Hack College Presents: Breaking Into The Beauty Industry


Were you one of those kids who got in trouble for cutting your own bangs? Maybe you liked showing up to class with wild makeup or a blue Mohawk? Just about every successful cosmetologist has a similar story of experimental beauty gone awry. Every great beautician had to start somewhere.

Even superstar hair stylists like Ken Paves, Andy Lecompte, and Orlando Pita, as well as makeup artist Peter Philip started out just like you: enthusiastic, nervous and new. So if you’re interested in putting forth the effort to attain your dream career in cosmetology, then now is the time to get started.

Part I. The Cosmetology Industry

Beauticians can work in a broad range of specialties from hair, skin, or nails. At times, the term ‘cosmetology’ is specifically used in relation to hair design. You will see both variants throughout this guide.

Hair stylists and estheticians may not be equally interested in hot new trends; many choose to innovate, rather than follow the latest fashion. However, you will notice numerous overlapping skills among professions in the beauty industry. Many skills can be learned, while others — like patience and determination — are innate.

Before you apply for an academic program, consider your strengths and weaknesses. If you decide to pursue a career in this field, you will learn how to interact with customers and perform the job to the best of your ability.

Universal skills for the beauty industry include:

  • Social and listening skills
  • Innovation and confidence
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Time management
  • Strong interest in helping others
  • Problem solving and decision making

An Overview of Cosmetology Careers

  • Hair Stylists: As you probably know from personal experience, it’s hard to find a good hair stylist. They must be creative and discerning, as well as sociable (to an appropriate degree). Professionals in this field include barbers, wig stylists, colorists, and shampooers. Students of this trade must master proportions, hand-eye coordination, and finger dexterity. Beyond learned competencies, it is important for them to tolerate certain physical demands. Stylists stand on their feet all day, holding their arms and hands at various angles, all the while interacting with their clients. They are exposed to high noise levels, and scents and chemicals used in the salon.
  • Nail Technicians: Also referred to as manicurists or pedicurists, licensed nail technicians have greater expertise in nail art than other cosmetologists. Nail technician students will learn how to apply nail design and extensions, advise clients on nail products and colors, evaluate the condition of clients’ hands and feet, and treat them as needed. As with other occupations in the industry, nail technician students must be creative and professional. During training, students will learn to use scissors, files, and emery boards to shape nails. They will also learn how to perform hand and foot massages, operate an abrasive wheel, and apply various chemicals.
  • Makeup Artists: Makeup artists work predominantly within the entertainment industry, but many find work in retail and photography, as well as salons. Students in this field will learn to apply makeup to enhance appearance and highlight facial attributes for film, television, and theater. Makeup artistry requires creative thinking and the ability to differentiate colors. As with other sectors of the beauty business, makeup artistry involves competency in a number of skills; these professionals must be able to not only work in a group (sometimes for very long shifts), but also accept a substantial amount of criticism.
  • Estheticians: A typical workday for an esthetician looks very different from that of a hair stylist. These cosmetologists work closely with dermatologists, plastic surgeons, and general practitioners. Estheticians are concerned with skin care, a specialty that encompasses electrology, waxing, and nonsurgical skin care treatments such as dermabrasion and chemical peels. Students in this field will be carefully trained on how to conduct skin care treatments. Chemicals and tools are used in many of these treatments, materials that could cause damage to the skin if poorly applied. Because they may work in a plastic surgery office, estheticians must be able to collaborate with doctors, nurses, and other medical staff. They should also remain well-informed of products and possible side effects. Most importantly, estheticians must exercise extreme caution when treating clients.

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the 2011 median hourly wage for cosmetologists was $12.72, which amounts to an annual salary of $26,460. But these numbers vary considerably among specialists, experience level, and location. A salary diagram from My Social Beauty reveals substantial discrepancies between salon owners (who earn between $39,000 and $80,000) and shampooers (who earn a median salary of $17,470).

Whichever direction you decide to take, succeeding in cosmetology takes a lot of work. One must continually strive to increase clientele through advertisements and word-of-mouth, and stay updated on new products and techniques. Cosmetologists also have to budget for licensing fees, cost of rent, and supplies, knowing that they will have to wait for their business to blossom.

The good news is that the beauty industry is growing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job growth within the industry is estimated to reach 14% between 2010 and 2020.

Part II. Top U.S. Online and Offline Cosmetology Programs

Because obtaining a cosmetology license is time-consuming, online schooling options are few. Students may find individual online classes or continuing education classes for professionals with current licenses. Beauty Schools Directory is a fantastic resource regarding state requirements for your profession, how to renew your license, and the details of license transfer.

While online cosmetology schools are hard to find, finding a convenient option isn’t. Many of the larger and most highly regarded cosmetology schools have training salons in multiple U.S. cities. Odds are, you’ll be able to find an affordable high-quality institute near you.

Aveda Institutes (59 locations worldwide)

Aveda Institutes are famous for their avocation of nature-based hair and skin products. The company was founded in 1978 and their environmentally conscious slant has been their major selling point over the years. If Aveda’s holistic values complement yours, you might want to look into one of their academic programs. Students can choose to specialize in cosmetology, skin care, manicuring, massage therapy, and/or spa therapy. Program offerings vary by location.

  • Accreditation: Aveda Institutes are accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts & Sciences (NACCAS)
  • Cost: The average cost for tuition is $20,000
  • Financial Aid: Aveda offers financial aid to qualifying students. Contact the Aveda Institute to which you are applying for details.

