticeship, or both.
In general, however, becoming a barber requires at least some investment in the form of:
- Training hours – Most barber programs range from 1,500 to 2,000 hours, which are usually completed over 1 to 2 years. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, typically require twice this number of hours.
- Cost – Expect to pay somewhere between $2,000 to $20,000 for in-school tuition costs. It’s a wide range, but it usually depends on the number of training hours your state requires. Training in urban areas tends to be considerably more costly than in rural ones. Note that if you’ve chosen a school that will provide the tools you’ll use, resources, textbooks, supplies, mannequins, and so on, chances are the tuition fee might be higher.1
What about barber apprenticeships? These entail working with a professional barber in a business (rather than a school) setting. This might be an ideal training environment for you if you want to:
- Get hands-on experience with clients – One of the most critical skills involved in being a barber is learning to build a client base. As an apprentice, you’ll be able to start growing a network of clients early on—a massive advantage for any barber just getting their start.
- Work with a “master barber” – As an apprentice, you’ll observe how a master not only serves their clients, but also operates a bustling business successfully. They’ll set an invaluable example for your future goals and can even teach you how to build clientele.
- Make a bit of money – While apprenticeships let young barbers start earning a bit earlier, bear in mind your profits will likely be minimal. You may also need to front costs for any costs of tools, products—including barber booking app or barbershop business management software—and supplies you’ll need on the job.
- Earn twice as many hours of training – Most states require double the number of training hours for apprenticeships before they hand over a barber license—in some places, up to 4,000 hours. Alternatively, some states require a period of training time of up to two years in addition to the hours you’ll need 1
Barber licensing and training or education requirements vary widely depending on where you plan to live and work. Do your research on local requirements before investing in your education. This way, you’ll ensure those hours and costs are moving you in the right direction.
#2 Research Your Training Grounds Thoroughly
Most barber schools accept aspiring barbers on a few basic requirements:
- Enrollees must be at least 16 years old
- They must possess a high school diploma or GED
- In some states, enrollees must pass a background check
The rest of the process is up to you and what you want out of your barber school education.
When weighing your options, consider fundamental characteristics like tuition costs, school location, and whether their barbering program meets state-specific requirements (or if they can serve you in multiple different states).
We also recommend taking the following steps before settling on your future school:
- Start by choosing three schools – Narrow down your list to your top three contenders before settling on one. Compare their admissions processes and, if their application fees are within budget, consider submitting applications to all three.
- Create an in-school financial plan – Do the schools you’ve selected offer any financial aid, payment plans, or even scholarships? See whether you can take advantage of Pell Grants or PLUS Loans. The Beauty Schools Marketing Group also offers a $2,500 cosmetology scholarship.3
- Get in touch with schools directly – Your first impression of schools isn’t always an accurate picture of what goes on inside. If you can, talk to current students to see what their experience in class has been like. Consider the careers and experience of the teachers, especially if they’re known as “master barbers.” Browse alumni testimonials for even more specifics on the program and faculty.
- Ask schools whether they provide career services – Transitioning to a workplace after barber training may involve a good deal of time spent finding the right space and people. Alumni networks can help minimize the difficulty and length of that transition. Many barber schools even guarantee job placement for their graduates as a part of their program.
#3 Complete Your Training
While in school, you’ll learn barber basics like how to set up and take down your booth and maintain a hygienic work environment.
You’ll also gain an education in two other critical areas:
- Practical barber studies – These studies include techniques you’ll use to perform the work of barbering:4
- Hair and beard cutting, trimming, and styling
- Grooming and shaving for men
- Maintenance of razors, stropping, and honing
- Massage of the scalp
- Shampooing and hot towel treatments
- Theoretical barber studies – This is the knowledge you’ll need to approach matters not directly related to the hands-on procedures of the trade. For instance, you’ll learn about:
- Barber laws of the state, regulations, and rules
- Customer service
- Health and safety
- Sanitation, hygiene, and sterilization
- Bacteriology and scalp and skin diseases
#4 Get Your Barber License
Every state requires that you pass written and practical exams to earn your barber’s license.
