So you’re thinking about becoming a cosmetologist? You likely have a lot of questions, especially around how difficult cosmetology school really is. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: while cosmetology school does require dedication and hard work, it is very doable for most people willing to put in the effort.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to get a realistic idea of the challenges and commitment required.

In this article, we’ll start by looking at the different types of cosmetology programs and credentials you can obtain. Next, we’ll breakdown the core topics you’ll study and skills you’ll learn. We’ll then overview the hand-on requirements, like the minimum number of hours you’ll need to complete.

We’ll also discuss what to expect from licensing exams. Finally, we’ll end with an honest look at the workload and some tips for succeeding in cosmetology school.

The Different Cosmetology Programs and Credentials

Cosmetologist License

To become a licensed cosmetologist, individuals must complete a comprehensive cosmetology program from an accredited beauty school. These programs typically cover a wide range of subjects, including hair care, skincare, nail care, and makeup application.

Students learn both theory and practical skills through hands-on training. After completing the program, aspiring cosmetologists must pass a state licensing exam to obtain their cosmetologist license. This license allows them to work in various beauty establishments, such as salons, spas, and even movie sets.

Barbering License

For those interested in specializing in men’s haircuts and grooming, obtaining a barbering license is the way to go. Barbering programs usually focus on techniques specific to men’s hair and facial grooming. Students learn how to perform classic and modern haircuts, beard trims, and hot towel shaves.

They also gain knowledge in sanitation and hygiene practices. Once the program is completed, individuals must pass a licensing exam to obtain their barbering license. With this license, barbers can work in barber shops or even open their own businesses.

Esthetician Certification

Estheticians specialize in skincare and provide various services like facials, waxing, and makeup application. To become a certified esthetician, individuals typically need to complete a specialized esthetics program.

These programs cover topics such as skincare techniques, product knowledge, and client consultation. Upon completion, candidates must pass a state licensing exam to become a certified esthetician. They can then work in spas, dermatology clinics, or even start their own skincare businesses.

Nail Technician Certification

Nail technicians focus on providing nail care services, including manicures, pedicures, and nail enhancements. To become a certified nail technician, individuals must complete a nail technology program. These programs teach students about proper nail care techniques, nail art, and product knowledge.

After completing the program, candidates must pass a state licensing exam to obtain their nail technician certification. This certification allows them to work in nail salons, spas, or even as freelance nail technicians.

Makeup Artistry Certification

Makeup artistry programs are designed for individuals who want to specialize in makeup application for various occasions, such as weddings, photo shoots, or theatrical performances. These programs teach students about different makeup techniques, color theory, and product knowledge.

Upon completion, individuals can obtain a makeup artistry certification. While certification may not be mandatory in some states, it can boost a makeup artist’s credibility and job prospects. Makeup artists can work in beauty salons, freelance, or even in the entertainment industry.

Core Subjects and Skills Covered

When it comes to cosmetology school, students can expect to learn a wide range of subjects and skills that are essential to becoming successful professionals in the beauty industry. Here is a comprehensive look at the core subjects and skills covered in cosmetology school:


One of the fundamental skills taught in cosmetology school is haircutting. Students learn various cutting techniques, including layering, texturizing, and precision cutting. They also learn how to use different tools such as scissors, razors, and clippers to achieve different styles and lengths.

Understanding the importance of proper consultation and communication with clients is emphasized in order to deliver the desired haircut.

Hair Coloring

Another important aspect of cosmetology is hair coloring. In this subject, students learn about different hair color products, techniques such as highlights, lowlights, and balayage, and how to create various color effects.

They also learn about color theory, including understanding the color wheel and how to choose the right hair color based on skin tone and personal preferences.


Styling is a crucial skill that cosmetology students acquire during their training. They learn how to create different hairstyles for various occasions, including updos, braids, curls, and sleek straight styles.

Students also learn how to use different styling tools like curling irons, flat irons, and hot rollers to achieve different looks. Additionally, they learn techniques for working with different hair types and textures.

Skin Care

Cosmetology school also covers skin care, as it is an essential part of beauty and wellness. Students learn about different skin types, common skin conditions, and how to perform various facial treatments such as cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturizing.

They also learn about different skincare products and their ingredients, as well as how to recommend the right products to clients based on their skin concerns.

