You’ve probably heard the saying that to feel your best, you should look your best. Cosmetology is a profession that puts that theory into practice. As a cosmetology student, you’ll learn how to help others look and feel their best. From haircutting, coloring and styling to manicures, pedicures, and skin care, you’ll learn the ins and outs of salon and spa treatments and techniques, essential safety and sanitation procedures, and even some aspects of small business management.
A cosmetology certificate or cosmetology degree will prepare you to offer an array of beauty services to clients, including hair cutting, styling, coloring, nail care and design, waxing, and other types of skin and beauty care. Depending on your career goals, a cosmetology certificate or diploma may be best for you. Both paths qualify you to sit for your state’s cosmetology licensing exam.
If you’re interested in earning a cosmetology degree, you may be wondering: "Is cosmetology a technical degree?” The answer is yes. In fact, cosmetology degrees are frequently offered by community colleges and technical schools. Just like other technical degree programs, a cosmetology degree program will prepare you for work in the field with a specialized course of professional education and opportunities to learn through hands–on experience.
You’ll also have a chance to learn some of the basic management, customer service and organizational skills necessary to run your own cosmetology practice. A certification, diploma or degree in cosmetology could be your pathway to work as a hair–stylist, beautician, skin–care consultant, makeup artist, nail technician, or even a business owner.
If you have a strong sense of style, great people skills, and an eye for beauty, this could be the perfect profession for you. Depending on the career path you choose, a cosmetology degree or certificate program might be enough to help you break into your field. If you do have aspirations to run or own a business in the beauty industry, you may want to work toward a degree.
Either path will make you eligible to sit for the mandatory licensing examination in your state.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education–recognized accreditor for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency–based education, or other education models that operate under a for–profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
Programmatic accreditation plays an important part in the study of cosmetology. This is because cosmetology degree and certificate programs are both viable paths to immediate work in the field. While these programs aren’t typically regionally accredited, there are several Department of Education–recognized programmatic accrediting groups working in this discipline. A stamp of approval from one of the leading groups can offer some quality assurance for an otherwise independent and unaffiliated program. It also opens a pathway to federal student loans and financial aid opportunities.
The National Accrediting Commission for Career Arts & Sciences (NACCAS) is the leading accreditation agency for beauty and cosmetology schools. In addition to NACCAS, related programmatic accrediting agencies include:
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
To learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Cosmetology Certificates and Degrees Are There?
Certificate/Diploma Programs in Cosmetology
A cosmetology certificate or diploma program is your most direct (and most affordable) route to working in the field. Most programs will require you to have earned a high–school diploma or GED. If you’ve cleared this basic threshold, you can earn a cosmetology certificate or diploma in as little as twelve months. You’ll get a well–rounded education in hair, nails, makeup, and skincare as well as basic safety, health, legal, and sanitation concerns. A certificate program will also provide the opportunity for hands–on practice in a student salon, where you’ll learn how to shape hair, administer facials, and advise treatment for skin, nail, or hair conditions. Look for a program that is accredited by a Department of Education–recognized association, both so that you can access student financial aid and so that you will be eligible to sit for your licensing exam upon program completion. If you take these steps, you could be on the fast–track to working in a full–service salon.
What Courses Will I Take in a Cosmotology Certificate Program?
- Disorders of the Hair and Scalp
- Hair Analysis
- Manicure and Pedicure
- Principles and Techniques of Treatment
- Safety and Sanitation
- Tools, Materials and Implements
Associate Degree in Cosmetology
An associate degree in cosmetology is a great option if you’d like to combine your beauty training with management and organizational coursework. An associate cosmetology degree program is typically a 60–credit, two–year commitment. As with a cosmetology certificate program, you’ll gain both instruction and hands–on training in hair, nail, and skin treatment. Likewise, you’ll learn how to ensure safe, sanitary, and legally–compliant working conditions; how to use and maintain the tools of the trade; and how to diagnose, treat and advise on a wide spectrum of cosmetic conditions. In addition, your associate degree in cosmetology will provide a more in–depth focus on business practices and principles, from customer care, human resources, and organizational leadership to communication, book–keeping, and supply chain management. Understanding these subjects can qualify you to manage or start your own practice, salon or spa.
What Courses Will I Take in a Cosmotology Associate Program?
- Advanced Nail Techniques
- Chemical Safety
- Disorders of the Hair and Scalp
- Hair Analysis
- Human Relations
- Principles of Management
- Safety and Sanitation
- Small Business Operations
Bachelor’s and Master’s of Cosmetology
Bachelor’s and master’s degrees aren’t typically offered in cosmetology. An associate cosmetology degree or cosmetology certificate will usually be enough to get your foot in the salon door. However, if you are looking for more business administration and managerial training to go with your technical skills and practical knowledge, some colleges and universities may offer industry–specific courses like health & beauty management, or salon & spa management. Or you may simply want to continue into a general business degree program. If you have career aspirations that involve salon or spa ownership, or if you’d like to be part of the leadership structure for a prominent cosmetics company, it might benefit you to build on your associate degree in cosmetology with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
If this path sounds right for you, check out:
You might also be interested in continuing to a master’s degree program in business administration. There are a lot of great online options out there for the working professional with growing ambitions. If that sounds like you, go to:
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
You will need a license to practice cosmetology. This will require you to sit for a national exam, which may include written, oral and/or practical dimensions. Though this is a national licensing exam, it is administered at the state level. Licensing requirements and testing conditions will vary from state to state.
Furthermore, your specific state board of cosmetology may only recognize programs accredited by certain accrediting bodies. Be sure you know what accrediting bodies your state board recognizes and, most importantly, be sure that one of these bodies recognizes your school. If you plan to change states at any stage in your career, be sure you are familiar with the licensing requirements in your new state.
In most cases, if the cosmetology degree or certificate you’ve earned is from a school or program recognized by a U.S. Department of Education–approved accreditor, you should be eligible to earn your license and begin practicing right away.
Check with the National–Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology to learn more.
What Can You Do With a Cosmetology Certificate or Degree?
A cosmetology certificate or degree will provide you with the practical skills and qualifications to work in a full service salon, provide expert skin care consultation, apply makeup for stage productions, or even own your own luxury spa. To learn more about top careers in your field, check below:
What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Cosmetology Degree?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cosmetology and related beauty care fields are part of a growing industry. Between 2016 and 2026, the field is expected to grow at a rate of 13%, adding more than 87,600 new jobs in that time. Below are the median and mean salaries for a few of the most popular jobs in the field, as of 2018:
|Career||Median Annual Pay|
|Manicurists and Pedicurists||$24,330|
|Barbers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists||$24,300|
|Personal Appearance Workers||$31,440|
|Other Personal Care/Service Workers||$40,160|
Are There Professional Cosmetology Associations or Societies I should join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for cosmetology associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS)
- Cosmetologists Chicago (CC)
- International SalonSpa Business Network (ISBN)
- Professional Beauty Association (PBA)
- The American Board of Certified Haircolorists (ABCH)
- Associated Hair Professionals (AHP)