Guide to Student Loans for Cosmetology School

By Melissa Brock · October 20, 2023 · 11 minute read

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Guide to Student Loans for Cosmetology School

Cosmetology school teaches learners about the application of ingredients and chemicals of beauty products as well as how to care for clients’ hair, nails, skin, and more. Cosmetologists can study a single beauty area or specialize in a range of areas. In general, cosmetology school takes less than two years to complete, but it depends on whether you choose to attend school full- or part-time, your state requirements, and the program and school you choose to attend.

Paying for cosmetology school may involve obtaining a mix of grants, scholarships, work-study, and cosmetology loans. You may also choose to pay for school with money you’ve saved.

Read on for more information on how to pay for cosmetology school. We’ll focus on aid that must be repaid (student loans) and will also touch on other types of aid that do not need to be repaid — grants, scholarships, and work-study.

What to Consider When Choosing a School for Cosmetology

It’s a good idea to visit community colleges or cosmetology school campuses prior to choosing the right cosmetology school for you. In general, it’s a good idea to interview an admissions representative or other professional about graduation rates, loan default rate, job placement rate, and school costs. The answer to these questions can give you a good indication of the quality of the school and whether the school might be a good fit for you.

You may also want to consider whether or not you’d like to attend an accredited institution, since many good cosmetology schools choose not to become accredited. An accredited institution is one that meets specific academic and institutional requirements by an institution that offers accreditation. An accrediting body will typically take a look at facilities and staff as well as the curriculum of the school and admission requirements.

Graduation Rate

The graduation rate can tell you a lot about the satisfaction of current and past students at a particular cosmetology school.

The most recent data shows that, about 34% of full-time undergraduate students who began a certificate or associate’s degree at two-year institutions received their certificate or degree within 150% of the normal time required.

On the other hand, 14% of that same cohort had transferred to another institution within 150% of normal completion time. A total of 10% stayed enrolled in that same institution. The rest of the students in the cohort were no longer enrolled in the original institution nor were they recorded as a transfer at a different institution — a total of 42% of students.

Look for a school that offers a high retention rate, which measures the percentage of first-time students who return to the institution to continue their studies the following fall. One way to measure retention and graduation rates is to use College Navigator “>College Navigator, which offers this information about nearly 7,000 colleges and universities in the U.S.

Loan Default Rate

Consider asking about the student loan default rate for a particular institution. The loan default rate indicates whether students are successful in paying off their student loans. Specifically, the U.S. Department of Education publishes the cohort default rate (CDR) which shows how well prior students have done at repaying their student loans. You can check the Department’s cohort default rate database for specific institutions.

Why should you worry about loan default rate? It illustrates the relationship between the quality of the degree and the ability of graduates to obtain jobs that can help them pay off their loans. While a low default rate doesn’t automatically put a particular cosmetology school into the “good school” category, it’s a great metric to have at your disposal.

Job Placement Rate

Job placement rate might be one of the most important questions you can ask a particular college or university. The job placement rate is the percentage in which graduates of the program obtain job placement. Most schools survey students to obtain this data and will showcase it on their websites.

However, there’s no universal method that schools use to arrive at their numbers. That’s why it’s also a good idea to ask deeper questions when you tour cosmetology schools. Dig into whether students who graduate are employed by salons or other cosmetology-related businesses. Ask about how often they open up their own salons. Ask for admission professionals to give you examples of successful alumni and if possible, lists of where the most current graduating alumni currently work.

Also ask about exam rates, because states require students to take a licensing exam in order to be able to practice. How many students successfully pass and how many have passed in recent years?

School Costs

A cosmetology school program may cost between $5,000 to $20,000. Find out how much each school costs and learn the cost breakdown. You should be able to find this information on the school’s website, but it’s a good idea to make an appointment with the financial aid office at the institutions you’re considering to get an exact estimate of all costs as they pertain to your situation.

Furthermore, don’t forget to ask questions about how much tuition will increase over the time you’ll be at the cosmetology school and whether financial aid will match the increasing tuition.

Cosmetology Career Options

As mentioned before, cosmetology careers can encompass a wide range of career options. It’s important to study the types of programs a particular cosmetology school offers in order to make sure it matches up with your career goals. Many cosmetology programs offer full programs in hair styling, skin care, nail care, and makeup. However, many cosmetology programs also offer training in esthetics, nail technology, electrolysis, and teaching as well:

•  Esthetics: Students in this area learn to apply makeup, wax, and perform facials. They also learn how to give clients massages and perform reflexology.

•  Nail technology: Going a step beyond nail care, nail technology includes studying nail art, design, and how to implement tips, wraps, and gels.

•  Electrolysis: Learners who study electrolysis learn the art of permanent facial and body hair removal methods.

•  Teacher training: Students who want to prepare future cosmetologists may choose to enter into a teacher training program.

Cosmetology School Financing Options

The amount of financial aid you receive could be affected by whether a school chooses to become accredited or not. Schools often become accredited in order to offer Title IV government funding to cosmetology students through the U.S. Department of Education. If you attend a schools that is not accredited, you won’t be eligible for federal student aid like federal student loans.

The next sections will review information about scholarships and grants, payment plans, trade school loans, work-study programs, and federal and private student loans.

1. Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and grants are two methods you can use to pay for college. Scholarships, which can be considered free money and don’t have to be repaid (unless there are caveats in the scholarship requirements — for example, you may be required to finish the program). They can come from a wide variety of agencies, institutions, and organizations. Know the scholarship requirements in depth before you apply. It’s also a good idea to look into a wide variety of scholarship opportunities. Opportunities can come from your cosmetology school or your community.

Grants can be awarded to students from the federal government, state government, or your cosmetology school. Most of the time, you won’t have to pay the money back. However, if you don’t finish your program or fail to fulfill some other requirement, you may have to repay all or a portion of your grant money. The U.S. Department of Education offers several federal grants, including Federal Pell Grant, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.

The American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS) partners with various sponsors in the beauty industry to offer scholarships and grants to help students pay for tuition at their chosen institutions.

2. Cosmetology School Payment Plans

Cosmetology schools may allow you to make incremental payments. This means that instead of paying the full tuition bill at the beginning of a new semester, you make small, likely interest-free payments as you complete each course. Students who want to pay for cosmetology school without loans may prefer this method of chopping up payments into smaller bits.

The financial aid offices at the schools on your list will have more information about how payment plans work.

3. Trade School Loans

Learners who attend trade schools can get both private and federal student loans. Federal student loans come from the federal government, while private student loans come from a bank, credit union, or other financial institution. Both types of loans must be repaid with interest, which will vary depending on the type of loan you receive.

Some private lenders offer specific loans for those attending trade schools. It’s important to look into the details before you apply for a trade school loan, such as interest rates, repayment plans, and more.

4. Work-Study Programs

The Federal Work-Study Program provides part-time jobs for students to help pay for expenses related to education. Work-study often gives students enough of a stipend to pay for small expenses such as books. As long as you are enrolled at least part-time, you may apply for a job as long as your school participates in the Federal Work-Study Program. Check with your school’s financial aid office to find out if your school participates.

Because work-study is part of a federally funded program, you must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) in order to qualify.

5. Federal Student Loans for Cosmetology School

The federal student loan program can offer loans for cosmetology school that come from the U.S. Department of Education through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program. You may be able to tap into Direct Loans, including the Direct Subsidized Loans, Direct Unsubsidized Loans, and Direct PLUS Loans:

•  Direct Subsidized loans: Cosmetology school students who have financial need may be awarded the Direct Subsidized Loan to help pay for career school. The federal government will pay the interest while you’re in school.

•  Direct Unsubsidized loans: After filing the FAFSA, cosmetology students may want to take advantage of Direct Unsubsidized loans. This federal student loan is not based on financial need and the government does not take care of the interest while you’re in school.

•  Direct PLUS loans: Parents of undergraduate students can help pay for cosmetology students’ education with a Direct PLUS loan. Parents will have to undergo a credit check. An adverse credit history may require an additional credit check.

The interest rates of federal student loans are typically lower than that of private student loans and they offer income-driven repayment plans and other perks such as public service loan forgiveness. Keep in mind that, as mentioned, one of the federal student loan requirements is attending an accredited institution.

6. Private Student Loans for Cosmetology School

You can also obtain private student loans for cosmetology school. Private student loans for cosmetology school are different from federal student loans because they come from different organizations. However, they also diverge further from there. Private student loans may require you to make payments while you are still in school. They may have variable or fixed interest rates. Federal interest rates, on the other hand, are always fixed.

Private cosmetology school loans are not subsidized, which means that your lender doesn’t pay the interest on your loans while you’re in school. You’re usually completely responsible for paying the interest on your loans.

In addition, you must also have to have a positive credit history or a cosigner to get a private loan. You cannot consolidate your loans (turn them into one loan) like you can with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan or take advantage of loan forgiveness programs with a private student loan. Because private student loans lack the benefits offered with federal student loans, they are often considered a last-resort option.

Are student loans worth it? It’s important to remember that private student loans can fill in the gaps between scholarships, grants, your own cash, and cosmetology loans for school. Check on the student loan requirements among private student loans as well as when to apply for student loans.

Explore Private Student Loan Options With SoFi

If you decide to take advantage of your federal student loan options but still need more loans to cover your tuition bill, private student loans with SoFi may help. SoFi private student loans may be an option for certain eligible certificate programs.

SoFi offers competitive rates for qualifying borrowers as well as flexible repayment options. You also won’t pay any extra fees to get a private loan with SoFi.

Explore your cosmetology student loan options with SoFi.


Are there student loans for cosmetology school?

Yes, you can take advantage of both federal student loans and private student loans for cosmetology school. You may also want to consider tapping into trade school loans as well. It’s worth meeting with the financial aid office at your cosmetology school in order to make the right decision about the type of loans for your particular situation.

How do you get money for cosmetology school?

In order to get money for cosmetology school, you’ll want to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA determines your eligibility for federal and institutional financial aid, including institutional scholarships, federal student loans, and grants. If you want to apply for outside scholarships, you may have to seek out and apply for independent scholarships.

How do I go to cosmetology school for free?

You may be able to get free training while still in high school. Many high schools have agreements with technical or vocational schools or community colleges that allow you to attend at no cost. Some community colleges also offer free tuition to certain students as long as they meet certain requirements.

Photo credit: iStock/Natalia Rusanova
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