How to Find the Best Makeup School for You

For many makeup artists, school provides the formal training that launches them into their careers. But choosing an institution can be difficult. What should you look for in a school? What do the best makeup schools offer their students? And how can you tell if a school is the real deal or a waste of time?

Here are all the factors you should look at when considering a program, so that you can be sure you're finding the best makeup artist school for you. By the time you read to the bottom of the page, you'll have all the info to make a decision that will help you start your career.

Do I Need to Go to Makeup Artist School?

First things first...

Do you even need to go to a makeup artist school to become a professional makeup artist?

No! You don't. Isn't that wonderful? You don't need to go to school to become a makeup artist. In fact, you can start your freelance makeup career tomorrow if you'd like.

Why is that? It's because...

There's No Such Thing as a Makeup License

For most careers in the beauty industry, the state you work in will have strict requirements about the profession. You will need attend a state-recognized school, complete a curriculum that has been ok'ed by the state lawmakers, and get a license. That's true for beauticians, skin care therapists, and manicurists.

BUT, makeup artists don't have to deal with any of that. At the time we are writing this post, we could not find a single state law that says you need a license to become a freelance makeup artist. States do not license the occupation, and the only time you'll need a license is if you work in spa or salon, and then you'll need a cosmetology license or an esthetician license. But if you want to do freelance makeup and work on brides, models, and/or actors outside of a spa or salon, you can do that as soon as you'd like.

So Why Would I Go to School If I Don't Need To?

School is one of the best ways to gain experience, and as someone who is trying to break into the fast-paced and competitive world of makeup, experience is the one thing you don't have. Classes show future employers (and other makeup artists, should you choose to become an assistant) that you have some idea what you're doing.

But there's another great reason that school can really accelerate your professional development: you don't have to re-invent the wheel. The instructions at your school---if it's a good school---will have "been there and done that." They know the ropes. They'll know the application techniques you'll use to work with high-definition cameras. They'll have experience working with models. They’ll know how to talk to agents. They’ll have a LOT of info that it would take you years to collect.

So do you need to go to school? No. And that's one of the beautiful things about the career.

But if you DO decide to go to school, the next question you need to ask yourself is an easy one...

The Best Makeup Schools

Special Effects or Fashion?

In the broadest terms, there's two types of MUAs: fashion MUAs and special effects MUAs. Do you want to do makeup that makes people look beautiful and fashionable, or do you want to do makeup that makes people look like aliens, vampires, gunshot victims, and so on?

If you want to be a fashion makeup artists and find the best makeup artist school for you, keep reading.

If you want to find a special effects makeup artist and find the best special effects makeup school for you, click here.

Know What You Want to Study -- And How You Want to Study It

Makeup schools offer a WIDE variety of different classes. There are classes where you can learn a single subject, such as how to apply bridal makeup or how to do fashion makeup for photo shoots, and then there are "all-in-one" full-time classes that offer you guidance on ALL the aspects of being a professional makeup artist.

The types of classes offered vary widely from school to school, so you need to figure out exactly it is you want from your educational experience, and make sure that the makeup artist school provides it. Here are some of the types of classes available to you, and the kind of commitment they require.

Full-time Classes

These are full-time, intensive classes that will teach you everything you need to know about the subject you're learning about. They usually have state-of-the-art equipment and highly experienced teachers, and they're usually located in New York or Los Angeles or other metropolitan centers. One of the most famous of these courses would the Makeup Designory (MUD); their "Fashion Makeup Artistry Program" is between three and six months long, and costs more than $12,000 (not including room and board). Some of MUD's master classes can actually cost up to $20,000 or more.

Workshops and Intensives

There are a number of schools that offer "one-off" courses, where, instead of taking three months and learning everything there is to know about the makeup industry, you focus on a single subject. They can be excellent options if you're new to makeup and need an intro, if you're already in the field and need a brush-up on a specific type of makeup --- or if you don't have the money or time (or opportunity) to go to one of the all-inclusive programs.

One example would be Chic Studios in New York, where you can take two-day courses on a variety of specific subjects, such as sunless tanning or body painting.  Those classes usually cost $300 to $1,000.

Another example would be Media Makeup Academy in New York and Chicago, that offers five-day intensive intro classes, as well as some more specific techniques, such as airbrush makeup. These types of classes are usually around $1,000 to $5,000.

Private Lessons

Many makeup artists generate a lot of income through giving private lessons. These aren't technically makeup schools, but if you live far from a metropolitan area or simply don't have the time or money to commit to a longer program, private lessons can be a great option. Lessons are usually $50 to $100 to $150 an hour, and you can request specific instruction on something you'd like to learn about.

Is Cosmetology School a Better Option?

For many people who are interested in a career in the beauty industry, cosmetology school can be an excellent option. With a cosmetology degree, you can become a makeup artist OR a beautician / hairstylist, whereas if you go to a makeup school, you will only learn makeup and will be limited to doing freelance makeup. And while you won't learn as much about makeup theory and application in a cosmetology school as you would a makeup program, you will end up having a broader understanding of beauty techniques, and you will have multiple options when it comes to choosing a career.

Plus, in terms of actually getting a reliable job, a diploma from a cosmetology school is a much, much better idea. Our site is about makeup and makeup is our passion---but it's true! It can be difficult to make it as a makeup artist. The hours are tough and it takes a lot of perseverance. But the are cosmetology jobs and beautician jobs in every single city and town in the United States, if you graduate from a cosmetology program and get your license, you will ALWAYS be able to get a job.

It's worth noting, too, that there are other reasons why going to a cosmetology school can be a good idea. On some jobs, you'll be required to touch up a model or actor's hair, and need to have experience in order to make it look right. There are a couple of different makeup programs that teach hair (Academy of Freelance Makeup in London, Paris, and NYC is one), but most do not.

