12 Tips on How to Prepare for Cosmetology School
Milady | May 10, 2023 | 15 min read
Maybe you’re the go-to hair stylist in your family, or maybe you’ve been giving manicures to everyone in the neighborhood for as long as you can remember.
Maybe you’ve dreamed of owning your own salon . . . or doing makeup on the set of a Netflix series . . . or being part of Fashion Week in Paris.
Have you reached that point where everything inside of you is telling you to enroll in beauty school? It’s time to make it real. Let us show you how to prepare for cosmetology school.
Table of Contents
- Know your “why”.
- Be open to changing your “why.”
- Make the call, send the email, walk through the door.
- Remember that you’re enrolling in school for a reason—to LEARN.
- Understand that skills take time to develop.
- Know what to expect from your program.
- Understand how program protocols have changed due to the pandemic.
- Be honest about time management and challenges
- Be prepared to learn soft skills in addition to practical skills.
- Be realistic.
- Commit to lifelong learning.
- Know that you will find your path.
1. Know your “why.”
Knowing how to prepare for cosmetology school is a tough task but asking yourself this “Why do you want to attend beauty school?” is a good first step. Knowing what your “why” is—and making sure it’s concrete and focused—will keep you motivated over the long haul. Because like so many things in life, success in this industry is a marathon, not a sprint.
For example, if your why is “I want to own my own salon within two years of graduation,” think about all the steps you need to take and map out an action plan. Yes, one of the biggest first steps will be beauty school. Then, understand the many different steps within your beauty school’s program, whether it’s ten months or two years (or something in between).
Always keep your eye on your why, but celebrate the small successes along the way, like graduating from theory to the clinic floor, sitting for the state licensure exam, and starting your first gig.
“I knew beauty school was the right choice for me because as a creative person, I see hair as a form of art, and I wanted to provide others with self esteem and confidence through the power of outer beauty.” ~ Gabrielle P.
2. Be open to changing your “why.”
Dreams evolve, and that’s OK. You might go into beauty school thinking you want to work in a salon, but maybe somewhere along the way, you discover a passion for makeup and travel—and you want to figure out a life that includes both. Revisit your “why” and adjust, as needed, along with the necessary steps.
3. Make the call, send the email, walk through the door.
When it comes to beauty school, sometimes the hardest thing is making the initial inquiry into a school’s program. DO IT. Make the call, request information, walk through the door. Admissions representatives are eager to speak with you and learn about your why—and how their program can help you achieve it.
Do you find yourself asking any of the following questions?
- Will I fit in?
- Will this work for me?
- Is this a silly idea?
You’re not alone. So many current students (as well as successful graduates) asked those same questions. Uncertainty is natural when you start something new—anything new.
But admissions reps can help alleviate your fears by answering your questions, providing helpful info, introducing you to students, and showing you the possibilities.
That said, you shouldn’t be a passive participant in this process. Treat any meetings you have with admissions representatives like you would a job interview: Research the program online, compile your questions, and come prepared. Ask to meet with current students to get a vibe for the day-to-day life.
“My best advice I can give is do your research! I believe it’s important to really make sure you understand the industry and its future. Make sure you understand what the school is going to teach you, and make sure that school is a fit for you. I do believe that the school you go to can make a huge impact on the way you view the industry. Interview the options you have, find out from past students how they felt about the school they attended, and really get a feel for what they have to offer.” ~ Tracie M.
4. Remember that you’re enrolling in school for a reason—to LEARN.
There’s a famous quote that goes like this: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” If you’re interested in beauty school, you likely already welcome the opportunity to learn from experts in the field.
Sure, you might enter your program with some measure of talent and loads of creativity. But not everyone enters with the same skill sets. It’s perfectly OK if you don’t have any real experience, just a dream.
And even if you’ve taught yourself some skills over the years, you still need to show a willingness to re-learn what you think you already know. Your instructors are here to teach you proper techniques and standards. Before you can “break” the rules, you need to learn them inside out.
Bottom line: be a sponge!