Elegance International (EI) School of Professional Makeup

EI was the world’s first school of professional makeup. the campus is located just off of Hollywood Blvd near The Kodak Theatre, Paramount Studios and other inspirational attractions for makeup students. The Artistry of Makeup (AOM) program prepares students for several makeup professions. To graduate, students will complete the following courses: beauty and corrective makeup, theatrical/live performance makeup, high fashion photographic makeup, beginning prosthetics workshop, Television (including HDTV) makeup, and film makeup.

  • Accreditation: EI is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
  • Cost: Total tuition is $18,685.00.
  • Financial Aid: Beyond Federal aid, EI offers monthly financing assistance for qualifying students.

Toni&Guy Academies

The Toni&Guy began over 40 years ago in England as a family run salon. Currently, the company runs 40 salons and 20 Toni&Guy Academy locations throughout the U.S. and Canada, including three Advanced Academy locations. The company takes a hands-on approach to learning that prepares students for real salon environments and customer service. They also use video and live instructor demonstrations and textbooks to drive home the curriculum. Most Toni&Guy cosmetology programs require 10 months for completion.

  • Accreditation: Currently, not every Toni&Guy Academy is accredited by NACCAS. Please contact the academy to which you are applying for details.
  • Cost: Tuition varies among schools. The hair stylist program begins at $15,000.
  • Financial aid: Assistance is limited to Federal aid for qualifying students.

ARROJO Cosmetology

ARROJO Cosmetology is a private school located in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. The school is connected to a studio whose stylists augment the program with guest lectures and demonstrations. ARROJO strives to keep classes small to give students the attention they need. Course curriculum is organized into four learning units: Introduction to Fundamentals, Cut and Color Techniques, Apply Your Knowledge, and Perfect Your Skills. Students will also take classes in nail and skin care. They offer advanced classes for continuing education, such as editorial styling and salon fundamentals boot camp.

  • Accreditation: ARROJO Cosmetology is accredited by NACCAS
  • Cost: Tuition is $14,700. The estimated fee for books and supplies is $2,000, and registration is $100.
  • Financial aid: Arrojo Cosmetology is not yet approved for participation in federal financial aid programs.

Vidal Sassoon Academy

Vidal Sassoon enjoys a reputation as one of the world’s foremost salons. They tout a teaching method that is based on the theory of multiple intelligences, founded by Harvard University’s Howard Gardner. At Vidal Sassoon, students will learn cutting, coloring, fashion trends, makeup and multicultural techniques. Vidal Sassoon academies can be found in nearly every state, making it easy for students to tour the school closest to home. But if you want to travel, a new academy just opened in London.

  • Accreditation: Vidal Sassoon Academy  is not accredited.
  • Cost: Tuition is $22,500. An additional $1,456.38 is required for an advanced cosmetology kit.
  • Financial aid: Vidal Sassoon offers no financial aid. However, the school does provide extended payment options and discount incentives.

Paul Mitchell Schools

Paul Mitchell students receive a comprehensive education that prepares them for an array of careers. The curriculum for each program is designed according to three learning phases. With each progression, students advance from learning the fundamentals to making new rules. Every location offers a different combination of courses. Programs include Barber to Cosmetology Crossover and Cosmetology to Barber Crossover, Nail and Skin Academies, and Skin Care, among many others.

  • Accreditation: The full Paul Mitchell branch is accredited by NACCAS
  • Cost: Tuition varies from state to state. At the Paul Mitchell School in St. Louis, students pay $16,500 for tuition and $3,130 for required supplies; for the same program in Spokane, Wash., students pay $11,000 for tuition and $2,250 for supplies.
  • Financial aid: Federal aid is available.

Part III. Breaking Into the Field

To learn more about this exciting industry, dig deeper into cosmetology and beauty websites. Definitely check out O*NET OnLine, as well; this website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor, offers extensive details on the tasks, work styles, and wages for your profession.

Better yet, interview your favorite hair stylist, nail technician, or esthetician about their job. Ask about what they like and don’t like about their work, how they got started and if they have any advice.

It’s a relief to know that job opportunities for new graduates are on the rise 2013. Even so, you need to stand out from the crowd when applying for your first position. One approach to preparing your portfolio and resume is to explore job postings on trusted job boards:

Search for the positions you’re interested in with or without specifying location. Read through the job descriptions and requirements to get a sense of the qualities and skills employers are looking for in a new hire. Keep those observations in mind when you sit down to work on your resume. Cater your cover letter to common qualification across all job listings; if you see ‘schedule flexibility’ on a lot of job announcements, for example, then be sure to highlight your willingness to work on weekends.

Beauty Schools Directory has suggestions on how to create your cosmetology resume, as does Salon Success Academy. The latter also has fantastic advice on how to create a stellar portfolio. The current trend for portfolios is toward online designs with high quality images.

School is expensive, and so is room and board. More often than not, the financial aid available to you will be in the form of federal loans. But always contact your program to be sure. Also, look far and wide for other funding options. Check websites like Scholarships.com and Beauty School Network for opportunities. Beauty Schools Directory, for example, awards a $2,500 cosmetology scholarship each year.

Time to Get Started

You’ve made it this far into your research on careers in cosmetology. What to do now? First and foremost, keep up with style trends. Read magazines like Modern Salon, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Makeup Artist Magazine, as well as the fashion sections of your favorite newspapers. Pay attention to the hair and makeup styles of your favorite musicians, actors, TV stars, and other cultural figures. Scour the web for articles, blogs, and inspirational images on Pinterest. Keep your eyes open and mind open as you enter into an exciting career in cosmetology. You have a ton of work ahead of you, but don’t fret. Cosmetology is a highly-rewarding, ever-changing industry.