Money Matters

View Point: Cosmetology Schools

What is the proper role of cosmetology schools and are they fulfilling that role?

Editor’s note: Whether by e-mail, telephone, or mail, we at NAILS Magazine hear a lot about nail technicians’ cosmetology school experiences—good and bad. We asked readers to share their ideas for training new nail technicians, the salon’s role in educating new nail technicians, and how to make the current educational system better.

Ira Bloom


Nails Now! Dallas

A cosmetology school’s proper role is to teach, but unfortunately, from what we have seen, they put business ahead of educating. Schools seem to be more concerned about getting their hands on state grant money and churning out the student than actually teaching them the proper skills for the profession. As a salon owner, I am concerned because I see the pool of qualified nail technicians diminishing.

From the cross-section of newly graduated nail students that I’ve met, I can say that schools have done an abominable job teaching nails. We have interviewed some nail technicians who can’t apply acrylic, polish nails, or perform a pedicure. In addition to their lack of technical skills, they lack professionalism. They have no customer service or retailing skills. If they spot a nail problem on a client’s nails, they don’t know how to communicate with her about how to treat it.

We have also heard about schools that tell students that they will make big bucks — $50,000 or more — as soon as they graduate. They do not explain to the student how to build a clientele or how much it takes to build a business that can make that much money a year. It can be done, but only with hard work. Unfortunately, students hear this, and because they have not been taught how to get started in business, they spend a dismal three or four months not making any money and then drop out of the industry altogether. Unless a nail technician can combine application skills with business knowledge and people skills, she will never be successful.

The lack of professionalism in our industry is a shame. Perhaps students should be required to apply to cosmetology school, just as doctors apply to medical school. If you are a medical student with no science or people skills, then you will not make a good doctor. In the same way, a nail student who has no patience, people skills, or artistry will not make a good nail technician.

Schools are also behind the tunes in technology and need to take more responsibility for offering training to their students on the latest products and techniques. This is important in order for students to compete with discount salons. We need to give them ammunition to go out and win the war against these types of salons. They need to be able to explain to clients why they use the product they do instead of something containing methyl methacrylate or why they sanitize their implements, while some other salons do not.

Each state is also at fault for the lack of professionalism in our schools and in the industry. They have no muscle and are a poor regulatory authority. When licensed individuals don’t follow the regulations and aren’t punished for their misconduct, the industry is weakened. As an industry, we need to be more on top of things. Why does the hair industry, which is part of the beauty industry, have a measure of professionalism that nails can’t seem to attain?

Linda DeBarros

Executive Director

Gene Juarez Academy of Beauty Seattle

The proper role of a cosmetology school is no different than that of any post-secondary school. Its role is to provide a foundation of theoretical understanding and practical application in the chosen field of study so that the graduate may gain an entry level position in his or her field. No one would expect a recent graduate from any other post-secondary school to be complete in his or her career development. Employers of a graduate in any other profession would recognize that the newly hired employee will learn and develop a great deal over the course of his or her career through experience and further education.

Cosmetology schools are required to teach whatever is tested. Schools are limited in the development of their course content and must adhere to their state’s mandate on content and hours of instruction.

In Washington State, for example, the course content is very specific and limiting. During the 1,600 hours of training, no courses in job preparation, customer service skills, client education of products, or home care maintenance are permitted. No hours are designated for teaching a student how to build his or her business.

Cosmetology schools are limited by state regulations that prohibit them from amending their curriculum to meet growing or changing industry demands. School owners are aware of these limitations and restrictions and, in some states, are working with their state agency seeking flexibility.

Are cosmetology schools fulfilling their role? I believe that many are doing an excellent job, considering the regulatory constraints placed upon them. If you look at the schools that are accredited, that are members of organizations such as the American Association of Cosmetology Schools and regional organizations such as the Washington Federation of Private Career Schools, you will find dedicated professionals who are focused on job readiness, quality, and their students’ futures. These groups attend classes and seek ways to improve so that they can better fulfill their role.

Should cosmetology schools do a better job? Yes, with the help of salon owners and other cosmetology professionals. We must come together in an industry-wide effort to review licensing requirements, standardize our expectations, and take accountability for our own proper role.


