Do you need to take the Esthetics state board exam in Pennsylvania? On this page you’ll find everything you need to know about scheduling and preparing for your exam, answers to all the most common questions, and a free practice test to check you’re prepared!
The process of registering for (and passing!) your Pennsylvania state board exam
If you’ve just finished up studying esthetics in beauty school or are preparing for early testing, let us be the first to say congratulations! You’re just one step away from your dream career as an esthetician.
The last thing you have to do now is to pass your State Board exams in order to get your Pennsylvania esthetician license. The process of applying, scheduling, and actually taking your exam can be confusing and daunting. But don’t worry: we’ll walk you through the process step by step. Starting with…
Step 1: Check you’re eligible to take the Pennsylvania State Board Exam in esthetics
To be eligible to take the exam set by the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology, you must:
- Meet specific age and education requirements
- Complete a certain number of schooling or apprenticeship hours
- Meet certain reciprocity requirements
In Pennsylvania, to be eligible to take the exams for esthetics, you must be at least 16 years old and have a 10th grade level of education or higher. If you are older than 35, the 10th grade education requirement is waived.
You must also have completed 300 hours of instruction in esthetics in a licensed cosmetology school before you can take the exam and become licensed.
It’s important to note that Pennsylvania does not allow apprenticeship to count in place of schooling hours.
Pennsylvania does, however, offer early testing for the theory/procedural skills exam, which you can take before you complete your schooling. To be qualified for this, you must have completed at least 250 hours of instruction in esthetics in a licensed cosmetology school.
But even though you can take and even pass the exam before you complete your hours, you will not receive your license or a temporary permit until you complete the full number of required hours (300).
That means that you still have to finish your schooling in order to get your license. Your school will need to send documents to the Board verifying that you have completed the required hours once you’ve finished.
If you have an esthetician license in another state and:
- That state does not have an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania OR
- You have not held that license for 2 or more years OR
- You do not have 2 or more years of active working experience
Then you would be required to take the Pennsylvania exam.
Step 2: Apply for the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology examinations
To apply for the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exam in esthetics, you must fill out an Application of Licensure.
The application process is completely online. Pennsylvania has replaced their paper-based application forms with an online application portal called PALS.
All you need to do to apply is create an account on the PALS platform by clicking here. There is a non-refundable $10 application fee due at checkout.
After you create your account, simply follow the instructions and prompts it gives you. During the application, you’ll need to upload a variety of documentation.
Once you’ve finished submitting all your information online, you’ll need to pay the $93 exam fee to Pearson Vue C/O Dasher Inc. via Money Order, School Check, or Business Check and send it to:
Pearson Vue C/O Dasher Inc
PO Box 1652
Harrisburg, PA 17105
The testing institution needs to receive your funds before they can start processing your application, so it’s important to complete this step in a timely manner in order to speed up the application process.
Once you’ve paid the fees and uploaded all the necessary documents, your application is complete! If you missed any information, you will be contacted via email and prompted to provide the things you’ve missed.
For an Application of Licensure in Pennsylvania, you’ll need to provide the following documents:
- Affidavit: a Cosmetology School Affidavit with a notary signature and seal from the school(s) where you completed your hours
- Proof of Education: a GED diploma, high school diploma, GED certificate indicating grade equivalency, letter from the high school attended (signed by the principal) stating the highest level of grade completed, or an official transcript of high school record
- Educational Transcript: your school must submit a copy of the transcript of the hours earned
- Photo: You must submit a head and shoulder photograph that is 2 inches by 2 inches
- Identification: Driver’s license (not expired), State-issued I.D., Passport, Birth Certificate, or Department of State issued VISA
- Criminal History Record Check: You must obtain a CHRC from the police department within 90 days of the date you submit your application. You must provide one for every state you have lived, worked, and/or trained in over the past 5 years.
If you have lived, worked, and/or trained in Pennsylvania alone for the past 5 years at the time of your application, your Criminal History Records Check request will be automatically submitted to the police department.
You will pay the (non-refundable) PATCH fee for the CHRC at the time of checkout along with your application fee, and the records will be automatically sent to the Board/Commission. If any additional information is required, you’ll be contacted via email.
If you have worked, lived, and/or trained in another state within the past 5 years, things get a little confusing. You’re required to get a CHRC from each state’s police department OR other state agency that is the official repository for criminal history record information.
Check out this list provided by Pennsylvania’s Board of Cosmetology that tells you where to go to get your CHRC in each state.
You can elect to submit a CHRC for the state you currently live in and an FBI Identity History Summary Check instead of individual state CHRCs. This works best if you’ve lived/worked/trained in multiple different states within the past 5 years.
It’s also worth noting that Pennsylvania will not accept a CHRC from you if you currently live, work, or complete training in the following states:
Instead, you will be required to complete an FBI Identity History Summary Check.
Step 3: Schedule your exam
After completing the application, providing the necessary documents, and paying all the fees, you’ll receive an Approval to Test notification via email within 10 business days. If you don’t receive it within that time, you should call Pearson Vue/Dasher to get an update on the status of your application.
