English Language Learners' Guide to Beauty School

Fast Facts About English Language Learners in American Schools

If you love beauty but do not speak English as your first language, you may be wondering if you can succeed in a beauty career. This guide is here to help.

First, we will talk about the basics, including how to know if beauty school is right for you and what jobs you can have in beauty.

Second, you can read about how well you need to speak English to go to beauty school, how to get into beauty school, and what to expect during beauty school or an apprenticeship.

Third, we will talk about getting your license, which is a form your state gives you that says you can work in beauty, and preparing for school and your license tests.

Fourth, you will learn how to succeed in your career before, during, and after beauty school.

Finally, we will tell you a bit about your rights in school and at work if you are not fluent in English.

Is a Job in Beauty a Good Idea if English is Not My First Language?

If English is not your first language and you love doing hair, nails, or other beauty treatments, beauty school could still be a great idea for you. Beauty is a hands-on field, so a lot of your training may focus on how you do treatments more than how you speak.

Depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding a school where your teachers speak your language. You could also have classmates and customers who only speak English. It is a good idea to practice your English skills as much as possible. We have tips about what to study later in this article.

If you are nervous about going into a beauty career, you should know there are many immigrants and other people who may not speak English as a first language in this field. In 2014, most people working in beauty were immigrants!

What Jobs Can I Learn to Do in Beauty School?

You can do a lot of jobs with a beauty school education. Before you apply, you need to choose which career you want.

These are just some of the career fields you could work in after beauty school:



Hair, makeup, nails, skincare, and more



Skin appearance and health



Mostly short haircuts and work with facial hair, like beards

Nail Technology

Nail Technology

Fingernail and toenail appearance and health

Massage Therapy


Relaxing people's muscles with your hands

These are not all the jobs you can have after beauty school. You can find more on our Types of Beauty Programs page.

Do I Need to be Fluent in English to Go to Beauty School?

Schools and states often can decide how well beauty students need to speak English.

If you live in a city where a lot of people speak a language other than English, you may find schools that teach in both English and that language. If you do not live in a place like that, you will probably only be taught in English.

Many schools need you to speak English because the state requires it. For instance, in California, you must be able to understand the labels on cleaning products and label your supplies in English for your tests. However, the test is offered in several languages.

cleaning product

Cleaning product

Some beauty colleges may require you to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL exam, before you can enroll. The TOEFL tests how well you speak, read, and write English. Each school decides what a passing score is.

If you do not speak English perfectly, do not worry too much. They need you to understand the supplies you are using, the laws you are following, and how to talk to customers, but they do not ask you to know the dictionary by heart. If you are concerned, be sure to work on your English as much as possible. We offer advice for this below.

How Do I Get Into Beauty School as an ESL Student?

Even if English is not your first language, getting into a beauty school is mostly done in the same way as it is for English speakers. But you may need to take a few additional steps. Common steps to get into beauty school are:

  1. Research schools near you to find out whether they offer the program you want and would be a good fit for you.
  2. Visit the school so you can decide if you want to apply.
  3. Make sure you can meet the state requirements for getting a license.
  4. Fill out an application. The school should be willing to help you if needed. You may have to pay a fee.
  5. Apply for financial aid if needed. The school should be able to help with this too.
  6. Pay any tuition or fees.
  7. Enroll in classes.

As a non-native English speaker, you may need to take an English test or prove in some other way that you can speak English at the level the school requires.

What Are the State Requirements I Need to Meet?

Every state has different requirements for getting a beauty license. You need to make sure you meet these requirements before you apply. Some common requirements are:

  • Being a certain minimum age, often 16 or 17
  • Completing a certain level of education, often 10th, 11th, or 12th grade, or having your Certificate of High School Equivalency, also known as the GED
  • Agreeing to have a background check done—there may be a rule about not having a criminal record

For more information on your state's requirements for cosmetology, find your state in our site’s state-by-state menu.

What Do I Need for My Beauty School Application?

Every beauty college has different application requirements, but you will likely need:

  • Copies of your school transcripts and high school diploma or GED
  • Your driver's license or other state-issued identification (ID)
  • Permission from your parents if you are under 18 years old

Some schools also require letters of recommendation from teachers or employers, an essay about your background or goals, or other things. Talk to the school to learn more.

What Can English Language Learners Like Me Expect in Beauty School?

In beauty school, you will take classes in your field of study. For example, if you are taking a cosmetology program, you can expect classes in hair, nails, makeup, and skincare. If you are in a nail design program, your classes will focus on nail and hand care.

