Spotlight on the TC Cosmetology Program

A Look Into the World of Cosmetology at TC!

Abigail Ernst

On the first floor of TC, there is a lively classroom where students not only learn skills that they will be able to use their whole life, but also learn a profession that they can begin practicing immediately after graduation from school (and passing a licensing exam).  

The classroom is the home of the T.C. Williams cosmetology program, a two-year program where students can earn three high school credits a year and acquire hair, makeup, and nail skills. After completing the program, students are able to test for the state board exam (which the state pays for), allowing them to obtain a cosmetology license. 

This program has been at T.C. for over 40 years. Nikki Dowdell, T.C. cosmetology teacher and 1981 Titan graduate, was a student in this program.

There are not many prerequisites for the program, as students have to be at least a sophomore to sign up, although there is a cap of 20 students per class. There are no dues or fees for the program, but there is a kit that students need to purchase for $100. The kit cost should not dissuade prospective students because the program can help cover the costs for students who can not afford it. To practice their skills, students use mannequins and practice on friends, family, and other students. Dowdell said these students get clients, “pretty much [from] word of mouth.” All the practice helps, as students have to score an 85% or above in the class to pass it and be eligible to take the state board exam. 

The program may be small, but they do many community outreach activities and events. “We go [out to nursing homes] and the Senior citizens come and get their hair done, we do daddy-daughter day where dads come in with their little girls and students do their hair. We do a lot of different things,” Dowdell said.

A perfect example of the strength of the program is the teacher herself who says, “[I] was able to own three salons in Alexandria and put four children through college, so it is definitely a career that you could make a living from or become an entrepreneur as I was. It benefits [students] in many ways, especially the people who are very creative, by giving them an outlet to get into whatever they want to get into. I have several students who are working in salons now, that are makeup artists now, natural hairstylists, manicurists, doing a lot of different things.”

“The biggest strength [of the program] is to be able to become your own entrepreneur and to be able to have a job when you finish,” she continued.  The biggest weakness is [the program] not really being known.”  

One of Dowdell’s biggest ambitions for the future of the program is to expand it to include barbering, as Arlington and Fairfax already include barbering in their programs. Dowdell has been advocating for this program expansion for the past five years. 

While the pandemic created many challenges for Career and Technical Education classes, Dowdell says it has not had that much of an effect on the program. “ Now that we are going into hybrid, students are coming back in the classroom. People are still getting their hair done, as you can tell from the news. This will be the first time that students go to take the state boards that have been doing it virtually.”

Although the program has been around for a long time, the future continues to be bright “I think it is an excellent program, obviously – I went through it myself. I think it has a lot to offer.”