Cosmetology is the study of beauty treatments to the skin, hair, and nails; likewise, cosmetology school runs courses that teach students how to practice these areas professionally.
Often called “beauty school,” these programs teach both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. This ensures students graduate with what it takes to become professional cosmetologists capable of carrying out effective and safe beauty treatments.
Cosmetology is a wide-ranging subject, with licensed cosmetologists going on to various occupations. A cosmetologist’s role could involve anything from hair design to makeup artistry to permanent hair removal. While some cosmetologists remain generalists and carry out all these treatments, others focus on a specific area and become hairstylists, manicurists, makeup artists, or barbers.
To cater to prospective generalists, most beauty schools offer programs in not just cosmetology but also specific areas within the broader discipline, such as esthetics (skincare) or nail technology.
As you’d expect, learning such a wide range of skills is tough — but leads to a rewarding career.
If this sounds like an occupation you could thrive in, why not use the search application below to find a school near you?
- What to Look for When Choosing a Cosmetology School
- How Much Does Cosmetology School Cost?
- How Long Does Cosmetology School Take?
- What Is the Job Outlook for Cosmetology Jobs?
- Time to Level up Your Beauty Skills
What to Look for When Choosing a Cosmetology School
With so many cosmetology schools across the country, you’re probably wondering how on earth you’ll ever choose between them. Here are a few factors to bear in mind.
Before you consider anything else, it’s smart to check whether a cosmetology school is accredited. Nobody wants to spend two years studying at a school only to realize that it didn’t actually improve their employability or teach them what they need to know to be successful.
When a school is accredited, it means that it’s met academic standards set by an accrediting organization. This guarantees a high quality of education and training, and many employers will look for students who have attended an accredited school. The major accrediting body is the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS).
This process is even more crucial for financial aid — the Department of Education only offers Title IV government funding to students of accredited schools.
Similarly, some schools are members of the American Association of Cosmetology Schools, a nonprofit committed to high teaching standards. This doesn’t affect funding but shows the school’s commitment to excellence.
In some cases, good schools choose not to go through the accreditation process for a good reason — but generally, a lack of accreditation is a red flag.
Cosmetology schools usually offer a wide range of programs, including but not limited to a full cosmetology program.
If you already know which aspect of cosmetology you’d like to focus on, you might prefer to study a narrower program — for instance, nail technology or esthetics. However, if you’d prefer to keep your options open and build a wider knowledge base first, a full cosmetology program is probably a better fit.
Some schools are better generalists, while others are more specialist, so make sure you choose an institution that meets your needs.
Also, take a look at the curriculums. Although accredited programs should all offer roughly the same program, there may be some slight differences between courses.
When students think about which school to attend, they often focus purely on academics. It’s great to be passionate about what you’re studying, but don’t neglect the more practical aspect of employability.
Some schools make more effort to improve their students’ employability by establishing relationships with local businesses that students can meet at events or complete work experience with.
Or, schools might have a strong alumni network and offer networking opportunities or mentoring relationships. Don’t neglect this when choosing between schools.
The school’s location can also be relevant for employability. Studying cosmetology in Los Angeles or New York will give you an edge in finding employment over someone studying in a sleepy village, for instance.
There’s more chance of getting a part-time job that leads to a full-time role when you graduate in big cities, and you’ll also have more job opportunities to apply to that don’t involve much travel.
Graduation and Dropout Rates
A school can claim to offer fantastic employment opportunities and boast about its accreditation all it likes, but if the dropout rate is 60%, that number speaks for itself.
Naturally, if the graduation rate for a course is low, the institution probably isn’t going to be shouting it out from the rooftops.
If the cosmetology school you want to attend is accredited, you can find out the graduation rate from the NACCAS website. Aim for a school with a graduation rate of 95%, or at least 90%.
Financial Support Available
Although most cosmetology schools offer some level of financial support, the amount of help can vary significantly.
To figure out what a school offers, get in contact with its financial aid office. Or, find out more about aid in our financial support section.
How Much Does Cosmetology School Cost?
Before you get your heart set on attending cosmetology school and becoming a cosmetologist, you probably want to be sure that you can actually afford to attend.
Generally, the cost of a cosmetology school is similar to what you’d pay for a community college. Expect to pay between $5,000 to $10,000 for the whole program, although some of the more exclusive programs could cost up to $20,000.
For some context, a community college course usually costs around $3,660 a year (for students staying in-district), while public 4-year colleges charge around $10,486 a year for in-state students. Ouch!
However, there’s some variation in costs between different states and cities. Cosmetology schools in quiet, rural areas are cheapest (around $6,500), whereas schools in big cities tend to cost more — as if it wasn’t bad enough already to pay New York rent.
Finally, more specific and shorter programs that focus on a single area, like Esthetics or Nail Technology, involve fewer hours and therefore cost less — it can be as little as $3,000.
So far, cosmetology school is stacking up well. But remember, there are more costs involved with being a student than just the cost of the course itself.
Most students will also need to buy equipment along the way. Since cosmetology programs are so hands-on, you’ll need plenty of tools, from hairdressing scissors to mannequins to makeup equipment.
Although the college will provide some of this equipment for you, it’s often necessary to have your own, especially if you want to get in plenty of practice.
Courses also involve a fair bit of book learning — although cosmetology courses are practical, there’s also a lot of theory along the way. Some professors and colleges will ask you to buy more books than others. Textbooks can get surprisingly expensive, costing hundreds of dollars throughout the program, so watch out.
