How to Choose the Best Cosmetology School

What beauty school is the best?"

Students thinking about training for a career as a hairstylist, barber, makeup artist or esthetician (skin care specialist) often ask, “What beauty school is the best?”

The answer to that question is simple: “It depends on what you mean by, ‘best’.”

Search for Schools

By Allen Ury

What makes a school the best cosmetology school?

“Best” is a subjective term that means different things to different people.

For some people, “best” means a school with a high placement rate, one that has a long record of getting its graduates into the kind of jobs they’ve trained for.

For others, “best” means a school that is close to home with a class schedule that minimizes their commuting time.

Yet other people may define “best cosmetology school” as one with programs that allow them to develop their skills and talents in directions that allow them the greatest amount of self-expression, rather than having to conform to a rigid set of artistic and performance standards.

And then there are students who are drawn most to a “brand name,” a school bearing the name of a fashion industry celebrity.

Of course, when choosing the “best” beauty school, cost must be a consideration. Like the “best” restaurants, the “best” neighborhoods and the “best” designer labels, the “best” beauty schools tend to carry fittingly large price tags. In this case, what the industry considers “best” may not be, in fact, “best” for your budget.

So how are you to determine what’s the “best” beauty school for you?

Beginning Your Search for the “Best” Cosmetology¬†School

To find the best beauty school, begin by selecting a specific field of study. What type of cosmetology career are you interested in? Do you want to be a hairstylist who predominantly works with women? A barber who cuts hair for men? Do you want to be a makeup artist who works with models in the fashion industry or actors in movies, television, commercials and broadcast news? Do you want to design nails for a living, or a skin care specialist who works in a spa, a dermatology practice or a hospital burn center?

The beauty industry offers a wide range of career options, so you want a school with training programs designed to meet the needs of the specialty you wish to pursue.

You don’t know what specialty you want just yet? Then you will want to look for schools with generalized cosmetology programs that give you a taste of all of industry sub-specialties.

Now it’s time to get as much information as you can about the beauty schools and cosmetology programs in your search area that meet your initial criteria. How far are you willing to travel to learn your trade? Ten minutes? An hour? (When judging distance, always think in terms of time, not miles. This is especially important if you live in a city or suburban community, since traffic can significantly affect commuting schedules.)

With enough information, you can make an “apples to apples” comparison between cosmetology schools.

Factors to Consider

Here are the main factors to consider when determining the “best” cosmetology¬†school in your community:

Programs. What programs does the school offer? Do these programs conform to your long-term career ambitions? Do they teach your favorite field of study as a basic graduation requirement or as a specialty? The more specialized the training, the higher the quality of education you are likely to receive.

Faculty. Who are the instructors? What are their backgrounds? How long have they been teaching? Do they have any “real world” experience in the fields they teach? In general, the best teachers are those who have many years of both practical and academic experience.

Facilities. What are the training facilities like? How modern are they? What tools will you have to work with? The more up-to-date and well equipped the school is, the better.

Class Size. What is the average class size? What is the student-to-teacher ratio? In most cases, smaller classes are better. Smaller classes make the educational experience more personal and offer more opportunities for teacher-student interaction.

Class Schedules. When do classes begin? How long do they last? You want a schedule that gives you ample time to get from home to school and back; at a reasonable hour; and at times that don’t interfere with your other commitments. Schedules can be extremely important if you are already holding down a job or have children to take care of at home.

Reputation. A cosmetology school’s reputation is often an excellent indicator of its quality. How to you learn about a beauty school’s reputation: First, check its ratings on consumer experience websites like “Yelp.” Comments from current and former students can be extremely illuminating. Search social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to see what other people have to say about the school and its graduates. Do a Web search for any news stories — good or bad — about the schools in question. Visit the schools and talk with current students. What do they think of their experience so far? Finally, visit local beauty salons, spas, etc. to talk directly with managers about what they think of the schools and their graduates. Have they ever hired local graduates? What has their experience been?

Cost and Financial Aid. Cost is always a factor. But more important than mere cost is value. What are you getting for your money? What is the likelihood to making your money back — and then some — after you graduate? Does the cosmetology school have financial aid programs available*? If so, what kind? Does it offer grants or scholarships, which, unlike student loans, you don’t have to pay back? How can you apply for such aid? Will they help you?

Placement Rates. Demand from each cosmetology school a record of its graduate placement rates. Although such rates are no guarantee of how you will fare after graduation, they can be a good indicator of the school’s overall quality. How soon after completing their program do most graduates actually get jobs? What kind of jobs? At what level of pay? How does the school calculate these rates?

The “Vibe.” Spend some time at the cosmetology school before making your decision. Does it feel “right” to you? Are the other students the kind of people who can see yourself working with for months on end? Is the faculty friendly and encouraging? Do you feel like you want to be here?

A Very Personal Decision

Ultimately, choosing a beauty school is a very personal decision. What cosmetology school is “best” means what is “best” for you.

To make this determination, you need to invest the time and effort necessary to get information on all your candidates, and then to consider carefully all the factors discussed above. Don’t be rushed into a decision. Take your time. Talk it over with friends and family members.

Years from now, when you consider all the success you’ve enjoyed, the fun you’ve had and the friends you’ve made, you’ll know the decision you made once the right one.

* Financial aid available for those who qualify.