Financial Aid for Cosmetology School
When you’re deciding whether to attend cosmetology school, there’s plenty to consider. In most states, you’ll need to complete a formal cosmetology program to earn the license you must have in order to work as a cosmetologist. But you’ll also need to consider how you’ll pay for it.
For many students, limited finances make it challenging to pursue post-secondary training. Fortunately, it is possible to receive financial aid for cosmetology school, and it may not be as hard to get as you might think.
This guide provides useful information about the costs of attending cosmetology school, the types of financial aid that exist for cosmetology students, tips for accessing the different types of aid, and more.
Cost of Cosmetology School
The cost of attending cosmetology school depends on several factors, such as the specific school, the program, and its location. According to the American Association of Cosmetology Schools (AACS), you can expect to pay about $10,000 or more for a full cosmetology program at an independent school in a major metropolitan area. In comparison, a similar program in a more rural area could cost around $6,500. Some programs cost closer to $20,000.
Shorter programs requiring fewer licensure hours, such as esthetics or manicuring, are likely to cost less. The school’s reputation may also be a factor; the more well-known it is and the better its reputation in the beauty world, the more expensive it’s likely to be.
The most significant cosmetology school cost is generally tuition, but keep in mind that you’ll also need to purchase tools of the trade and pay associated fees for the student experience. Textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars, and you’ll probably need to purchase supplies (a student kit) to complete your hands-on training in hairstyling, nail design, or skin care.
Tools might include a mannequin head or hands to practice services on; scissors, razors, brushes, and combs for hairstyling; makeup and applicator brushes; products for hair, skin, or nails; and your apron. You may also be required to purchase a laptop or tablet to complete coursework and pay fees for the use of lab or salon equipment and space, in addition to paying application and enrollment fees. All in, your books, supplies, and miscellaneous fees may cost you a couple of thousand dollars on top of tuition. Some schools include a student kit and iPad in the cost of tuition, while others charge tuition plus a kit fee of around $1,900 and up.
The costs certainly add up, but it is possible to earn your cosmetology degree without breaking the bank. However, when choosing a school, be aware of factors beyond cost alone. While a quality education doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay top dollar, searching for the cheapest option may or may not provide you with the flexibility, quality, and rigor you need to be a sought-after, licensed, professional cosmetologist with the skills to meet the demand for specific services in your area.
Government Financial Aid for Beauty Students
Several types of financial aid exist to help students cover the costs of post-secondary education, and sources of funding may come at the federal, state, local, or private levels. Here’s a rundown of the basic types of financial aid you’re likely to encounter as a cosmetology student.
Federal Financial Aid for Beauty School
The federal government provides student aid through several different vehicles, all of which can be accessed by first submitting a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Federal aid generally is awarded based on financial need. To apply for federal student aid, you must attend a program with a Title IV educational institution, which means the school adheres to certain requirements in order to be accredited by an organization approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
The different types of federal financial aid are:
A grant is a financial award based on need and does not need to be paid back by the student. The most common is the Pell Grant, awarded to undergraduates who currently do not possess degrees. Other grants are available for students who agree to work in education, where there is an acute need, or for those who have served in the military.
With a work-study award, the federal government agrees to disburse a fixed amount of funding to your school, which they use to pay you as an employee. Work-study students must seek employment with the school and be paid directly by the school, but they may not earn more from the school than the amount provided by the government. Students may use the funds however they see fit—it’s not a requirement that it all goes toward tuition.
A student loan is money a student borrows to pay for school and agrees to pay back after graduating. Typically, the loan is paid back with interest, although federal loans can come with a lower fixed interest rate than private lenders offer for a comparable loan. Undergraduates generally may borrow between $3,500 and $12,500 per year, though it’s a good idea to borrow the least amount of money possible to prevent taking on too much debt.
To fill out the FAFSA and access federal financial aid, you’ll need to create a StudentAid.gov account and follow several steps to complete and submit the form. Be mindful of federal, state, and college FAFSA deadlines to ensure you get your application in on time and have the best chance of receiving the aid you need.
Cosmetology schools that are Title IV institutions will often have one or more staff members who are well-versed in federal aid and can help prospective students as well as current attendees navigate the deadlines and paperwork.
State and Local Financial Aid for Beauty School
Depending on which state you live in, your FAFSA may also provide you access to financial aid at the regional, state, or local level. Aid may be based on financial need or academic merit.
