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The No Bullsh** Talk About Hairstylist Education

Updated: Apr 25

Our society is not good at helping CREATIVE individuals get the education that they require. When I went to Cosmetology School, I went without guidance or direction. I knew I wanted to be a Hairstylist, but there was no one in my life giving me guidance toward my dream career and life.

I have found that when you tell your relatives or the school guidance counselor you want to be a Hairstylist, you get a glassy-eyed stare in response. It pretty much starts out your career, thinking there is something wrong with you. As a Hairstylist I can tell you that our society values individuals who get good grades and make it into good colleges. It doesn’t value an 18-year-old individual who says they want to be a Hairstylist. All that to say, it can be a tough decision, and not always a popular one, to decide you want to be a Hairstylist.

It’s your place in the world, it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live. -Mae Jemison

I have been a Hairstylist for 35 years, and I have loved every minute of it. I have no regrets about my career choice. I’m just glad I was determined enough to make it happen. Until you make it into the doors of a Cosmetology School, and then into a salon with like-minded creatives, you are pretty much on your own for wanting to make your artistic dreams a reality.

Seriously, this attitude by society seems incredibly hypocritical. I don’t get it. I have never met anyone who did not value a great haircut or color. Everyone…literally everyone knows how much better they look when they have a great cut or color, and everyone knows how wonderful it is when they find an amazing Hairstylist. So, why the attitude when an individual says they want to be a Hairstylist and make the world beautiful?

That’s my rant, and I’ll step off my soapbox now.

I think that the most important thing that a woman can have (next to talent, of course) is her Hairdresser. -Joan Crawford

The barrier to entry into my industry, the one that I love, is that 1 year of Cosmetology school is simply not enough education to become a successful Hairstylist. Cosmetology school IS enough to pass your state board exam and get your license. Cosmetology School is NOT enough to get you ready to start your career in a salon. No blame here, there is just a big disconnect in my industry. Salon owners want to hire Hairstylists who are “salon ready”, and Hairstylists coming out of Cosmetology Schools are not salon ready. Unfortunately, there is really no clear “after Cosmetology School” educational path for Hairstylists. That leaves a brand new Hairstylist with the daunting task of figuring out their next step to real-life experience and education as a Hairstylist.

I’m saying this because if you are a New Hairstylist, more than likely you are overwhelmed and feel like you are the only one that doesn’t feel ready to work as a Professional Hairstylist. You are not alone! In most fields, most colleges will lay out the 4 years of classes and courses you will have to complete to have a successful entry-level job in your career. If a student is committed and works hard, they will graduate and do well in their industry.

In our field, Cosmetology School is required to teach you what your state has decided will keep the public safe and pass a state board exam. Of course, keeping the public safe is valuable and important, but what does that have to do with the advanced skills you need in cutting, color, business, and customer service skills to make an entry-level income coming out of school like our typical peers? Honestly, that breaks my heart. Keeping the public safe, and being trained in the skills necessary to be a successful Hairstylist are two very very different educations. Unfortunately, the only requirement is to keep the public safe.

Hear me now, many Cosmetology Schools do an amazing job in a short amount of time introducing students to Cosmetology, and teaching the information necessary to pass the State Board. In fact, most schools have a high pass rate for the State Board Licensing Exam. But seriously, what you need to know to be licensed and what you need to know to do your job well are two very different requirements.

We all know you simply can’t get good at any career in less than 1 year. The problem is, and it is significant, we are told as Hairstylists that one year of Cosmetology School is enough. I swear, I don’t know who originally said one year of Cosmetology School was enough, but I guarantee they were not a Hairstylist!

When you graduate and it comes time to start working in your first salon job, you quickly realize you’re not ready, and when you look around, there is no clear “next step” educational path.

You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience until you have a job. Once you solve that problem, you are home-free. Jack Buck

During my career behind the chair as a Hairstylist, I was also the Director of Education and taught the New Hairstylists in my salon. I ran a salon Advanced Training Program that gave New Hairstylists their career path and education after Cosmetology School. My program and the salon were UNIQUE. Unique because most salons (let alone businesses) cannot run a training program for their employees that lasts for a year. It truly isn’t practical for an employer to run a year-long advanced training course for his or her employees.

Now, after 20 years of training New Talent Hairstylists, I can confidently say I have never met a newly licensed Cosmetology Student who was salon ready.

I wish there was an easy solution for this problem that New Hairstylists face. The fact of the matter is, there is Cosmetology School education, and then there is “piece together” education for somewhat experienced Hairstylists who already have a clientele base. Education is hard to come by for brand New Hairstylists after Cosmetology School. And frankly, for as long as I have been in this industry, there is no easy solution to Zero Clients, Zero Salon Experience, and Zero Money….except determination.

If you are in Cosmetology School or a New Hairstylist, please don’t give up. Hold onto your dream. I promise you, it is worth it.

There are a lot of things one wants to do that maybe aren’t commonplace or that everyone else agrees with, but if it makes you happy, by gosh, go after it.
-John Paul Dejoria, Paul Mitchell Systems

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, short cuts, 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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