The following responses were contributed by cosmetologist Melanie Stancliff, owner of The Maryland School of Hair Design, Inc. The material is intended to provide students with an idea of what working as a cosmetologist is like, and some steps they can take to prepare for a career in that field.

Stancliff is a Bowie resident and a 1968 graduate of DuVal High School.

NATURE OF THE WORK

"Cosmetologists focus on three major areas: hair care, which includes techniques like styling, permanent waving, chemical relaxing, tinting, bleaching, shampooing and conditioning; skin care, and nail care.

"The most important thing, from a business standpoint, is to establish and continue to build your clientele. Every customer who sits in your chair represents up to three more potential clients.

"The main objective is pleasing the patron. If you do good work and satisfy your customers, your clientele can multiply rapidly and lead to even more business. If your customers aren't satisfied, it won't be long before that works against you."

EDUCATIONAL REQUIREMENTS

"To be a licensed cosmetologist, you have to accumulate 1,500 hours of training, which most students get in beauty schools or vocational schools. After you've accumulated the hours, you are eligible to take the State Board of Cosmetology Exam. The exam consists of a 1 1/2 hour written test consisting of 100 multiple-choice questions, and a 3 1/2 hour practical test, in which you must demonstrate your skills and meet the Board standard for haircutting techniques and all phases of cosmetology.

"{The state} requires only that you be 16 years of age and have an eighth grade education to be a cosmetologist, which I think is unfortunate. I strongly recommend {that students} at least finish high school. It's also a good idea to take some college prep courses in business. If you are interested in going into ownership, as many do, you will need a strong business background. Having the skill isn't enough if you can't run the business.

"Base salaries for beginning operators working in a salon are not much, usually around minimum {wage}. In the beginning especially, you'll need to work a lot of hours. But most {operators} are also paid a 50 percent commission per customer, and that is where you make your money. Depending on their ambition and the size of their clientele, an operator can make anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a year."

MATCHING YOURSELF WITH THE WORK

"You have to have some artistic ability. To be able to create the best image for a client is a talent. This talent can be trained, but in most cases, it's instinctive. If there is one thing people are sensitive about, it's their looks. And no one realizes this more than we do.

"Obviously, it helps to be people-oriented because you will come into contact with so many different types of people. Cosmetologists are part friend, part counselor, part referee. Your customers have to trust you, and you have to take pride in your work. Versatility is important, too, because new styles and new products keep things changing. You have to be able to change with them.

"There is a very negative perception associated with this business, that it is something women do when they can't do anything else. It's not easy, and it's not just for women. I would estimate that about 30 percent of all cosmetologists are men."