Guide to Choosing a Cosmetology School


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    A career in the beauty industry can be exciting. You’ll help people look great, you could be on the cutting edge of today’s trends, and you could spend your days doing something you love. Luckily, getting started in the beauty industry is easier than you may realize.

    In this guide to choosing a cosmetology school, we’ll break down what to look for in a training program and how to start a successful beauty career.


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    Download the Cosmetology School Guide as a PDF

    We hope you’ll consider sharing the cosmetology school infographic with future beauty professionals. The breakdown of questions and considerations can help students make smart decisions about their future.


    For high school teachers and guidance counselors, it can be especially helpful to have printed material to give out or hang on the wall. Now, it’s easier than ever to share this helpful guide with students.


    Simply download the PDF version of this cosmetology school guide. You can share the document with students, distribute it to your classes, or display it on an information board.





    If you want to be involved in the beauty industry, the first step is cosmetology school. With the right education, you’ll be able to launch the career of your dreams.

    Beauty professionals get to work in a creative and stylish industry. It’s a job where you’ll work with your hands and work with people. Because of your skills, clients will look their best and feel great.  

    Let’s go step-by-step through the factors to consider when choosing a cosmetology school.  

    1. Cosmetology Skills
    2. How Long to Graduate from Cosmetology School?
    3. Hands-On Experience in Beauty School
    4. The Cost & Value of Cosmetology School
    5. Visit the School in Person
    6. Understand the School’s Credentials
    7. Look for Prior Student Success
    8. What Are Your Next Steps to Prepare

    1. Look for a Cosmetology Program that Teaches a Variety of Skills 

    Specialization can be helpful later in your beauty career. However, when you’re just starting out, having a broad skill set can help you to maximize your career opportunities. For example, if you are trained in both hair styling and skin care, you can qualify for job opportunities in both categories.   Cosmetology school can lead to a variety of potential jobs including: cosmetologist, barber, makeup artist, skin care expert/esthetician/aesthetician, manicurist/nail technician, beauty consultant, salon owner, platform artist, product rep, sales consultant, theatrical artist or photography stylist.   Look for a cosmetology program that includes training across a variety of areas. With a diverse educational program, you could be qualified for the following careers:  
    • Hairdressing: Hairdressers work directly with clients to cut and style their hair. There are more than 25,000 entry-level hairdressing jobs currently available, and job opportunities are expected to grow faster than average as more people seek out professional hair care.
    • Hair Coloring: In larger salons, a hair colorist is a separate job from a hairdresser. Colorists are skilled at color theory, chemical reactions of hair dye chemicals, the dye application process and dye timing. One study found that about 75 percent of women dye their hair, and hair colorist services continue to be in high demand.
    • Cosmetology: Cosmetology skills frequently focus on the beauty industry as a whole, and careers as a cosmetology specialist can include client makeovers, beauty consulting, teaching or managing. With a versatile career as a cosmetologist, your workday could involve a variety of beauty skills.
    • Styling: Beauty stylists are responsible for a client’s final look. In some cases, a stylist will work with the client on their final look including using a curling iron, straightening iron and hair set products. At larger salons, stylists design a client’s hairstyle, and the hairdresser and colorist will carry out the look. Stylists may even coordinate fashion and makeup choices to get a cohesive overall look.
    • Makeup Artistry: Skilled makeup application is an art, and professional makeup artists can create beautiful styles by working at salons, spas, makeup counters and more. There are even opportunities for specialty makeup artists in film and TV, either by working in theatrical makeup or special effects makeup (SFX).
    • Basic and Advanced Skin Care: With the skin care skills you’ll learn in cosmetology school, you’ll know how to provide professional skin care. This can help you find even more beauty career opportunities through your knowledge of facials, skin care products and scalp care. While cosmetology school does include lessons on skin care, an esthetics program can provide in-depth skin training including procedures like microdermabrasion.

    2. How Long Will It Take to Graduate From Cosmetology School?

    The timing of cosmetology school is important. The most effective programs make the most of your training experience by providing a high-quality education that helps you become career-ready.


    Many students can complete their cosmetology training in less than a year.


    Frequently, cosmetology programs offer flexible start dates, with new groups of students beginning training several times throughout the year. This means you won’t have to wait long to start cosmetology school.