For example, the state of Nebraska offers the Nebraska Opportunity Grant to students attending any approved post-secondary institution, who are earning a diploma, certificate, or degree, and who show demonstrated financial need. Nevada’s Millennium Scholarship is a merit-based scholarship that awards up to $10,000 to students who have resided in the state for at least two years, received a diploma from a Nevada high school, and earned at least a 3.25 GPA.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) maintains a list of state financial aid programs. Additionally, some states make regional agreements that students attending schools in partner states may qualify for certain types of aid or discounted, in-state tuition.
How Much Does Federal Financial Aid Cover for Cosmetology School?
In the 2019-2020 school year, undergraduate students (not exclusively cosmetology students) who received federal student aid received an average federal aid amount of $14,940 as a mix of grants, work-study opportunities, loans, and education tax credits.
The amount of financial aid—whether government or private—you can expect depends on many factors, including whether you are attending a beauty school that makes you eligible for federal financial aid, as well as your household income, the type of school or program you’re attending, whether you’ve demonstrated sufficient need or have earned aid based on academic merit, and more.
So how much does financial aid cover for cosmetology school? Depending on your school, it can cover some or all your tuition and fees charged by the school. Financial aid for cosmetology school also applies to education expenses, which may include your kit of needed tools and products and textbooks.
If your school is a Title IV institution, the amount of financial aid received by previous cohorts of students is public record. You can find this information either on College Navigator, a resource site run by the U.S. Department of Education, or on the school’s website directly. Even if your school is not a Title IV school, you may still want to ask about their statistics with regard to financial aid for their students (but be aware that such privately supplied information may not be audited or may not be apples to apples with data you find about comparable schools).
One important but often overlooked consideration in the financial aid process is whether the school you are considering is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education-recognized accrediting agency.
Accreditation means that an institution has voluntarily initiated a comprehensive self-evaluation and objective appraisal of its quality and rigor by an independent third-party accrediting agency. During an accreditation process, representatives from the accrediting agency talk to and observe the school’s faculty and students, review financial records to determine whether it’s financially stable, evaluate its retention and placement rates, and more. Schools must renew accreditation periodically.
In terms of financial aid, accreditation is an essential part of being a Title IV school. Title IV of the Higher Education Act allows students to receive federal financial aid at qualifying institutions. To become qualified under Title IV, schools must:
- Be licensed and authorized to provide post-secondary education in their states
- Be accredited by Department of Education-approved agencies
- Admit only students with high school diplomas or their equivalent
- Submit financial statements for auditing
- Have no history of filing for bankruptcy
Additionally, if a prospective cosmetology school is a for-profit or vocational school, it must have offered the same program for at least two years before applying for Title IV status.
If being eligible for federal financial aid is important to you, be sure to verify whether the school you’re considering has Title IV status. Its website may state its unique school code, or you can consult the Federal School Code List or the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs search to find your school. Then enter the code into the appropriate box on the FAFSA to indicate which school(s) you want to receive your financial application results.
Cosmetology School Loans
Student loans can be an important piece of the financial aid puzzle, often picking up where grants, scholarships, and work-study leave gaps in coverage and allowing you to proceed with your education. However, it’s important to understand that unlike other types of aid, loans will eventually need to be paid back, usually with interest, after earning your degree or certificate. This can be very expensive: The average student loan debt amount in 2021 (across different undergraduates, not specific to cosmetology students) was $37,172, with an average monthly payment of $393.
The last thing you want is a mountain of debt right when you’re starting your cosmetology career, so it’s wise to look for as much grant or scholarship funding as possible before seeking out or agreeing to take on loans.
Here are the main types of student loans available to cosmetology students and what you can expect from each.
The U.S. Department of Education offers the following types of loans for students pursuing cosmetology training:
Direct Subsidized Loans
These loans are available to eligible undergraduate students who demonstrate sufficient financial need and plan to attend college or career training. With subsidized loans, the government pays the interest on the loan while you’re in school and for the first six months after you graduate, or during any period of deferment—when payments are postponed for a qualifying reason. This is the most favorable type of loan for students.
Direct Unsubsidized Loans
These loans are available to students attending post-secondary training at any level, and financial need is not a factor. The terms on these loans, including interest rates, typically are not as favorable for students. Because they aren’t subsidized, you’re responsible for all interest while in school and immediately following graduation, or it will accrue and add to the total amount you owe.
Direct PLUS Loans
These loans are available to parents of dependent students or students earning graduate or professional degrees. Credit history is a factor in being eligible for this loan.
Direct Consolidation Loans
This type of loan is generally for students who have previously taken out a few loans and are looking to consolidate all of them into one payment.
Both public and private loan options are available for students. However, like federal loans, state-administered loans tend to be some of the most favorable for students for a number of reasons.
