Everything You Need to Know to Begin Your Cosmetology Career

If you have ever dreamed of a successful career in cosmetology, right now might be the perfect time to secure your degree. Licensed cosmetologists are in high demand, as the beauty industry is growing like never before. The national unemployment rate is at an all-time low, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “overall job opportunities are expected to be good with a large number of job openings stemming from the need to replace workers.”

Since businesses seek licensed skincare therapists, manicurists, and hairstylists to fill the increasing need, now is the perfect time to enroll in a program right for you at a licensed cosmetology school. In 2019 cosmetologists held about 656,100 jobs in the United States, and job opportunities continue to grow.

Aspirations of earning your Cosmetology degree or one day opening your salon could be closer away than you believe. Whether you’re interested in becoming a beauty esthetician, manicurist, or hairstylist, selecting the right fit is an essential first step.

You’ll want to earn your cosmetology license from a reputable school known for turning out highly skilled cosmetologists and beauticians. The right school will allow you to practice your profession in one or more of the following areas:

Hairstylist: Hairstylists work directly with clients to cut and style hair. Stylists design client’s hair using curling irons, hair straighteners, and other beauty products. A good cosmetology school will teach you the latest trends in perming, chemical treatments, hair straightening, bleaching, and coloring.

Hair Colorist: In some large salon’s hair coloring is a different job from a hairstylist. 60% of American women are grey when they reach 60-years-old, and 85% of women color their hair, a trend that is not changing.

Make-up Artist/Specialist: Skilled artists learn to apply professional make-up and prosthetics for theatre, television, film, fashion, magazines, and other aspects of the entertainment industry. Make-up Artists also work in high-end department stores, salons, and spas.   

Esthetician: Estheticians are hired in spa businesses across the globe, performing duties such as facials, facial massages, scalp care, microdermabrasion therapy, waxing, make-up application, eyebrow tweezing, threading, shaping, and tinting. They also provide client consultations and skin analyses.

Manicurist: Manicurist’s services have expanded beyond the basic manicures and pedicures, providing gel, acrylic, and silk nail applications.

The multiple services cosmetologists perform allow you to experience the beauty industry as an entity. Your workday could involve one or more specialties and encompass client makeovers, beauty consulting, or managing. With so many options, it’s essential to choose the right cosmetology school to meet your interests. Since there are hundreds of beauty schools in the field of cosmetology, making the right decision can be daunting. The important thing is to make the right choice for you and enroll in the perfect program to meet your needs.

Here are ten simple steps to take when looking at beauty schools:

  • Research: Talk to family and friends or your own personal hairstylist for references. Ask local beauty care professions who they recommend. Visit school’s websites to see their amenities and programs. Check each school’s graduation rate, dropout rate, and overall reputation to see how successful they are.
  • Schedule a Tour:  Visit school campuses and take virtual tours, compare notes with other beauty schools. Review their application process and note deadlines.
  • Meet the Instructors: Make sure the school provides licensed Cosmetology Instructors. During your tour, ask questions and sit in on a class or two if possible.
  • Accreditation: Before you get in too deep, make sure the National Crediting Commission approves of the Career Arts and Sciences school. Research the placement rate of graduates and find out the percentage of students who pass their certification and actually go on to work in the field of their choice.
  • Programs/Curriculum: Top schools offer campus programs with a wide array of courses. Online programs are also a viable option. Examine the curriculum options to determine what is right for you and what covers your interests. Most importantly, find out if the curriculum will prepare you for the State Board Test. Top beauty schools offer business classes to learn essential marketing and sales. Over the academic year, what will be taught? In addition to business management, some programs provide finance and customer care classes as well. Determine if the school offers hands-on training.
  • Costs: Compare tuition costs between schools. Decide if you need to speak with a consultant to discuss financial aid options or ascertain if you qualify for a scholarship.
  • License: Know your state requirements to obtain the cosmetology license. Every state has its own specific regulations and exam. Some states require a high school diploma to start working as a cosmetologist.
  • Post Graduate Programs: Find out if they offer post-graduate assistance in finding a job. Some salons and professionals offer recent graduates the opportunity to gain experience through apprenticeships. Some more advanced training programs provide experience in their college salons.
  • Cosmetology Kits: Some beauty programs include supplies, while others require you to purchase your own kits. For example, some enrolled in the Paul Mitchell or Vidal Sassoon beauty program start out with a full kit of styling tools. Kits can include combs, brushes, mannequin heads, hot styling tools, shears, scissors and clips, capes, aprons, and reading material.   
  • Avant-garde: How modish are the beauty schools with the latest concepts, styles, and methods of hair coloring, color therapy, hair styling, make-up artistry, nail techniques, and skincare? Some schools may lag behind others with dated equipment and practices.

Once you complete the required course load and graduate from the beauty school of your choice, you’ll need to sign up for the cosmetology exam offered by the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology.

