What to Expect in Cosmetology School

No matter how many years since you last attended school, one thing never changes: the beginning of a new school year makes us nervous! We never outgrow the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling when we step into a brand-new classroom.

Your experience in cosmetology school is the first step toward an exciting career in a field you're passionate about, so you want to start with your best foot forward. This guide is designed to ease your fears and tell you what to expect from cosmetology school.

Preparing for Your First Day of Cosmetology School

Here are a few tips to make your first day of cosmetology school a success, from what to wear to what to bring and more!

What to Bring

Make sure you know how you'll be traveling to school and whether you need a parking pass, money for a parking meter or parking garage, a train or bus ticket, etc. Packing a sweater in case your classroom is chilly may also be a good idea.

Most cosmetology students attend school for a full day, at least three or four days a week. This means you should probably pack lunch and snacks or bring money. (If you bring money, be sure that you have scoped out restaurant options nearby and that you know you’ll have time to buy and eat your food, even if it’s during a busy hour such as a lunch rush.) You should also bring a water bottle to stay hydrated. You might also consider gum or breath mints, especially when working closely with clients or classmates.

Before your first day of cosmetology school, familiarize yourself with your school's beauty supply requirements. Every student needs a kit containing supplies for performing hair, nail, and skincare services. Some schools provide this when you enroll, while others distribute the student kit during orientation. Make sure you know whether you need to bring kit materials on your first day.

Finally, depending on your school's requirements, you should bring an iPad (some schools provide these upon enrolling) or a laptop, a notebook, a pen or pencil, and any textbooks supplied to you.

What to Wear

Most cosmetology schools have strict dress codes, and they'll share these details on your first day, if not before. Some schools provide smocks or branded shirts, but others expect you to furnish your own clothing. In general, you’ll be asked to wear black.

Solid black is the standard in this profession because it looks crisp and professional and hides stains from the various chemicals and dyes you'll be working with. Your clothes should also be clean and functional but not too dressy. And, because you'll be spending a lot of time on your feet, wear comfortable shoes in which you can stand comfortably for hours. They should be closed-toed for safety and sanitation purposes—you'd hate to drop a pair of scissors or a spill a bottle of product on your bare toes!

Finally, wear your hair up and out of the way, and ensure your hands and nails are clean.

Be Ready to Put Your Best Foot Forward

In many ways, cosmetology school is like any other school. On the first day, being on time and making an excellent first impression with your instructors and fellow students is essential. Get plenty of sleep the night before and eat a healthy breakfast (it's hard to learn when your stomach is growling!).

How School Begins

You've made it to class, you have your supplies… you're ready to get started! So, what can you expect on that first day?

The first day is usually orientation, which is full of administrative tasks—student and teacher introductions, filling out paperwork, receiving school-provided supplies, reviewing each instructor's expectations and curriculum, and perhaps getting a photo taken for a student ID. You may be given a tour of the school facilities, and you'll undoubtedly learn about the school's policies and procedures. You may also learn to navigate the school's online classroom or resources.

Typically, in your first month or so, you'll mostly be in the classroom learning the foundations of cosmetology: how to use the tools in your kit, as well as essential safety, sanitation, and hygiene practices. You'll also receive instruction in anatomy and physiology concerning cosmetology. This means understanding hair types and textures and hair care and skincare basics.

You'll move on to practicing your newfound skills on mannequin heads and, gradually, real clients in your school's salon.

Networking With Classmates

Because you'll be attending school with fellow new students, you may begin to form bonds. The relationships you form in school will be an important motivator and support system.

Your classmates will also be important when it comes to networking. You're likely to share tips with each other for studying, completing projects, performing cosmetology services, attending professional events and seminars, passing the exam, and, as your program draws to a close, seeking work. Some schools may have online forums or social media pages for students to share knowledge and ask questions.

You could also join a student chapter of professional trade associations to interact with fellow students and professionals from around the country and attend webinars and conferences. These opportunities expose you to others, from whom you may learn of jobs or educational opportunities.

Challenges You May Encounter During Cosmetology School

Regarding what to expect from cosmetology school, knowing you'll inevitably face challenges is essential. They may include:

Academic challenges
Especially in the first couple of months, you'll study a ton of subjects, from science to beauty techniques, which can be overwhelming. If you come to school every day, take notes, participate in activities, and ask plenty of questions, you can be successful, but it may not always come easily. Take advantage of your instructors' knowledge and experience: they're there to help!

Interpersonal challenges
You may find that interacting with your fellow classmates, your instructors, and clients can sometimes be challenging. Anyone in cosmetology school should have people skills. The ability to work with diverse types of people and perform various services could make you highly sought-after.

Physical challenges
Cosmetology school can involve long hours on your feet, and you may have issues with dexterity as you learn to hold and operate tools of the trade properly.

Work/life balance challenges
Juggling a full-time school schedule with the demands of a job and/or family can be tricky. Your family and friends need to be on board so you can receive the support you need. This may mean respecting designated study hours and space.

Whatever challenges you may be facing, you aren't going through it alone. Make sure you have someone on your side to talk to, whether it's a family member, friend, or classmate. Your school likely has academic advisors or student support counselors you can speak with about overcoming challenges in your program.

An Average Day in Cosmetology School

How an “average” day unfolds at cosmetology school depends on the curriculum and teaching philosophy of the school and the program. It will also look very different at the start of your program vs. the end of your program.

In the beginning, you'll probably be in a classroom much more often. Occasionally, you'll be sitting and listening to a lecture from a staff instructor or guest artist. In many schools, even early on, you'll be on your feet, practicing techniques as soon as possible.

Your learning will be twofold: first, you'll learn foundational concepts. Second, you'll practice what you've learned, analyzing hair and skin, touching and caring for hair, performing cutting and styling techniques, and practicing customer interaction.

Some days, you'll focus on haircutting techniques, while other days may be learning about hair color, permanent waves, or extensions. As you progress, you'll spend time on esthetics, learning facials, skincare, makeup application, and waxing. You'll also learn how to perform manicures and pedicures. Each day will be different as you meet new clients and work to address their needs.

Your instructors will watch your progress, offer suggestions for improvement, and help you solve problems.

Full-time students typically spend each day together. In contrast, part-time students may take a year or two to complete their studies, attending classes only in the morning, at night, or on the weekends, meaning they may not get to form as close of relationships with their peers.

All this means that very few days are the same in cosmetology school! There may not be an "average day," which is what many people appreciate about this career. Early on, you'll be learning rapidly, and it may feel overwhelming, but pretty soon, you'll adjust to the pace of your courses and discover you've retained more than you thought you would.

Select a beauty program and state to view schools