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December 29, 2018

The real, dirty low down on attending beauty school

We’re JD Academy of Salon + Spa in Danville, California and we’re here to cut through the “BS” and give you straight answers to the 5 questions we get most often

  1. What’s this REALLY going to cost me?
  2. How am I going to pay for that?
  3. What can I expect to make after I’ve graduated
  4. What separates someone making the average from someone who’s absolutely killing it?
  5. What’s the next step after I graduate and do you offer job placement assistance?

How much does attending beauty school REALLY cost?

We get it. Can I afford this? The short answer is we’ll do everything we can to not let cost be what stops you from achieving your goals, but we’re also aware that that’s a fluffy answer and we promised no shenanigans.

First, JD Academy offers 2 programs – our Cosmetology and Esthetician platforms. Each has their own cost, primarily based on the state’s mandated hour requirements. We’re not the least expensive in the area, nor are we the most expensive. While we don’t want to knock any other schools, this is often a, “You get what you pay for” scenario. Our tuition cost gives us the ability to hire some of the best educators in the industry and provide a curriculum that truly goes beyond cramming people through a licensing exam. This affords us the ability to focus on the technical and business skills required to maximize your earning potential and pays dividends over the course of a long, profitable career.

Our Cosmetology School

Our East Bay cosmetology program is for those ready to start a career in the Salon industry as a hairstylist and/or colorist. It’s a State of California mandated, 1500-hour program with a total cost in the neighborhood of $22,000. Roughly $18,000 of that covers your actual tuition. The rest covers both your professional stylist “kit” and the other supplies you’ll need throughout the program.

Our Esthetician School

Our Esthetician program is for those looking to go into a career as a skincare and/or makeup specialist, often in a Spa environment. It is a shorter, state-mandated, 600-hour program with an out-the-door cost of roughly $12,000.

Guest teacher at JD Academy of Salon + Spa in Danville, CA

Okay… I don’t have that kind of money. How am I going to pay for that?

We start with state and federal aid programs

First of all, JD Academy is a nationally accredited school. In addition to ensuring a great education, that means our programs are eligible for the vast majority of the state and federal programs designed to help make college more affordable. Pell Grants, FASFA, GI Bill and more – There are tons of programs available to help take a significant chunk out of that overall cost, meaning your out-of-pocket cost will generally be significantly lower. Many of these options are free to you, meaning often, they do not need to be paid back.

Then we look at public & private scholarships and grants:

Like attending any college, there are also a number of public & private scholarships and other grants available outside of the state & federal programs listed above. In fact, JD Academy occasionally offers our own, need-based scholarships. Our financial aid team can help you identify opportunities here and help you through the process of fulfilling requirements for opportunities you may have found on your own.

Finally, we look at public and private student loans

Bottom line, our financial aid team will work with you to exhaust every avenue to reduce your out-of-pocket cost for our programs through the state & federal programs and scholarship opportunities mentioned above.

Once we know what’s not covered, we can start looking at public & private student loan options to help cover the balance for those that need it – many which have payments that can be deferred until after graduation, when you have a higher paying career in the industry.

If it helps cut through the noise, here are a few of our actual, state-reported financial aid statistics:

  1. Roughly 60% of our students finance at least a portion of their tuition (59% as of our last report)
  2. The average amount those students finance is right around $13,000
  3. The average payment for that student loan, based on the national 4.66% student loan interest rate, is $135 per month
    (Or about the cost of a Verizon cell phone plan with unlimited data and a new iPhone)

Does that mean this is going to cost you $135 per month? That’s the average repayment of the financed portion of our tuition on a 10-year repayment schedule and obviously depends on how much of that cost is financed through student loans. Like any average, your cost could be lower and it could be higher. Our financial aid team would be happy to meet with you to see what your exact situation looks like and start exploring what options are available.

The average payment for JD Academy students who finance a portion of their tuition is $135 per month
(Or about the cost of a Verizon cell phone plan with unlimited data and a new iPhone)

Cosmetology student at JD Academy of Salon + Spa in Danville, CA

What’s the average hair stylists or skincare specialist make once they’ve graduated?

That question is nearly impossible to answer accurately and that’s not skating around the question. Let us explain why.

The Official Story:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national median hair stylist income is $29,590/year. California is slightly above the national average with an annual mean salary of $31,130. The BLS does not list The Bay Area as a whole, but does show well-to-do areas like San Rafael with a median stylist income of $43,430/year. So officially, that’s probably the conversation starter.

The Real Story:

Simply put, there’s a LOT more gray area to it than that. You see, nearly all salon professionals work on a combination of wages plus tips. That might be an hourly rate, a salary or a percentage of sales or something else, but the kicker here is “plus tips”. In theory, the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics above include those tips.

While JD Academy in no way endorses anything but full transparency with the IRS, the absolute reality is that like any role where a sizeable portion of your income comes from tips (the restaurant industry as another obvious example), the numbers that get reported to the IRS and otherwise, are in a significant number of cases, a lot lower than the actual income being received. Is the real number $50,000/year? $75,000? $100,000? Yes. In many cases, there are absolutely stylists making all of those amounts and reporting significantly less. In a hot market like The San Francisco Bay Area, that’s probably being conservative.

Long story short, any numbers we give you are either going to be wildly inaccurate because of reporting inconsistency or they’re going to be anecdotal, meaning we can tell you about “that student we know” who went on to make $150K a year within a year, but that’s probably not being fair either. At the end of the day, there are hundreds of thousands of salon and spa professionals making a great living across the country. The opportunity is there and like most careers, you’re going to get out of it what you put into it.