As mentioned earlier, some schools offer classes in English and another language, but most are in English only.

Your classes are likely to be divided into two types: theory and practice. Theory is about ideas, science, and laws. Practice involves practical, or hands-on, work.

Theory classes often are taught in classrooms. You should expect to listen to lectures, read about the topics, do homework, take tests, and join in discussions.

Practical work is done in a classroom or a salon. You will practice techniques on mannequins, yourself, your classmates, and customers.

Do not be afraid to ask your teachers for help if you need it. That is what they are there for.


Cosmetology student practicing on a mannequin

What Are Beauty Apprenticeships? Can English Language Learners Do Them?

Beauty apprenticeships are like jobs where you learn as you go. English language learners are allowed to do them if the salon manager or the employee who will work with you agrees.

Apprenticeships may be a good fit for English language learners because they are often more focused on hands-on skills. Apprentices also spend almost their entire workday learning to work on clients, so you may be able to improve your English skills from the beginning of your training because of all the practice you will get.

Not all states allow apprenticeships. Those that do usually require you to complete a certain number of hours of experience on the job before you can get your license. You will also usually need to take your state tests after finishing your apprenticeship.

Can I Learn About Beauty in High School?

Beauty classes are sometimes available to high school students through their schools or at local colleges.

If you go to a high school with a career and technical education (CTE) program, it may offer beauty as an option. CTE classes prepare students for careers, and they count toward your high school credits, just like math or science.

Some beauty colleges may allow you to take evening or weekend classes while you are still in high school if you are old enough to get a license. Talk to the school to see if this is possible.

How Do I Get Licensed in Beauty?

Depending on what subject you studied (such as hair or nails), you will need to follow your state rules about licensure, which is the process of earning your license, in that subject.

If your state has a license for your field, there are certain requirements you usually will need to meet. Not all states have the same rules, but most require:

  • Finishing a certain number of hours of classes and hands-on work
  • Passing written and practical tests
  • Paying for your license
  • Agreeing to a background check and being willing to explain any criminal background

Some states need you to be trained in domestic violence awareness or first aid. Others need you to be examined by a doctor, who will decide if you meet the state's mental and physical health standards.

first aid kit

First aid kit

Can I Take License Exams in Languages Other Than English?

Some states let you take your beauty licensure exams in languages other than English, but others do not. Languages available vary based on the state, but they may include:

  • Korean
  • Spanish
  • Chinese (Mandarin)
  • Vietnamese

Your state may offer the exams in other languages as well.

If the tests are only available in English, some states will allow an interpreter to help you. Others do not.

The best way to find out what your state offers is to check its board of cosmetology website or ask your school.

How Do I Pay for Beauty School?

You can pay for beauty school using your own money or financial aid. A few types of financial aid are:

  • Loans: Money you need to pay back with interest, meaning you pay back more than you borrowed
  • Grants: Money you do not need to repay that is usually based on financial need
  • Scholarships: Money you do not need to repay. It can be based on financial need, academic excellence, hobbies, volunteer work, and more.

Loans are available through the federal government, state government, banks, and some beauty schools. Federal or state governments may also offer grants.

For federal aid, you need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. You do not need to be a U.S. citizen to get federal aid, but undocumented immigrants are not eligible. If you are documented but your parents are not, the risk to them is very small. Immigration enforcement has never yet used the FAFSA to find undocumented immigrants.

Grants and scholarships are available through many organizations, including community groups, companies, and maybe even your beauty school.

You can find a list of scholarships and tips on applying for them on our Scholarships for Beauty School page.

How Can I Prepare for Beauty School as an English Language Learner?

You can prepare for beauty school by practicing your everyday English skills and those related to beauty careers. Below, we offer advice about finding that help, subjects to study, and some vocabulary you should know.

Where Can I Find Help Learning English Outside of High School?

Community colleges often have English as a second language classes. Usually, you do not need to be enrolled in other classes at the school to take them. The schools may offer both regular English as a second language classes and business English classes, which are supposed to help you in your career.

Your local school district may offer adult English language classes. Though we think of school districts as just for kids, teachers sometimes lead evening classes for adults.

Local groups and your public library may offer adult English classes. If they do not offer this type of class, ask about starting them. They may not know there is any interest.

Even if you prefer to learn from home, you have English language learning choices.

YouTube is a great place to start. You can find people teaching English on the site, like EnglishClass101. But just watching your favorite YouTubers can help as well, as you are hearing English used naturally.

TV is also a good resource. Watching shows in English can help because actors are often trained to speak clearly and emphasize words to make meaning clear in normal conversations.

