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5 Things Cosmetology School Didn't Teach Me

Updated: Jun 25

When I graduated from Cosmetology School, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. (Go ahead, read that again.)

In Cosmetology School, I thought that “whoever” had determined that it took one year of Cosmetology School to be ready to be a Hairstylist, must know the “secret” amount of schooling necessary to learn our career.

The reality was when I graduated from Cosmetology School, I quickly discovered I didn’t have the tools, the skills, the knowledge, or the clients to have a successful career as a Hairstylist.

It took me years of seeking out my own additional education as a Hairstylist, to finally realize that “whoever” decided the amount and type of education needed to be ready and successful as a Hairstylist, was and is ...well... wrong. Cosmetology School is simply not enough time to learn and practice the multitude of skills that are necessary to have a successful, profitable career. And if I were to do an even deeper dive, Cosmetology School never mentions or explains that most successful Hairstylists are self-employed entrepreneurs.

Which students are successful? Those who know the value of effort. Those who keep on trying—and in doing so, become better than they were before.

Luckily for me, I “just” wanted to be a Hairstylist, so I was determined to become successful no matter what, and I didn’t give up. It took me years to get my feet under me after I graduated from Cosmetology School. Cosmetology School “introduced” me to the career I love, but I had to go through years of mistakes and screw-ups (the school of hard knocks) and pay for a lot of additional classes to become successful.

Here are 5 of the things Cosmetology School Didn’t Teach Me:

1. Clientele: I got a job in a salon, but no one ever told me it would be my complete

responsibility to attract and bring guests into the salon to become my clients. There were

no classes or realistic training on how to build a clientele in Cosmetology School.

2. Timing: In Cosmetology School, you are taught basic haircuts, color, and blow dries. In

school, you have as much time as you need to complete a service, and you can even

grab a fellow student, and work on a client together. When you have a career as a

Hairstylist, clients won’t pay for or tolerate a 2 or 3-hour haircut and blow dry. Although

time management and organization is critical to our success as Hairstylists, it is not

often taught in Cosmetology School.

3. Advanced Haircutting and Coloring: As a Hairstylist, when a client brings you a picture of a haircut, color, or style, you are expected to know how to do it. Cosmetology School only teaches you a limited amount of basic haircuts and color and provides only a limited amount of practice for those basic skills.

4. Customer Service: As Hairstylists, we deal with “the public” every day. That means that in order to do our jobs effectively, we have to know how to manage many many personality types. We have to learn the art of caring for and listening to people. As Hairstylists... we have to master the art of underpromising, and over-delivering. This, for sure, is not taught in Cosmetology School.

5. Business Skills: As Hairstylists, we were attracted to this industry because of our

creative and artistic abilities, but the reality is, without business skills, we will fail. We

have to learn how to create a schedule, have policies, price services, book appointments, order supplies, brand and market ourselves, save for and pay taxes and insurance, open and close a salon, and keep a bathroom clean! Unfortunately, these skills are not taught in Cosmetology School.

These real-world Hairstylist career realities are tough. We all know the challenges our “typical” peers face when they go to 4 years of college and start their careers. Imagine how challenging it can be for a Hairstylist to start their career with less than 1 year of schooling. Yes, being artistic fills your soul and allows you to express yourself in meaningful life-giving ways. That’s great and all, but being artistic AND supporting yourself financially is a whole different ball game and skill set. It is a skill set that one year of Cosmetology School is not able to teach.

Some succeed because they are destined to, but most succeed because they are determined to.
-Henry Van Dyke

To be a successful Hairstylist takes so much more than one year of Cosmetology School, it takes seeking out mentors (a mentor can simply be reading a book, following someone you resonate with on Social Media, or watch a coworker who is more advanced in their business skills than you) and a lifetime of additional education.

It is being emotionally mature enough to leave your ego and defensiveness out of the mix and continually evaluate your strengths and work on your weaknesses. It means recognizing where the gaps in your skills and learning are and being honest enough with yourself to pursue the training and answers that you need. It requires you to have the self-discipline to get to work on time and use your downtime to market yourself. It means being thick-skinned enough to handle an unhappy client and a slow week in the salon.

Is it worth it? Yes! Absolutely. Being a successful Hairstylist has so many many benefits. When we get “good” at our career, the opportunities for living life on our terms are endless. When you are a creative, artistic person, it is deeply rewarding to have a career that fills your soul, allows you to express your personality, be the person you resonate with, and be financially rewarded for your developing skills and eye for beauty. Being a successful Hairstylist isn’t easy, but it is worth the work!

“Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”
-Maya Angelou

Elevating The Industry,

Karen Spinelli


Cosmetology Students and New Hairstylists My intention with every post is to give New Hairstylists all over the world the tips, shortcuts, and tools they need to quickly achieve success. I would love to hear from you! You can reach out here, on my site, Instagram, or Facebook. Sign up for my newsletter to receive my weekly blog sent to your inbox.

Cosmetology Schools and Teachers I would love to talk to your students! To book Karen as a speaker at your Cosmetology School, click here.

Karen Spinelli is from Pasadena, California. She was behind the chair for thirty-five years, as well as Salon Director of Education for New Hairstylists for the last twenty years. Karen loves Hairstylists! She loves to be a part of “AHA” moments and to watch New Hairstylists grow in their confidence and skills.

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