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Cheap Hair Cuts & Services: Secrets Of Successful Cosmetology School Visits


If the thought of having your hair, skin or nails done at a cosmetology school makes your blood run cold, you're missing a great opportunity to have quality work done at a great price. How do I know? Not only have I been a cosmetology student at two different schools, as a result of what I learned in school, I now regularly have services performed at the schools I attended.

Like everything in the hair and beauty world, knowledge is power. If you know how the system works, you can work it to your advantage.

Yes, there are lots of horror stories about hair, skin and nails being destroyed by students at the local cosmetology colleges. However, these type of incidents are more the exception than the rule.

If you haven't taken advantage of your local cosmetology school but would love to give it a whirl, read on and I'll tell your the secrets of how to get great services with minimal risk for great bargains.

Advantages & Disadvantages Of Beauty School Services

There are both advantages and disadvantages to having hair and beauty services performed at local cosmo colleges.

Keep in mind that the larger schools from national chains such as Paul Mitchell, TIGI, Redken and Sassoon will offer more advantages then locally owned colleges that are one of a kind. However, whether a large college or privately owned, a lot of the advantages and disadvantages are shared across the board for prospective clients who visit.

Listed below are the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages include:

1. Cost of services provided are deeply discounted. Call in advance for rates. 2. Students need clients to practice their trade. They tend to be more attentive then long term hairdressers who may be suffering from burnout or boredom. 3. Seasoned hairdressers who are trained as teachers constantly supervise the work of all students. 4. The larger national schools like TIGI and Paul Mitchell teach the latest hair and beauty trends and techniques which students are taught to implement in their services. 5. Many schools welcome last minute walk in clients which offers a level of convenience for last minute hair and beauty needs. 6. Large national chain related schools offer their name brand products to clients at a slight discount. Paul Mitchell schools usually have a store attached to their schools which are run by students learning to recommend and sell retail to future customers. 7. Cosmo schools will sometimes offer no-cost services to regular clients in exchange for acting as a hair model. 8. Finding a Honors or senior student about to graduate offer the opportunity to find a great new hairdresser that is fresh and excited and focused on their clients.

Disadvantages include:

1. Student work, especially performed by the most junior students, may take a lot longer to perform. Students may need to regularly stop and watch the teacher show them different techniques or point out any risks to performing certain techniques. 2. Groups of students may watch your services being performed if you have requested advanced hair treatments such as relaxers, perms or advanced color. 3. Most cosmetology schools do not offer hair extensions or sophisticated updo designs. Specialty hair services may or may not be available depending on the interests of individual students. Ask when you call to discuss availability and rates. 4. Although you request a specific student for a made-in-advance appointment, if the student does not attend school on that day, you will be assigned a different student or denied services. This is a very real risk since cosmo students are notorious for missing classes on non-mandatory days. Trust me, I know this better than most. 5. If you are a walk-in at a cosmo school, you may have to wait until a student becomes available. This can be avoided with an advance appointment. 6. Some schools will not accept advance appointments and it is a first come/first serve system. 7. Except in unusual circumstances you will not leave the cosmo school with color or a cut that is the same quality of a big name celebrity hairdresser. Although bad hair cuts and color may happen under rare circumstances these experiences are rare. However, keep in mind you are being styled by a student. 8. Students graduate and drop out of school. If you bond with a particular student there is no guarantee they always be at the school for more than a short time. The best way to handle this risk is to make a list of all the students you would like to work with and when one student leaves, move to the next one on your list.

I was actually amazed at the number of "regulars" that both cosmetology clients had visit students for hair treatments. The "regulars" were considered a hot commodity by the students. Not only did they tend to tip better, they generally had reasonable expectations, were easy to work with and did not mind letting other students observe.

If you understand the pros and cons of having work done by students you might actually enjoy hanging out there on a regular basis.

Start With A Trial Run

Before entrusting your hair, skin or nails to a cosmetology student for major work such as application of color, chemicals or a drastic makeover, start slow to get your bearings and do your homework.

All services at cosmetology colleges are greatly reduced in cost compared to a full service salon. Therefore, call and make an appointment for a simple shampoo and blow dry. Skip the cutting, chemicals or fancy hair treatments for the first visit.

Another option is to request a scalp massage followed up by a shampoo and blow dry. While the student is working with you ask to see their "book" which is a portfolio of hairstyles they specialize in creating. You can also ask what they specialize in...color, chemicals, cutting, styling or other.

I specialized in braiding, long hair care, updos and extensions. My own portfolio was designed to showcase those areas of my interest and expertise. A student interested in cutting would have a very different portfolio to show you.

By talking to your student you can figure out if they would be a good match for you to visit for additional hair services in the future.