Nail Care

Students in cosmetology school gain knowledge and expertise in nail care. They learn how to perform manicures and pedicures, including proper nail shaping, cuticle care, and nail polish application. Additionally, students learn about nail health and hygiene, as well as how to identify and address common nail disorders.

They also learn about nail art techniques, including nail painting, designs, and embellishments.


Makeup artistry is another important skill taught in cosmetology school. Students learn about different makeup products, tools, and techniques to create various looks, including natural, evening, bridal, and special effects makeup.

They learn about face shapes, skin tones, and how to enhance different facial features. Students also learn about proper sanitation practices and how to maintain a clean and hygienic makeup kit.

Business Skills

In addition to the technical skills, cosmetology school also focuses on teaching students essential business skills. This includes topics such as client communication, customer service, scheduling appointments, retail sales, and marketing.

Students learn how to effectively manage a salon or spa, as well as how to build a strong client base and establish a successful career in the beauty industry.

Hands-On Hour Requirements

One of the key aspects of cosmetology school is the hands-on experience that students gain through practical training. Different areas of cosmetology have different hour requirements in order to obtain a license. Let’s take a closer look at the hour requirements for various cosmetology specialties:

Cosmetology License Hour Requirements

To become a licensed cosmetologist, students typically need to complete a certain number of training hours. The exact requirements vary by state, but on average, students need to complete around 1,500 to 2,000 hours of training.

These hours are spent learning various techniques such as hair cutting, styling, coloring, and chemical treatments. Additionally, students also learn about skincare, nail care, and makeup application.

Esthetician Hour Requirements

Estheticians specialize in skincare and beauty treatments. In order to become a licensed esthetician, students usually need to complete around 600 to 750 hours of training. During this time, they learn about different skin types, facials, facial massages, hair removal techniques, and makeup application.

Estheticians are also trained in providing advice on skincare routines and recommending suitable products for clients.

Nail Technician Hour Requirements

Nail technicians focus on manicures, pedicures, and nail enhancements. To become a licensed nail technician, students typically need to complete around 300 to 500 hours of training. During this time, they learn about nail care, nail art, acrylic and gel nail application, and various nail treatments.

Nail technicians also learn about proper sanitation practices to ensure the safety and health of their clients.

Barbering Hour Requirements

Barbering is a specialized field within cosmetology that focuses on men’s haircuts and grooming. The hour requirements for becoming a licensed barber vary by state, but they generally range from 1,000 to 1,500 hours.

Barbering students learn different cutting techniques, beard grooming, shaving, and hairstyling. They also learn about the importance of maintaining a clean and safe barbering environment.

Makeup Artistry Hour Requirements

Makeup artistry is a popular specialization within the cosmetology field. The hour requirements for becoming a licensed makeup artist vary, but they typically range from 300 to 600 hours. During this time, students learn various makeup techniques, including bridal makeup, special effects makeup, and editorial makeup.

They also learn about color theory, skincare, and product knowledge.

It’s important to note that these hour requirements may vary depending on the state and the specific cosmetology school. It’s always recommended to check with your local licensing board or the cosmetology school you plan to attend to get the most accurate information.

For more information on cosmetology hour requirements, you can visit the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS) website.

Licensing Exams

Before becoming a licensed cosmetologist, students must pass both written and practical exams. These exams are designed to assess the student’s knowledge and skills in various areas of cosmetology.

Written Exams

The written exams typically cover topics such as sanitation and safety, anatomy and physiology, chemistry, hair styling and cutting techniques, skincare, nail care, and salon management. Students are expected to demonstrate a thorough understanding of these subjects through multiple-choice or essay-style questions.

Preparing for the written exams can be challenging, as students need to study and memorize a significant amount of information. However, with proper dedication and the right study resources, students can excel in these exams.

Practical Exams

The practical exams evaluate a student’s ability to perform various cosmetology tasks, such as hair cutting, styling, coloring, chemical treatments, makeup application, and nail care. These exams are hands-on and require students to demonstrate their technical skills and creativity.

During the practical exams, students are usually given a set of tasks to complete within a specific time frame. They are assessed based on their technique, precision, attention to detail, and overall professionalism.

It’s important for students to practice extensively and gain hands-on experience to ensure success in these exams.

In addition to the written and practical exams, some states may also require students to complete a state-specific exam or a jurisprudence exam, which tests their knowledge of state laws and regulations related to cosmetology.

