Maybe you’ve been dreaming of beauty school your whole life, or maybe the idea only recently surfaced. Maybe you’re fresh out of high school and itching to get started in The Real World, or maybe you’re making a mid-life career change. Maybe the pandemic got you reevaluating things, including your dreams and your long-term goals. Whatever your reason for landing on this article, it’s clear you have one extremely specific question in mind: How long is cosmetology school? The answer will vary for many reasons, all of which we unpack below.
Before we go any further, we should define what cosmetology is—and what it isn’t. In the beauty industry, cosmetology is the main umbrella term. A person licensed in cosmetology would be able to provide hair, nails, and skin care services to clients. Other related licenses include barbering, esthetics, nail technology, and even massage therapy.
A cosmetology program is more comprehensive and includes instruction on long and short hair, nails, and skin. The focus of a barbering program is narrower: The focus of a barbering program is normally all about hair. Barbering students might learn nails (or they might not). Barbering students also learn straight razor techniques. Cosmetology students learn hair coloring and chemical services (perms, relaxers). Some states might have further distinctions between barbering and cosmetology licenses, but nails straight razors, and chemical services are usually the main differences.
That depends on your goals. If you’ve been dreaming of becoming a hairstylist for all people, a cosmetology license is likely the right route. If you’re all about haircutting, then barbering might be a good fit. If you know for certain you simply want to focus on nails, then a nail technician license would be the way to go. Ditto if your goal is to be an esthetician. You’d focus on an esthetics program.
And guess what? You can always earn a second license somewhere down the road. So, for example, if you become a licensed esthetician, but after a few years you decide you want to offer clients nail services as well, you could pursue an additional license. Learn more about what to keep in mind when considering a second license.
It depends primarily on two things: Which state the school is located in (and presumably where you’d be licensed) and which program you choose (i.e., cosmetology, barbering, esthetics, etc.).
In order to sit for a state’s licensing exam, the state will require that you have a certain number of hours of instruction. The number will vary depending on the state and on the specific program (for example, a full cosmetology program vs. a nail technology program).
Because a cosmetology license is the most comprehensive, it tends to require the most hours. Narrower programs, like nail technology and esthetics, require fewer hours. But exactly how many hours will depend on the state the school is in.
The American Association of Cosmetology Schools provides national averages:
Barbering tends to be only slightly less than cosmetology, weighing in at 1500 hours of instruction, on average. All that said, we know the REAL answer you’re looking for is this: How many months or years does it take to complete beauty school?
A full-time cosmetology program will take between 10 and 15 months. Why such a range? Keep in mind that some states require as few as 1000 hours while others might require as many as 2300 hours.
If you go part time, it could take up to 24 months. If you throw community colleges into the mix, you’re definitely looking at 24 months, since they use semesters as their model, so you could be in school for four semesters.
Bottom line: Figure 10 months on the low end and 24 months on the high end, with a whole lot of variables affecting where you might fall.
And again, these variables include:
Another factor to consider is whether the program offers “hybrid” learning, which includes a mixture of remote work and in-class work. During the pandemic, many schools offered (and states accepted) hybrid options where students could complete certain hours remotely. (Often for theory-related materials.)
As we emerge from the pandemic, some schools/states are continuing to offer/accept hybrid options while others are now requiring that all students be physically present in the classroom. Make sure you understand the latest requirements for your state.
Yes! Here’s the directory where you can access the education and licensing requirements for your state.
The purpose of accreditation is to ensure that the school is holding itself to certain standards of quality and excellence in education. And that’s what accreditation does. The accrediting agency will inspect the school to make sure the school is meeting these standards.
Please note: We’re not suggesting that unaccredited schools don’t offer high-quality education. Some most certainly do, but you won’t necessarily have any way of knowing this for certain. You might talk to students and graduates who sing the school’s praises, but this means you’re relying on anecdotal evidence rather than the results of a formal vetting process through an objective third party. And remember: Recently-opened schools might not yet be eligible for accreditation, or they may be in the process of becoming accredited.
Another big reason to consider an accredited school: If you need federal financial aid, you must choose an accredited program.
While it’s a state-by-state decision (and decisions can and do change), currently all states require a high school diploma or GED to attend beauty school.
Finding the right program will be critical to your overall chance of success. Here are some strategies:
Two words for success: SHOW UP. Your beauty school education is based on the number of hours you successfully complete, so showing up diligently day after day is the most important step you can take.
Because regular attendance is such a huge part of a student’s success, think about all the different scenarios in your life that could affect attendance. Consider childcare, transportation, responsibilities at home, whether you have a job, and so forth. Then, plan accordingly.
Your career doesn’t start when you graduate. Your career starts when you enter cosmetology school. The state licensing exam is simply another item on your to-do list; it’s not the bridge between beauty school and a thriving career in the beauty industry. YOU need to build that bridge, and you need to start building it while you’re in school.
How so? Network with instructors, peers, graduates, and salon owners. Keep in touch with clients you service in the student clinic who love your work. Have an active and professional social media presence. Learn essential soft skills (like how to effectively communicate with clients) while you’re in school. Learn business skills as well, like how to sell retail, how to make recommendations, how to set goals, and how to ask for referrals. Practice these skills while you’re in school. Don’t wait until you land your first gig out of beauty school.
Hint: You might need to take the initiative and do some of this learning on your own. Luckily at Milady, we believe in always pursuing knowledge, so we’ve created budget-friendly online certifications you can take at your own pace, like our Milady RISE Certification in Finance Fundamentals.
Researching beauty schools can be exciting and confusing at the same time. We hope this article provided insights into what cosmetology is and how long cosmetology school will take to complete. We wish you much success on your journey.