Finding A School

How do you even start to choose a beauty school? You can start by reviewing our step-by-step guide. We also have a handy checklist of things to consider when you compare programs, plus answers to your questions about the differences between types of beauty schools, colleges, academies and institutes for training. After reviewing these first steps, we’ll guide you through the process to help you narrow your options and understand the admissions process. We even have useful information to review before you step foot on campus for the first time!

Finding A School

01. First Steps
What is the difference between barber school and beauty school?

It depends. Some beauty schools may include specific programs dedicated to teaching you how to become a barber, along with other programs. Other schools are specifically barber schools that are independent, separate entities from beauty or cosmetology programs. A barber school focuses specifically on short hair and shaving services for male clientele. The main difference that sets barber schools apart is that the vast majority of their clients are male, so some courses will be tailored to services specifically for men, such as facial shaving like traditional straight razor shaves and modern safety razor shaves. Many states do not allow cosmetologists to perform these services, only barbers.

What is the difference between make-up artist school and beauty school?

There are many schools that focus exclusively on makeup artistry training, and they specialize only in cosmetics and their application. However, there are also many cosmetology schools that offer comprehensive beauty programs that include makeup classes. To be sure you’re getting the training you want to become a professional makeup artist, make sure to ask the schools you are considering what makeup courses they offer as a part of their beauty program. Some states do not offer makeup artist licenses, or include it in a full cosmetology license – so be sure to ask about that, as well. Those who decide to attend a makeup-specific program can learn how to apply cosmetics for a variety of purposes, including but not limited to day-to-day makeup looks, portrait photography or modeling, broadcast and film, weddings, costume and theater, and more. The career options after this type of training range very widely, and some consider this to be one of the most creative of the beauty specialties.

What is the difference between beauty school and cosmetology school?

There really is not much of a difference between beauty school and cosmetology school - they are basically synonymous. Sometimes the term “beauty school” is used to encompass any school that offers any beauty program regardless of whether it’s comprehensive or niche, whereas “cosmetology school” may refer specifically to schools that offer the full-length program that includes hair, makeup, nails and some skin care. (Basically, a cosmetology school is always a beauty school, but a beauty school is not always a cosmetology school.) You'll find that regardless of which term an institution uses to label itself, the courses and programs they offer are similar. Both types of campus may offer an assortment of beauty programs ranging from a comprehensive cosmetology curriculum, to more specific programs like nail technology, esthetics and skincare, makeup artistry, hairstyling, and so on.

Step-By-Step List: How to Choose a Beauty School

Here is the easiest guide to finding and comparing beauty schools near you.

  • Find beauty schools near you and contact them to request more information. An admissions representative should be in touch soon.
  • Prioritize your checklist and decide which considerations are most important to you. Is it more important to you that the school teaches all the skills you want, or that the program is cheap? Is it more important to you that the school has an in-school salon or that they have a job-placement program? We recommend sorting the checklist in order from most important to least important to make your final decision.
  • Prepare your list of questions to ask the admissions representatives. (Feel free to use the list of questions we prepared below!) Don't be afraid to ask until you are satisfied with the answers. You should be completely confident in the information you're getting.
  • Make the final decision on which beauty school is right for you. Once you've made your choice, contact the school right away and begin the application process to hold your seat in the class. Discuss payment options and plans with the school up front.
  • Get excited! You just took the first step to starting beauty school.

Checklist of Things to Consider When Choosing a Beauty School

Everyone has different needs and tastes when it comes to selecting the school that is right for them. For some people, the cost of tuition and the availability of financial aid is highly important, whereas for others the most important thing is having flexible scheduling that allows them to hold a job or spend time with their families. Every person is different, but below are some things to consider when comparing cosmetology schools.

  • Proximity to your home or job
  • Programs offered
  • Individual attention or teacher to student ratio
  • Quality of the facility and technology
  • Availability of public transportation
  • Financial aid, financing options, payments accepted
  • Part-time, full-time, day, night or weekend classes and your schedule
  • Cost of tuition, books and cosmetology kit
  • Availability of in-school salon
  • Availability of job placement services
  • Ties to local community, salons and beauty events
  • School reputation
  • Classroom atmosphere and morale
  • Availability of one-on-one support or tutoring from instructors

How do I choose a cosmetology school?

