Beauty College and University Program Overviews

Beauty colleges, community colleges, and vocational schools offer coursework leading to a professional certificate or associate's degree in beauty care and cosmetology. Learn about the education and licensure requirements required to enter this field.

Essential Information

To become a beauty care worker or cosmetologist, students must complete a state-licensed cosmetology program before taking a state licensing exam. Relevant educational programs are offered by many beauty colleges, community colleges and vocational schools and lead to a professional certificate or an associate's degree. Prerequisites for these programs include a high school diploma or equivalent.

Certificate programs typically last less than 1 year, while associate degrees usually take 2 years to complete. Some courses and programs have online availability.

Beauty programs combine classroom work with hands-on experience, which offer the opportunity to practice beauty and styling techniques. Specializations include nail care, hair care, skin care, and more. Some schools operate student-run salons where students gain practical experience with real customers. Students may want to look for programs accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Cosmetology Arts and Sciences (NACCAS) or the state to meet state licensing requirements.

Certificate Programs in Cosmetology

Certificate programs in cosmetology provide a foundation in the creative, technical and business aspects of the beauty profession and they prepare students for state board licensing exams. Students need to hold a high school diploma or equivalent for admittance into college or university certificate programs, and most programs take less than a year to complete. Students participate in labs and other hands-on opportunities in which they can gain practical experience in cosmetology services such as safety and sanitary practices, the use of styling equipment and tools and basic salon management procedures. Specific coursework includes:

  • Shampooing
  • Hair styling
  • Salon record keeping
  • Chemical treatments
  • Skin care
  • Manicuring

Associate's Degree Programs in Cosmetology

Similar to certificate programs, associate's degree programs provide the knowledge necessary for students to take state licensing exams and enter the beauty profession. A high school diploma or equivalent is necessary for admittance. Degree programs may allow for more in-depth study and include general education coursework. Associate's degree programs in cosmetology often last for two years. In addition to the topics listed above, courses may be offered in:

  • Scalp treatments
  • Wigs and implants
  • Ethical and legal issues
  • Small business marketing
  • Beauty products
  • Customer service

Popular Career Options

While prospective cosmetologists receive training in all aspects of the beauty care industry, they may choose to specialize in a specific area. Some common career specializations include:

  • Manicurist and pedicurist
  • Hair stylist
  • Hair colorist
  • Barber
  • Skin care specialist
  • Salon manager

Licensing and Continuing Education

All states require beauty care workers and cosmetologists to obtain a license. Requirements typically include completing an approved training program and passing a written and practical licensing exam. Separate licensing may be required for nail and skin care specialists. Requirements vary by state; the National Cosmetology Association provides links to individual state licensing board requirements. Continuing education may not be required. However, cosmetologists can pursue additional training in an area such as skin care or manicuring or take business classes to learn to manage their own salons.

Employment Outlook

Overall, employment growth is expected in the beauty care industry during the decade from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( Much of the growth will be due to the increase in population and the growing demand for a variety of beauty care services. Hair stylists and cosmetologists are projected to see a 10%, increase in employment during this time, as are manicurists and pedicurists. Estheticians and other skin care specialists can expect an increase of about 12%. Median annual salaries ranged from $20,820 for manicurists and pedicurists to $30,090 for skin care specialists in 2015. Hair stylists earned a median salary of $23,660, according to the BLS.

Students aspiring to a career in beauty care can seek certificate and associate degree programs that will prepare them for the exam to receive state licensure. These programs may focus on areas such as nail, hair, or skin care, and occupations in the beauty care field expected to grow a healthy amount over the next decade.

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