Guide for Cosmetology Majors

What Does it Mean to Study Cosmetology?

Becoming a cosmetology major is an excellent way to become a professional hairstylist or makeup expert. While you can learn a lot about hair- or skincare through on-the-job training, a cosmetology degree program helps teach you the science behind various treatments and techniques for hair care and skincare. It’s once you understand why a certain cream or dye works that you can start to apply it in creative ways, making your own unique style that customers come back for again and again.

While pursuing a cosmetology degree, there are three major areas of the field to consider. Students may decide to learn about all three of these areas, or they may choose to specialize in just one or two:

  • Hairstyling: Cutting, coloring and styling hair, as well as recommending hair products and styles.
  • Makeup and skincare: Techniques for choosing, blending and applying makeup, as well as recommending products and cleaning regiments that can help to treat unhealthy skin.
  • Nail care: Manicures, pedicures, painting, appliques and other forms of nail shaping and beautifying.

Types of Online Cosmetology Degrees

Because a cosmetology major can go in so many different directions, it’s important to choose a degree program that can help you achieve your goals for the beauty and cosmetology industry. This can be easier to do by looking into online cosmetology degree programs. These programs are usually available in a hybrid format: students complete some or all of their coursework online, then spend time in a salon or classroom practicing the skills they learned about in their online studies.

What level of degree program you choose to pursue matters as well. It can change how long you might need to be in school, as well as what kind of coursework and specializations might be available to you. Common degree types in this field include:

Online Diplomas and Certificates in Cosmetology

A certificate or diploma in beauty and cosmetology typically has a narrow but in-depth focus on one aspect of the field. It may be in makeup application, hairstyling or nail care, but its purpose is to teach students the ins and outs of that aspect of cosmetology in a comprehensive fashion, often within a year or less.

In addition to addressing the core components of your specialization, a diploma or certificate program should touch on how to interact with clients and build your book of business. While various courses are offered and specifics may depend on the school you choose, you are likely to encounter the following subjects during your program:

  • Basic Haircare
  • Common Styling Techniques
  • Skincare Basics
  • Nailcare and Manicures
  • Art of Massage

Online Associate Degrees in Cosmetology

Associate degree programs in the beauty and cosmetology field usually take around two years to complete. These programs couple hands-on fundamentals with classroom instruction. In addition to core curriculum courses in topics such as English and math, students pursuing associate degrees in cosmetology have the chance to learn how to perform important cosmetology skills in a simulated salon environment. Topics covered may include hair design, chemical processes, skincare, nail care, and the business practices that keep salons afloat, often in classes such as:

  • Cosmetology Concepts
  • Contemporary Hair Design
  • Salons as a Small Business
  • Human Resource Management
  • Skin Care

Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Cosmetology

While bachelor’s degrees in the fields of beauty and cosmetology are few and far between, there are bachelor’s programs available in the area of cosmetology management. A bachelor’s degree program in cosmetology management typically takes four years to complete, combining both beauty and cosmetology instruction with the study of small business management.

Because bachelor’s degrees in cosmetology cover topics such as entrepreneurship and business, these programs are well-suited for students who want to manage a salon or open their own cosmetology business. Courses you can expect to take in such a program include cosmetology and beauty instruction as in an associate degree program, plus:

  • Business Mathematics
  • Business Communication
  • Small Business Accounting
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Business Law

What Can You Do with a Cosmetology Degree?

While many cosmetology majors find employment in some kind of salon, not all salons are the same, nor are all the employees in a salon doing the same work. In fact, there are numerous careers within this industry, many of which help students pursue their passion and be creative at the same time.

Since these careers tend to be very skill-dependent, it’s important to think about what kind of cosmetologist you might want to be before you start a cosmetology program. After all, if you want to become a hairstylist, enrolling in a program that focuses largely on skincare is probably not going to be helpful! Here are a few common cosmetology careers to consider:


While barbers can work in many niches, they mostly work with male clients. Barbers typically need to know to use a comb, scissors, clippers and straight razors. These professionals cut, trim and shampoo hair to their client’s specifications. They may also fit hairpieces, add color or highlights to hair, and shave their client’s faces as part of their duties. Some barbers also offer additional services, such as permanent hair waving or perms.