Similar to entering your school, you’ll have to prove your age and that you have a high school diploma or GED. You must also prove you’ve:
- Completed your barbering program
- Completed the barber training hours, per state requirements
Future barbers may expect to take the National Barber Examination, a universal test in the US provided by the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology. (Note: they have a practice exam available on their website).5
Some states opt to add their own portion to the exam. Others create their own test entirely—especially if their licensing combines barbering and cosmetology, rather than keeping them separate.<sup<5 Most often, you’ll find this test is divided into two portions.
The written, or theoretical, portion of the National Barber Examination will test you on:
- Techniques and services, including consultations, haircare, hair design, shaping, hair styling, lightening, hair coloring, waving, and texturizing.
- Skincare and facial hair, including skin evaluation, facial hair design, light therapy, electrotherapy, shaving, and shaving safety may appear.
- Equipment of the trade, including key barber tools like scissors, shears, clippers, blow dryers, combs, brushes, razors, towels, neck slips, and drapes.
- Scientific concepts, including anatomy and physiology, infection control, hair and skin disorders, and chemicals barbers use.
The hands-on, practical part of the National Barber Examination may be conducted on a live model or mannequin.
In addition to workspace setup, take down, and client preparation, they may expect you to perform:
- A basic facial
- Razor shaving
- Blow dryer styling
- Chemical waving
- Thermal curling
- Chemical relaxing
- Hair lightening and color retouch
#5 Get to Know Your Trade Through Practice
Once you’ve passed the test and earned your barber’s license, you’re set to start your career and secure real-world experience as a barber.
But you’ll also need to take regular steps to maintain your profession—barber licenses require renewal about every two years. Fortunately, unlike cosmetology licenses, they don’t require continuing education. Barbers only need to fill out a form and pay a renewal fee.
That said, many barbers decide to continue their education voluntarily. You may even consider pursuing the master barber credential.
A master barber typically practices in exclusive facilities, opens their own shop, and can reach an earning potential of around $55,000 annually. Plus, you’ll get a separate license you can impress clients with and show off in your workstation.
Let Your Craft Speak for Itself with SQUIRE
Pursuing a profitable career as a trusted barber will largely hinge on the reputation you generate among clientele. Doing so means having a few essentials in place: skill in your craft, a personable demeanor, and the smooth operation of your business.
Attracting clients, building your brand, and growing your business is even easier with SQUIRE. Our all-in-one platform was designed specifically for barbers to help them manage their business, whether you’re a freelance entrepreneur or steering a fleet of more than a dozen master barbers.
Wherever you are in your path, advance your barbershop career with help from SQUIRE.
- Beauty Schools Directory. Barber School. https://www.beautyschoolsdirectory.com/programs/barber-school
- Barber Schools. Cost of Barber School. https://www.barber-schools.org/barber-information/cost-of-barber-school
- Beauty Schools Directory. How to Become a Licensed Barber. https://www.beautyschoolsdirectory.com/programs/barber-school/licensing
- National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology. Testing. https://nictesting.org/testing-page/
- Profitable Venture Magazine. Requirement to Get a Barber’s License Without Going to School. https://www.profitableventure.com/get-barbers-license/
Branding Your New Indie Barber Business? Start Here.
Ready to market your new indie barber business but don't know where to start? Let us guide you with our expert tips and tricks to set you up for success.
How to Prepare Your Barbershop For a Successful Holiday Season
Are you ready for the holiday rush in your barbershop? Learn practical tips on preparing your business for success this season. Read on for expert advice!
Rent vs. Commission: What’s Better for Your Revenue?
For a lot of new shop owners, operating a rental or commission shop is a critical first choice. How does that choice impact future revenue growth, however?
How Do Your Barbershop Prices Compare to Top US Cities?
With SQUIRE's pricing comparison tool, barbers can see how their prices stack up against competition locally or in cities across the US. Check out how your haircut prices compare and get helpful advice based on your results.