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Last updated: August 04, 2017

Beauty School Dropout?

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We’ve all heard the tales. The salon owner: “These kids leave school and I have to teach them everything!” The grad: “I barely learned how to hold a pair of shears, let alone apply color!” The nail tech: “No one at my school knew a THING about nails!” Beauty school horror stories. There are thousands. BUT there are also lots of excellent institutions with dedicated instructors and great programs. To find one, follow these simple steps: 


1. Talk to local salons.
Why? Because many salons turn to a particular beauty school to fill their chairs and can offer you unbiased information. Mary Gail Hall, senior artistic director for Regis Corp., Minneapolis, MN, suggests surveying several different salon managers and stylists you respect. “Find the teachers who helped them find that passion with their hands,” she says. Then, she says, ask the salon managers which schools they visit as guest lecturers. Representatives from Regis, for instance, often visit local schools, seeking the “go-getters” who approach them. 


2. Visit schools.
Stephen Moody, general manager of education for the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Santa Monica, CA, says to drop in on various types of classes for a well-rounded perspective. One of the most important things to look for while you’re there is whether there is a large, varied clientele. This is the best way to hone your skills. “Otherwise,” says David Bull, national sales director for the Empire Beauty Schools in PA, “you’ll spend the vast amount of your time working with mannequins.” One tip: A school that offers evening and weekend service hours may be more likely to attract a broader clientele.  


3. Gather referrals.
Ask school administrators if you can call recent grads. If it’s a high-quality school, they should be more than happy to let you ask their students for references.  


4. Compare student-to-teacher ratios.
In California, the board recommends no more than 25 students to one instructor in a basic cosmetology class, but that number can vary from state-to-state and school-to-school. At Vidal Sassoon, for instance, the ratio is generally 14-to-1 in cosmetology courses and 8-to-1 in advanced courses. Make sure there’s enough one-on-one to make your education worthwhile.  


5. Compare pass rate and placement percentages.
A good school will also provide you with current figures on students’ pass rates on the state board exam. In California, for instance, the minimum pass rate is 70 percent. However, a high pass rate can be misleading if students are only learning how to pass the board exam but aren’t landing jobs. So, look for a school that also has a high placement percentage, too. Ask what the school does to facilitate placement. For example, do they teach you interviewing skills? How about bringing in speakers from local salons so that you can network?  


6. Study the teachers.
What are their qualifications and salon experience? When were they last in a salon? “The way the salon business is evolving, you need instructors who are up on what’s current in the industry,” says Moody.


If you’re seeking an education in nail or skin care, find out if there are qualified teachers who specialize in those areas. Typically, a cosmetology license enables the instructor to teach nails, even if she’s never done nails before. A good nail education will cover forms, wraps, gels and finishing machines in addition to manicures, pedicures and acrylics.


Furthermore, find out who the guest lecturers are. Request a schedule for the next three months, and make sure that the visiting guests aren’t all product representatives.   


7. Find a balance.
All beauty school courses should offer a balance of classroom instruction and hands-on practice. Are you going to receive 250 hours of orientation and only a few hours of doing shampoos and sets? Will there be ample time devoted to learning chemical services? Here’s another very important question to pose: “Is the curriculum focused on passing the test or getting an education?”  


8. Weigh accredited vs nonaccredited schools.
According to Bull, accreditation status insures that the government has examined the curriculum and placement of students. The government does not, however, rate quality. On the other hand, says Moody, many good schools choose NOT to be accredited because they can cover the subjects and choose entrants according to their own standards. So consider the matter carefully. Do your homework BEFORE you enroll. 


9. Look for a school that teaches business and personal skills as well as technical skills.
“Nine times out of 10, a salon owner will say to me, ‘If they’re great at cutting hair or color, fantastic. But don’t give me someone who can’t get here on time and is sick every morning,'” says Moody. “Those things HAVE to be factored into the curriculum.”  


10. Compare costs.
Tuition varies with the length of school programs, and THAT varies with state mandates. But most accredited programs will cost about six dollars per hour of instruction, says Bull. If cost is a significant issue to you, ask whether the school offers financial assistance. 


11. Ask for a show of hands.
Perhaps the most telling factor in determining whether a school will pass the test are the students’ attitudes. Walk in and look around. If everybody’s smiling and buzzing with enthusiasm, chances are that this school will make the grade.