Sal is a big guy, with the thick, golden mane of a man who knows hair is his business, and dyed eyebrows to match. His office is decorated with motivational posters that say things like “Leadership” and “Positivity,” along with photos of his daughter in a shiny blue prom dress. He has very bright blue eyes and stares straight at me when he holds for laughs. Which is often.
Beauty College is tucked into a dingy storefront on a side street off this upstate New York town’s languishing business district. There’s a crack in the glass of the front door and someone has forgotten an umbrella in the corner. It’s a big room with mirrors and fake wood-paneled walls, linoleum floors and mannequin heads scattered about.
I fill out an “Interview” form that makes frequent references to The Professional Beauty Industry, as in “Why are you now interested in joining The Professional Beauty Industry?” and “Do you have any family members currently working in The Professional Beauty Industry?” It also notes that The Professional Beauty Industry has plenty of job openings despite the recession, and that the average salon employee can expect to make $18.01 per hour, once you factor in tips. Assuming a 35-hour week, that’s about $32,000 per year before taxes.
Beauty College charges $12,800 for it’s 1000-hour training program.
Sal gives my form a cursory glance and informs me that since I already have a bachelor’s degree, I won’t qualify for any financial aid grants, but he welcomes me to apply for a loan and embarks on a lengthy explanation of the various ways I can go $8,000 to $10,000 in debt for the foreseeable future if not the next ten years. It’s really all down to the government, he explains, because Beauty College is very willing to work with me, but the government has all these rules. “I don’t want to get political, of course.” I can even go ahead and get started with the next round of classes on September 14 – he doesn’t mind if I can’t write him a check until October. I say I need to talk the finances over with my husband and he nods sympathetically. “Bring him in, if you want. He might feel better if he checks the place out for himself.”
Then we talk about why Beauty College is a much better investment than what Sal likes to call “Traditional Education.” Traditional Education basically trains you for nothing, being the main difference. You write term papers and party and learn “philosophy” for four years, but then, what do you have to show for it? Does anyone say, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Virginia?” What jobs would an English major even qualify you to have? Sal knows what it’s like. He was a Phys Ed major himself.
Beauty College, on the other hand, gives you marketable skills that translate to specific jobs. They work with you every step of the way. They ask you, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Virginia?” More to make a point than to listen to the answer — Sal doesn’t actually put me on the spot with that question, but moves right along to explain all the contacts they have with salons all over the tri-county area and, of course, in New York City, so they always know when someone is hiring.
Beauty College will keep in touch and make sure to continue to offer me plenty of other opportunities for advanced education, which is so important in The Professional Beauty Industry. After all, their program (the full cosmetology license training) takes 1000 hours. During that time, I’ll learn to cut, color, perm, straighten, and relax hair. I’ll learn to add weaves, extensions and braids. I’ll learn to paint nails, wax skin, and apply makeup.
“But the thing is,” Sal says, leaning forward and raising one blond eyebrow confidentially. “In 1000 hours you basically learn just enough to be dangerous.”