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Cosmetology Schools: Here’s What You Need to Know

Now is a great time to join the beauty field as an expert with skin, nails, hair, or makeup.

The trend of wellness and health is developing the industry, so is the fact that more men are looking for cosmetology services.

The BLS predicts an 8% employment growth in the beauty industry through 2028, and this is faster than average.

Besides, new and exciting products appear in the traditional lineup.

Hair extensions, braiding, permanent makeup are just a few examples of new services provided by cosmetologists.

In this article, you will learn what to seek in a program and how to select a school.

You’ll find out what these programs teach, how long they take, and how much they cost.

You’ll also learn more about the certification and licensing process after the training is done.

What Is Cosmetology?

Cosmetology is the science and art of beautifying hair, skin, and nails.

Cosmetologists are experts in procedures, treatments, and therapies that help their clients emphasize their best features and make a more attractive version of themselves.

The relations between a client and a cosmetologist are often personal.

People put trust in their cosmetologists, whether they are getting a haircut for the job interview or makeup for a wedding day, and may even share some intimate details of their lives.

Cosmetologists who can make their clients feel better about their appearance usually gain fierce loyalty.

What Does a Cosmetologist Do?

Cosmetologists carry out treatments, apply products, and provide guidance on the cosmetic treatment of skin, nails, and hair.

They don’t treat medical conditions related to skin, nails, or hair.

However, they can work in medical settings, such as offices of dermatologists.

Cosmetology is a term that relates to multiple specialties and services, many of which can be separate careers.

However, there are educational programs covering several areas, if you want to specialize in more than one area.

The most popular include:


Barbering involves cutting and styling hair, trimming, and shaving facial hair.

Even though this specialty was focused on men for a long time, now, barbers also offer services to women and children.

Hair Design

Hair design relates to cutting, styling, shaping, texturing, curling, bleaching, coloring, tinting, and treating hair.

To work in hair design, you don’t have to complete a full program in cosmetology.

But hair artistry is an essential discipline in the cosmetology field.

Hair Braiding

Hair braiding involves cosmetologists to pull, twist, and tie hair into intricate shapes and patterns.

It is a highly skilled specialty.

While braiding cosmetologists mainly worked with African-Americans and other ethnic communities, now braiding is getting popular among other people of different backgrounds and with various hair types.


Esthetics is the skincare field.

Estheticians perform treatments, such as wrinkle reduction, exfoliation, facials, skin conditioning, skin detox, tanning, anti-aging procedures, masks.

They also apply wax to remove hair.

Nail Technicians

Nail technicians make manicures, pedicures, and other nail and cuticle treatments.

They can also do hair artistry, which includes the application of acrylics and gels and nail jewelry.

Makeup Artists

Makeup artists are knowledgeable about the application of various cosmetics to different types of skin.

They know the ways cosmetics interact with each other, how to pick the right colors for each client, and achieve specific effects.

They usually provide evening and special occasion makeup, such as weddings, proms, photoshoots, or fashion shows.

Some work with theater or film directors to make special effects on actors.

Permanent Makeup

Professionals performing permanent makeup apply tattoo-like pigments to the skin.

These applications look like makeup (lipstick or eyeliner).

The shape of eyebrows can also be improved by microblading, which involves drawing tiny hair-like strokes.

It can also be used to cover scars or other skin imperfections.

Before becoming licensed for permanent makeup, you will likely have to complete supplementary certification.


Electrology is permanent hair removal with the use of specialized equipment.

In this process, electricity is delivered to damaged follicles, so they stop growing hair.

You often also need a certification to perform this procedure.

Cosmetology School: What to Expect

Cosmetology schools were known as beauty schools for a long time.

They provide both academic and hands-on training required to learn the trade.

It teaches proficiency in many disciplines, so focus and dedication is required for this involved training.

Until now, you were probably taking some traditional education which focuses more on academic studies and soft skills.

Community and four-year colleges are usually similar to this.

Contrary, cosmetology school focuses more on the skills and knowledge you will need in your future career.

You will face both “book learning” and hands-on training.

Typically, you will be taught all aspects of cosmetology (nails, makeup, skin, etc).

In most schools, cosmetology classes are offered five days a week.

Full-time students can expect to spend six to eight hours in class every day.

Cosmetology School Enrollment Requirements

Requirements for enrollment vary depending on the state, school, and program.

The main requirements include education and age.

