Whether you’re just starting out or making a career pivot into the beauty industry, you might be contemplating which route to pursue: Cosmetology or esthetics? Your answer will be based on several different factors, including what interests you more, what your career goals are, and what schooling is required to get licensed.

So, without further ado, let’s explore what you should consider in order to determine whether cosmetology school or esthetics school is a better fit for you.

What’s the Difference Between Cosmetology and Esthetics?

Naturally, it can be hard to choose between cosmetology and esthetics without fully understanding what differentiates the two.


Cosmetology encompasses a wide range of beauty services, although the primary focus is hair care. Depending on your state, cosmetology licensure might require skincare, makeup, and nail training as well. So, in addition to learning about the various hair cutting and styling methods, coloring procedures, and types of hair treatments, aspiring cosmetologists will also gain experience with skincare treatments, makeup application, hair removal, lash and brow tinting, lash extension application, and nail care while in school. 

Such a broad scope of skills makes for abundant career opportunities. Many cosmetologists choose to specialize in only one or two of these areas professionally, allowing them to really hone their craft. Specific roles include:

  • Hair Stylist
  • Color, Texture, or Treatment Specialist
  • Event Stylist
  • Makeup Artist
  • Lash/Brow Specialist
  • Nail Technician
  • Product Distribution 
  • Salon Owner
  • Brand Educator
  • Beauty Influencer

Between cosmetology and esthetics, the former will be the one that allows you to experiment and flex your creative side, but if the science of skin and working with it in its most natural state aligns more with your interests, esthetics might be the avenue for you.


Estheticians focus on helping clients get their dream skin through a range of services and products. They need to understand skin at the cellular level so they can employ the appropriate treatments and ingredients to target skin concerns like acne, wrinkles, and hyperpigmentation. 

While skincare is traditionally associated with the face, it’s certainly not limited to it. Clients seek estheticians’ expertise for a range of body services as well, from exfoliation and toning, to laser skin treatments, to hair removal via waxing, sugaring, or laser.

Similar to how cosmetologists choose to professionally specialize in one or two areas of hair care, estheticians will do the same. They can focus on offering multiple services for one area of treatment like the face, or they can offer one service like waxing to multiple treatment areas. Either way, the future is bright, with career opportunities available in day spas, salons, resorts, dermatology offices, plastic surgeon offices, med spas, and more. Specific roles include:

  • Spa Esthetician
  • Medical Esthetician
  • Aesthetic Technician
  • Product Distribution
  • Spa Owner
  • Eyelash and Brow Specialist
  • Waxing Specialist
  • Makeup Artist
  • Brand Educator
  • Beauty Influencer

How To Choose Between Cosmetology School vs. Esthetics School

With a clearer understanding of what differentiates cosmetology and esthetics, it’s time to look at the schooling requirements for each, as this can impact the path you choose to pursue.


Ask yourself what your timeline looks like. How soon do you want to be out in the world practicing cosmetology or esthetics? Do you have the capacity to train full-time, or will you need to pursue part-time study?

Cosmetology school will take longer to complete than esthetics school, as there’s more material to cover and the state-required number of training hours for licensure is also higher. But, the trade-off is that you’ll have more variety in your curriculum, as well as diverse professional career options to consider upon graduating. Cosmetology students training full-time can complete schooling in just over a year, while part-time students can finish in closer to two.

Esthetics school can be completed in under a year, but you’ll have a more focused curriculum. If you know esthetics is the field for you, this won’t matter, but if you’re taking a more open-minded approach to your new career in the beauty industry, cosmetology school allows you to figure out what you like and don’t like in your own time.

Licensing Requirements

There aren’t any licensing shortcuts to be had from choosing cosmetology over esthetics or vice versa. For both, you’ll need to pass your state’s licensure exam and apply for a license in order to practice professionally. 

Most states also require continuing education (CE) for license renewal. The number of CE hours needed per renewal cycle varies per state, but in Iowa, cosmetologists and estheticians must complete a minimum of six CE hours every two years — four in technical training in your license area and two in state law. In Minnesota, cosmetologists and estheticians must complete a minimum of eight CE hours every three years — four in technical training in your license area and four in state law.

Continuing Education

The beauty industry is ever-evolving, meaning you need to be committed to ensuring your skills are too. Outside of being mandatory for license renewal, continuing education courses to further your cosmetology or esthetics knowledge should be something you want to do, as it allows you to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, tools, and best practices in your field, which can positively impact your client growth and retention rates.

Professional Expectations

One final thing that might help steer you in a specific direction is considering what will be expected of you as a professional cosmetologist vs. esthetician. For both fields, it’s ideal to be a good listener who’s outgoing, friendly, clean, organized, and confident in your ability to provide recommendations.

As a cosmetologist, whether you're cutting or coloring hair or applying makeup, your clients will seek recommendations from you based on your knowledge of trends and best practices, as well as your own creative expertise. They might want something new, but don’t exactly know what. Or, they might know exactly what they want, but you know better. Either way, they’re going to seek your input and will value what you suggest.

As an esthetician, your clients will come to you to solve their specific skin concerns. They know what they want to fix, but might not know what’s needed to do so. Your deep understanding of skin types, products, ingredients, and services will be on full display as you advise on the right treatment approach.

If you don’t inherently possess these necessary soft and hard skills, fear not — that’s what cosmetology or esthetics school is for. 

Get Your Cosmetology or Esthetics Career Started With PCI Academy

So what’ll it be, cosmetology or esthetics? Keep in mind that the question doesn’t have to be an either/or. You can train in both if you desire — we even offer discounted tuition for students who opt to do so. 

Whichever path you choose to pursue, do it with excellence at PCI Academy. We’re here to deliver a high-quality, comprehensive education that’ll equip you with the knowledge, experience, and skills you need to thrive as a beauty industry professional.

Contact us today to get your questions answered or schedule a tour at one of our campuses. Already made up your mind? Apply now to begin your cosmetology or esthetics training!