Your Cosmetology Degree: What You’ll Study

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Learn about the different certificate levels you can achieve in order to work as an esthetician or cosmetologist.

What Certification Levels are Available?

Earning your certificate from an accredited program is the first step toward working in cosmetology.

If you plan to practice general cosmetology (basic care and treatment of hair and skin), a cosmetology training program will set you up with the skills you need to work in the field. Students usually graduate with either a certificate or associate’s degree, depending on the school.

What Other Certification Will I Need?

After completing your cosmetologist or esthetician program, you will need to pass the board exam in your state in order to obtain your license.

If your career plans include working in general cosmetology, you’ll need a cosmetology license.However, if you’re interested in becoming an esthetician (someone who cares specifically for skin), there are a few different certification options available.

  • Basic esthetician license: This qualifies you for entry-level positions in spas and salons. This level of training will give you a good, solid knowledge base on topics like skin analysis, facial massage techniques and skin care topics.
  • Master esthetician license: A master esthetician license qualifies you for the same work in spas and salons, plus positions in medi-spas and health care centers. You’ll learn a great deal of advanced skin care techniques, including microdermabrasion, laser hair removal and laser skin therapy.

In addition to this, estheticians may also choose to be certified by the National Coalition of Estheticians, Manufacturers/Distributors and Associations (NCEA). The NCEA certification is the highest skin care credential in the U.S.

It’s also important to know that you will be required to complete continuing education units regularly throughout your career. These continuing education courses will help you stay up-to-date on current trends, styles and products.

What Will I Learn in My Courses?

A cosmetology program will teach you the basics in several areas, from hair treatments to skin care to nail techniques. You can expect to learn about:

  • Cutting and styling hair
  • Coloring, bleaching and highlighting hair
  • Applying chemical perms to hair (e.g., relaxers, curls, waves)
  • Nail care and grooming
  • Skin care and makeup application
  • Hair removal methods such as waxing and depilation
  • Sanitation and hygiene
  • Relevant chemistry, anatomy and physiology
  • Recognition of common skin diseases

In an esthetician program, your training will focus on skin care practices and different skin types. An example course list for an esthetician-in-training might look like this:

  • Skin care and massage
  • Facial treatments
  • Skin analysis
  • Treatment instruction ( i.e., salt glows, body wraps, aromatherapy)
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Diseases and body systems
  • Safety, sanitation and hygiene practices
  • Professional ethics
  • Career development and business practices

How Long Will it Take?

Earning your cosmetologist or esthetician license involves a great deal of self-directed practice time and every state has different requirements for how many hours need to be completed for licensure. For someone in a cosmetology program, the number of hours needed is anywhere between 1,200 and 2,100 school hours, but the average requirement is around 1,500 to 1,800 hours.

Basic esthetician programs generally provide 600 to 750 hours of training, while advanced or master training usually involves about 1,200 to 1,500 school hours.

Are Online Programs Available?

Simply put, hair and skin care is a hands-on career, making web-based programs hard to find. So much of your training will depend on your own practical learning time—something that online programs can’t provide. Though there will be some technical knowledge that you gain during your training, in general you’ll be learning how to successfully complete hair and skin care procedures on a real person.

How Much Will My Education Cost?

Your tuition costs will depend on what state you’re in and how many hours you need to complete in your program. The average cost of a cosmetology program, however, is anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees.

Are There Prerequisites?

Esthetician or cosmetologist schools usually require students to have a high school diploma or GED. In some cases, you may have to take an entrance exam if you haven’t earned your diploma or GED.

Because prerequisites are minimal, cosmetology school is a great option for someone interested in entering the workforce quickly.

What Accreditation is There for My Cosmetology Training Program?

An accredited program has been signed off by a recognized accrediting committee, who has evaluated the courses and determined it meets professional standards.

By attending an accredited school, you’ll be eligible for federal financial aid. Employers looking at job candidates are also more likely to hire someone from an accredited, and therefore recognized, program. Accreditation committees include:

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