If you are considering a career in beauty, but you’re not sure whether you’d like to be a cosmetology generalist, or a specialist and pursue a more specific field of beauty, we can help. We have compiled clear and concise information to help you learn the differences between your various beauty course options. Below is a brief overview of each of the main programs you can study in beauty school, and some of the classes you can expect to take in each, so you can choose which is right for you. If you are ready to explore your school options for one or more of the programs below, simply enter your zip code in the search box to the right.

There are many factors you should consider when choosing a cosmetology school. To answer this question better we put together an all-new page the gives you step-by-step instructions on how to choose a beauty school, as well as the Top 15 Questions to Ask Your Admissions Representative at a beauty school, and a checklist of the things you should consider when making your final decision. Check them out!

The short answer, though, is that the best way to choose a cosmetology school is to make a complete list of questions you need answered in order to make an educated decision. Different people are looking for different things in a beauty college, but there are several things to you can do to ensure that the beauty school you choose meets your needs. Choosing the perfect beauty school is a breeze once you have a checklist of questions to ask admissions representatives.

Ask the beauty academies' admissions reps you are considering if they have access to an in-student salon to get hands-on practice, and whether they teach you to practice your beauty skills on mannequin heads or real models. Ask about financial aid such as scholarships, grants, loans and payment plans. What about scheduling - do they offer flexible class schedules, and part-time or full-time schooling? Visit a local salon or spa and speak with one of the employees or managers and ask for their recommendations. What beauty schools jump out at them as producing very hirable graduates? Don't be afraid to ask a beauty school for references from recent graduates! Read more about choosing the best cosmetology schools.

What is the difference between a beauty school, college, academy or institute?

There is no difference between a beauty college, beauty academy or beauty school. Those terms are usually interchangeable. Often it has to do with how the cosmetology institution chooses to brand itself to prospective students (you!). They should offer similar classes to prepare you for your beauty career of choice. Whether they choose to call themselves schools, colleges or academies, make sure to ask them what beauty programs and courses they offer. It is important to find training and classes that fit your interests and needs, and that will set you up for the career you want.

02. Narrowing Down Options
Traits of Top Cosmetology Schools

Trying to choose the best school for you?

When you research training options for your future cosmetology career, you want to know what the best cosmetology schools in your area are, and what makes them the best value. Often there are many options available in your area, so it can be a challenging task to sift through your choices to choose the best cosmetology school for your needs. However, there are certain factors that top beauty schools have in common that will provide you with a solid foundation to prepare you for your career. So while you may be considering things like tuition and location, you will also want to look into the following characteristics of the schools you are researching.

Whether they are famous cosmetology schools or small local academies, if they have most or all of the following traits, you can get the quality of training you need for a successful cosmetology career.

Preparing Students to Pass Cosmetology Exams

The best cosmetology schools in the nation are going to focus their students' training on the things required to pass their state's cosmetology license exams, but they are also going to look beyond the test to help prepare you for a successful career in the beauty business over the long term. Since each state has a unique set of rules, tests, and hours of experience required to earn the cosmetology license, top beauty schools will incorporate these things into their curriculum. This can include the textbook theory topics covered in lecture, as well as the amount of time the school has each student spend on the salon floor working with clients on the different skills of the trade, like hair, makeup, and nail technology. For more info about what exam requirements will apply to you, check out your state cosmetology license requirements.

The licensing exams consist of a written portion (usually theory and law), and then a hands-on practical portion where you administer the beauty services you learned in school. The school should adequately prepare you to take both types of test, sometimes even having you take practice tests before graduation. In a survey of 55 cosmetology schools done by Beauty Schools Directory, we found that beauty schools claim an average licensing exam pass rate of 93.9% of their class. Beauty schools tend to fall in the 70 to 100% pass rate range.

