Cosmetology as a Career

July 14, 2023

How to Get Started and Grow a Beautiful Career in Cosmetology

When it comes to careers with staying power, it is hard to beat a career in the professional beauty industry. And that’s particularly true for cosmetology careers.  From ancient artistry millennia ago to special effects and emerging artificial intelligence, cosmetology has evolved as an art and science that is perpetually in demand.

Now that you’ve made the decision to explore a career as a cosmetologist, some questions you may be asking yourself to get started on the dream are:

  • What type of educational training is required and how long does cosmetology school take to complete?
  • What are some best practices for selecting a beauty school that will equip you with the skills you need to not only earn a license but build a career.
  • What role does continuing education play in becoming a cosmetologist once you’ve embarked on your career?
  • How much is a cosmetology salary?
  • How much is cosmetology school in terms of a financial outlay?

In this article, we’ll break down a step-by-step playbook to help navigate the career path. Whether your dream is to become the next celebrity hairstylist prepping stars for their stroll on the red carpet, opening your own salon and succeeding as an entrepreneur, or blending your passion for artistry into a career as a professional nail artist, this article will get you started on stepping from dream into destiny. And from a practical perspective, we’ll spotlight the career success of successful beauty pros working at venues ranging from New York Fashion Week to thriving boutique beauty bars in Kansas. We’ll also look at the welcoming, inclusivity of beauty as a career, highlighting the success of immigrants who have found their American dream in the beauty business.

Education – the building blocks of cosmetology success

Like most every career path, success is a blend of persistence, sweat equity and relationship building. But the foundational bedrock is education. Finding a cosmetology school that will equip you with the technical skills and theory essential to passing the exam. But that’s only the beginning. A cosmetology school should provide you with the fundamentals to grow a book of business from the first day you step onto the salon floor. Beauty is a blend of curating a craft and cultivating a clientele, and a school should develop both skills sets. How long does cosmetology school take? The length of a program will depend upon your course of study and whether you select a full-time or part-time program. Following is a scorecard that can help you evaluate a school.

A 7-step scorecard of what to look for in a cosmetology school

1. Rules for schools – accreditation and licensing.

There are some blueprint basics required of any school – specifically accreditation by a recognized accrediting agency and approval by the state’s licensing board. In order to earn accreditation a school must prove that it delivers specific educational content. Additionally, approval by the state is required to earn accreditation.

2. Core curriculum and niche specializations.

When selecting a school ask about the curriculum that is covered in the classroom. While you may want to focus on hair, a curriculum will generally provide some level of instruction on skincare, makeup application and nail care. Ask about the school’s investment in advanced areas such as hair coloring, straightening or other chemical treatments. For students wanting to pursue a career in a specialized area such as resort and destination spas or oncology skincare, specialized curriculums can offer services tailored to these interests. Don’t overlook the school’s brands and partnerships. For example, consider whether the school’s curriculum uses tools, technologies and products recognized and respected by licensed professionals working at the highest tier of the industry.

3. Learning environment.

In a post-pandemic world, most schools offer remote and in-person instruction. Visiting the campus will provide an overview of the cosmetology teaching resources. Be sure to ask about the student “kit” which includes the tools and products students will use in the hands-on portion of the process. Much like a campus tour, ask about the credentials of the instructors. What awards and professional honors have they achieved. For example, instructors at Bellus Academy campuses in California and Kansas regularly participate in some of the nation’s most respected beauty competitions. Several have taken home top honors.

4. Student salon.

One of the great things about cosmetology education is the opportunity to work in a real-world laboratory, providing services to students. How long you’ll spend “on the floor” in a salon depends upon the state’s requirements for licensing and the school’s curriculum. Be sure to check out the technology that is used and ask about the products and treatments. How closely does the school resemble an actual salon in terms of equipment and technologies, but also in terms of services that are available? For example, a trend in recent years has been the offering of “quiet chairs” where salon clients could relax without any noise or social interaction.

5. Culture.

Becoming a cosmetologist is about more than exam scores and clocking in and out at the end of the day. A school’s culture represents how its students and staff relate to one another, to the guests in the student salon and to the community at large. Is the school recognized as a member of the community and active in social events? For example, students at Bellus Academy cultivate a culture of giving back by serving others. The school has been recognized for stepping up and providing complimentary haircuts to persons experiencing homelessness and to women completing substance abuse recovery programs among other things. If the culture doesn’t fit, it may be important to visit another school.

6. Alum success.

When visiting a cosmetology school, don’t forget to ask for some career success stories. What accolades have students received? How many own their own businesses? What national competitions or awards have they received. Have they been featured in the media or are they employed at prestigious salons and spas.

7. Future-proof learning.

The most successful cosmetologists future-proof their careers by continually escalating their learning.