Immersion may be one of the best ways to improve your English. This is when you spend a lot of time in your English-speaking community, listening and talking to native speakers. Being around people who are using English outside of a classroom can help you learn because you will hear English used in normal conversations.

More options are available at the Adult Literacy League.

What Subjects Do I Need to Study to Help With Beauty School?

Vocabulary is a big part of most beauty license exams, and it is never too early to start learning.

Beauty school is about more than just hair and makeup. It is about science, art, and business too.

  • Science: You should study chemistry, biology, and anatomy.
  • Art: Consider painting or drawing. Both can help you learn about design and improve your ability to imagine and create unique and careful work.
  • Business: You need to know how to handle customers and deal with money. If you plan to be self-employed, you also need to learn about things like taxes.

If you are still in high school, your school may offer all of these subjects. If you are not, you may be able to learn more about them on YouTube, at community college, at your local library, and through community organizations.

If you want to study ahead of time, Flashcard Machine has many flashcards for cosmetology students. These were all made by students, so be careful and double-check the answers.

How Can I Improve My Chances of Succeeding in a Beauty Career?

You can increase your chances of doing well in a beauty career both during school and after earning your license.

While You Are in School

Form good relationships with your teachers.
Most jobs require references from people who can tell them how great you are, and your teachers are the best ones for this. During your training, be kind, ask questions, and complete all your work. Your teachers can then tell future employers how good your attitude was and how hard you worked.

Build a portfolio.
A portfolio is a collection of images of the work you have done. Any time you do a really good job on hair, makeup, nails, or any other treatment, take pictures of it. Be sure to have your model's permission. You will want to put these up on a personal website or at least an Instagram page.


Manicurist taking a photo for her portfolio


Example resume

Ask for help in your job search.
Before you even finish beauty school, talk to teachers about finding a job, writing a resume, and doing interviews. You can also ask if they know of workplaces where you would be a good fit. Most schools want their students to get jobs quickly because high employment rates attract future students. So be sure to ask.

While You Look for a Job

Get on job websites.
Create profiles on job sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Beauty Cast Network. You will put your resume, portfolio, and other important information on these sites, and you can apply for jobs through them. Have an English-speaking friend or teacher look at your profile to help you fix any mistakes.

Search for jobs on other sites.
If you do an online search for "jobs in cosmetology near me," a list of jobs will appear. You can also go to individual salons' websites or look for beauty job boards.

Apply for jobs.
When you see a job that interests you, research the company to make sure it is a good fit for you. If you decide it is, apply through the job board website or the employer's website, depending on what the job advertisement says.

Practice your interview skills.
Sit with a teacher or a friend and have that person ask you common interview questions so you can practice answering them. Remember, employers may ask questions that you do not expect, so be ready for anything and do not simply memorize responses.

Keep learning.
If there is a beauty class, workshop, or convention near you, go. You can put these extra classes on your resume.

While You Are Working

Keep adding to your portfolio.
As you learn and get better at your job, you could create even better hairstyles, nail designs, and more. Keep taking photos and updating your portfolio. If you ever want to change jobs, you do not want to be rushing around to find these things.

Take classes.
Many states require you to take more classes, called continuing education, to keep your license, but even if your state does not, take some anyway. There is always more to learn so you can get better at your work, and you might find you love something you did not know about before.

What Are My Legal Rights as Someone Who Speaks English as a Second Language?

As someone who does not speak English as a first language, you have rights—but those rights change based on what state you are in.

English Language Learners' Rights in Schools

As stated earlier, beauty schools can reject applications if students do not meet the state's English licensure requirements. They cannot reject you based on what country you are from, what race you are, or what religion you practice.

Rights for Workers Who Speak English as an Additional Language

The Department of Labor, which creates national rules for workplaces, has some nationwide expectations. Your employer cannot demand you speak English if you are on break, dealing with personal issues, speaking casually with a coworker, or doing other things not directly related to your job.

However, your employer can have "English-only" rules for some work situations unless your state says otherwise. They can have these rules for:

  • Talking with coworkers or customers who speak English and not your language
  • Times when there is a risk to people's safety, including when you are on a break or not doing work tasks
  • During times when you must work as part of a team and misunderstandings can cause harm
  • When a supervisor is monitoring your work

An employer may not ban a specific language. For example, while your workplace can have an English-only policy if it meets the requirements above, it cannot have a no-Spanish policy.

As with schools, employers cannot refuse to hire you, decide to fire you, or discriminate against you based on where you are from, your race, or your religion.

Cosmetology Schools Near Me

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