First, they tend to have fixed, low-interest rates compared to those that private lenders offer. They also tend to be more flexible regarding your repayment terms, and your credit may not be a factor (though this depends upon the state and the loan program). CollegeScholarships.org maintains a list of state-specific loans that you can search to determine what’s available to you.
Of course, as with any large expense, there is an option to take out financing through a private lender, such as your local bank or credit union. Private loans may offer more flexibility to you in terms of securing funding, but the interest rates are usually higher for private loans than public ones, and the repayment terms may be more rigid.
However, some nonprofit organizations provide private student loan funding with more favorable terms. These include Sallie Mae, which offers undergraduate and career training loans, and Climb, an organization dedicated to expanding access to post-secondary education through loans and other resources.
Cosmetology School Scholarships
Scholarships are financial gifts awarded to students for all types of reasons, including academic merit, involvement in certain affinity groups, coming from certain backgrounds or communities, winning competitions such as essay contests, choosing to study certain high-need subject areas, and more. Schools, nonprofit organizations, employers, private companies, churches, professional associations, or private donors may offer scholarships.
While there may be hundreds of scholarships available to you as a cosmetology student, finding them can take some work on your part. Many experts recommend starting your search locally because scholarship providers in your area have a stake in seeing young people from their own communities furthering their education. Plus, the simple matter of mathematics—fewer people to compete against if the scholarship is only open to those in your community versus those open to anyone with Internet access—means your chance of winning the scholarship is higher.
It may be a good idea to begin with your own circle. Do you have an employer, local community foundation, chamber of commerce, nonprofit, church, salon, or some other group you’re affiliated with that might offer a scholarship? Does your prospective school have one available? For example, students enrolled in The Salon Professional Academy who have the minimum required GPA can apply for the Redken Scholarship program. Empire Beauty School offers scholarships for high schoolers who plan to attend cosmetology school, for students with good attendance, and students who may be living in domestic abuse shelters.
Ask around within your network to learn about opportunities near you. Internet searches for cosmetology scholarships can also lead you to scholarship opportunities. Search for “cosmetology scholarships in …” and fill in your local city or state information. Beauty Schools Directory’s list of beauty school scholarships is an excellent resource. Or, consult the College Board or other free scholarship database sites to search specifically by program or location. The more focused and specific your search, the more success you’re likely to have!
Cosmetology School Grants
Grants are usually for students who demonstrate that they do not have sufficient financial resources to afford higher education. The grant you’re most likely to encounter as an undergraduate or vocational student is the Pell Grant, the most popular of all government-funded student aid programs. For the 2020-2021 school year, the average Pell Grant award was $4,310.
Another federal grant you may have access to is the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG), a first-come, first-served grant given to low-income students to assist with unmet financial needs after Pell Grants.
Your state or a private association may also provide grant funding based on need to cosmetology students or students attending vocational or career-training schools. For example, the Oregon Barber and Hairdresser Grant Program provides education funding to Oregon residents attending licensed cosmetology schools and demonstrating significant financial need. Be sure to check with your state’s department of education or board of cosmetology to learn about grant opportunities you may be eligible for.
What’s the Difference Between Grants and Scholarships?
While grants and scholarships are free money given to you without needing to be paid back, they aren’t the same.
Grants are usually awarded based on financial aid, particularly at the state, regional, or federal level. There may be some “strings attached” in terms of obligations to study a particular subject, work in a particular field, or work for a certain employer upon graduation. On the other hand, scholarships are usually awarded based on academic merit, talent, background, or the chosen field of study.
Career and Technical Education for High School Students
If you’re still in high school and are concerned about the prospect of paying for a post-secondary cosmetology program, you might want to consider a school that offers Career and Technical Education (CTE). Your school district may call it a trade or vocational school or career development course.
These career-specific programs (either within high schools or as standalone charter schools) provide instruction in specific technical or career-oriented skills, such as cosmetology. The benefit is that it may be possible to earn some or all of the necessary cosmetology training needed to obtain your license for free while in high school, or at a reduced cost.
For example, in Lansing, Indiana, Thornton Fractional North High School launched a new cosmetology/barbering program in fall 2021. The free public school requires students to complete 1,500 training hours during their junior and senior years, and students then have enough training to earn their licenses. If you still are in high school, it might be a good idea to explore options like this in your area, potentially saving you the thousands of dollars you might otherwise pay for career training.
Financial Aid for Veterans and Their Families (VA Assistance)
If you’re a veteran, active-duty military personnel, or a spouse or dependent of a person who has served in the military, you may have access to additional military-associated financial aid options.