Once received, your Approval to Test email will have the information on how to schedule your exam, which can be done online or by contacting Pearson Vue’s customer service (you can either call or chat with them online during business hours).
Please note all exams require a 48 hour lead time, meaning you have to schedule it at least two days in advance. If you need to reschedule or cancel, you must also do that at least 48 hours in advance.
Step 4: Arrive at the exam center on exam day
You should arrive at the test center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. If you arrive late or don’t bring your necessary documentation, you will not be admitted and you will forfeit your exam fee.
In order to be admitted into the examination, you must have two forms of signature-bearing identification (one must have a photo).
Acceptable primary identification (the one with the photograph) is stated to be:
- Government issued Driver’s License (not expired)
- Department of State issued Driver’s License (not expired)
- U.S. learner’s permit (with photo and signature)
- National/State/Country ID card
- Passport card
- Military ID
- Military ID for spouses and dependents
- Alien Registration Card
Acceptable secondary identification is stated to be:
- U.S. Social Security card
- Debit (ATM) card
- Photo-bearing School ID
- Any form of ID on the primary ID list
All forms of identification need to be not expired, and they do not honor grace periods. So for example, if your license expired the day before your exam, but the state offers a 30-day grace period, it will still be considered expired by the testing facility.
In the examination room, they will not allow you to bring in any of the following:
- Electronics, like cell phones or pagers
- Personal belongings
- Study aids
- Food or drinks
Some testing facilities do not offer lockers or any other place to keep your belongings while you’re in the exam room taking the test, so you might want to leave them in your car or at home!
Step 5: Take the exam(s)
The exam is a theory/procedural skills exam and is done entirely on the computer. As of November 2014, Pennsylvania no longer requires a hands-on practical examination in order to obtain a license.
They give you 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete 100 questions. Of those, 85 are scored questions, and 15 are questions that don’t affect your score, but will be used in the case of future examinations.
There are 85 general questions (of which 75 are scored) and 15 state-specific questions (of which 10 are scored). Here’s a breakdown of what they’ll be asking:
- Rules, regulations, and safety (30-40%)
- Esthetic Science and Skin Analysis (15-20%)
- Facials (20-25%)
- Hair Removal (16-20%)
- Makeup (10-15%)
- Electricity and Electrotherapy (5-10%)
You can check out Pearson Vue’s content outline in their Pennsylvania Cosmetology Candidate Handbook, which goes into more detail about what each section entails.
Step 6: Get your results
Once you complete your exam, you will get your results the same day in person (talk about nerve-racking!). A passing score is anything above 75, and anything below 75 is a failing score.
They only give you a numeric value if you fail the exam, and the number that you receive is not the amount of questions you got right nor is it the percentage of questions that were answered correctly.
Step 7: Get your Pennsylvania State Board esthetician license!
If you pass the exam, you’ll receive your license in the mail within 10-15 business days. However, if you haven’t received it within 10 business days, they recommend calling Pearson Vue at 866-638-7502.
If you didn’t pass your exam, your score report will have instructions on how to reapply. You can’t schedule your retake at the testing facility, you’ll have to do it online or over the phone. And, you will be required to resubmit the exam fee when you reapply.
The only way to get your license is by passing the written exam, but that’s harder than you might think: the pass rate nationally is only 50%! However, students who use our Esthetics Exam Preparation Package have a pass rate of 98.5%!
Frequently asked questions about the Pennsylvania cosmetology exams
How do I apply for the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology esthtics examination?
You can apply for the Pennsylvania State Board esthetics exam by creating an account on the PALS platform and following all the instructions, including uploading the necessary documents and paying any fees.
You’ll receive your Approval to Test email within 10 business days of completing all the paperwork and fees. The letter will include information on how to schedule your exam, which has to be made a minimum of 48 hours in advance.
You can download the Pennsylvania Cosmetology Candidate Handbook here, which will go over all the necessary steps.
I can’t make the date/time of my examination. What should I do?
If you need to reschedule your exam, you must contact Pearson Vue at least 48 hours in advance. If you don’t contact them within that amount of time and you don’t show up to the exam, you’ll have to forfeit your exam fee.
You can contact them via telephone at 866-638-7502 or chat with them online here.
If you’re late, you will not be able to take your exam and you will forfeit your exam fee.
If you are absent, you will have to forfeit your exam fee except in the following cases:
- Illness of yourself or immediate family member
- Death in the family
- Disabling traffic accident
- Court appearance or jury duty
- Military duty
- Weather emergency
Which examination program does the Pennsylvania Board of Cosmetology use?
Pennsylvania uses the examinations provided by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology (NIC).
How much does it cost to take the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exam for esthetics?
Entry to the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exam for esthetics costs a non-refundable $93.
Where do the examinations take place?
The exam takes place at one of the Pearson Vue testing facilities. Those locations are:
- Pittsburg (West)
- Pittsburg (East)
- Plymouth Meeting
- Newark, DE
- Morgantown, WV
- Cumberland, MD
They also offer testing at four state correctional facilities.
How many hours of practical work do I need to qualify for the Pennsylvania State Board examinations?
