Looking good comes with a cost. Ask cosmetologists. The average price of beauty school is $16,000 a year.
A career in cosmetology can be rewarding. You get a creative outlet and a chance to help others look their best. It also offers flexibility for a good work-life balance. But the licensing process can add up.
Cosmetology and esthetics programs are offered through community, technical, and vocational colleges — accredited institutions that qualify for financial aid. Accreditation broadens the range of financial aid options. Prospective students can consider interest-free payment plans, financial aid from schools, scholarships, grants, and loans from the government or private entities. Read on for more detailed information on the types of financial aid that pay for cosmetology school, and what options don’t.
Esthetician vs Cosmetology School
Esthetician (or aesthetician) licenses specialize in skincare treatment, recommendations, and analysis. Treatments include facials, massages, and waxing. With this license, you can work at spas, salons, or doctor’s offices, such as plastic surgeons or dermatologists.
Cosmetology covers the creative styling of hair, skin, and nails — but also provides basic training in treatments. Students can get an esthetician license through a cosmetology program. A career in cosmetology can lead to work as a makeup artist, hairstylist, or manicurist. License holders typically work in salons, spas, the entertainment industry, and hotels or resorts. The table below outlines some of the differences between an esthetics license and a cosmetology license.
|Field||Esthetics License||Cosmetology License|
|Average School Tuition||$7,433 average of top ten US schools||$16,000|
|Subjects||Techniques and science behind skin care treatments. Specific subjects include skin anatomy, facial and makeup techniques, hair removal, and medical office esthetics.||Hair, skin, and nail care and styling. Specific subjects include dermatology, makeup, and haircutting.|
|2021 Median Salary||$37,300/year||$29,680/year|
|Job Growth 2020-30||29% (Faster than US average)||19% (Faster than US average)|
|Types of Jobs||Skin care specialist (esthetician), makeup artist||Hair Stylist, nail technician, makeup artist, barber|
Be sure that your school is state-approved. You can search for schools through your local government’s licensing process. Also, it’s helpful to know whether your certificate is transferable to other states and which states accept it. This way, your time and resources aren’t lost.
Below are organizations that can help you find accredited and state-approved programs:
• Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC)
• Accrediting Council for Continued Education & Training (ACCET)
• Council on Occupational Education (COE)
• National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS)
Typical Cost of Beauty Schools
Beauty school programs are generally more affordable than the average four-year program. According to the College Board’s annual Trends in College Pricing report, during the 2021 school year, the average cost of tuition at a four-year nonprofit institution was $38,070. Cosmetology students, in contrast, can expect to pay around $16,000 to complete a degree in their field. But beauty school students still borrow $7,300 per year on average.
Requirements for esthetics licenses vary by state. Connecticut is the only state that does not require a license.
Students can expect to complete 300 to 1,500 hours depending on state program requirements. Most states require students to pass a state-issued exam to obtain a license after completion of a program. For example, Washington requires students to complete a program of not less than 750 hours and to fill out a license application.
Students can also specialize in esthetics as part of their overall cosmetology program.
Each state requires a cosmetology license in order to practice. While requirements differ, most states require three things: you must be 16 or older, hold a high school diploma, and have completed a state-licensed cosmetology program.
Some states also require an exam in order to obtain a license. And some require regular license renewals.
While states can issue a license that covers all cosmetology specialties, some require separate licenses in specializations such as barbering or manicures.
Programs range anywhere from 1,000 to 2,100 hours across states, and usually include retail and business admin training to supplement. Specializing in a field, such as nail care, requires additional hours. Finally, programs are hands-on—meaning students have limited online options.
To find out your state’s requirements, the National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology has a registry of state offices.
Possible Funding Source #1: FAFSA®
Does FAFSA pay for cosmetology school? Yes! But, students who apply must be enrolled in an accredited program to be eligible.
The first step to applying for government financial aid is filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. New forms are released each year on October 1st — and the sooner you complete one, the more likely federal grants will be available.
Information provided on the FAFSA helps to determine your eligibility for federal student aid. The government, states, and colleges also use it to determine the amount of financial aid to award you. Schools you list in your form will review your FAFSA and put together an aid offer. If your school’s financial aid does not cover the entire cost of tuition, you can use the FAFSA to apply for federal grants and student loans.
Not familiar with setting up FAFSA? This FAFSA guide provides an overview of the form and the aid options available through the FAFSA. Here’s a brief explainer on some of the aid types that may be available to students.
Recommended: FAFSA 101: How to Complete the FAFSA
The government awards Pell Grants to students from lower-income families and who have not previously earned a degree. Unlike loans, they do not need to be repaid.
