Should I go to Beauty School?

beauty schoolThis was the same question I was asking myself last year when I was thinking about changing careers. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had a college degree that I wasn’t using. I had made the decision to stick with bartending after graduating from college because I made more money slinging drinks than I would have working an entry level job in my field. Bartending was fun and easy money, but after seven years I couldn’t help but think there was something bigger and better out there for me to do. I’ve worked at a few office jobs here and there over the years. None of them really inspired me or sparked my creative side.

There was one thing that had been lingering in the back of my mind since high school and that was makeup. I have always loved makeup. I love buying it. I love putting it on. I love wearing it. I always thought that being a makeup artist would be such a fun job. What could be more fun and rewarding than helping to make someone look even more beautiful than they already do while being creative and getting paid for it? The only thing that stood in the way of me ever pursuing this dream of mine was me.

I always had an excuse for why I couldn’t be a makeup artist. I didn’t know where to start. I wasn’t really all that good at putting on makeup myself. I didn’t have the right tools. The industry was too competitive. I needed to graduate from college. I couldn’t afford to leave my day job. I was too old to be working at a cosmetics counter at the mall. Now that I look back, all of the these excuses could have easily been overcome if I had just expressed a little confidence and exerted some willpower.

So here I was. At yet another fork in the road of my career. What was it going to be? Continue doing something that I was comfortable with doing? Or was I finally going to take the leap of faith, get out of my comfort zone and go after this funny, little dream of mine? A friend of mine would always comment on my skin, telling me how beautiful and clear it was all the time. He thought that my great skin would make me a very successful esthetician. He told me that people pay good money just to try to achieve the great skin I have naturally (thanks Mom!!) My first question to him was, “What is an esthetician?”

After a little research and some soul searching, I decided that this time around, I would take that leap of faith. I was going to enroll into beauty school and get my esthetician license. With my license, I could work with both skincare and makeup. I knew that having an esthetician license wasn’t required on order to be a makeup artist, but I liked having options. Besides, I had never worked a day of my life in the beauty industry. Going to beauty school would be a wise way for me to get myself educated within the industry and to see what all my my career options were.

The first thing I did after I decided to go to beauty school was ask my friends who were already working in the industry what school they thought I should attend. After compiling a list of schools that were near me, I went online and checked them out. Each school had a different way of presenting their program online. Some were extremely informative and easy to read, making the decision to go to school very inspiring. Some were of no help at all. They only provided a phone number to call to get more information about the program. Then there was a school that didn’t even have a working website. Major bummer.

My next step was to visit the schools I was most interested in attending. I didn’t call ahead to schedule an appointment on purpose. Calling ahead to schedule an appointment can be more time efficient, but I wanted to see what the schools were really like when I stopped by for an unannounced visit. It wasn’t surprising that a few schools turned me away without having an appointment. They either didn’t have anyone on hand to show me around or anyone to answer my questions. The first school I visited took me in right away on my unannounced visit. In fact, they pulled me right up the admissions leader’s office, offered me a tour of the school and happily answered my questions. The admissions leader even asked ME a bunch of questions.

Going to beauty school would not be a cheap decision. I knew ahead of time that not only would I have to pay to go to school and acquire new debt, but I would have to sacrifice my current work schedule and current living situation. Going to school would take up a bulk of my time, leaving me less time to work and even less time to sleep and socialize. Gym time, hanging out with friends and shopping would have to be put on hold until after graduation. I wanted to make sure that the school I decided to attend would be worth that sacrifice.

I was happy when the admissions leader asked me why I had decided to go to beauty school, why I wanted to work in the industry and what I was hoping to achieve after graduation and getting my esthetician license. Instead of pushing me to sign up right away, she gave me my first homework assignment. She encouraged me to create a list of spas or salons that I would want to work at after getting my license. She then told me to visit them and ask for recommendations on where they think I should go to school. She also encouraged me to check out other schools in my area. Her point was to make sure that the school I chose was a good fit for me.

So in the few weeks after meeting with the inspiring admissions leader, I made a list of my top ten spas and salons in San Francisco and paid a visit to each one, asking the employees and managers if they thought it mattered where a person went to beauty school and if so, which one in the area would they recommend? I also scheduled appointments to meet with admission leaders at the other schools in my area. One school’s admission leader didn’t respond to my email or phone call inquiry until two months after I had already started beauty school!!

