What is Cosmetologist School Really Like?



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What you hear about cosmetologist school depends on who you ask.  I have friends that bitched their way through it because their heart wasn't in it.  Some loved it, some hated it, some made the most of it......and that was me.

I enjoyed cosmetology school because I wanted very badly to be a professional hair stylist.  I had wanted it for years. Maybe you know what I'm talking about as you dream of having your own beauty career.

Would you like to know what classes you will be taking? 

A Big Picture Overview of Cosmetologist School

You know by now that the hours needed to graduate depend on your state requirements. And you should also know that you graduate once all of your hours are clocked.  So your attendance is vital.  I want you to understand that I can only give you generalizations because every school is run differently, though there is a national curriculum they are responsible for. 

Just like they are all run differently, they have different standards of operation.  I've seen schools that were ridiculous in lack of cleanliness and teaching standards. On the other end of the spectrum I've seen schools that are immaculate with very high teaching standards. This all depends on the values of the school owners and the expertise and dedication of the administrators.

The quality of your cosmetology education depends on 2 things:

  1. The quality of your cosmetologist school
  2. Your own commitment to your education

Do you have any control over these things?  To an extent.  If you live in a small town you may only have one choice of a school.  If you have options though, choose wisely, as the reputation of the school may spill over onto you.

And your commitment to your education is all on YOU.  Even if you went to a 4 year university you would get out of it what you put into it.  So decide to make the most of cosmetologist school, for your own sake.

I'm going to confess that I was the oldest student in my school. (Forget it, I'm not going that far!) That meant I stood out a bit and I was the most dedicated because I had more on the line than everyone else.  I was thrilled to be there, to realize my dream of becoming a professional hair stylist, but I was in school with young people again. Imagine finding yourself in middle school again. I had already been to college and had a family.  So going to school day in and day out with young girls, mostly, was a challenge.

I'm telling you this to prove that your experience is your own perspective and it's never too late to become what you want to be.

 If done properly, and you should want this, cosmetologist school will have some strict rules.  They are accountable to their state's Board of Cosmetology, state health laws and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration).  They can encounter an inspection at any time from any agency, including the school's corporate office.  In order for the school to remain open and growing it has to hold its' students accountable, thus the strict rules.

Rules are good. Look at it that way.  If there weren't rules, hairdressers would run amuck.  No rules would mean people would get infections, it would probably take you twice as long to finish school and you would be forced to tolerate some unbelievable behavior in the classroom.

A lot of people complain about the rules but don't make a deal out of it.  Just expect it and know that it is also preparing you for a cosmetology career where you will be accountable to your salon, your manager, your co-workers, state board, and your clients.  Learning good work habits is an important part of your education.

There are dress codes at cosmetologist school.  It's mostly black clothing, some may allow white.  Some gripe about THIS.  Get over it.  Hope you like black because you will be wearing it the rest of your professional life. :)

There will likely be penalties for things like loss of kit supplies, being unprepared for class, not adhering to dress code, being late, etc. You may not like being in a structured environment but knowing ahead of time will help your mind adjust and accept it.  It's only a year!  And it will definitely be worth it.

Your First Days
in Cosmetologist School 

Ok, you have your new beauty school kit, your black clothes, comfortable black shoes, your student smock and you are starting cosmo school.  For the first few months you will be in a classroom all day.  You won't be sitting all day though.

You will be learning the hair fundamentals.  Like I mentioned, all schools are different.  But everyone needs the fundamentals of hair to build upon. 

You will be learning the different types of hair, how to roll hair, how to part hair, how to blow dry hair, science of hair, manicuring and pedicures, makeup, skin care and best of all, haircutting.

Your mannequins will be seeing some action during this time.  So you may spend half the day in the classroom and half the day working on your baby heads. (That's what we called them)

And you will color your own hair several times in that year! Take the quiz to find out where you should start.


It was during these first few months that we addressed nails and skin care.  My particular school spent one whole week on nails and another whole week on makeup & skin care.  That's it.  Out of 1500 hours, 30 hours were on nails and 30 hours were on face. So you can see that I didn't receive an extensive education in either one.  In fact, I barely passed Nails in my state board exam.  My mother stills teases me about it.