Fiscal Considerations – Financing Your Beautiful Career

Selecting a cosmetology school demands financial thought that goes beyond the seven points listed on the scorecard above. Just like, “how much is a cosmetologist salary”? the question “How much is cosmetology school?” is a universal inquiry. The cost can vary significantly depending upon the school, the course of study and specialty areas the student may wish to pursue. Education requires an investment of time, of effort and of course, of finances. The good news is that there are options to help make cosmetology school affordable. These options include scholarships and grants.

Beauty Changes Lives

One of the most generous scholarship program portfolios is offered by Beauty Changes Lives. The 501c3 non-profit quips and empowers next generation beauty professionals with scholarships and mentoring opportunities. Scholarships are available for hairstylists as well as barbering, nail professionals, esthetics / skincare and professional nails. With awards ranging up to $15,000 the question of “how much is cosmetology school?” becomes less significant. Scholarships can substantially reduce the cost of professional beauty education. More information on these scholarships is available at

High school career centers and guidance counselors can provide additional information on local programs and learning opportunities. In addition, professional beauty brands and foundations offer financial aid opportunities. Some time invested in online searching will yield additional insight into scholarships offered. As opportunities are continually being announced, searching for a scholarship is never a one-and-done. The beauty industry is constantly being reimagined through the generous gifts of companies and individuals who wish to pay their success forward. Regular visits to the website will provide insights on new scholarships.

Financial Aid for a Cosmetology Career

Don’t overlook federal financial aid offerings when it comes to beauty school. Be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This exercise is the first step in determining eligibility for federal student aid programs. These programs may include grants, work-study programs and student loans funded by the federal government. The application process may require information about your financial situation as well as your company’s income.

Private student loans. In addition to loans offered by the federal government, loans issued by private financial institutions may be an option if additional borrowing is required beyond what is covered by federal programs.

Externships, Internships and Part-Time Employment. Some cosmetology schools partner with local salons to create a “talent pool” of beauty professionals. The program benefits the students with practical experience while employers have a first opportunity to secure emerging talent. Even in less structured programs, a part-time job can expose students to the real-world operations of a beauty salon. Beyond learning the technical aspects of beauty, an externship can provide insight into how cosmetologists communicate with their guests and let them see firsthand how the salon often serves as a sanctuary for clients seeking some rest, relaxation – or in some cases, lively conversation!

Payment Plans: Every school is unique and its financial aid department can advise you on tuition plans that can help you pay for cosmetology school in a way that best works for your fiscal situation.

Licensing Requirements

An accredited school will make sure that students completing the program achieve specific licensing requirements. Be sure to secure the appropriate information about the state exams, practical assessments that evaluate techniques and skills mastered, and the appropriate forms that demonstrate and prove mastery of these skills. How long is cosmetology school becomes less of a consideration when considering the countless pathways that an education and subsequent licensing open up.

Don’t overlook opportunities to invest in professional development through networking and curating relationships. Attending career fairs, industry events and trade shows brings a real-world dimension to professional learning. A simple coffee conversation can open the door to an industry influencer and accelerate a career path. The professional beauty industry holds conferences around the country, but local high schools also provide opportunities to interact with more seasoned cosmetology and barbering professionals. And in a world where communication increasingly takes place on social channels, social media chats and online video conversations can be a way to facilitate conversation between professionals and new entrants to the beauty industry.

Seek Inspiration

Don’t overlook the importance of lifelong learning. Continuing education is not necessarily a requirement in every state, but it is a characteristic of beauty professionals who take their careers to the next level. Technology is always changing the game in the industry. For example, a recent Forbes forum for spa professionals introduced a range of technologies that are changing the game by taking innovation to a new level. High-tech compression boots, robotic manicures and an ever-expanding range of non-invasive treatments are bringing new cosmetology and esthetic treatments to the forefront.

Popular culture is another opportunity to discover and learn. To be sure, the drama is amped up on reality TV. However, these programs can often shine the spotlight on emerging technologies and trends. YouTube programs, Tiktok videos and traditional magazines can all reflect how society and culture are interrelating with what’s new in the beauty classroom.

Build a Cornerstone with Your Portfolio

Portfolios are not only for artists, models and photographers. Photos and videos provide documentation of your capabilities and demonstrate how your career is evolving in synch with changing times and beauty ethos. It is essential to establish an online presence where your work can be demonstrated. Even as a student, makeovers shared on social media channels can get your enthusiasm noticed by prospective employers.

Get Personal

One of the best ways to learn about a career is to talk to people actually living the dream. Contact a local salon or spa and ask to job-shadow a professional. Contact a beauty school and ask if you can observe the activity in the student salon. One of the beautiful things about the cosmetology sector is the willingness to pay success forward and offer advice.

Avoid Type-Casting

Do you think careers in beauty are only for the “artistic”? If so, you might be interested to hear that hairstylists and other beauty professionals arrive in the industry from a broad range of career paths. Elnaz is a good example. The chemical and petroleum engineer worked in the oil and gas sector before the Covid pandemic inspired her to pursue a long deferred dream, becoming a makeup artist. “I asked myself what I would do if I had just one year to live” she recalls. Within a year, Elnaz was completing her beauty school education and taking home industry honors.