    In addition to state requirements, another thing determining how long cosmetology school takes is how it treats high school classes. Some cosmetology schools let you transfer high school cosmetology classes toward an accredited cosmetology program. These high school to beauty school programs can help you to graduate quicker by applying earlier classes to your training requirement.


    When choosing a beauty school, the length of time it takes to complete the program will vary. Each state has different rules and requirements, and the cosmetology program you attend should qualify you to become state certified.

      Illinois Beauty Training and Licensing To qualify for a cosmetology license in the state of Illinois, you need to complete the training requirement. The required training hours in the state of Illinois are:
    • Cosmetology: 1,500 hours
      • 12 months – Full-time
      • 20 months – Part-time
    • Barbering: 1,500 hours
      • 12 months – Full-time
      • 20 months – Part-time
    • Esthetics: 750 hours
      • 6 months – Full-time
      • 9 months – Part-time
      The cosmetology license in Illinois also requires a passing grade on the state’s cosmetology exam. The Illinois cosmetology exam is a maximum of two hours long, and there are options for English speakers as well as Spanish and Chinese. Accommodations are available for those with disabilities. Official test scores are sent in one to two weeks after the exam, and if you don’t pass the first time, you can retake the exam. Test centers are available in downtown Chicago, Peoria, Carbondale, Champaign, Galesburg, Glen Ellyn, Springfield, Westmont and remote exam centers.   Indiana Beauty Training and Licensing   To become a licensed cosmetologist in Indiana, the state’s Board of Cosmetology requires both training hours and a licensing exam. The required training hours in the state of Indiana are:
    • Cosmetology: 1,500 hours
      • 12 months – Full-time
      • 20 months – Part-time
    • Barbering: 1,500 hours
      • 12 months – Full-time
      • 20 months – Part-time
    • Esthetics: 750 hours
      • 6 months – Full-time
      • 9 months – Part-time
    • Nail Technology: 600 hours
      • 6 months – Full-time
      • 4 months – Part-time
      Not only does your cosmetology training program help you meet the state’s education requirements, but it also helps students learn the information that will be included on state exams.   The cosmetology exam in Indiana is a minimum of two hours long. The exam is for English, Spanish, Vietnamese and simplified Chinese.   Wisconsin Beauty Training and Licensing   A cosmetology license in Wisconsin has a training component along with an exam. The required training hours are:
    • Cosmetology: 1,550 hours
      • 13 months – Full-time
      • 22 months – Part-time
      Cosmetology programs are available throughout the state including in the cities of Janesville, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay and more. Wisconsin offers the option to qualify for a license by completing a cosmetology apprentice. However, the required training hours with this approach is more than double that of attending cosmetology school.   A Wisconsin cosmetology license also requires that students pass exams in cosmetology theory and cosmetology skills. The cosmetology theory exam is available in English and Spanish. There are 115 questions that students have a maximum of 2.5 hours to complete. The practical exam portion is set up like a salon, and you’ll demonstrate your skills.   Cosmetology school prepares you for your licensing exam, but if you don’t pass the first time, it’s easy to retake the test.

    3. Prioritize Hands-On Experience in Cosmetology Training

    The most valuable cosmetology program is one that prepares you for success. The school you choose should include a wide variety of training topics and environments. Cosmetology classes can include beauty theory, industry practices and design skills. Programs may integrate digital learning tools such as a video library. There could also be guest teachers who bring in a fresh perspective.   Programs should also include hands-on learning so that students can see how cosmetology services are performed. This can then be followed by hands-on practice with a mannequin where students can practice cutting, coloring, styling, doing makeup and practicing techniques.   Classroom training also needs to include business skills. Whether your future beauty career is to work for yourself, start a company or work at a salon, effective marketing and salesmanship can help you grow your client list. Teaching business skills alongside cosmetology skills can help you to launch a more successful cosmetology career.   However, classwork isn’t the only thing that helps students succeed. Some cosmetology programs offer an opportunity to work with real clients in an on-campus clinic salon. Because the student environment is designed to match a high-end salon experience, students are preparing for jobs in these work environments. Not only can this help students develop the confidence to enter the beauty industry, it provides valuable training that can build a resume to land their first job after school.  