Veterans, military personnel, and qualified dependents may use G.I. Bill benefits for tuition, books, and supplies at an approved cosmetology school or other non-college-degree program. The G.I. Bill chapters that can assist servicemembers and their families with paying for college include The Montgomery G.I. Bill (active duty and selected reserve) and Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Plus, unused benefits may transfer from veterans to their spouses or dependent children.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
If your parent or guardian died serving in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you may be able to receive additional federal grant aid, which would not affect your eligibility for other need-based federal aid.
Military Tuition Assistance
Current servicemembers can receive tuition assistance at accredited colleges, universities, junior colleges, and vocational-technical schools by using the Military Tuition Assistance program. There are conditions, including a minimum amount of service time remaining and a cap on credit hours.
Servicemembers who have already taken out student loans may qualify for deferment on repayment, a hold on interest accrual, and lower interest rates.
Active-duty military personnel, veterans, and their families may also qualify for scholarships from the American Legion, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, as well as other veteran service organizations.
Cosmetology can be an excellent career for military spouses, and there are resources available for those who’d like to pursue training. Military OneSource is a Department of Defense program that offers a variety of resources for many aspects of military life, including information on spousal benefits and scholarships.
Cosmetology School Tuition Reimbursement
Many students find it necessary to work while they attend school. Fortunately, in addition to providing you with an income to help pay for college, your employer may also provide tuition assistance or reimbursement.
In this type of program, you would submit receipts for your educational expenses to your employer and be reimbursed for them. For example, Home Depot, Publix, and UPS offer part-time and full-time employees tuition reimbursement benefits for vocational/technical education programs. Be sure to consult your employer about what programs qualify, but many companies will reimburse for any program as long as the skills learned benefit the employer somehow.
Additionally, some companies in the cosmetology industry are willing to invest in future employees’ talent and training by offering tuition reimbursement as a sign-on bonus.
How to Graduate from Cosmetology School Debt-Free
The cost of post-secondary education continues climbing every year, with no end in sight. It can be tempting to believe that attending cosmetology school at any cost will be worth it because you can pay that back when you’re working as a successful, licensed cosmetologist. But it may take years to build a consistent clientele and earn enough to pay off the debt you’ve accrued.
Fortunately, in addition to grants, scholarships, tuition reimbursement, and work-study programs that you might be able to obtain for college, there are some other methods to consider that could help you limit or even eliminate your school debt.
Shop Selectively for Schools
When researching cosmetology schools near you, look at their graduation rates and history of providing financial aid. Those with high graduation rates and histories of providing substantial financial aid may be worth a second look. Rather than just looking at the posted tuition rate (the sticker cost), do the research to figure out what your net cost would be after different types of aid are applied.
Be a Working Student
Suppose your cosmetology school offers courses at night and on weekends. In that case, your schedule may allow you to work full-time while attending school, thereby enabling you to pay more out of pocket now rather than incurring debt with interest. Or you could take on a side hustle—driving a Lyft, walking dogs, or tutoring, for example—and dedicate that income entirely to paying for school.
Earn Credit in High School
As mentioned, pursuing cosmetology training while attending a public high school can be an excellent way to graduate debt-free. Even if you only complete part of the program while in high school, you may be able to finish for a small cost after you graduate or transfer your credits to another school.
Apply for Every Scholarship and Grant That’s a Match
Even scholarships that offer as little as $100 to $200 can add up to big savings if you win enough of them. Make searching for scholarships and grants a regular practice and schedule time to do it every week. You can’t win if you don’t apply, and every bit you earn now is money you won’t have to pay back later.
Look for Free Colleges or Low-Cost Training Programs
Some states or counties may offer free or low-cost vocational training available at local community colleges. For example, the Tennessee Promise program pays tuition costs for students who attend community colleges and public technical schools. Explore what’s available in your area, and keep in mind that some schools even offer low-cost tuition or tuition waivers to low-income students.
Create Your Own Work-Study
The chances are that many cosmetology schools don’t have structured work-study programs in place. But it doesn’t hurt to ask if you could work in exchange for reducing tuition or other fees. Maybe they’re looking for a receptionist or someone to clean up the salon at the end of the day. Instead of paying someone else, the school can hire you to work off some of your training expenses, and it’s a win-win for everyone—you incur less debt, and they get a knowledgeable and motivated volunteer.
Make a Budget
It sounds like basic advice, but if it’s done well, creating and sticking to a strict household budget can help you pay for school by simply showing you what you can cut back on. By looking carefully at where you’re spending your money and eliminating some unnecessary household expenses, you could be setting yourself up for a debt-free future.