Once I had collected all of my information and research, I made an appointment to meet with the admission leader of the first school I had visited. I told her that I had made my decision. I would be going to SFIEC, the first school I had visited since I had originally made my decision to go to beauty school. I knew after my first visit that SFIEC would be a good fit for me. The admission leader did too. She just wanted to make sure that I had seen everything else that was being offered and for me to make the educated decision for myself.

Now all I had to do was complete my admissions paperwork, save up as much money as I could before starting class and adjust my work schedule to fit with my new class schedule.

If you are thinking about going to beauty school, here are some things to consider:

Decide if this is the right career choice for you and then choose the program you enroll in accordingly.
For example, if you love skin, go for an esthetics program. If you love hair, go for a cosmetology program. If you want to do both hair and skin, go with a cosmetology program. A cosmetology program will be longer than an esthetics program, but you will cover both areas. Just keep in mind that even though a cosmetology program does cover both hair and skin, but doesn’t get as detailed into skin as the esthetics program alone does.

Make a list of schools in your area and visit each one of them.
Websites are great and can provide a lot of information, but you can’t really get the feel for a school until you actually visit it in-person. When visiting, ask to take a tour. Check out the facilities. Is there a salon or clinic floor for students to work on real clients or are you just working on doll heads for most of the program? Are the facilities clean? Do the students seem happy? Can you imagine yourself being there every single day for either 600 or 1600 hours? If not, pick a school where you can. You are going to spend a good amount of time there. Might as well make the experience as enjoyable as possible.

Get professional recommendations
Before deciding on which school to go to, visit professional businesses that you know and respect. Ask the employees and managers of these businesses if they think it matters where you to beauty school and if so, which one would they recommend. Ask which schools they think produce the best, well-trained graduates. Also, ask the school to get you in touch with previous graduates and current students. Sometimes its more reassuring to hear it from someone who is either currently going through the program or has been through the program than a person who is paid to enroll new students or a working professional who has had their license for a few years.

Save your money
Let’s get real here. Beauty school is expensive. The better the school is, typically the more expensive it will be. You get what you pay for. Good schools teach you the core program and prepare you for the State Board exam. The great schools will provide a happy, healthy learning atmosphere, clean facilities, extracurricular activities, networking opportunities, salon or clinic floors that give students a chance to work on real clients instead of just each other and doll heads and extended education outside of the classroom. The sooner you start saving money, the less you will have to budget for financial aid, loans or working a job while in school.

Prepare yourself
Not only do you want to have all of your admissions paperwork out of the way and completed before the first day of school, but its also a good idea to plan ahead your life and make adjustments if needed. If you need to change around your work schedule, do it now. There is nothing worse than investing a bunch of money into school only to find out that you can’t adjust your shifts at work to fit with your new school schedule. Also, now is a good time to let all of your friends know about your big decision. Having the support of your friends and family is huge, especially when times get tough and all you want to do is give up. Having that positive support will help push you through graduation and hopefully breeze through State Board.

Always ask questions
You think you asked a lot of questions during your meeting with the admissions leader? Hah! Making the choice to go to beauty school is a huge decision. If you’re changing industries like I did, it will be an even bigger and scarier decision. It’s impossible to know everything. If you have questions, don’t be afraid to ask them. What is the school’s passing rate for State Board? How much real time practice do you get on doll heads versus real people/clients? How many clients do you get to see as a student? Is there financial aid, scholarships, grants, loans or payment plans available? What are the class schedules: full-time, part-time, day program, night program? What extracurricular activities are available for students to participate in? What does the school do to prepare you in the program for State Board? How much preparation do you get for State Board in your program? Are there any opportunities to network with industry professionals while going to school?

Here it is over a year later since I had asked myself if I should go to beauty school. The 17 weeks I spent in school were amazing. They brought out the best of me and the worse in me. Even though I aced the program and earned my esthetician license shortly after graduating, it didn’t come without a whole lot of sacrifice and heartache. I worked two jobs during the entire time I was in school just to make ends meet. I suffered from sleep deprivation from having to work nights and be at school early in the morning. Forget about having a social life, I barely had time to get my homework done. Despite all of the sacrifice, the hardest part of beauty school for me was having to get out of my comfort zone each and every day. I had been living my comfortable life, doing things I could do easily in my sleep for the past seven years. Every day at school, I was challenged with something new. I was constantly having to deal with deciding if I had made the right decision. Was this going to be the industry I would leave bartending for and I want to work in? With each experience and struggle, the answer was always yes.

So if you are asking yourself if you should go to beauty school, make the decision only if it is right for you. If you have the passion and the drive, there isn’t really anything you can’t accomplish. The only thing that is standing in your way is you.

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