Accreditation

Many of the top cosmetology schools are accredited. Accredited cosmetology schools are governed by the National Accrediting Commission for Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS), as recognized by the U.S. Dept. of Education. NACCAS clearly defines the rules and curriculum requirements for a cosmetology school and sets industry standards that ensures that all the schools are of a high caliber. It is also important to note that students who apply to cosmetology schools with accreditation may be eligible for federal financial aid for those who qualify. So attending an accredited cosmetology school could offer some benefit to reduce the costs associated with your higher education. However, a school not being accredited is not necessarily a sign that it’s a bad school. It takes time to get accredited, so even the best cosmetology schools have to work toward that certification. Read more about accredited cosmetology schools here to get a deeper understanding of why accreditation matters to you as a student.

Providing Business and Professional Training

The top beauty schools in the nation will provide you with multiple levels of training, going beyond the general hair styling and nail care education that meets the state’s curriculum requirements. Rather than simply “teaching to the test,” these schools go above and beyond to provide business and professional training, helping you to prepare for the business side of the industry. These schools believe that teaching professionalism, ethics, and business management skills go hand-in-hand with your cosmetology training, so you don't go into your first job without the balanced knowledge needed to start and build a successful career in cosmetology. This kind of training at the best beauty schools can help you prepare for resume building, job hunting, job interview skills, best practices for client consultations, how to market yourself as a beauty professional to bring in new business, and more.

Graduation & Drop-Out Rates

Graduation rate and drop-out rate can be useful to take into account when choosing the best beauty school for you. While we don’t feel this is the only piece of information you should consider about a school, this can be a signal as to whether students are able to be successful at the campus and the types of students you will be learning alongside, and whether the school succeeds in retaining students throughout the entire course. Just ask your admissions representative for their graduation or drop-out rates when you request information from the schools near you.

Quality of Campus & Student Salon

The hands-on experience gained at the best cosmetology schools happens in the student salon. These salons bring in real clients from the community for discounted services, and provide a realistic working environment where students are able to practice their technical cosmetology skills while interacting with customers. While many of the beauty school clients are drawn to the student salon by the low cost of services, top cosmetology schools often build repeat clientele for the quality of work performed by the students, while under the supervision of their cosmetology instructors. A professionally run student salon provides excellent work experience for the student.

In addition to the student salon setting, be sure the campus is located conveniently near you, and if necessary near public transportation so you can reliably get to school if you don’t have car. Also, take a tour of the cosmetology school and get a feel for how the campus looks, the quality of the facilities and the technology they use.

Cosmetology Instructors Active in the Industry

Instructors who are passionate about beauty and stay active in their art are a major factor in what makes the best beauty schools. These beauty school instructors are at the top of their game, seeking their own continuing education, keeping up with changing industry trends and techniques, and passing along their passion for cosmetology to their students. Teachers who don't allow themselves to become rusty or outdated in their profession will provide their students with the highest quality and most relevant training to prepare them to step out into their career and become successful cosmetologists.

Schools Active in the Community

Look for schools who stay involved in the local community to help make connections for the students who attend the college. Many schools reach out to local theater companies, schools, theater groups and fashion shows to offer the hair, makeup and nail services of the students so you can log more training hours and get real hands-on experience practicing your skills. We also advise you to look for schools who stay connected to local salons, which can be extremely valuable when it comes time to find a job after graduating and getting licensed. Schools that have solid connections with local businesses can offer better job placement services to recent graduates. In the survey of 55 beauty schools conducted by Beauty Schools Directory, we found that some 96% of cosmetology schools offer some kind of career placement services or assistance to help you get your first job out of beauty college.

Should I only search for cosmetology schools in close proximity to where I live?

Not necessarily. While there are many beauty students who decide to attend the closest beauty school to where they live, many other students are willing to commute or relocate in order to attend cosmetology. Perhaps there are no schools near you that teach your program of choice - such as makeup or laser training. However, there are definitely beauty schools throughout the nation that do have those programs and would be happy to accept your application for enrollment. While some people prefer to attend beauty school close to home, some are a little more adventurous and choose to go out-of-state to get beauty education. The most important thing is to find the best school for you, wherever that may be. However, almost all beauty schools do not offer student housing, so if you do decide to relocate for school, you will likely be responsible for finding your own living accommodations.