“Stay focused and organized. There is much to learn during this course, and it is important to not get distracted and fall behind. Stay on top of your hours and work because graduation approaches faster than you think. Most importantly, have fun! Beauty school is a great experience and should be enjoyed every day!” ~ Gabrielle P.
5. Understand that skills take time to develop.
This aligns with the previous point. It’s easy to look at what people are doing on social media and think “why can’t I just do that?”
But here’s the thing: Developing expertise takes time.
When things are challenging—with beauty school, with life, with juggling all the demands in both—remember to be patient with yourself, with others, and with the overall process.
No one wakes up knowing how to create a perfectly arched eyebrow or how to apply acrylic tips. Social influencers often make these things look effortless, but don’t forget, you’re seeing one or two images or videos—not everything left behind on the cutting room floor. You’re also not seeing the months and years it took them to learn these skills in the first place.
Myra Betances is a cosmetologist at Affinity Hair Salon and Spa, and she also works as an instructor at Tri-State Cosmetology Institute. (Both businesses are in El Paso, Texas.) She says, “The biggest advice I would give my younger self is to be patient. Everything eventually falls into place, and you will end up where you need to be.”
So don’t beat yourself up if you feel you should be better than you are when you enter school. Everyone who is serious about this industry starts by learning the same foundational elements, like how to hold a comb and bobby pin, and building from there.
6. Know what to expect from your program.
Get to know the program you’re applying to by reviewing the website and any other relevant materials, like brochures and packets you get at career fairs. Talking to the school’s admissions counselor is also an excellent way to learn more about a program’s specifics.
In a general way, here’s what you can expect:
- Levels, phases, sections, modules, semesters—how a school structures its program will depend on the school itself.
- You’ll tackle theory-rich content first. From there, you might go even deeper into theory, like infection control and all the foundational practices.
- Then, somewhere in the middle of the program (and this can vary by state), you’ll transition onto the clinic floor where you’ll start taking guests.
- Towards the end of the program, you’ll start reviewing for your state’s licensing exam.
You’ll most likely start with theory. Then, the goal is to apply theories practically in a clinic setting. From there, programs tend to loop around, integrating more theory along with full blown salon work.
For the theory piece, you might be in a classroom or you might learn remotely (especially during the pandemic). Or your program might offer a hybrid: in-class and distance learning.
When you start on the clinic floor (other names include student salon or student clinic), you’ll be working on mannequins first before moving to people. Over the course of the program, you’ll get busier, seeing more guests as your skills progress.
Regular quizzes and tests are standard. As you complete various chapters, levels, or phases, your knowledge will be tested so that your instructors (and you!) can make sure you’re learning before moving on to a new section.
And, of course, regular testing ensures you’ll be better equipped to sit for and pass the state board theory exam.
7. Understand how program protocols have changed due to the pandemic.
We noted above that distance learning might be a feature of some programs. Due to the pandemic, distance learning became a feature in almost all programs to some extent.
The good news is that excellent technology already exists to facilitate remote learning, specifically CIMA, which is Milady’s digital learning platform. CIMA is all encompassing and includes everything from eBooks, videos, quizzes, and interactive tools that keep learning fun and engaging for all learners.
Many schools were using digital learning to some extent before COVID-19. The move to 100% digital learning became essential during the days when states were shut down. Because CIMA makes it so easy for successful distance learning, we suspect this trend will continue post-pandemic. More and more programs are likely to offer a hybrid model, where students might spend two or three days in the classroom and the remaining days learning from home.
8. Be honest with yourself (and others) about time management and any other challenges you’re facing.
Getting through beauty school will take work. And sometimes the work will be hard. Or daunting. Or seem downright impossible (on the surface, anyway). You might feel frustrated or even question why you decided to enroll in beauty school. Again, these are all natural feelings. Don’t despair if/when you experience them during school.
The biggest difference we see between full-time day students and part-time night students involves challenges with time management.
On average, full-time day students are recent high school or college graduates (obviously, there are exceptions). School is their main focus. Students who attend part time at night might be juggling a full-time day job, family responsibilities, or both (again, exceptions exist).