  • You have to be a minimum of 16 years old, in some places, 18.
  • In some states, you need a high school diploma or GED, in others, you don’t.
    Sometimes, you may have to take additional courses or exams if you don’t have a high school diploma.

Cosmetology School Costs

The cosmetology school costs vary, but most programs are under $10,000.

To compare, two-year community college programs are $3,243 per year on average for resident students ($6,486 total).

Four-year programs can cost $9,037 per year on average for in-state students ($36,000+ total).

Students can obtain government loans to pay for school but only if it is accredited.

You can also qualify for grants offered by state or federal government, professional organizations, or schools.

For instance, the Cosmetology Pell Grant covers the total cost of tuition.

Besides, there are scholarships that you can qualify for.

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Cosmetology Program?

Studying full-time, you can typically complete the program in under two years.

If you decide to study part-time, you need to check with your state to know the maximum amount of time you can take to complete the program.

The number of hours of classroom and practical training you need to get your licenses is determined by every state.

So it also affects the time that the program will take to complete.

According to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS), on average, the program takes between 1,400 and 1,600 hours nationwide.

Estheticians need 650 hours, electrologist – 500.

Nail technicians need to complete 300 hours.

What Will I Learn in Cosmetology School?

Cosmetology programs can differ but all of them include classroom and hands-on training.

Programs typically cover education about nails, skin, and hair.

Some offer more specialized training, such as hair braiding, permanent makeup, barbering, or electrolysis.

The topics you will study may include:

  • Sanitation procedures – cleaning tools, discarding waste from haircut and manicure services, keeping a hygienic workstation.
  • Human physiology and anatomy focusing on functions of human skin, nails, hair, and systems associated with them and the biological makeup.
  • How chemistry relates to the body and the solutions and products used.
  • Esthetician procedures – waxing and other techniques for removing hair, masks, peels, skin conditioning, and microdermabrasion.
  • Hair treatments – cutting, shaping, shampooing, and styling.
  • Nails – manicures, pedicures, hand and foot wraps, paraffin dips.
  • Management theory, organizational and computer skills, communication strategies necessary to the trade.

How to Choose a Cosmetology School

The first thing you need to do when choosing a cosmetology school is to become aware of the requirements in your state.

You don’t want to complete a program that doesn’t meet the licensing requirements.

Then, research the schools, looking for:

  • Accreditation.
  • High graduation rates.
  • A concentration in the specialty that interests you as a career goal.
  • A strong career-assistance program.
  • Strong, specific reviews from both current and former students.
  • Strong local ties to the surrounding community and its salons, spas, medical facilities, and other businesses where your services will be needed.

Note that while you can complete some academics online, the biggest part of the training is the hands-on experience which should be completed in-person to pass the practical part of the examination.

In all states, most beauty training hours should be completed in the classroom, not online.

There is no cosmetology program that is fully online that will prepare you for the licensing exam.

However, the “book work” part of the training is offered online by many schools.

Online cosmetology courses provide flexibility for beauty students balancing between existing jobs, study, and busy lives.

If you are hoping to take a considerable portion of the program online, you can be sure that the training will be the same as on-campus.

Regardless, check the requirements of your state to be sure that online training meets them.

The Final Step: How to Get Licensed and Launch Your Career

You have to be licensed in all states.

The licenses are issued by individual state boards.

The licensing requirements for training hours and processes vary in every state.

In some states, you can participate in an apprenticeship program as a substitute for some training hours.

Remember that with this tradeoff, you will need to take more apprenticeship hours than traditional training hours.

In the end, you have to pass an examination, which includes academic tests, hands-on tests, or the combination of the two.

In some states, you have to maintain your license by taking a certain number of continuing education.

Those who want to become a master cosmetologist need a minimum of one year of experience, some additional education credits (the number depends on the state), and a licensure exam.

Additional Cosmetology Certifications and Training

Additionally to your license, you may also want to obtain a certification.

Certification is voluntary, unlike the licensure, and you’re not required to hold it to legally work as a cosmetologist.

But it can bring you up in the eyes of potential employers and demonstrate your expertise and dedication.

You can pursue certification to specialize in a specific area (for instance, hair color).

Cosmetologists usually obtain certifications after working in the field for some time and finding their area of interest.

Another reason for obtaining a certification can be the requirement of a potential employer.

For instance, a spa or salon may authorize cosmetologists to perform hair-extension or microdermabrasion only if they hold certifications in those specialties.

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