Beauty School Programs Video

What are the top cities for attending beauty school?

If you are looking for one of the hottest places to begin your cosmetology training, we have compiled a list of the top cities with the highest concentrations of cosmetology schools. When we reviewed our list of more than 4,700 beauty schools in the United States, we found that the following cities are the top 10 most popular for cosmetology schools:

03. Talking to Admissions & Touring
Top 15 Questions to Ask Your Cosmetology Admissions Rep Before Choosing

When you are comparing different beauty schools to decide which one is best for you, you will talk to the admissions representatives that will help answer all your questions. We have prepared a list of starter questions to begin your conversations with the different schools. Having the answers to the question on this list can help you make a more confident decision about which school is the best match for your needs. Print this list and take it with you to your appointments to tour the schools.

  • Is your school accredited?
  • How much is the tuition?
  • Are books, cosmetology kits and other supplies included in the tuition?
  • Does your school offer financial aid or scholarships?
  • What is your absentee or leave of absence policy?
  • Can I schedule a tour?
  • What programs does your school offer? (Comprehensive Cosmetology, Esthetics, Makeup, Nail Tech, etc.)
  • Do you offer full-time or part-time classes? What about night and weekend classes?
  • How long does it take to complete the program I’ve chosen?
  • What skills and techniques are taught in the program?
  • Do you offer exam test prep materials to study for the licensing exam?
  • Is there an in-school salon to get hands-on experience?
  • What is your student-to-teacher ratio?
  • What are your school's graduation and job placement rates?
  • Do you offer job placement assistance services after students graduate?

Should I visit the cosmetology school before choosing?

If it's possible, you should absolutely visit and tour the schools you are considering. Visiting the campuses of potential beauty schools is important to get an accurate feel for how the institution works. It is the perfect opportunity to watch the cosmetology teachers in action as they educate beauty school students on the tricks of the trade. It is also your chance to ask any questions left on your list of the admissions representatives, teachers and other beauty students to make sure the school is a good match for you. If you are pursuing a specific program such as hair, nails, skin or makeup, campus visits are perfect for finding out how well a school covers that aspect of beauty. Tours are highly recommended.

Tips for Touring Beauty School Campuses

If you are considering a career in cosmetology or any other beauty trade, it is a good idea to compare and tour several different beauty schools before applying and making a decision about where to attend. Beauty schools vary in their programs, facilities, teaching methods and cost, so touring a school can provide you with a great deal of information that can be critical to making the right decision for you.

Making an Appointment to Tour a School

Most schools prefer that you make an appointment in advance to tour their campus, rather than simply showing up to look around. Though some schools are perfectly ok with walk-ins. Usually, appointments are made through the admissions office. You can search for schools using the button below, then Request Information from the ones that interest you. Their admissions representatives will then call and answer your initial questions, at which time you can ask for an admissions packet and schedule an appointment to visit the campus.

Admissions packets provide you with the basic important information about the school. Frequently, these packets include information about school accreditation, admission requirements and current tuition rates. It often lists the courses that you will take in each program they offer, and the hours or credits each course will earn you toward meeting the state’s minimum to get licensed. Additionally, there may be information about financial aid programs or options.

Before attending your appointment, it is a good idea to prepare your questions for the school. For example, you may want to ask questions about course requirements and schedules, the student population and career placement services. If you need a little inspiration on what to ask, check out our list of 15 Questions You Should Ask Each Admissions Rep.

Taking a Tour

Campus tours are an important part of making a decision for any higher education, whether a traditional 4-year university, community college, trade school or a specific beauty school. A campus tour can provide you with an opportunity to talk to current students, see the training facilities for yourself, and watch the educators and trainers in action.

Usually, the tour is conducted by a representative from the admissions staff. In some cases, campus tours are given as a group with other potential students. However, some schools offer campus tours on an individual basis if you schedule a one-on-one appointment.

