Beauty Degrees

If you’re thinking about attending beauty school, you may find yourself wondering what type of beauty degree is the best choice for you to earn. The answer to that question depends upon your career goals, as well as how much time and money you want to invest in your cosmetology education.

Certificate or diploma programs are the most common choice for students entering beauty school. These types of programs typically take about nine months to one year of full-time study to complete, although programs specializing in nail care or skin care may often be completed in less time. The standard beauty school curriculum includes classroom instruction as well as hands-on training to help you get the practical experience you need for postgraduation employment.

An associate beauty degree usually takes longer to complete than a program offering a certificate or diploma. In addition to the basic cosmetology curriculum, programs offering an associate beauty degree provide training in areas such as communication, marketing, accounting, and business practices. If you hope to open your own salon, these can provide the background you need to be successful in this aspect of the cosmetology profession.

Whether you choose to earn a certificate, diploma, or associate degree, you will still need to complete the appropriate licensing examination before you are able to find employment. Each state has its own requirements for cosmetology licenses, which may include a written examination, oral examination, or practical skills test. Most states do not have reciprocity agreements, so you will need to complete the licensing procedure a second time if you decide to move to another state.

Certificates and Licenses

Since their work often involves exposure to dangerous chemicals and could result in the spread of certain infections, cosmetologists must have the appropriate training before they are allowed to seek employment. This involves earning a certificate from beauty school as well as a cosmetology license from your state.
Beauty School Certificates

Although some beauty schools offer associate degree programs, the majority award a certificate upon graduation. The certificate indicates that you have fulfilled all of the program’s requirements in regards to classroom knowledge and practical experience. A beauty school certificate indicates to an employer that you are familiar with:

  • Haircutting techniques
  • Styling hair with straighteners, wands, trimmers, razors, and other tools
  • Extensions and braiding
  • Hair color and highlights
  • Manicures
  • Pedicures
  • Facials
  • Makeup application
  • Presenting a professional appearance to your clients
  • Cleanliness and sanitation procedures
  • Health and safety laws regarding salon practices in your state

In most cases, you will not be awarded a beauty school certificate if you have outstanding bills for your tuition and fees.

Cosmetology Licenses

While earning a certificate from beauty school is a great accomplishment, it’s not enough to get you a job as a cosmetologist. Before you can start work, you’ll need to pass the appropriate licensing exams for your state. To be eligible to take the exams, you will typically need to show proof that you have graduated from an approved beauty school.

Licensing exams are usually handled by the State Board of Cosmetology or the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which is often a part of the Department of Public Health or the Department of Consumer Affairs. Exams may include written, oral, and/or practical skills tests. You may need to apply for separate licenses for cosmetology, electrology, esthetics, and nail technology. There are additional requirements for people seeking licensure as a cosmetology instructor.

In addition to licensing examinations, some states also require information about your criminal background and medical history. This includes things like felony convictions, drug usage, or physical conditions that would affect your ability to work as a cosmetologist. If there are potential issues with approving your application, you may need to appear before a special review board.

Most states require your license to be renewed periodically. To renew, you will need to pay a fee and possibly complete various continuing education requirements. You will generally receive notice of what procedures should be followed shortly before your license is scheduled to expire.

If you move to another state to seek employment, you will likely need to complete the licensing process again. Most states do not have reciprocity agreements when it comes to cosmetology licenses.


If you are considering attending beauty school to train for a career in cosmetology, you may be wondering if you should earn a certificate or complete the classes that are necessary for an associate degree. To answer this question, you must consider your career goals as well as your budget and the amount of time you are willing to invest in your education.

Benefits of Associate Degree Programs

Associate degree programs tend to take longer to complete than certificate programs. If you are working full time in another career or simply eager to begin employment as a cosmetologist, you may not feel ready to commit to spending extra time in the classroom. However, the extra time it takes to complete an associate degree will give you more time to study cosmetology techniques and to get hands-on experience in your field. This may make you a better candidate for postgraduation employment.

Another advantage of earning an associate degree in cosmetology is that you will receive additional training in communication, accounting, marketing, and business management. If you aspire to open your own salon, these courses can help give you the professional background you will need to be successful. Running a business requires a different set of skills than working as a cosmetologist, so investing in additional training is often a wise choice.

Financial Considerations

An associate degree will cost more to earn than a beauty school certificate, simply because you’ll be attending classes for a longer period of time. Financial aid is available, however, as most associate degree programs are run by accredited community colleges. If you complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may be able to receive a Pell Grant or a low interest student loan to help offset the cost of your education.

Your school may also offer scholarships for qualified students. Do not assume you need to be an academic superstar to be eligible for scholarships. Many scholarships use a variety of criteria to choose award recipients, including financial need, future career goals, obstacles overcome, and potential for success in the field. In addition, some scholarships limit the pool of applicants to people from a specific geographic area, cultural background, or those who are connected to a particular company. Apply for any scholarships you are eligible to receive. It takes very little time to complete most scholarship applications, and the potential financial rewards are well worth the effort.

Associate Degrees and Licensing Requirements for Cosmetologists

Both certificate and associate degree programs in cosmetology will satisfy state licensing requirements in regards to education. However, you must be able to show proof of graduation from an approved program before you will be allowed to complete your state’s licensing exams.