Estheticians in Pennsylvania need 300 hours to qualify for the exam and be eligible for immediate licensure. However, you only need to complete 250 hours to be eligible for early testing.
Can I take the State Board examinations before I’ve completed the required hours?
Yes, if you’ve completed a minimum of 250 hours, you can take an early testing exam. However, even if you pass, you won’t get your license until you complete the full number of required hours (300) and your school submits proof of that to the Board.
How long is the esthetics written examination?
The Pennsylvania State Board allows 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete the esthetician exam.
What’s the format of the written examination?
The written examination is a computer-based, multiple-choice examination. There are 100 questions in total for estheticians, and you have 1 hours and 45 minutes to complete them.
Of those, 75 questions are general, 10 are state-specific, and 15 are questions that don’t count towards your score, but will be applicable if you ever need to retest in the future.
There are multiple different forms they use, so questions vary from test to test.
For more information about the topics you’ll be examined on, read their Content Outline.
If you want to familiarize yourself with the testing format, try out our practice test here.
How long is the esthetics practical examination?
Pennsylvania does not require a practical exam to become a licensed esthetician.
What’s the format of the practical examination?
As of November 2014, there is no hands-on practical examination for the Pennsylvania State Board esthetician exam. Instead, it was replaced by a procedural skills set of questions in the written exam.
What scores do I need to pass the esthetics exam in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, candidates must pass with a score of 75 or greater.
It’s important to note that the number does not indicate a percentage of correct answers nor the actual number of questions answered correctly.
Their scoring system is scaled to account for the minor differences in difficulty between the different test forms. There is an algorithm that calculates the number of correct and incorrect questions, and produces the number based on that.
Also worth noting is that, if you pass the exam, you won’t get a number on your score sheet. You’ll only get a numeric value if you don’t pass.
What’s the pass rate for the Pennsylvania State Board of Cosmetology exams?
There isn’t a pass rate for Pennsylvania as an individual state, but the national average pass rate for the written exam (which is Pennsylvania’s only exam) is about 50%.
Check if you’re on track to pass your exam by taking our free esthetics practice test.
How many times can I re-take the State Board esthetics examination if I fail?
In Pennsylvania, there is no limit to the amount of retakes you can do. But you must pay the $93 non-refundable exam fee each time, and you must wait 24 hours after your failed test to reschedule.
How long does cosmetology school take in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, there is no minimum amount of time required for completing your 300 schooling hours.
The amount of time it takes to complete your hours varies based on whether or not you go to school full-time. Generally, it takes anywhere from three to nine months.
How do I transfer my esthetician licence to Pennsylvania?
If you meet certain requirements, you will be able to transfer your esthetician license to Pennsylvania (without needing to retake the exam). The requirements are:
- You have held your cosmetology license for 2 or more years AND
- You have 2 or more years of active working experience AND
- You are coming from a state which has an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania
Currently, these are the states which do not have an understanding of reciprocity with Pennsylvania:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- Rhode Island
Before submitting an application, you might want to call the Board at (717) 783-7130 to double-check that the state you’re coming from is eligible or not, as it is always subject to change.
Once you’ve deemed that you’re eligible to transfer your license, follow these steps:
- Complete a “reciprocity” application form on the PALS portal by creating an account here. There is a $60 non-refundable application fee.
- Complete a Criminal History Records Check for each state that you’ve lived/worked/trained in over the past 5 years. See this list for information on where to go to get your Criminal History Records Check for each state.
- You must submit an Employment Certification stating that you have had at least 2 years work experience in the state you currently hold your license.
- Contact the board(s) of the state(s) where you do or have ever held a license and request a letter of good standing. The letters must be submitted directly to the Board.
Once you submit all the required documents and pay all the applicable fees, the Board will review your application and confirm you meet all the criteria.
If you are approved, you will get an email and/or a letter in the mail with instructions on how to proceed.
How do I get my esthetician license in Pennsylvania?
To get your esthetician license in Pennsylvania, you will need to complete the necessary amount of training (300 hours at an accredited school) and pass a written examination at a Pearson Vue testing facility. Once you’ve passed the examination, you will be given your license!
How do I renew my esthetician license in Pennsylvania?
Esthetician licenses expire on January 31st of odd-numbered years and it costs $67 to renew.
The Board will send out a notification to remind you that your license is nearing its expiration date three months in advance to the most recent address it has on file. You will also receive an email notification generally 60 days prior to your license’s expiration date.
To renew your license, login online to the PALS system. Renewal applications are typically opened 30-60 days before the expiration date. You simply fill out the renewal application online and pay the fee.
Once you complete your application and it is reviewed by the Board, you will receive your new license in the mail. Please note that the Postal Service will not forward licenses, so it is important to keep your address updated at all times.
How should I study for the Pennsylvania esthetics written exam?
Use our Esthetician Exam Preparation Package to learn everything you need to pass the written exam.
- Our package includes a study guide that’s structured to help you learn the RIGHT information rather than ALL the information, which can help you cut your preparation/revision time in half.
- Then use our simulated exams to practice for the written exam under test conditions. This part is really important: it’s the key to helping you succeed!