    4. Understand the Cost and Value of the Cosmetology School

    If you choose the right cosmetology program, you’re investing in your future. However, not all cosmetology programs are created equal. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons. There are several questions to consider when deciding if a program is worth the investment. Ask yourself these questions to understand the full value of the school you’re considering.   Cost
    • How much does it cost?
    • When do you pay tuition?
      These hard numbers of how much a cosmetology school costs can help you understand the initial figures. Keep in mind that these preliminary numbers are a starting point and may not reflect your adjusted tuition bill.   Affordability
    • Do they offer financial aid?
    • What loans, grants or scholarships are available?
      WIth these affordability questions, you can start to look at the available resources that can help you lower the initial tuition cost. If you attend a cosmetology school that is recognized by the Department of Education, you may qualify for federal financial aid opportunities such as grants and low-interest student loans. Additionally, many scholarship opportunities are available through industry agencies, local groups and school programs that can help you further reduce the cost of attendance.   Value
    • Is the program an investment in your future?
    • Does the school’s staff have world-class experience?
    • Does the degree length compare to similar trades?
      It’s also important to consider what you’re getting for your tuition. The quality of the training can set you on a path to your future career. You can learn the skills it takes to succeed.   Reputation
    • Does this school have a good reputation?
    • Is the school NACCAS accredited?
    • Does this school have a high rate of placing students in the field of study?
    • What is the state licensing pass rate for this school?
      The reputation of a school can open doors. You’ll see evidence of this in how students do after graduation, job placement stats and how the school is perceived by accrediting organizations.  

    5. Visit the School in Person

    To truly decide if a cosmetology school is right for you, you need to visit in person.

    Make an appointment to tour the cosmetology school. When you see the facilities and equipment, you’ll be able to see the real story that might not be shown on Instagram. Touring the campus is a chance to look for modern instruction environments and a well-maintained campus. Ask questions to understand what type of training you can expect to receive in the classrooms and student-run clinic salons.

    When you’re on campus, talk to the students. Ask any questions you might have about what it’s like to go to school there or what they’re learning. The current students were just recently in your shoes trying to decide which school to attend. They might help you understand if the school you’re considering is the right fit for you.

    You can also attend events that the cosmetology school is hosting. Whether it’s a Barber Battle, beauty competition or fundraising show, cosmetology school events can help you see the student’s training in action. You’ll find out what types of styles the students are developing and the skill level of current students. If you leave a cosmetology event feeling inspired, it may be the right school for you.

    Also, consider if you can see yourself taking classes there. The community that you build among your teachers and classmates is your first step in the beauty industry. When a school feels right, you’ll be able to picture yourself in class with your haircutting shears in your hand.

    6. Understand the School’s Credentials

    There are two major credentials to consider.


    First, is the school recognized by the U.S. Department of Education? If so, you could have access to federal education resources. This includes financial opportunities such as grants and federal student aid. This governmental accreditation also means the school is adhering to national educational guidelines.


    Next, ask if the school is accredited by NACCAS or a beauty school agency. By attending an accredited school, you’ll know that they’re following a professional curriculum that meets agency guidelines. It shows that the cosmetology school aligns with industry standards.

    7. Look for Prior Student Success

    Looking at the achievements of past cosmetology students can help you understand the career trajectories that are possible for graduates.   Look for an alumni page on the school’s website. Read through the stories about their careers. Not only will the school’s online alumni pages tell you about the type of careers that graduates can have, but it can also give you insight into potential specializations.   Ask what have prior students achieved. This can help you understand the type of success that could be waiting for you after you complete your cosmetology training program.   Ask the school if you can contact alumni to ask questions. Alumni are often happy to talk to prospective students about questions they have about the training program and how it related to the beauty industry. Their feedback is usually straightforward, giving you valuable insight to choosing the best cosmetology school for you.  

    8. What Are Your Next Steps?

    To begin your cosmetology admissions process, talk to your high school guidance counselor or cosmetology teacher. These advisors have strong knowledge about how to help you achieve your goals. They may know the cosmetology schools in the area and can help you understand your options. They may also be able to suggest training programs that could be a good fit for you.   Next, start researching the cosmetology programs near you. Using this guide, you can analyze each accredited cosmetology school and its offerings. This can help you to narrow down your list to the programs that meet your career goals.   For additional information about launching your cosmetology career, connect with Tricoci University of Beauty Culture. You can schedule a tour. Plus, the campus staff can help with your decision-making process including providing information on the admissions process, state licensing requirements and financial aid.