Best Cosmetology Schools in California

The best cosmetology schools in California allow students to explore the wondrous world of beauty. Whether you dream of opening your own makeup studio or working as an independent artist, these programs are ideal. From salon work to nail care, there are plenty of exciting aspects to cosmetology programs.
This guide explores five of the best cosmetology programs in the state. Each of these schools meets the following criteria:

  • An average annual cost of no more than $15,000
  • A median starting salary no lower than $30,000
  • Accredited programs by recognized bodies

5 Best Cosmetology Schools in California

1. College of San Mateo

2-4 Year; San Mateo, CA
Average Annual Cost: $1,062
The College of San Mateo is one of the best cosmetology schools in California. Its excellent cosmetology program is designed to give students the finest hands-on training. 
You’ll also receive the academic knowledge needed to sit for the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology examination. After passing, you’ll be awarded your cosmetologist license, opening the door to many job opportunities.
You’ll work alongside professional salon owners during your studies and focus on hair analysis and coloring, skin care, nail care, and other body aesthetic enhancements. Coursework will be delivered through lectures, visual presentations, demonstrations, hands-on experience, and written exams. Also, you’ll experience various specialties, including:

  • Health and safety
  • Hair texturizing
  • Hair coloring
  • Manicuring 
  • Skincare
  • Hair cutting

Students in their second semester will move on to acquire the advanced skills to show their techniques in labs and clinic settings. You’ll explore modern techniques for aesthetic enhancements and other areas of cosmetology. Additionally, you’ll focus on the communication skills needed for professional cosmetologists.
If you want to further your education, there are summer sessions at the College of San Mateo. These sessions are also considered final training when your workshops and hands-on clinic experience continue. This process is essential for preparing for your state examinations.

2. Cerritos College

2-4 Year; Norwalk, CA
Average Annual Cost: $2,310
Cerritos College’s cosmetology program is one of the more diverse options in the state. In this program, students will get hands-on and in-class learning to refine their aesthetic beauty skills. Additionally, the school has an on-campus salon where students offer public services in a real salon environment.
Your studies at Cerritos College will revolve around many fundamentals of cosmetology, including:

  • Esthetics
  • Skin and body care
  • Makeup
  • Hair
  • Massage
  • Nail care

Many graduating students become sales representatives, salon owners, makeup artists, manicurists, and hair stylists. Students can choose from two main learning pathways: a cosmetology program and an esthetician program. In cosmetology, students will explore hair styling, manicuring, pedicuring, and skincare.
The esthetician program focuses primarily on skincare and massage, offering skill-building for:

  • Microdermabrasion
  • Chemical exfoliants
  • Waxing
  • Makeup application
  • Facial massage

One of the more unique aspects of the esthetician program is it provides education about skin health. Students will learn about nutrition, bacteriology, histology, chemistry, anatomy, and skin physiology.

3. Pasadena City College

2-4 Year; Pasadena, CA
Average Annual Cost: $3,703
If you attend Pasadena City College for cosmetology, you’ll work towards an Associate in Science Degree or a Certificate of Achievement. Compared to other cosmetology programs, this program offers a highly comprehensive curriculum. Also, it’s designed to help students sit for the California State Board of Cosmetology exam.
You’ll get hands-on training to become highly creative cosmetology professionals during your studies. Many students also continue to become salon managers, nail technicians, and aestheticians. Overall, you can expect to gather a minimum of 1600 hours of training, which can take up to one year to complete as a full-time student.
There are multiple tenets of cosmetology you’ll explore during your time at Pasadena City College, including:

  • Hair styling
  • Hair coloring
  • Haircutting
  • Skincare
  • Chemical texturing
  • Nail care

Additionally, this program is designed for existing professionals looking to refine their skills. The Pasadena City College cosmetology program focuses on modern techniques in the ever-changing cosmetology industry. Along with your standard studies, students will also take professional development studies to refine their employable skills.

4. Saddleback College

2-4 Year; Mission Viejo, CA
Average Annual Cost: $5,158
The cosmetology program at Saddleback College is ranked as one of the top 20 programs in the entire state of California. Enrolled students will work towards either a Certificate of Achievement in Cosmetology or an Occupational Skills Award for Estheticians. It’s a great stepping stone if you want to diversify your knowledge in the cosmetology industry.
If you’re pursuing the Certificate of Achievement, it will take approximately 1600 hours to complete. Alternatively, the Occupational Skills Award requires 600 hours of study, allowing it to be completed within two semesters. Both programs are specifically designed to help you sit for the California State Board Exam to receive your license.
The curriculum at Saddleback College is unique, as they don’t offer specific courses for each specialty within cosmetology. Instead, students will enroll in four levels of general cosmetology courses when pursuing their Certificate of Achievement. Each level is 400 hours in length and offers 12 total credits.
On the other hand, students enrolled in the Esthetician Occupational Skills Award; you’ll receive 18 credits within 600 hours. It’s a fundamental training method if you intend to work right after school or continue onto a two or four-year degree program.

5. Santa Barbara City College

2-4 Year; Santa Barbara, CA
Average Annual Cost: $6,775
The cosmetology program at Santa Barbara City College is highly competitive. Upon graduation, students will be well-trained creative professionals. You’ll also have the fundamental skills to help you sit for and pass the California State Board licensing exam.
When enrolled at Santa Barbara City College, there are a few essential learning outcomes the program expects of all students. These outcomes include:

  • Learning sanitation and disinfection procedures
  • Applying hair coloring and lightening
  • Analyzing your client’s hair and scalp
  • Using chemical relaxer, permanent waves, and soft curls
  • Applying the fundamentals of hair shaping, shampooing, and styling
  • Offering artificial nail application and basic nail care

In addition, the cosmetology program at Santa Barbara City College focuses on some skincare specialties. These specialties include:

  • Using multi-function skincare machines
  • Analyzing skin disorders and skin types
  • Applying fundamental skin care principles
  • Applying hair removal techniques
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