Even though I know little about these areas I am still licensed to be a nail tech and an esthetician.  You may have to supplement your education if you want more knowledge.  You will learn a lot more in the field once you are licensed.

The Next Phase
of Cosmetologist School

My school was set up in 4 modules.  After you reached your first 300 hours you moved to Module 2 with another instructor. 

This is the time they start acclimating you to the salon floor.  Schools require you to have a certain minimum of hours before allowing you to service clients in the school's salon.

Every school, to my knowledge, has some sort of way to service clients that pay a nominal fee to receive hair, nail and skin services performed by a cosmo student.

Good idea? It's a great way to get your experience, but I'm thinking not so great for the clients. LOL.  A $5 haircut usually looks like a $5 haircut.  But that's their problem, not yours!  You are there to learn.

So during your next phase you will still be in the classroom part of the time, going through the textbook, doing hand's on work to your mannequin and the other time will be spent on the salon floor to take services.  (This is a generalization)

What will you be doing when you do not have a client in the chair?            Trying to keep busy.  Seriously, it becomes a challenge and this is when cosmetology school gets tough.  You will do everything you can think of to that mannequin head.  You will turn it a 100 different colors and style it a 100 different ways.

Unfortunately, you can only cut it so much.  That's why cosmetology students find they can't cut hair when they graduate.  They get a week of cutting instruction and have one mannequin to use for cutting.  After the hair is gone, it is gone.  Mannequins are expensive and students rarely have the extra money to buy more. 

After you have cut your mannequin you will have a few clients during your time in school but never enough to make you feel comfortable with cutting techniques by the time you graduate. Therefore, Know you won't be able to cut hair well when you graduate. 

That is common. But to increase your skills study from online sources and invest in another baby head.  Hopefully you will have some friends that are good sports, too.

In Module 2 we spent a good deal of time on color and color theory.  Here you will learn how to formulate color and color application techniques.  We also covered other chemical services like perms, relaxers and bleaching.

In between classes we were on the salon floor spending 3-4 hours styling a mannequin head.  At any given time there were 20-30 students in the salon and there were never that many clients. 

When a client came in it could be anything from a pedicure to color.  You never knew what was next.  You have a building full of inexperienced student stylists that are scared to death to take a client, me included.  You will be doing yourself a favor if you get over that fear while in cosmetologist school.

This look was very common in beauty school!!  It was amazing how many hiding places these students could find!  Especially when pedicure clients came in.  Some of them just couldn't handle feet. Don't worry about it, you will get through it no problem.

The Last Part
of Cosmetologist School 

By the time you get to the last fourth of your beauty education you are watching that clock in a big way.  Every second adds up to the day you walk out and schedule your state board exam. Then on to the money, money, money.

By now you are on the floor most of the time while preparing to take your state board.  In most states the state board exam consists of 2 parts; the written exam on law and theory, and the practical exam on service skills.

So I remember all class time in the last part of cosmo school being about nothing but testing.

The number 1 purpose of Cosmetologist School is to prepare you to pass your Cosmetology State Board Exam. 

That doesn't sound like it's worth $15,000, does it?!  Well, maybe not, but it is non-negotiable.  You have to go to school (or do a lengthy apprenticeship in some states) in order to take that state board and get your license.  And to have a beauty career you love and make a living at it you have to have a cosmetologist license. 

Honestly, your real life learning comes after you leave the security of hair school!  You decide where you start your career.  Hopefully, you will land a position in a salon that will nurture young talent.  ´╗┐


Your Attitude
Will Make the Difference

Cosmetologist school can be a great time to experiment and spread your wings. Or it can be a time for you to clock your hours and hide in the bathroom.

Hair school is a melting pot of drama and dreams.

Your attitude towards your cosmetologist education will determine if it is a good experience or drudgery.  It's all up to you.

I highly recommend you maintain a positive attitude or that year will go by very slowly.

So hold your head up, put on your smock and make the most of cosmetologist school.

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