For many people, becoming a hair stylist, colorist, or cosmetologist is a dream career. It’s a path that is quite different than spending four years in college and taking a desk job.
A role in a salon allows you to work with their hands, meet new people, and create beautiful looks. Top stylists can make up to $45,000 a year, so it can be a way to make a good income without getting a bachelor’s degree.
But the appeal of a career in cosmetology also makes it rife with scams. Though there are hundreds of reputable schools across the country, there are also many schools that rob students of their hard-earned money and leave them without any job prospects.
Even after shady schools close or shut down, many former students get stuck paying the price of cosmetology school loans. Here’s what to watch for, and how to find student loans for cosmetology school that are legit.
One of the largest cases against a cosmetology school involved the Jon Louis School of Beauty in New York. The school was accused of misusing federal student loan funds and targeting low-income and non-English speaking students, saddling them with debt in order to make a profit.
Jon Louis and other similar schools have closed, but some students still face cosmetology school loans. Others paid thousands of dollars and took out loans to go to school, but never received the necessary training and credentials.
Students report being unable to pass state licensing exams and only qualifying for unskilled jobs in the salon, such as hair washing or cleaning at the end of the day. Many are unemployable after graduation, and end up taking low-paying jobs in fast food or retail to make ends meet.
The issue is ongoing. Just this past year, the Department of Education cut off federal loans and grants to dozens of beauty schools, alleging that the institutions falsified records.
Identifying a reputable beauty school
Natyssa Taras is a licensed hairstylist with Simplicity salon in New York but is also a regional educator with Eufora International. After years in the business, she stresses that potential stylists do their homework before choosing a school.
“Aspiring hair stylists looking at beauty schools should first look for accreditation,” says Taras. “This comes from the state in which the school is located, their board of education, as well as licensing groups like the New York State Beauty School Association.”
Accreditation is a key indicator that the school prepares students for employment after graduation. Additionally, Taras recommends that potential students visit schools in person.
“It’s always best to visit the school. Websites can only tell you so much,” explains Taras. “Talk to teachers about continued education after graduation, job placement, and apprenticeships. Instructors should be state-certified, as each state has their own program for professionals to become licensed cosmetology instructors.”
Cosmetology school loans
The cost of beauty school can vary, depending on the location and the school’s brand.
“The average cost in my area of New York is $12,000 for a 36-week program,” says Taras. “A ‘brand’ school like Paul Mitchell, Sassoon, and others will cost more, but beware of paying a premium for a name only. Do your research and talk to current students and alumni if you can.”
Schools can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 in tuition, with additional expenses for room, board, and textbooks. When it comes to paying for school, an accredited school gives you more options. Most federal loans are only available if the school you choose is an accredited institution.
If your school has the required credentials, you apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you have a lower income, you may qualify for Pell Grants to help cover the cost of your education, which you do not have to pay back.
Even if you don’t qualify for a grant, federal student loans have a low interest rate and offer repayment programs that can make your monthly payments affordable. Always see if you are eligible for a federal student loan first. If it’s not an option for you, start researching private loans from reputable lenders.
In other cases, the schools may offer financing themselves or offer payment plans to make it easier on you, such as through cosmetology school loans. To protect yourself, thoroughly research your intended school and talk to alumni to ensure the institution is legitimate.
Your next steps
Entering a career in cosmetology can be rewarding and provide you with a good income. Unfortunately, in recent years, the industry has become flooded with disreputable schools and loan scams.
If you are considering attending beauty school, make sure you understand the necessary accreditation in your state and the qualifications you need to find a job after graduation.
If you’re ready to start school but need help paying for it, check out private student loans for cosmetology school that can help you cover your tuition and other school expenses.
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