The Pell Grant’s 2022-2023 maximum is $6,895 and students may be eligible for up to twelve terms. The amount is determined by the following:
• Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or the amount your family can pay
• Cost of Attendance (COA), finalized in your school offer letter
• Full-time or part-time status as s student
• Length of your school’s academic year
Schools will disburse the federal grant to you directly, apply it to your tuition, or both. In order to receive Pell Grants, students must stay enrolled in their respective program of study and fill out the FAFSA form each year.
Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans
The Department of Education also offers Direct Loans. Cosmetology students may be eligible for either subsidized or unsubsidized loans. The government pays for the interest rate of subsidized loans as long as you’re enrolled in a program, for the first six months after leaving school, and during qualifying deferment periods. Interest rates for unsubsidized loans are not covered. Subsidized loans are awarded based on financial need, while unsubsidized loans are not.
Applying for a federal loan offers these key advantages:
• Low fixed interest rates
• Flexible repayment plans
• Possibility of forgiven loans
• Deferment and forbearance options
Parent PLUS Loans
PLUS loans are available to parents of undergraduate students or graduate or professional students. They offer some of the advantages of federal Direct Loans, but offer higher borrowing limits.
Parents can apply for Parent PLUS Loans on behalf of their children as well. Unlike other federal student loans, these types require a credit check and are not based on financial need.
Possible Funding Source #2: Scholarships
Research scholarships. A good place to start is with your school. Their aid letter will outline scholarships awarded from its program. You can contact them to see if there are additional scholarships you can apply for at the school.
Professional associations also offer scholarships based on need or merit. The below beauty industry associations have lists of scholarships.
• Professional Beauty Association
• National-Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology
• American Association of Cosmetology Schools
The U.S. Department of Labor also offers a free scholarship finder .
Finally, ethnicity-based groups, employers, or your parent’s employers may also offer tuition assistance and scholarships.
Possible Funding Source #3: Working Part Time
Since cosmetology programs are shorter in duration — working part-time to help pay for college is feasible. Try getting work in your field — as an assistant or admin at an office. That way, you can learn while getting paid — and even get a foot in the door.
Studying and working is a fine balance. It depends on how much time you can commit. If studying fills up most of your week — you may not be able to focus on studying for the career you hope to work in and may also hurt your score needed to pass exams needed to work in the industry.
You can even find working cosmetologists to get advice on how to do both.
Possible Funding Source #4: Private Student Loans
After exhausting all other avenues of aid, private student loans can help cover the difference. A private undergraduate student loan can be offered through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. They can be applied to a range of programs, even applied towards paying for CDL school.
Lenders will perform a credit check to determine your interest rate and how much you are eligible for. Students who don’t have credit scores will need a cosigner, usually a parent.
Possible Funding Source #5: School-Specific Financial Aid
Financial aid availability depends on your school.
Aveda Institute Maryland, for example, offers financial assistance for current and former military servicemen. Paul Mitchell Schools also offer three forms of military financial aid. One includes a My Career Advancement Account Scholarship Program for military spouses.
Delgado Community College in New Orleans provides financial assistance on a first-come, first-serve basis. Students must complete a FAFSA, online scholarship form, and accept or decline their aid offer letter.
Possible Funding Source #6: School-Specific Payment Plans
College tuition payment plans are an option. Instead of paying tuition upfront at the beginning of the year, students pay tuition in installments.
Payment plans are an excellent alternative to taking out loans since plans are generally interest-free. Check with your school for eligibility requirements and deadlines for enrollment periods.
The Board of Cooperative Educational Services in Western Suffolk, Long Island, and Alexander Paul Institute of Hair Design offer no-interest payment plans.
Explore Private Student Loans With SoFi
Cosmetology and esthetician careers require state-approved schooling and licenses. These accredited programs are covered by federal financial aid, and some schools offer financial aid. Zero-interest payment plans can also be a huge help to pay for a program.
If you still come up short of tuition, you can explore private student loans.
SoFi offers student loans that offer qualifying borrowers competitive private student loan rates. Plus, there are no fees and flexible repayment plans. The application process can be completed online.
Can FAFSA be used for beauty school?
Yes. States require students to participate in state-approved accredited beauty schools to obtain a license. Students enrolled in post-secondary programs at accredited institutions qualify for financial aid.
Do you work and earn money while in cosmetology school?
Students typically cannot work in their field without a license, unless it’s an unrelated job in the industry. Find out if your school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. These programs are available to part-time or full-time students with financial needs. Students will usually find jobs at their school or private for-profit employers that have agreements with your school. The jobs are typically relevant to your field of study.
Are beauty schools accredited? How do you select a good program?
Yes, beauty schools can be accredited for post-secondary education. Always check to make sure your program is accredited to avoid predatory schools with poor programming. Consider starting your search with state license departments. The National-Interstate Council Of State Boards Of Cosmetology has a directory of all 50 states’ centers.
Photo credit: iStock/petrovv
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