Helpful tips to ensure you pass your Cosmetology State Board Exam:

  • Study. It may sound simple, but to best prepare for the exam, it’s recommended that you begin studying and practicing for the test at once. Make time for studying early, so you aren’t forced to cram at the last minute. Know your cosmetology terminology and theory (finger angle, finger position, elevation, and overdirecting are a few).
  • Schedule your Cosmetology State Board Test early.  Look at the state guidelines and testing dates. Some states require that you take the exam within months of completing your degree. Each state has different rules. Review your state’s Candidate Information Bulletin for your state’s guidelines.
  • Get the State Board App: The best way to watch for important dates and requirements is to obtain the state board app on your phone or computer. Some apps will provide information you need to know for the written test and may even offer a practical exam. The random practice tests contain a pleather of vital information surrounding the exam itself. Not only will it give test answers to test your knowledge, but it will include state-specific guidelines and a glossary of beauty industry terms.
  • Practice. Practice. Practice. The Cosmetology State Board exam contains two parts, a written and practical. The internet provides many options to help you study. You must pass the Cosmetology State written exam with a score of 70 or 80 percent (depending on your state) to obtain your license.

The Master Cosmetology Exam is designed to determine if you know what is required to work in a salon and that you can competently perform the tasks at hand. A good cosmetology program at an accredited school will provide the programs to prepare you. The Test is made up of two sections: a Written and Practical Timed Test.

The Practical Test takes 140 minutes and assesses your clinical and practical skills by having you complete them in person. Your state board might require you to supply your own cosmetology equipment, so make sure you have everything you could possibly use. Read the instructions carefully and set up your workstation precisely as required. Make sure to sanitize your hands before you begin. One requirement is to perform the state board haircut perfectly. Read your Candidate Information Bulletin (CIB) carefully and be prepared with all of the necessary bags and containers. Some need to be labeled ‘sanitized.’ Put all used materials in the trash and recap unused materials and bottles.  Make sure that you have ample supplies and back-ups in case something breaks or is spilled. Ensure that you have your photo I.D. and proof of training hours with you and are dressed appropriately. You don’t want to be disqualified before you even begin.

During the Practical Test, you’ll need to establish basic hygiene and sanitation practices and store and discard certain hair care products safely. You’ll need to show how to use the styling tools and how to keep them as well. You might be tested on specific services like hair cutting, styling, coloring, or chemical waving. You might be asked to demonstrate skin care services like facials, waxing, and tweezing or perform specified nail care services like manicures, pedicures, artificial nails, and massages.

The Written Test portion is a 90-minute multiple-choice exam with 100 questions, split into the following categories: Concepts (30%), Hair Care and Services (40%), Skincare Services (15%).

What Comes Next in Your Cosmetology Career?

Once you earn your degree and pass the exam, you are on your way to a fulfilling career as a cosmetologist! Seek avenues of career support from your school (some have job placement options), local technical or community colleges, or WorkForce Services. Scour the internet job searches. You can sign up for job notices on websites such as Indeed.com, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor. Attend networking events, then research the type of salons or spas where you’d like to work.

You’ll need to evaluate your options and see if your future career path will be a part-time or full-time job, self-employed, or find work in a salon. You’ll need to weigh the options of either renting a chair or being a full-on employee. There are benefits of both, and some salons offer perks, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. You’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

Salaries average over $27K, not including tips. If you’re attending a technical or community college, determine how to fit school in with your work lifestyle and how long it will take you to graduate with your additional employment. Your options are endless. You could even start your own business. The right school and program should prepare you to handle the business end of turning a profit. Whether you’re working in or running a salon, you need to be able to keep your business running and hire the right employees. Learn from other professionals and watch what they do.

It’s also essential to market yourself as competitively as possible and grow your clientele list through referrals or advertising. Your career will take off as fast as you’re willing to start running. Pass out business cards and boost your online presence. Start creating a portfolio of your work. Two hundred fourteen million people are on Facebook, create a page of your work. Announce your new salon and business hours on Instagram. Do an Insta-promotion for those that follow you and participate in popular hashtags. You could even start your own blog to showcase your work.

Now that you have your degree, you can’t stop learning. Fashion is a fickle beast, and trends are ever-changing. It’s best to know what’s in and discuss with your clients how willing they are to try new things. Join social media sites to keep up to date and post your work. Attend conferences and fashion shows and watch YouTube videos for tutorials on the latest styles. You could even continue your cosmetologist education.

Again, Practice. Practice. Practice. Don’t ever stop learning, and don’t be afraid to try new things to advance your skills. If you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up; apologize, learn from it, and move on.

Apply. Apply. Apply. See a salon you’d like to work in? Walk-in and ask to drop off your resume. It might take a few different salons to find your niche. Whether it’s the clients or co-workers, keep searching for the right home so that you feel comfortable and want to come to work every day.

Keep in contact with your customers to create a loyal base. Remind them of appointments and send them e-cards for special occasions. If they haven’t been in for a while, send them a coupon or offer a discount. And don’t forget to give back. Donate your talents for a local charity to gain business. Also, it feels good to help those less fortunate.   

Your new opportunities are endless! Whether you chose to be a stylist guru, a beauty writer, an artistic director, or academy award-winning make-up or special effects artist – never stop growing and learning and believing in yourself. If you can think it – you can achieve it!