Careers, coursework, and licensing requirements for a cosmetology associate degree.

Cosmetology Associate Degree

A cosmetology associate degree prepares students for careers as hair stylists, makeup artists and other beauty professionals. These degrees lead to jobs in salons and may also allow graduates to open their own beauty businesses.

Typically, there are few prerequisites for enrolling in cosmetology school and most beauty schools accept high school diplomas or GED certificates. Those interested should review the course of study, career opportunities and licensing requirements.


A cosmetology degree prepares students for careers as hair stylists, manicurists and estheticians. It also teaches business skills so they can work as salon and spa owners or manage their own private practices. In some states, a cosmetology degree is required to be licensed as a cosmetologist.

While the exact curriculum varies from school to school, most programs provide an education that includes lectures and hands-on training in student salons and clinics. Coursework typically covers topics such as hair cutting and styling, nail care, skin services, state regulations, safety and sanitation.

Students can expect to spend up to 2,000 hours in class and practicing on models in their cosmetology program. Depending on the program, these hours may include training in makeup application, hairstyling and hair design. Many cosmetology schools are accredited by the National Accrediting Commission of Career Arts and Sciences (NACCAS), which evaluates trade schools to ensure that they meet rigorous educational standards. This is especially important as cosmetologists must be able to demonstrate their knowledge of state laws and regulations.

Career Opportunities

With a cosmetology degree, license holders can work in beauty salons, spas, nail shops and barbershops. Some also choose to start their own beauty business. Others may become hair stylists, makeup artists, skin specialists or product inventors/educators.

Most of all, a cosmetologist should have an eye for detail and a good head for business. For example, a successful cosmetologist must know how to manage inventory, keep accurate records and create the best possible environment for customers.

It’s also important for a cosmetologist to be creative and open-minded to new ways to style and shape hair. They should also be on their feet a lot of the time and enjoy working with people. A customer-driven career is very rewarding and most of all, it’s an exciting job for those who love making people feel good about themselves.

License Requirements

Cosmetologists are required to hold a state-issued license. State licensing requirements vary by state, but most require a written and practical exam. Licensing typically includes topics such as hairstyles and trends, nail services, skin treatments and makeup application.

Some colleges offer certificate programs that focus on a specific specialty area. These programs usually include lectures and hands on training in student salons. Upon completion, students can work in a beauty salon or a spa.

Community and vocational schools often hold regional or national accreditation, which indicates that they meet certain educational standards. Accreditation can influence a student’s financial aid opportunities. Students may also be able to transfer an associate degree into a bachelor’s program. Bachelor’s degrees are broader and take longer to complete. Many students prefer to pursue a full cosmetology degree because of the additional general education courses. Upon graduation, a cosmetology graduate can become licensed in several states. These graduates can then go on to find work at high-end salons or run their own salon.

Graduation Requirements

Students graduating from cosmetology programs need to pass the state board exam, which will allow them to work as a professional cosmetologist. Cosmetology programs also prepare students to manage their own hair salons or beauty shops.

Some cosmetology schools hold national accreditation, which can affect transfer options and financial aid opportunities. Students should always check an institution’s accreditation status before enrolling.

Deciding to attend college or get a cosmetology degree is a personal decision. It’s important to explore all options and weigh the pros and cons of each. Consider how much time you’re willing to devote to school and whether it’s the best path to achieving your academic goals. It’s also helpful to meet with a counselor to ensure that your program of study meets your wants, needs, and career goals. A counselor will also help you select classes that align with your interests and abilities.

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