Stay Open Minded

Like all forms of art, cosmetology, skincare and nail art are ever evolving in new ways. So are the career paths available to licensed beauty professionals. Digital makeovers, mobile spas and niche areas – like bridal beauty – are constantly being introduced to meet needs in the market. As a cosmetologist your “first chair” may be at a salon. Later, you may become an entrepreneur. As your interests and passions grow, you might choose to specialize in a highly focused area – for example making wigs and headpieces for Broadway shows or working as a cosmetic chemist for a product formulator.

Opportunities with a Cosmetology Career

The decision to become a cosmetologist is a bold and worthy decision. Just as with any other career, becoming a beauty professional requires due diligence that includes planning, research, perseverance and tenacity. Take the time to explore your options and evaluate cosmetology schools to find just the right fit. And remember that it is important to stay motivated, remain open to learning and not hesitate when opportunities for growth and advancement beckon. Becoming a cosmetologist offers many unique opportunities including the chance to be your own boss, help others, enjoy art, and achieve not just a career but a vocation that is ever evolving in interesting ways.

 A career can be a means to a livelihood or an opportunity for self-expression. Author and Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper wrote in a column titled, “The feeling when your passion is also your job” “there’s something beautiful about finding your vocation.” When you choose a career as a cosmetologist, skincare professional, nail professional, barber or makeup artist, you can achieve both. With a lifetime of possibilities in mind, selecting cosmetology as a career demands asking questions that go beyond, how much is a cosmetologist salary, how long does cosmetology school take?” or “How much is cosmetology school? Who says you can’t have it all? Choose beautifully!

Scholarship spotlight – from foster system to rising skincare star

A fundamental of the American Dream is the conviction that success is not limited by where you start out in life. As an esthetics student at Bellus Academy, Aeta Smith realized that spending time in the foster system didn’t mean she couldn’t achieve her dream of a career in skincare.

Aleta wins the Defy Impossible scholarship

In spring 2023 Aleta was awarded a $15,000 “Defy Impossible” scholarship. The tuition scholarship is funded through the generosity of Kate Sommerville, celebrity esthetician and founder of the Kate Somerville line of skincare products, in partnership with Foster Nation.

Pat of the Beauty Changes Lives scholarship portfolio, the Defy Impossible scholarship awards tuition funding for California residents served by the foster care system who are pursuing careers in professional skincare. The scholarship honors the perseverance and tenacity demonstrated by those who have pushed through hardships, defying the “impossible” to pursue their dreams. Working with Foster Nation, Kate Somerville raises awareness of foster youth journeys, championing their needs and celebrating their success.

Smith’s Early Childhood beginnings

Smith spent most of her childhood in foster care, while managing to work and graduate high school early with honors.  After earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Smith was working in community relations for a local credit union when the pandemic shut down occurred in 2020. Locked down at home, skincare concerns led Smith to an esthetician, and a contact at Foster Nation mentioned the Defy Impossible scholarship funded by Kate Somerville.  

“I thought, ‘All they can say is no,’ so I went ahead and applied,” recalls Smith. In addition to perseverance, Smith believes that keeping an open mind is essential to opening doors of opportunity. “I never thought I’d go to beauty school, but now I get to add another tool to my toolbelt,” she says. She didn’t let answers to questions like, how long does cosmetology school take or how much is cosmetology school going to cost distract her from achieving her dream.

Bellus Academy’s Advanced Programs

Smith researched esthetic schools online and selected Bellus Academy because of its advanced programs that will empower her to enhance her education as her career evolves. Bellus Academy CEO Lynelle Lynch founded Beauty Changes Lives, the non-profit organization that administers the Defy Impossible scholarship. We’re honored to welcome Aleta into the professional beauty industry and applaud her resourcefulness, determination and commitment as she defies the impossible.

In Conclusion

Congrats on asking the hard questions that lead to a fulfilling career. Now it’s time to explore the possibilities, embrace education and take the first step on a beautiful career path.

Request Information

Land your dream career

Standing Ovations

from our students and graduates

Our Partners

partner logo -
partner logo - Repechage logo
partner logo -
partner logo -
partner logo -
partner logo -
partner logo -
partner logo - American Hairlines
partner logo - Skin Authority
partner logo - Dermodality
partner logo - Hairtalk
partner logo - Pivot Point
partner logo - MUD make-up designory
partner logo - Mizutani Logo
partner logo - Reuzel Logo
Get Info Now | Call Us Now

Call Us

Talk to Admissions
Book a Salon Appointment
bellus academy colors for 2024

Pick Your Color

Bellus Teal
Very Peri
Tree Top

Request Information

Land your dream career