If you have decided to pursue a degree in the culinary arts, you’ll need to pick a school – a sometimes overwhelming task, given the options. How do you pick the one that’s best for you? As always, you should determine your own career goals beforehand. Here are some guidelines to help narrow the field of culinary schools.
Depending on the degree you are pursuing, your school should be accredited. At a minimum, they should be accredited with the American Culinary Foundation (ACF), and ideally the school should be an accredited institution of higher learning (for associate’s degrees and beyond). You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars in tuition and years of time and effort only to find out that no one recognizes the school you attended.
- Type of Instruction
Is the school a hands-on program, classroom based or solely online? For the culinary profession, you should experience all three. If the school you are looking at doesn’t offer hands-on training in a kitchen, how much can you really learn?
Different schools offer different specialties and programs. If you are hoping to become the next Julia Child and work at La Grenouille, then attending a school whose specialty is Asian faire won’t help your career in the long run. Target the schools who have programs to help you along your career path.
This ties in with accreditation. Since cooking channels have become incredibly popular, culinary schools have popped up all over America. Accreditation with the ACF takes time and a proven track record of excellence, and many schools aren’t capable yet. If a school has been around for a long time, has turned out many talented chefs and holds ACF accreditations, chances are they offer a solid education.
When you’ve narrowed the field of options, begin to look at tuition. Culinary school tuition costs vary dramatically – from $1,500 to $50,000. Keeping in mind that the average salary for a newly graduated CA student is quite low, most students carry significant student loan debt. Make sure the school is accredited (some very expensive schools are not), look into scholarship ad work-study opportunities, and select the best financial option for you.
While community colleges are a great option and they have been around a long time, they often have very small budgets. This makes it difficult to purchase new, upgraded equipment or the latest molecular gastronomy tools, whereas higher tuition schools often boast state-of-the-art kitchens. Not every restaurant you will work at after graduation will have the best equipment, but if your career goals include having experience on a certain type of equipment – you should make sure your school has it.
Have a plan for applying for culinary scholarships to help you pay for tuition and extras such as room and board, meals, books and equipment. Many culinary colleges offer their own scholarships or have scholarships donated from former graduates. The financial aid offices of the schools can help you find available awards, as well as searching on your own at the library and on the internet. Read the guidelines and adhere to the rules, violating them will result in your application being tossed before it’s even read.
Faculty should be proficient in their areas of expertise. Students in school are only as good as their teachers and educators; it’s important to make sure yours are what you need based on the biographies provided.
Diversity plays a huge role in culinary arts. With diversity comes learning about other cultures, customs and foods. The more diverse a school is the worldlier, well rounded and educated their students become as well.
Decide whether you are willing to relocate or travel to your school, or whether you need a school close to your home. Do you want to live at home and travel each day, or do you want to live on a campus with other students? Do you want to stay on the West Coast or East Coast? Are there any weather considerations? What about cost of living concerns if you want to live off campus? If you are looking to try and save money as much as possible, look for schools near you that will limit your room & board and transportation costs.