When you tour the beauty schools you're considering, look at the classrooms and the student salon floor. It is important that the facilities be well maintained and in good repair, and that you feel you will be working with modern supplies and technology. They should also be clean and sanitary on the premises, and all equipment, such as scissors and combs, should be sterilized where appropriate.

As you are going through the cosmetology school, also take note of the students. Look for students that appear to be enjoying their classes and engaged. Students should be comfortable asking questions or getting guidance from their instructors. Does this seem like an environment where you would be comfortable learning from the instructors and teaming up with your classmates on various projects?

Another consideration when taking a beauty school tour is the proximity and accessibility of the campus. Look at where the school is located geographically. Make note of how far it is from your home and what kinds of public transportation services are easily accessible. For example, if you regularly rely on bus lines or the subway, these lines should be relatively close to the campus. Or if you will be driving a car, look for parking availability, and consider how close the campus is to your home or job. The campus should be located in a safe area and campus security is an important consideration. You may even wish to ask about how easily accessible doors are for students and if there are any security protocols for emergency situations.

For students with disability concerns, it is important to evaluate accessibility. Find out if there are easily wheelchair accessible outside doors, and if doors are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair or other aid. For students who need special assistance with classroom instruction, it is important to know if it is available well before deciding to attend a program.

Evaluating Potential Programs

Not all instructors are created equal, and this is especially true when it comes to post-secondary schools. While all instructors are required to go through additional higher education or junior instructor training before teaching at beauty schools, some instructors will be a better fit for your learning style than others. Good instructors will engage students in a variety of ways as part of their classroom experience. A campus tour should provide you with the opportunity to see instructors at work in the classroom. Also, you should be able to see the students interacting with instructors in the on-campus student salon.

It is important to also ask to view current program curriculums or outlines. These will give you a good idea of what kinds of assignments and reading materials will be required, and whether the program matches up with your expectations and goals. They can also provide you with examples of the pace of instruction for that particular beauty school.

Another area that is important to evaluate is curriculum schedules. Some schools allow students to schedule their own classes or attendance times around work or family life. This can be very helpful if you need flexibility in your schedule, especially if the school offers night and weekend classes in addition to their normal daytime classroom hours. However, other schools have preset class schedules that are not movable. In this case, students who enroll at the school are part of a cohort and they complete all of their classes together. Additionally, it is important to find out what time of day classes are offered and their attendance or absentee policy so you can plan accordingly.

Another important aspect to evaluate is the program curriculum. First, make sure the school offers the correct program you’re interested, such as comprehensive cosmetology, nail technology, esthetics and skin care, etc. Often, beauty schools focus on specific products and application theories. For example, some beauty schools are affiliated with Vidal Sassoon and others are affiliated with Aveda, Redken or other beauty product lines. Often, a school’s application brochure will outline their philosophy and/or program affiliations.

Licensure and Job Placement

One of the most important aspects of a beauty school that should be considered is how well the program will prepare a student for licensing. All states have licensing requirements that must be met before they can begin practicing and earning an income from their training. Make sure you leave your beauty school tour feeling confident that the school can meet or exceed those requirements with their program and campus facilities.

Often, licensing preparation information will be available in admission brochures and marketing materials that you pick up on your tour. However, it is also important to be able to talk to former students during your campus visit to find out how well the program prepared them for licensing examinations. For example, you need to know how long after completing classroom instruction was test preparation assistance available, if at all. It also may be helpful to know if preparation was done as a group or if it was provided one-on-one.

Finally, job placement services are also sometimes available and a great bonus to have at the school you choose, but not necessarily required. Find out if the school you are considering provides assistance to students in getting their first placement and if those services are available for a period of time after graduation. Additionally, if you are considering a beauty school that is part of a nationwide network, find out if job placement services available throughout their network nationwide if you plan on moving after graduation, or only in the geographical area where you completed your program.

In Conclusion

Making a decision to attend beauty school is life-changing for many people. Take the opportunity to tour several schools in your area to get a clear idea of your options and find a program that will meet your needs well. In addition to evaluating the facilities, it is also important to take into consideration the overall program, including class availability, exam preparation and job placement. If you do your research in advance of making a decision, you will likely be much happier and satisfied with your choice in the long run.

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