A common question that often arises is from potential students who wonder if it’s too late to attend culinary school, if you are over ‘a certain age’. The short answer is no – definitely not. It’s never too late to attend a culinary school. In fact, you may find your age is a benefit in some cases.
But it is important to seriously consider all aspects however, before you make the leap.
Changing careers at fifty or sixty years old poses its own challenges. You will need to make sure you are in a position financially to make the change. Investing in culinary school (an it is an investment), usually means school loans for a lengthy period of time – up to twenty years in some cases.
Not only is it costly to attend culinary school, but upon graduation entry level chefs don’t make a lot of money. The average salary for an entry level cook in a restaurant is around $10-12.00 an hour on average, depending on your location. You will need to make sure that you and your family are able to subsist on the meager salary a line or prep cook provides, and that you are willing – and able – to take on the burden of a long-term school loan.
Another consideration should be the hours involved. All levels of cooks and chefs work very long hours. They work night and weekends, and every holiday. Many restaurant cater to a couples or family crowd, which means they are open during times that couples and families want to be together. If you cherish your weekend family time or trips to the coast in the winter months, this type of job may not be for you. If you don’t mind the hours and are a night-owl, then you may be in the right profession. If you are at all unsure, it’s highly recommended that you work in a kitchen as an intern, prep cook or even as a dishwasher to see if this type of job is the right fit for you. Gauge how you feel after a long Friday night or the weekend shifts. If you are exhausted and wiped out, think how you will feel after twelve weeks of the same – or more – demanding schedule. If it doesn’t bother you at all and you were still feeling fine (or even energized), then you may want to continue.
Anyone who works in a professional kitchen will tell you it’s a physically demanding job. You are on your feet for very long hours. You work around all manner of dangerous things – from the sharpest of knives to hot water and oils and cutting machines of every style and purpose, as well as interns and new cooks who are not safe and can cause injury to others. Aside from the physical demands, the mental pressure in a professional kitchen can be staggering.Working a busy dinner rush on a Friday when the rolls didn’t rise properly, two line cooks are out and the produce van never showed up can be tough on the most seasoned chef.
As outlined above, you should always work in a real-world kitchen before you sign off on a culinary school admission. Make sure you are physically and mentally capable of working in a professional kitchen. It may also help you focus in on where you want to work after graduation. You may decide that working in a catering operation is more suitable for you, or even as a private chef setting your own hours. Knowing where you want to be in five years will help align your studies from the outset.
Now for the pros. Older students tend to be more serious in their studies – this can help you succeed. If you are paying your own way through school, you tend to have a more vested interest in your success and more dedication to achieving your goals. Typically with more life experience comes a level of comfort with staff and situations that might make a younger student nervous. It can help you develop a rapport with the faculty and mentors you will encounter while in school. Comfort in communications will be beneficial after graduation not only with future employers and coworkers, but with vendors and during networking opportunities.
The good news is that most employers don’t care what your age is as long as you can do the work. If you are an amazing cook, it won’t matter to anyone that you are twenty years older than the average. Anyone with the money can attend culinary school. If you have a lifetime of passion and the drive to succeed, age isn’t going to make a bit of difference. If you graduate and can hold your own with people half your age, you belong in the kitchen.