For the latter, being skilled in time management is especially important—and often incredibly challenging. We’re not trying to dissuade you from pursuing a night program. Just be sure you’re being realistic with yourself—and those in your orbit—about your responsibilities and the support you will need from them for the next 10 to 24+ months (depending on your program).
For example, if you’re married, you’ll want to discuss schedules, responsibilities, and expectations with your spouse so that everyone is on the same proverbial page. Ditto if you have kids. Of course, plenty of other life challenges exist, regardless if you’re full time or part time—from food insecurity, to safety issues at home, to financial worries, to everything in between. Self-care is essential in life, but especially important when immersed in a new program.
TIP: Your instructors will often be your biggest cheerleaders and people you can go to for guidance, moral support, and informal mentorship.
“I have wanted to attend esthetics school for about 10 years and had to wait for the timing to be right. I’m older than most of the girls in my class, but I really wanted to be able to spend the time and focus on learning everything. My boys are now raised and I felt like the timing to really put my focus on making my esthetics dream happen was now, so I jumped in!” ~ Tracie M.
9. Be prepared to learn soft skills in addition to practical skills.
You enroll in beauty school to learn a craft. But we guarantee—if you keep an open mind—you’ll learn so many important “soft skills.”
Below is an incomplete list of the soft skills you’ll likely develop:
- People skills – you’ll learn how to talk more effectively/clearly with instructors, peers, clients
- Listening skills – specifically active listening; this will be something you develop quickly as you work with more and more guests in the student clinic/salon
- Time management – not just in life, but also in your approach to the services you deliver
- Creative problem-solving – you’ll encounter challenges, from ornery guests to unrealistic expectations; your job is to find solutions that’ll make everyone happy
- Dependability – you need to show up, especially when you’re on the clinic floor—people are depending on you to be there
Soft skills won’t simply make you a better barber, salon owner, esthetician—these skills will make you a better human.
“While attending beauty school, I have learned how important it is to communicate with fellow students. Sharing ideas and giving positive feedback to one another can help you grow creatively and confidently. Another skill I have gained is decision making. When working with hair, it is your job as a stylist to make decisions formulating, cutting, and styling that complements your client best. You must offer suggestions to your clients that are most beneficial for their hair, face shape, and skin tone while of course making them happy.” ~ Gabrielle P.
10. Be realistic.
If you go into school with the expectation that when you graduate everything will automatically fall into place—you’ll open that salon, you’ll get that job in Hollywood, or you’ll have a boss who’ll hand you clients—think again.
You will fail and flounder at times. You will hear “no” at some point, and maybe more often than you’d like. You’ll need to network, market yourself, always have an elevator pitch at the ready, and work hard for your why.
Remember, success takes time, and beauty school is the first of many, many steps.
11. Commit to lifelong learning.
Your education won’t end once you finish the program. The most successful beauty school graduates commit to lifelong learning in their field and pay it forward to those coming up behind them, which often ends up being the greatest gift of all.
“I plan on taking continuing education classes in areas I want to strengthen my skills in. I am always eager to learn, and I am excited to expand my platform as a stylist and share my talents with the world.” ~ Gabrielle P.
12. Know that you will find your path.
The first few months of beauty school might feel blissful—like you’ve found your home—or overwhelming to the point you’re questioning whether you made the right decision. Both experiences are normal. If it’s the former, enjoy the ride and remember this feeling, since it will help when you inevitably encounter some bumps along the way.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Talk to your peers (some will commiserate, and others will lift you up). Talk to your instructors. Revisit your why and remind yourself that this is an essential step in achieving your dreams.
And, most of all, keep going. Over time, you will acclimate and thrive.
Whatever path you decide to take, we wish you much luck on your journey.
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Milady is on a mission to prove that a career in the beauty industry can lead to professional success and personal fulfillment. Our job is to create forward-thinking education that reshapes the industry and uplifts the next generation of beauty professionals. Let’s change the face of beauty. Learn more about Milady, here.