Finally, if you’re moving to a new city to study or living on your own, there will also be accommodation and living costs to cover.
If this is sounding like a lot, don’t worry — just because you can’t afford the program upfront, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t go to cosmetology school.
Many schools have scholarships available, especially if they have successful alumni who’ve gone on to found global beauty businesses and become generous donors. There are also some national scholarships for some courses.
Even better, cosmetology students are eligible for Title IV government funding as long as they studied at an accredited institution, which is the same federal aid other students receive.
The final option you could consider is taking a loan from a private lender, but this should only be a last resort since the interest rates tend to be very high. If you opt for this route, make sure you’re confident of earning enough to make the program worthwhile (and pay off your debt).
How Long Does Cosmetology School Take?
Studying is an experience many of us cherish — it gives us a unique opportunity to meet like-minded people and dedicate ourselves to learning. But for most, the sooner they can get out into the real world and earn money, the better!
So, how long does cosmetology school take? The short answer is that it takes between six months and two years. And the longer answer? It depends.
The American Association of Cosmetology Schoolsv (AACS) states that a cosmetology program takes between 1,400 hours and 1,600 hours on average.
However, each state has its own licensing board with a different number of required hours. You should be able to check this requirement with the college you’re registering at.
Full-Time vs. Part-Time
Most schools have the opportunity to study on either a part-time or full-time basis.
Full-time usually means studying forty hours a week, while part-time basis covers around half this amount. It would therefore take 37.5 weeks to complete a program lasting 1,500 hours in total (with no vacations), and 75 weeks to complete the same program if studying part-time.
Basically, a full-time program takes just under a year, while a part-time program takes around two years.
Type of Program
Not everyone wants to study a full cosmetology program. Some more specific courses only focus on one area of cosmetology, making them much shorter.
These programs may only take 300 to 700 hours (depending on the discipline), meaning you could complete them in as little as six months.
What Is the Job Outlook for Cosmetology Jobs?
When looking at the beauty sector as a whole, there’s good news. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of beauty jobs could grow 8% between 2018 and 2028.
That’s more than average, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. New beauty products and treatments are springing up and becoming normalized every day, bringing great opportunities for those in the field.
But “cosmetology” is an umbrella term — there is a wide range of jobs that cosmetologists can do, and each of them carries different salary expectations.
Let’s compare the earning potential of generalist cosmetologists compared to a specialist.
Expected Salary Range
Most certified cosmetologists come under the category of salon professionals.
The median wage for a cosmetologist is $27,201, with the top 10% earning $39,046. This works out as an average hourly wage of $10.85, with the top 10% making $20.28.
However, prospects look much more promising when we examine more senior careers a cosmetologist could go into. The median wage for a salon manager is $40,699, and the top 10% make $47,758.
And what about specialisms? An esthetician makes around $31,290 a year, a makeup artist makes around $21,269, and a hairstylist makes $27,184 on average. However, cosmetology school can lead to many different career paths, and the AACS has a complete list of possible professions. If you’re interested in something else, be sure to look up the specific prospects for that area.
You could even go on to become a future cosmetology teacher at a cosmetology school! This would net you around $17 an hour.
Note that the above figures show the median salary across people with all experience levels, from all cities, and with all hours — you might be able to earn significantly more. There’s lots of variation between different cities and states especially.
And don’t forget that the beauty industry lends itself effortlessly to entrepreneurship. Who knows, maybe you could become the next Kylie Jenner or Jeffree Star, raking in millions for your own line of beauty products?
Even if you’re not set on such high ambitions, owning your own salon (or chain of salons) could net you a tidy profit. The average salon owner makes around $74,699.
Online vs. In-Person Cosmetology Schools
Traditionally, all cosmetology schools held their classes in-person, but recently, more schools have sprung up that offer a part of their programs (the theoretical aspect) online. Which should you choose?
Let’s delve into the pros and cons of each option.
There’s no denying that cosmetology is a hands-on, practical subject. It therefore makes a lot of sense to study it in person. That way, you can easily ask the teacher questions and build rapport.
You also have to consider the social element. Studying at an in-person class is far more enjoyable for most people — you’ll get to meet like-minded students and bond more with your teachers instead of studying in an isolated environment.
In summary, it makes a lot more sense to attend an in-person cosmetology school if you plan on studying full-time.
The main advantage of online cosmetology programs is undoubtedly their affordability and flexibility compared to in-person schools.
If you live in a rural area that doesn’t have a good school close by, studying online could give you more options. Conversely, if you live somewhere that only has expensive cosmetology schools, studying online could give you more of a chance to attend an affordable school.
Also, online learning means that it’s a great option if you’re studying part-time alongside caring for dependents or working a full-time job. Although you’ll still have to complete part of the program in person, doing the theoretical aspect online will take a weight off your shoulders.
Basically, online school isn’t optimal for learning and networking, but it’s certainly convenient.
Time to Level up Your Beauty Skills
Let this article be the sign you need that cosmetology school is the place for you. It’s written in the stars — oh wait, never mind, that’s cosmology.
But seriously, cosmetology school can open up doors in various beauty-related fields. With more than a thousand schools to choose from, there’s something for everyone — whether you want to study full-time or part-time, a full cosmetology course or a quick nail technology course, in a big city or a small town.
Just make sure you do your research and grill the admissions office (politely) before you sign up for a program.