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Barber: Career Overview, Salary, and Training

If you’ve always wanted a career where you can help other people look their best and feel great about themselves, working as a barber could be a great option. Barbering takes dedicated training and practice to perfect, but it can provide a lifelong, satisfying career that could eventually lead to business ownership.

Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to become a barber, with information on training and licensure, projections for career growth and salary, potential career crossovers, and more.

What Does a Barber Do?

Barbers perform a range of hair-based services for their clients, including cutting, coloring, styling, and other treatments. They typically tend to focus on male hair (though this isn’t always the case) and often offer related services such as beard styling, mustache trims, and shaves. They may also perform styling and makeover services for special occasions, such as weddings.

Along with their day-to-day styling duties, barbers are responsible for maintaining a clean and sanitary environment for their clients and are expected to keep a safe and organized workstation that abides by the legal standards set by their state.

Just like hairstylists and cosmetologists, barbers perform their work in a wide range of different environments and settings, including barbershops and hair salons, on TV and movie sets, in the theater, in the military, on cruise ships and in resorts, and in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and residential care facilities. Essentially, wherever there is hair to be cut, there’s a need for qualified barbers.

Barber vs. Hairstylist: What’s the Difference?

Though hairstylists and barbers both work with hair, subtle differences set the two careers apart.

Barbers typically work with male clients (though some will offer their services to anyone with shorter hair, regardless of gender) and usually perform other related services such as razor shaves and beard trims. Barbers learn specialized techniques that include straight razor stropping and shaving, general hair and scalp care, disinfection procedures, and sanitation practices.

On the other hand, hairstylists and cosmetologists tend to work with both male and female clients and focus on scalp hair care, cutting, coloring, and styling. They may also provide nail care, facials, and other esthetic services, which barbers typically don’t need to master.

If you want to become a barber, you’ll first need to complete a specific barbering program and earn a barber’s license. This requirement applies across all 50 states, so it’s an essential step in starting your new career.

How to Become a Barber: Training and Licensing

As mentioned above, the first step to starting your new career as a barber is to complete a barbering program at an approved school and obtain a barber’s license from your state board. You may be able to enroll at a specific barbering college, or you might decide to take barbering as a program at a beauty school that offers a wider range of course topics.

Depending on where you live in the U.S., instead of training through an approved barber school program, you may also be able to earn your license by completing an apprenticeship. Every state has different requirements that barbers must meet before gaining licensure, so make sure to check your state guidelines before choosing your path.

While at barber school, you’ll cover a wide range of topics relevant to barbering, including hair cutting, coloring, and styling techniques, as well as other important subjects such as hygiene, client safety, and in some programs, business and salon management.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Barber?

The amount of time it takes to complete a barbering program and gain licensure varies from state to state but typically takes from one to two years. Most states require that students complete between 1,500 and 2,000 training hours before qualifying for their license. However, apprenticeships usually require more training hours, around twice as many as in a traditional program.

There are ways to cut down on time spent training, however. Due to the similarity in skill sets, some states allow for a crossover between barbering and cosmetology licenses, so if you’ve already got one, you may be able to fast-track the other.

For example, in California, Flair Beauty College offers a barber-cosmetology crossover program that requires only 200 hours of additional study for licensed cosmetologists looking to gain their barbering qualifications. Queen City College in Tennessee offers a similar program that allows licensed cosmetologists to earn their barbering license in just 300 hours.

Barber Training: Coursework and Curriculum

The exact barber training curriculum varies from school to school, but they all cover similar topics, teaching students everything they need to know through a mixture of theoretical (classroom) and practical (hands-on) lessons.

Barber school programs typically offer a range of relevant subjects such as:

  • Prepping clients
  • Safety and sanitization
  • Hair cutting, styling, and coloring
  • Procedures for setting up and breaking down a safe and hygienic workstation
  • Shaving

They’ll usually also cover local state barber laws, rules, and regulations and information for handling the administrative side of the business, such as client management, financial safety, and promotion and public relations.

In most programs, students have the opportunity to work with real clients in an in-house training salon to practice techniques under the supervision of instructors.

Steps to Getting Your Barber License

Once you’ve completed a barbering program and accrued the required amount of training hours needed in your state, you should be ready to apply for your barber’s license.

First, you must register with your local state licensing body or board and submit all the necessary prerequisites, such as ID documents, details of your program or apprenticeship, and proof that you’ve completed your training hours.

Next, you need to take the relevant examinations. These vary from state to state, but most require you to take both written and practical exams, which you’ll need to pass—usually with a score of 70% or higher—to earn your license. Depending on your state, you may take a state-specific licensing exam or a common one such as the exam developed by the National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).

You’ll need to renew your license periodically and may need to complete ongoing education requirements. The rules around renewals vary from state to state, so make sure to check this when applying for your initial license so you know what to expect in the coming years.

Barber Salary and Job Outlook

The projected outlook for a career in barbering is overwhelmingly positive, with expected job growth of 18% nationwide between 2020-2030. This is much faster than average for all occupations. Some states have even higher job growth predictions, including Washington at 22% and Utah at 40%.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the states with the highest employment of barbers are Texas, New York, Florida, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.

How Much Do Barbers Make?

On average, barbers in the United States earned $38,050 per year, or $18.29 per hour, in 2020 (BLS). Wages ranged from $21,810 for the lowest 10% to $63,450 for the highest 10%, which is higher than comparable careers such as hairdressers, hairstylists, and cosmetologists, who earned an average of $32,740 annually (or $15.74 per hour).

However, the amount you can earn as a barber varies depending on several factors, such as the services you offer, your level of experience, the environment you work in, the number of hours you work, and your geographical location. Barbers working in small local shops in rural settings often earn less than those based in high-profile metropolitan areas—but their expenses and cost of living may also be lower.

Geographical location can significantly affect the average amount earned, not just in barbering but in all careers. According to BLS data, the top five highest-earning states for barbers in 2020 and their average salaries were:

  1. Washington ($61,790)
  2. Massachusetts ($58,550)
  3. Maryland ($54,800)
  4. Illinois ($50,550)
  5. Oregon ($44,580)