Fair enough… So what’s the difference between a $30,000/year stylist and a $100,000/year stylist?

In a nutshell: Skill, personality and the ability to manage your business.


Skill is obvious. Someone who can produce clean, consistent results, paired with expertise in higher dollar value services like Balayage, Color Correction, and more, is going to naturally demand a higher income than someone doing more basic work. They’ll retain clients better. They’ll receive more word-of-mouth and other referrals. They can more easily raise their pricing as their client base fills.

At JD Academy, we pride ourselves on producing salon-ready stylists who are already much further along building that advanced skillset. You’re going to be asked to “prove it”. We’re going to offer you the technical skills to make sure you can and help you build a portfolio to show it off.


It’s amazing how far confidence will take you. The ability to interact confidently with your customers builds a steady clientele, and with that, comes predictable income that increases with time. Someone who’s mastered the ability to generate rapport with their clientele is going to have a much easier time recommending new services and products, major contributors towards the $100K mark. That relationship with your clients will often be the difference between a 10% tip and a 25% tip. Our curriculum is designed to help you improve these soft skills – Giving you the confidence you need to maximize your earning potential.

Manage your clients. Manage your business.

No matter how you’re compensated (salary, chair percentage, etc), your ability to manage YOUR BUSINESS, is one of the biggest differentiators between a $30K earner and a $100K+ earner. Managing your appointments, managing your client visit frequency and managing your self-promotion. Done well, $100K is easily attainable and surpassable.

JD Academy teaches the Summit Business Curriculum – a platform specifically designed to help you understand how to manage your business as a salon or spa professional.

A little food for thought on income before we move on:

  1. Let’s say a new stylist is making the reported state average of $31,130.
  2. If that stylist increases their business by 20% each year for 5 years, by year 5, that same stylist is making roughly $80,000 year.

Just to be clear, while maintaining 20% increases throughout an entire career would be quite the achievement (not realistic), doing so in your first 5 years as a stylist while building a client base, is actually quite realistic and attainable with the right business sense.

Your ability to manage YOUR BUSINESS, is one of the biggest differentiators between a $30K earner and a $100K+ earner.

What happens once I graduate? What does a typical career progression look like? Job placement assistance?

Do your classroom time. Get licensed.

In California, the State Board of Barbering & Cosmetology requires 15

00 hours of class time just to take the licensing exam for cosmetology. It’s 600 hours in order to test to be licensed as an Esthetician. So no matter how you cut it and regardless of whether you attend JD Academy or another school, you’re going to be spending some time in the classroom.

JD Academy focuses on a couple of areas: Giving you the technical education needed to pass the exam and just as importantly, the real-world skills (both technical and business-related) to excel in the industry and maximize your estimated earning potential over the course of a long, profitable career. We’re not a mill churning out exam takers. We place a sincere focus on giving you the hard and soft skills needed to crush it in this industry and achieve what you set out to achieve.

Transitioning from Student to Professional

As promised, we’re not here to bullshit you. As good as our programs are, it’s probably not realistic to expect to come right out of school with a full client base and a six-figure income.

The most common career path for a hairstylist who’s just been licensed is to either take a role with an entry-level salon or to take a role as a stylist assistant at a higher-end salon. Skincare specialists would see a similar transition.

Starting in an entry-level salon gives you the ability to make a little more upfront and start immediately building your clientele and in-the-field experience.

Working as an assistant to an established stylist is often a good foot in the door to the higher-end, boutique salons and provides the opportunity to apprentice with someone who’s proven their ability in the industry. A stylist is not generally hiring a salon assistant unless they’ve generated enough client demand to require one. That tells you something about who you’ll be working with. The caveat here is that you’ll likely expect to earn slightly less for the first year or two until that salon is confident in you taking your own clients.

JD Academy has stellar relationships throughout The Bay Area and offers career placement assistance to our licensed graduates no matter which direction you think makes sense for you and your long term goals.

A stylist is not generally hiring a salon assistant unless they’ve generated enough client demand to require one. That tells you something about who you’ll be working with.

Okay… So Why Choose JD Academy?

As we mentioned above, you can’t even take the State Licensing Exam without putting in 1500 hours of class time (600 hours for the Esthetician exam). In other words, school is a necessity if this is the career path you’re going to follow. The question then becomes, why choose JD Academy over another cosmetology or esthetician school in The Bay Area? We know there are big, branded schools like The Paul Mitchell School, Aveda and others. We also know there’s a handful of smaller options as well.

In our humble opinion, it really comes down to the quality of education and what “fit” feels right for you. We’d like to think we’ve created the perfect balance of size and resources. We offer the boutique feel and the small teacher-to-student ratios that come with that, while being large enough to have the resources to higher some of the best educators in the industry. The vast majority of our teachers are also working salon and spa professionals, bringing a wealth of CURRENT, real-world experience with them.

JD Academy isn’t teaching a conceptual, rigid curriculum based on one particular platform designed to maximize the school’s profitability. The JD Academy curriculum is engineered as a “Best Of” platform – taking the strongest components of these other curriculums and pairing them with the real-world experience that you can only get by actively managing your own salon. You’re going to have a hard time finding that somewhere else.

But again, it really comes down to what feels like the right “fit” for you and the only way you’re going to know that is by coming down and hanging out for a bit. Talk with our admissions team. Meet some of our teachers. Talk with some of our current students and some candid feedback from someone who was where you are not too long ago. We’ll show you around our campus, talk about what you’re hoping to accomplish and we’d happily schedule time with our financial aid team to help you get a handle on what the actual cost will be for you.

That’s it. That’s the big sales pitch we promised we wouldn’t give you.

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