Also, some people become freelance makeup artists, and find out that they don't like it! It can take a lot of energy to run your own business, and some people find that they get just as much professional satisfaction (and much more stability) from working in a salon as a cosmetologist.

​What to Look for in a School

If you've decided that makeup school is where you want to go, here are the factors you want to consider.

Location, Location, Location

Here is a VERY important question to considering when considering your training: are there schools near you, and if not, can you relocate for a little while?

Because makeup training programs vary in length, you have a couple of options.

  • You can go to one of the full-time programs, and find housing for a few months. Some schools have housing options---MUD actually discusses housing in their online catalog (see page 54 of their catalog)---but most schools do not provide housing options. That can make traveling to school a little tricky.
  • You can engage in some "makeup tourism." It's not uncommon for people to take week-long trips for workshops or intensive courses. If you five a five-day course that you like, you can drive/get a flight to the city your classes are in, and find housing in a hotel / hosting / Airbnb / whatever. It could actually be part of a fun vacation!

Location is another reason why cosmetology schools become a great option: because there is very likely a great cosmetology school near you! You won't be learning only about makeup, but you won't have to relocate, either. For many people who are unable to make it to the urban centers where makeup schools are located, beauty schools can be a great option.

The Right School -- At the Right Price

As we mentioned earlier, most of the schools that specify in makeup are in urban locations, and those urban areas are PRICEY (in fact, most of the MUAs who write for Makeup Artist Essentials live in Brooklyn, and can't afford to live in Manhattan!).

If it gets you into the career that you want, then it's worth it---and schools that cost more almost always offer student loans, so you can borrow money to attend. But take it from us---having student loan payments is NO fun. You want to be sure that the school you're going to is worth the price tag. Keep in mind, you're not only paying for classes, you're paying to meet instructors who have connections to the beauty industry. If you're trying to break into some of "hotter" areas of makeup (such as fashion or modeling), those connections can be worth the price tag.

But DEFINITELY consider the price tag when looking at a school, and be sure the school is EXACTLY what you want.

Now that we've talked a little bit about topic, location, and cost, let's dive into what the school should offer you.

Artistry Development

This is, perhaps, the most important part of a makeup education, and the best makeup artist schools will be want you be the best MUA you can be. When considering schools, you should to be a little aggressive with them, and find out: What do they actually teach? What techniques and methods will you learn? Are the instructors at the school professionals who have worked in the field? And, most importantly, will they help you develop into the artist that you want to become?

It'll take a little bit of research to find out about the school, so go to their website and look at every page. Does the environment look professional? Do you get the impression that they love teaching, and want their students to succeed, or are they simply trying to get as many people into class as possible?

Because there are no makeup licenses, you are simply there to learn. Your research should convince you that the class you're going to take is going to get you to the next level of your professional development.

Something Else to Look For: Do They Teach Business Skills?

There are some business skills that any successful MUA will have, and it's super-helpful when makeup schools teach them. It's not super-important that schools teach these skills---and it would be very difficult to incorporate them into a five-day class---but there a definite bonus if they're included, because they can't help A LOT. Let's take a look.

They'll Help You With Your Portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of images of the people you've worked on. Most MUAs have an actual portfolio that they can carry around and show people, and an online portfolio on a website. Each portfolio should include a number of different looks, clients, and projects, and it should be absolutely breath-taking.

Why? In the makeup industry, your portfolio is the most important tool you have to find new work. People are not interested in where you went to school or who you've worked with. They just want to know that you can get the job done and do great work. They will look at your portfolio and make an instant judgment on whether your work is any good.

So, your portfolio is pretty important. A great MUA program will help you prepare your portfolio, or at least give you a little guidance on how to do so (and we, of course, have plenty on posts on how to create your portfolio!).

Post-Grad Job Help

If they're a full-time school, do they offer post-graduate job placement? This is another great perk that some schools (mostly the more expensive ones) offer. Will they help book a couple of gigs after classes end, and get your started on your professional journey?

The Academy of Freelance Makeup School takes "aftercare" very seriously, and includes photographs of graduates at various fashion shows around the globe. That's a pretty convincing sales pitch for the school!

Keep in mind, this is NOT a pre-requisite. Most schools don't offer this service, and there are many great schools that don't have it. But if you can find a school that offers post-grad placement, it can be VERY helpful!

Their Professors Have Connections

You're in a makeup program to learn, but there is one big "side benefit" to attending class, and that's the network of your instructors. If your instructions have connections to local photographers, modelling agencies, and directors, that can be a HUGE help to your career, and can really help you get started.

And remember---don't be shy! Instructors are not going to come up to you and ask, "Let me introduce you to everyone I've met over the last twenty years." You need to approach them. If that sounds terrifying to you, don't worry---we've written about some easy-to-implement strategies for networking and building professional relationships.

Go with Your Gut

So, what are the best makeup schools for you? We can't answer that for you, but the guidelines above should help you make the right decision. In most cases, it's a great investment, but ultimately, that's your call. Have faith in yourself, and you will make the right decision!

​Photo Credit: "Model" by Darren Stone via Flickr

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 2 comments
Geny - July 8, 2016

Is it advisable to enroll in online make up class?

    Matthew - August 23, 2016

    Hi, Geny—In-person classes are almost always better, because you’ll be able to get live feedback from an instructor about what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, and you’ll be able to make some professional connections. That said, online makeup classes can be a great opportunity, and some of them are VERY good. Just be sure it’s reasonably priced, and make sure the class you’re taking teaches exactly what you’re looking to learn (in other words, if you’re interested in bridal makeup, make sure you’re not signing up for a special effects course). Good luck!


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