Ballpark Estimate: $40,000 to $50,000 for an associate’s degree
If you love to cook and you want to turn this passion into a rewarding career, then a key ingredient in your recipe for success just may include attending one of the best culinary schools.
Whether you want to become a professional chef, pastry maker, restaurant owner or manager, today there are a growing number of opportunities in the culinary world. There is also increasing competition for these positions, so a good training institution can give you the knowledge, skills and contacts you will need to establish yourself in this fast-paced and demanding field.
Hard Work Is One of the Key Ingredients
If you think being a professional chef sounds romantic, likely you haven’t actually stepped foot in a restaurant kitchen yet. The truth is that this is an exciting career, but it also one that requires very long hours with very few breaks and often doesn’t allow for weekend plans. But if that doesn’t scare you off, you just may have what it takes.
An Expanding Field
More students in the United States are earning degrees in the culinary field than ever before, according to the National Center for Education. In fact the latest numbers show that the interest in this area is consistently growing. For instance, 322 students graduated from bachelor’s programs with degrees in culinary arts/chefs training in 2006, compared with only 239 in 2004. This is a 35 percent increase in just two years time.
Some speculate that this growth in the field as a whole is due to the fact that Americans are becoming more conscious of what they eat, and therefore ate putting more emphasis on how food is prepared. As a result, there are more jobs in this area and more people want to work in the field.
But even with more people pursuing professional culinary education, many experts are quick to stress that earning a culinary degree is actually not a requirement for a job as a chef. In fact, many successful chefs have learned on-the-job instead of in a classroom. However, having an education in the field certainly does not hurt, either, especially if it is coupled with real world work experience in a professional kitchen.
A Range of Options
If you want to go to culinary school, you may want to explore the variety of options that are available. Some of the most respected (and also most expensive) training grounds are schools that are dedicated to cooking and food, like The Culinary Institute of America and The Institute of Culinary Education. Some vocational schools, such as The Art Institutes, also offer culinary tracks that will prepare you to work in this field. Or, you can also choose to earn a culinary degree from some of the more traditional colleges and universities that offer a strong focus in this area but also expose you to a wider range of core classes, so you will be well-rounded when you graduate and have experience you can apply beyond the culinary world.
What to Look For
When selecting a culinary school, a lot depends on what you want, since there are many scenarios from which to select. The length of time of the program, the type of degree or certificate you will earn and how often you want to attend should all come into play when choosing the best fit. You should also consider the reputation of any school you attend, and the value of its degree out in the working world. If you aren’t sure if you want to spend the rest of your life cooking but know you enjoy the hospitality field, you might consider getting an undergraduate or graduate degree in areas like food sciences, hospitality management or food chemistry or research.
Signs of a Good School
Beyond these factors, you also want to look for a school that is accredited by an appropriate regulating agency. In general, regular colleges and universities fall under the auspices of regional accrediting bodies that are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Cooking schools, on the other hand, are monitored by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology (ACCSCT) and the Accrediting Commission of the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
It is also worth noting that some schools follow the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu program, but this is just a system of teaching and there is no monitoring in place at this time to insure that the school follow the protocol or meet any specific standards.
Finally, one of the best indications of a good school is when the graduates of its program are working at highly-desirable jobs. Therefore, ask about a school’s job placement record and find out more specifically where its alumni are working today.
What It Costs
What you can expect to spend on culinary school depends on what type of program, and what geographic location as well, that you select. For instance, if you don’t mind spending in the range of $40,000 to $50,000 for an associate’s degree, you can attend one of the well-respected culinary specialty programs like those offered through the Culinary Institute of America (which has locations in New York and California), the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and the Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts Dallas program.
However, if that’s a little too rich for your blood, you can opt instead to attend a smaller – and less known — culinary arts program for an investment of between$10,000 and $30,000. And even if you go with a well-known cooking school, some offer you the option of earning a certificate in this price. For instance, the Institute of Culinary Education, which is housed in NYC, offers a Culinary Management Diploma program for a cost of about $13,000.
Keep in mind that community colleges are also a wonderful training resource for people with an interest in the culinary field, with programs that can start at anywhere from a few thousand dollars on up to, depending on where you go and what you get.
Of course if you want to have a broader four-year education from a public or private college or university to fall back on, you may have to spend more but in the end, the investment just may be worth it. For instance, one chef says he spent$73,866 for a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Management from the Art Institute of California.
When comparing prices among different schools, just remember to find out how long a program is, what type of degree you will earn and what, if any, living expenses and extras (such as equipment and uniforms) you need to add in to get the full picture.
So attending a well-known culinary school can cost $40,000 to $50,000 for an associate’s degree, while certificate programs, smaller schools and also trade schools can be in the range of $10,000 to $30,000.
The Bottom Line
Overall, getting a degree in cooking or culinary arts will usually be a costly endeavor. Some experts point out that at the lower salaries that most culinary workers command, at least in the early years of their career, it can take you many years on the job to pay back your student loans, That being said, many culinary experts do feel that the professional training and expertise they received in culinary classes can make it a wise investment as long as you understand what you are getting into. The bottom line, though, is that you should weigh the costs and benefits carefully before making a commitment.