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Free Cosmetology School Advice: Don't Go To Hair & Beauty School Without These Tips


Not only have I actually attended cosmetology college, also known as hair school, beauty school or similar terms, but I spent a lot of time researching the various hair and beauty school options when I was shopping for the right school to attend.

Cosmetology schools have sprung up like weeds over the past five years offering a wide range of courses, schedules, tuition costs, related fees, rules, regulations and other important considerations.

Before you sign on the dotted contract line, it's important to gather as much information about your school. Cosmetology schools must compete with others for students. Therefore, during an open house the school's representatives will give you the basic facts but gloss over some hidden information it would be helpful to have.

The purpose of this article is to share all the basic Cosmetology School details while including some information that might not be as obvious to consider when selecting a school. I personally loved my time in cosmetology school but wished I had discovered some of the hidden challenges that did not appear until I was already enrolled and attending classes.

My goal is to help all potential cosmetology students to consider all the facts.

Cosmetology Programs

Some cosmetology schools, also known as hair or beauty schools, may offer a full blown cosmetology program or may offer individual programs in hair, skin or nails.

Each state has their own specific licensing requirements based on a total number of hours attended for each course of study.

Some states require as little as 800 hours for barber programs while other states require up to 2100 hours. Apprentice programs are available in some states and generally double the required number of hours.

In the State of Texas where I went to cosmo school, cosmetologists must log 1,500 hours in state approved courses and curriculum in order to be qualified to take their State Boards.

Estheticians or licensed skin care professionals must complete 750 hours in esthetics while nail technicians must complete 600 hours.

Plan Your Desired Course Of Study

The first cosmetology school I attended offered separate programs in cosmetology and esthetics. The school didn't offer a separate program in nails although short courses on both nails and skin care were offered in the full blown cosmetology program.

Some schools offer full cosmetology, esthetics or nails. Other schools only offer just cosmetology or just esthetics or just nails. Depending on the focus of the school, they may offer a combination of the different programs.

Be sure when searching for a school you understand exactly what courses are available and how many hours are required for each course.

Both of the cosmetology schools I attended was focused on making sure a high percentage of students passed the State Boards.

Day Classes Versus Night Classes

The larger cosmetology colleges may offer a multiple of programs ranging from hair, skin, nails and make-up. They also may offer day classes as well as evening classes. At the first cosmetology school I attended I went to evening classes. The second school only offered day classes. At both schools the majority of students worked either full time or part time jobs to pay for their cosmo college tuition.

Depending on the type of part time employment you desire, you may want to weigh your options carefully when selecting daytime or evening classes. Which school is better for you - day or night? Only you can decide.

While most day courses run Tuesday through Saturday with Sunday and Mondays off, evening classes run either Monday through Friday evening or Tuesday through Friday evening.

If your part time employment requires Saturday hours, day school may not work for you. However, if you can adjust your schedule, I found day classes to be much less grueling than evening school since I was able to attend classes well rested.

Evening school was more challenging for me due to the fact I would go to class right after a full day of work. By the time evening school was over I was completely exhausted and would almost crawl to my care. Day school seemed slower paced to me and I would have enough energy to put in 4-5 hours of work after school was over.

Of course every person will be different and have different priorities and levels of energy. I should mention that in my evening class all my fellow students sucked down Red Bull and other forms of energy pills at every break. This was not the case with my day school classmates who seemed more relaxed and balanced.

Although schools will vary their times of attendance, most day schools generally run between the hours of 8:00 and 9:00 am and end between 3:00 and 3:30 pm.

Mandatory School Attendance Days

A common problem with cosmetology students is absenteeism. Although most cosmetology schools won't tell you about the attendance challenges when you are visiting the school as a potential student, it is a very common problem.

Why are there struggles getting students to classes?

  • Burnout - Cosmetology school is physically grueling compared to other types of less physical colleges. Students suffer from high burn out rates which include physical exhaustion, boredom, lack of sleep or other issues and respond by missing classes.

  • Scheduling conflicts - Due to the high cost of cosmetology school, the majority of students work at full or part time jobs. At times work schedules will conflict with school schedules.

  • Illness - Due to the higher risk of contacting germs from a constant stream of clients, cosmo students have a higher rate of taking sick days.

  • Heavy Party Time - A majority of cosmo students are in their early twenties. Like all students in that age range, they enjoy drinking, partying and socializing. Students, especially night class students, will often leave school and head to the bars. After a late night drinking some students will drag themselves to their day jobs but not be able to handle attending classes and will skip.

  • Personal commitments - At the day school I attended many of the students were new mothers. Some of the students were pregnant. These students missed schools because of their doctor appointments or spending time with their kids and family.

Cosmetology schools address chronic absenteeism in a number of ways which may include cash or other awards for attending school or punitive actions including suspension or permanent dismissal.

Most cosmetology schools have mandatory attendance days. A lot of day schools require attendance on Saturdays as a minimum. Friday night attendance is often mandatory in night cosmo schools. During mandatory days you must clock in on time and are not permitted to leave the school early, which is also a common problem at schools.

It is important to ask each cosmetology school you evaluate what their policies are regarding absenteeism, mandatory attendance days and incentives or penalties levied on missing students.

You Must Always Clock In And Out

Both of the schools I attended had time clock requirements. At both schools I had to sign in as well as clock in with my special badge which contained by student ID. My student ID was registered with the state which automatically tracked all the hours I logged towards my cosmetology coursework.

Each school allowed for a clock in/clock out grace period. At both schools I could clock in 15 minutes before school started and could clock out 15 minutes after class was over. However, if I did not clock in within 15 minutes of class starting, I could be sent home without being allowed to enter the classroom. This would have been tragic since every hour is precious.

Depending on state rules, if you leave the cosmo school building at any time, you must clock out. If the state has these requirements, if you are caught outside of the building at any time and have not officially clocked out, you will be fined and may be suspended by your school.

The time clock is a very serious matter in cosmetology school. At one of my schools if you forgot to clock in when you returned from a lunch or rest break, even if you logged additional hours, they were lost forever. This was heartbreaking since the time was spent but the hours were not counted.

It was also considered a major crime if anyone but the student clocked in or signed in.

When evaluating a school be sure to ask about how their time clock or sign in system works. Ask if there is a grace period for signing in and out and what the consequences are if you miss the late window for clock in. You should also ask how lunches and breaks are scheduled and what your sign in/out requirements.

You Must Always Clock In And Out

Both of the schools I attended had time clock requirements. At both schools I had to sign in as well as clock in with my special badge which contained by student ID. My student ID was registered with the state which automatically tracked all the hours I logged towards my cosmetology coursework.

Alabama State Board of Cosmetology Alaska State Board of Cosmetology

Arizona State Board of Cosmetology

Arkansas State Board of Cosmetology



Connecticut State Board of Cosmetology


District of Columbia State Board of Cosmetology

Florida State Board

Georgia State Board

Hawaii State Board

Idaho State Board

Illinois State Board of Cosmetology

Indiana State Board

Iowa State Board

Kansas State Board

Kentucky State Board












New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio State Board



Rhode Island

South Carolina

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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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