  • While some barbers learn their skills on the job, many complete postsecondary cosmetology programs. Earning a certificate is common for these professionals, as is earning an associate degree.
  • Barbers need to be licensed to work, although licensing requirements vary by state.


While hairstylists can work with both genders, they typically work with clients who have longer hair. These skilled professionals offer a wide range of services, including shampooing, haircuts, coloring and styling. They often advise their clients on ways to take care of their hair, and may even suggest products that can help clients improve the health of their hair at home.

  • Most hairstylists complete a postsecondary cosmetology program, such as a certificate or associate degree.
  • Hairstylists need to be licensed to work in their state, although licensing requirements may vary depending on where you live.


Generally speaking, cosmetologists are charged with helping clients take care of their skin. These workers perform services such as scalp and facial treatments for their clients. They often perform facials, and may also help clients with makeup analysis or makeup application. Cosmetologists must also keep themselves informed about cosmetic products on the market, so they can recommend products that can help clients maintain their look at home.

  • Cosmetologists typically complete a postsecondary education program.
  • Licensing is required for cosmetologists, although requirements vary by state. Cosmetologists usually need postsecondary education and a high school diploma to apply for licensure.

Manicurists and Pedicurist

While manicurists focus on improving the look and feel of client’s hands and nails, pedicurists focus on feet. Most professionals in this field actually learn both skills, however, since it allows them to offer more services to customers who visit them. While the specifics of their job duties can vary from customer to customer, manicurists and pedicurists frequently clean nail beds, trim nails, and add polish or designs that can show off a client’s personal style.

  • Manicurists and pedicurists must complete a postsecondary cosmetology program.
  • These professionals must also pass a state exam to become licensed to work in their state. A high school diploma along with passage of a written and practical exam are typical requirements for state licensure. Licensure isn’t required in the state of Connecticut.

Skincare Specialist

Skincare specialists use their advanced knowledge of the skin to cleanse and beautify the face and body. After they evaluate their client’s health and appearance, they can perform helpful treatments such as removing unwanted hair, laser treatments, and facials. Skincare specialists may also suggest products or good habits that can help clients take better care of their skin, such as the use of sunscreen or moisturizers. For particularly serious skincare problems, they may refer their clients to another skincare professional, such as a dermatologist.

  • Skincare specialists typically need to complete a postsecondary degree program in cosmetology.
  • Skincare specialists need to complete a state exam to become licensed, unless they live in Connecticut.

Associations and Organizations

As you consider the prospect of becoming a cosmetology major, it’s important to consider career and training opportunities you may want to pursue in the future. Since cosmetology is such a skill-driven industry, it’s important not to let your skills become rusty or outdated. The following organizations may be able to help you keep your career fresh and thriving with their offerings of news, resources and continuing education.

  • Associated Skincare Professionals — This organization offers membership opportunities with special perks for skincare specialists and related professionals. Benefit from webinars that introduce new products and tools, earn a website you can use to market your business, and purchase career-relevant supplies at members-only prices.
  • National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology — This organization offers membership opportunities along with resources that can help you study for state boards. They also offer continuing education that can help you learn more about industry trends around the country.
  • Professional Beauty Association — The PBA offers resources and continuing education opportunities for professionals within the fields of beauty and cosmetology. They also host networking and charity events.
  • American Association of Cosmetology Schools — This gathering of cosmetology schools works together to raise standards and achieve common goals within the cosmetology industry. Cosmetology professionals can access this website for membership opportunities, special events, webinars and online training.

Article Sources


  1. Barbers, Hairstylists, and Cosmetologists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  2. Cosmetology: Associate of Applied Science Degree, Blue Ridge Community College,
  3. Cosmetology Diploma/Certificate, Virginia College,
  4. Cosmetology Management, Delta College,
  5. Manicurists and Pedicurists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
  6. Skincare Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
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