Lisa Campbell


School of Nail Design Inc. Andover; Mass.

After looking into several cosmetology schools in my area, I was very disappointed. Many schools were overpriced and seemed to rush you through the program without much in-salon training.

The school I go to now has all of the components I think I need to achieve success in my new career: reasonable tuition, convenient hours, a pleasant atmosphere, and instructors who honestly care about the nail care industry and teaching others their profession. They make sure that every student in my class is learning proper techniques by working on real clients and on each other. They constantly observe and correct work being done and allow us to move at our own pace.

Diane Laird


School of Nail Design Bedford, N.H.

I feel that the responsibility of a cosmetology school is not to help students pass the state board exam, but to offer them a chance to experience a salon environment. I feel that this experience gives students a competitive edge after graduating.

The School of Nail Design and its team of instructors do this by offering an extra long program. It allows students a chance to perform fills on clients’ nails, hone their technical skills, offer maintenance programs to clients, and work on increasing their speed. The instructors stress to students that today’s educated clients expect sanitary and safe conditions, excellent people skills, and good service, all in as little time as possible.

We’ve recently added a mentoring program to the curriculum. The student spends a day or two in a reputable salon of his or her choice to volunteer services. They are not allowed to work on clients due to state laws, but may be a receptionist or an assistant, which allows them to observe the style of the salon and the nail technician as she performs client services. This observation can be a real eye-opener because it works effectively in impressing on the student the importance of professionalism, quality service, and quick service. This has also led to many job opportunities for the student, and salon owners are excited about the concept of meeting potential nail technicians before hiring them.

Tamera Moran

Salon Owner/Nail Technician

Top 10 Nails & Tanning Enfield, Conn.

I started in the nail business six years ago, right after completing nail school. I quickly realized that the school did not adequately prepare me for the job market. (This is probably because my state does not require licensing for nail technicians.) We were required to attend six weeks of school, one day per week. We were taught a different topic each week, so you can imagine the amount of time we spent on each technique. We were not taught anything about performing fills, recognizing fungus or bacterial infections, or about nail disorders or treatments.

After I graduated, I went on interviews and salon owners would ask me about these things that I had never learned Knowing that I was ill-equipped for my newly chosen profession, I began to search for help. I went to a local distributor and signed up for every manufacturer-taught class they offered. I also travelled to neighbouring states to take other classes and attend tradeshow seminars. Not only did my technique improve, but I learned about salon sanitation, business practices, and how to run my own salon.

Looking back, it would help greatly if schools concentrated more on practical skills rather than classroom exercises. We need more guidance on sanitation and business practices as well as more time spent perfecting our technique.


Jill Hackbarth

Nail Technician,

Park Avenue Salon; Midwest

Instructor and Educator of the Year; Seche International Inc.

Milwaukee, Wis.

A school’s purpose is to give students the best education to prepare them for the workplace and for the industry. I can only speak of nail schools specifically, but I think that, overall, the quality of education has improved, although it still has a long way to go.

Students seem to be verbally misled by schools as to what to expect from the salon environment and as a result, many students are disillusioned by what they find when they start working in a salon. Many schools need to better prepare them for the realities of the business.

I also think schools should err on the side of more technique training rather than less. Classes should be longer or more classes should be taught so that the students can hone their practical skills. Schools should also strongly emphasize continuing education. Even after students graduate, they should be encouraged to keep up with the latest products and techniques.

Carole Johnson

Nail Technician

Heads Up Hair Co. Crystal Lake, Ill.

I am a new nail technician. I graduated in June, took the state boards in September, and received my “passing” letter last week. I have sent away for my license. In between, I have taken all of the OPI Products and Creative Nail Design classes I could. All this leads up to the fact that I feel I graduated from cosmetology school not being able to “do nails” and needed to supplement my education.

I think that schools should turn out technicians who can go right to work. It is true that the school gave me a good sense of the basics, but I think more practical time working on technique is needed.

I love being a nail technician and someday I will be a very good one. I don’t even mind all of the money I have spent on the extra classes. I’ll keep taking them because I am learning how to do nails. However, I feel cheated because the cost of my cosmetology tuition seems excessive in comparison to the results achieved.

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