It’s worth noting that the difficulty level of licensing exams can vary from state to state. Some states may have more rigorous exams, while others may have slightly easier requirements. Therefore, it’s important for aspiring cosmetologists to research and understand the specific licensing requirements of the state in which they plan to practice.

For more information on licensing exams and the requirements in your state, you can visit the official website of your state’s cosmetology regulatory board or organizations such as the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology.

The Workload and Time Commitment

When considering cosmetology school, it’s important to understand the workload and time commitment involved. Pursuing a career in cosmetology requires dedication and a significant investment of time and effort.

Here’s a comprehensive look at the various aspects of the workload and time commitment in cosmetology school.

Classroom Time

Attending classes is a crucial part of cosmetology school. Students typically spend a significant amount of time in the classroom, learning theory and gaining knowledge about various cosmetology techniques.

Classroom time allows students to understand the science behind different beauty treatments, learn about safety protocols, and acquire the necessary theoretical foundation to excel in their practical work.

Study Time

Just like in any other educational program, cosmetology school requires students to dedicate time to studying. This involves reviewing class material, reading textbooks, and conducting research on the latest beauty trends and techniques.

Studying is essential for students to stay up-to-date with industry standards and expand their knowledge beyond what is covered in the classroom.

Practice Time

Practicing various cosmetology techniques is a vital component of cosmetology school. Students need to gain hands-on experience to develop their skills and build confidence. This involves practicing on mannequins, classmates, and eventually, real clients under the supervision of instructors.

The more time students spend practicing, the better prepared they will be for their future careers.

Managing a Busy Schedule

With the demanding workload and time commitment, managing a busy schedule becomes crucial for cosmetology students. Balancing classroom time, study time, and practice time can be challenging, but it’s important to prioritize tasks and create a schedule that allows for effective time management.

This may involve setting aside dedicated study periods, utilizing breaks between classes for practice, and making the most of free time to review and reinforce what has been learned.

Tips for Succeeding in Cosmetology School

Be Prepared for Hands-On Learning

One of the most important tips for succeeding in cosmetology school is to be prepared for hands-on learning. Cosmetology is a practical field that requires students to practice their skills on real clients.

It is essential to come to class with clean hands, neatly groomed hair, and a positive attitude. Being prepared for hands-on learning means being ready to take on new challenges, learn from your mistakes, and constantly improve your skills.

Take Notes and Ask Questions

Taking notes and asking questions might not seem important, but they can make a big difference in your success as a cosmetology student. By taking detailed notes during lectures and practical demonstrations, you can review the material later and reinforce your understanding.

Asking questions when you don’t understand something shows your dedication to learning and helps clarify any confusion. Remember, there are no dumb questions, and seeking clarification will only benefit you in the long run.

Manage Your Time Wisely

Time management is crucial in cosmetology school, as you will have a wide range of practical and theoretical coursework to complete. It’s essential to prioritize your tasks and create a schedule that allows you to allocate enough time for studying, practicing, and completing assignments.

Avoid procrastination, stay organized, and make the most of your time in school. Effective time management will not only help you succeed academically but also prepare you for the fast-paced nature of the cosmetology industry.

Pay Attention to Safety

Safety should always be a top priority in cosmetology school. From handling chemicals to using electrical tools, it’s crucial to follow proper safety protocols to protect yourself and your clients. Pay close attention during safety demonstrations, and always use the recommended protective equipment.

Understanding and implementing safety practices will not only ensure your well-being but also build trust and professionalism with your future clients.

Care for Your Physical Health

Cosmetology school can be physically demanding, as you will spend long hours on your feet and working with your hands. It’s essential to take care of your physical health to avoid burnout and injuries.

Make sure to practice good posture, take breaks when needed, and stretch regularly to prevent muscle strain. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle with proper nutrition and regular exercise will contribute to your overall well-being and energy levels.

By following these tips, you can increase your chances of succeeding in cosmetology school and laying a solid foundation for a successful career in the beauty industry.


While cosmetology school requires dedication, it is very manageable if you’re willing to put in consistent effort. With hard work and focus, you’ll gain the skills and knowledge needed to pass exams and excel in your chosen specialty.

If you stay organized, use your time wisely, and implement some of the tips above, you’re setting yourself up for success. With passion for your craft and commitment to learning, a rewarding cosmetology career is within your reach.

In summary, cosmetology school does require commitment, but is very doable for dedicated students. With focused effort and passion for the beauty industry, a cosmetology education can launch you into an exciting and creative career.

Similar Posts