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In this episode of The College Access Chronicles (originally aired 6/26/23), we talked with Ross Poulin, a hair stylist at Tucci + Co in Lewiston, ME. Listen in to learn more about beauty school and getting a cosmetology license, building relationships with clients, and some advice from a drag queen that Ross carries with them into the salon everyday.

Also, follow Ross’s hair account on Instagram and see all the awesome hairstyles they create! @ross_poulin_does_hair.

Listen to the episode here!

As usual, we started off our episode with a joke: Why was Pavlov’s hair so messy? Check out our next episode to find out the punchline!

Ross Poulin is a hairdresser at Tucci + Co in Lewiston, Maine, and he joined us to discuss all the ins and outs of becoming a hairstylist, the licensing exam, and working in salons, either by becoming a staff member or by renting a chair.

Ross’ journey to cosmetology began when he chose to enroll at Empire Beauty School in Portland, ME, shortly after graduating from high school. “I went in one day to shadow at Empire,” Ross shared. “It was really fun, and I felt very accepted. It was a fun environment full of fun people who just wanted to do cool
stuff.” Empire’s proximity to Ross’ hometown was also a deciding factor, as well as the night courses that were offered over a two year period. Ross chose this because he wanted more time to perfect his craft and knew that he’d be able to do that in a longer period of time. It also allowed him to have more freedom
outside of class hours, so while he was enrolled at Empire, he was able to work full time elsewhere and bring in an income.

One of Ross’ favorite parts of beauty school was building relationships with his fellow students, but also with his clients. “I loved meeting people,” Ross shared. “I remember this one guy. He was so nice, so accepting. I remember he left me a note: You are one of the coolest hairdressers I have ever had. Don’t change.”
Even now, years later, Ross recognizes that one of the biggest parts of being a hairstylist is building those bonds with clients. “We all remember that one person who gave us our ugly hair,” he said. “We all remember that person who did not listen to us. What’s really cool about becoming something you’re interested in–you get to be the person who would’ve made you feel safe.”

But attending beauty school isn’t the only way to start off a career in the beauty industry. While Ross enrolled in a traditional two year program and received a certificate, if schooling’s not for you, there is a more hands-on option. Licensed hairstylists will often take on apprentices and teach them everything hair-related in real time at a salon, which gives a more in-depth feeling of what working in a salon is like. In New Hampshire, cosmetology apprentices must complete 3,000 hours of training over the course of 18 months in order to take a licensing exam. You can find more about cosmetology apprenticeships in New Hampshire here.

Both getting a certificate through a beauty school and doing an apprenticeship culminate into taking a final exam that budding hairstylists will take to become licensed. There are two parts to the exam: a written portion, which tests students’ knowledge of different sciences involved in hairstyling, the medical side of the trade, and the sanitization aspects; and a practical portion, which tests students’
ability to perform in the field. Ross shared that while in school he learned how to style hair, do make-up, and paint nails, his written exam only focused on how to be a nail technician, while his practical exam put all three areas into practice.

Something Ross learned while in beauty school that’s not covered on the exam is building a portfolio, which is like a visual resume of all your experience as a hairdresser–it shows your skill, which is very important to salons you may apply to after receiving your license or for bringing in new clients. A hair portfolio will also display your style–like what kinds of hairstyles you do best, your particular brand of nail art, how you apply make-up–but it will also show your ability to grow as a cosmetologist.

“If you’re getting started, take a picture of your early work,” Ross advised future students. “Because even if it’s not impressive in two years, what’s more impressive is how much that work has gotten better in the span of two years.” The beauty industry is a field that’s always changing, and a hairstylist has to be able to adapt to those changes, so having the ability to learn and make changes to keep up with beauty trends is important. Showing you’re able to do that right out of school will impress salon owners and make them want to bring you onto their team.

There are different avenues to working in a salon. Once you’re licensed, you can be hired onto a salon’s staff and earn a wage per hour alongside your fellow employees. Like other service industry jobs, you have the ability to grow the longer you work for a salon and make more money as you become more
experienced. But another avenue you can take is booth rental, which is also called “renting a chair.” This means that you pay rent to the salon and they allow you to use a workstation inside for styling different clients. But you don’t have to follow everything the salon does–you can operate as though you have your
own small business. You’re able to charge your own prices, set your own wages, and promote yourself separately from the salon.

Ross’ own self-promotion comes in the form of business cards, stickers, a fun punch card, and so much more. “Try to think of stuff that’s not necessarily a gimmick, but something that makes you special,” he explained. His biggest piece of advice for promoting his craft is social media. “Stay with it on social media. Always be posting something, always give status updates, post something fun on your story, have giveaways, stuff like that.”

Another piece of advice Ross gave was for people thinking about going to beauty school. “A lot of people sadly get into this industry because they think it’s going to be a quick dollar,” Ross explained. “You have to put in the work. You have to be proud of your craft.” And when the going gets tough, Ross shared more advice: “Stick with it. Be prepared to be disappointed, and don’t let it get to you. Try to focus on yourself and do the best you can.”

We finished out the episode discussing Ross’ favorite hairstyles that he’s done–which include rainbow dye jobs, a stylish mullet, and so much more–and you can find photos of all his work on his Instagram account, @ross_poulin_does_hair.

The punchline to the joke of our last episode, which was How do you comfort your crying English teacher?, is by patting their back and saying, “There, they’re, their.” Get it? Since we have so many ‘there’s in the English language? Our joke this week is, Why was Pavlov’s hair so messy?, and don’t forget to tune in to our next episode to find out the punchline.

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