Cosmo Students Are Constantly Supervised

Every school that I have attended or visited for services is strict about making sure the students working "on the floor" are constantly supervised by an instructor who has extensive hair experience. Most teachers at cosmo colleges come from a long career in the hairdressing industry. They will constantly be checking their student's work. However, until you get your bearings, stick with safe services and pay attention to who the top students are.

At most schools, the best cosmo students are known as Honor Students or Advanced Students. Ask who those students are and then watch the work they do. You can also ask for students about to graduate. Most states require many hundreds of hours before graduation from cosmo college. A student almost finished with their classes will have logged many hours behind the chair and will be more competent than a student right out of Core Classes.

Once you have identified the most advanced students and watched their work, jot down a few names of students you might like to have work on your hair. Most cosmo schools allow visiting clients to request specific students to work on their hair by name. It may cost a few dollars more but the final cost will still be much less than a regular salon.

Avoid making appointments on days when students are notorious for skipping school. Yes, it's true, cosmetology students suffer from school burnout, especially over the long haul and tend to skip school on non-mandatory days. Full time students who are off on Sunday and Monday also tend to show up at school on Tuesdays.

A great rule of thumb is to call the school and ask what days are best for making appointments for the least wait time and most access to students. Some schools will not accept appointments of any kind during theory days or during special events.

Set Your Expectations

Even at the big name cosmo schools like Paul Mitchell, Toni & Guy and Vidal Sassoon, you will not be receiving the same level of expertise that you might receive from a high end, full service salon that charges many times the fee. You most likely will not find a cosmo student that cuts hair like Sally Hershberger, applied extensions like Ken Paves or creates updos like Patrick Cameron.

However, if you have reasonable expectations about the work for the amount of money you pay, you could find a diamond in the rough budding hairdresser that you can for a long term relationship with.

Learn The School's Rules

Every school has their own rules about when they will take clients and under what conditions. If you don't have a pre-arrange appointment with a specific student and opt to walk-in, you may wish to call first. Some schools only take clients on certain days and during certain times.

Other schools have a first come/first served policy. If they fill up quickly, they may close their book to any other clients. If you book a set appointment, in advance, with a specific student you will avoid the risk of showing up the school when services are not available.

Most schools have mandatory attendance days. At my evening cosmetology school I had to be at school every Friday evening. At my day cosmo college I had to be at school every Saturday. If I did not attend classes on mandatory days there were severe penalties. Some cosmo schools offer both day and evening classes. Therefore, services are also available for day and evening appointments.

At the day cosmo school I attended services were only available from 10 AM until 2 PM. These hours were strictly enforced since students attended classes from 8 AM until 3:30. Students also work on each other when clients are not on the floor and they must attend theory classes.

Tipping - The Biggest Tip Of All

Trust me, cosmetology school is hard. I attended full time classes and part time classes. Although I loved every minute of school, both curriculums were grueling.

Students are pushed hard to learn massive amounts of hair, skin and nail information. They take weekly tests, study theory, watch a never ending stack of videos on how to cut, style and color hair and are required to clean their stations and participate in other school activities. At my evening school I was required to work in the store selling products to clients and other visitors to the school.

Most students, whether day or evening students, have jobs to help pay for the tuition, which is quite expensive compared to years gone by. They also have homework assignments.

When a student works hard to please a client, they appreciate being tipped which is the client's way of showing they enjoyed the service provided. If the service was horrible or the student was unprofessional or discourteous then of course you should not tip. However if the student worked hard, did their very best and you enjoyed their work, please tip them.

How much should you tip? It depends on what you can afford but keep in mind the student is not getting paid to perform services, In fact, the irony of cosmo school is that the students pay the school to work on the floor for visiting clients who pay the school for their services. Granted the rates are greatly discounted but it is still an interesting model whose irony is not lost on the students.

A good rule of thumb for tipping is 15% of your total bill. More if you are feeling very pleased. Keep in mind that some schools charge four dollars for a haircut. Providing a dollar tip on a four dollar bill would be acceptable and much appreciated.

Knowing How To Speak Up

Once you have visited the cosmo college, identified the most advanced or Honors students and their specialties you are ready to go for additional hair services.

Like any visit to a hair salon, you are responsible for doing your own homework. If you desire a new cut or color, take the time to find photos of what you would like. It is never a good idea, whether at a salon or cosmo college, to show up unprepared to show or discuss your hair goals.

If a cosmo student does not feel they can perform the services you request, they will consult with the teach who with either guide them through the service, help them do the work or call in another more advanced student.

If a student suggests a style, color or other treatment that you are uncomfortable with, protest firmly. If they persist, ask to see the teacher. Cosmo students at most schools are required to call in their teachers if the client requests that they do so.


Visiting a cosmetology school for hair and beauty services offers both advantages and disadvantages. If you understand how to work the system and take your time to do your homework to understand the ins and outs of the school of your choice, it can be a rewarding and cost effective experience.

If you want to talk more about this or other hair care articles on or anywhere else, please post a message on's Hair Talk Forums.

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