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Things to Know Before Attending Culinary School

Last updated August 17, 2023

Things to Know Before Attending Culinary School

As you plan for the future, it is so important to keep your passions, talents, and goals in mind. If those passions and talents lead you to a clear career path, a vocational trade school might be perfect for you! Do you love food, cooking, restaurants, and feeding others? Enrolling in a culinary program after high school may be a great option. Here are some important things to keep in mind if you’re considering attending a culinary school!

Who goes to culinary school?

If you love working with your hands, cooking (and eating) great food, want to tell stories about your culture through your food, or have an entrepreneurial spirit, going into a food service business may be a great career path for you. Culinary programs will offer classes that look and feel like high school classes, but the majority of your learning will be hands-on, experiential, and in community with your classmates. A professional kitchen is a highly collaborative space where you will use all of your senses in order to thrive - the temperatures are hot, the knives are sharp, and communication with your peers are key to success! If you find yourself energized by that kind of environment, culinary school will be a great experience.

What schools are out there?

There are a few different types of culinary programs and schools that you may find when you search for opportunities near you. Because trade programs, like culinary, are a bit different from four-year colleges, they have different criteria for “accreditation” - meaning that the program has been evaluated for its quality and that you can trust it! Before choosing any culinary school or program, be sure to check if it is accredited. You should be able to find this on their website or check out the American Culinary Federation website to check out your local program.

Once you know the program you’re looking into is legit, now you can decide what kind of education makes the most sense for you. There are three main culinary programs to think about: community college culinary arts programs, dedicated culinary schools, and online programs. Community college programs are often tailored to their local community. For instance, a community college culinary arts program may partner with local restaurants for instructors or job pathways for graduates. These programs will often lead to an associate’s degree. Dedicated culinary programs like The Culinary Institute of America or the International Culinary Center likely offer a wider range of educational pathways within the food service industry. This could include shorter-term certifications that take less than a year to complete and programs that may take two or more years to complete but come with a Bachelor’s degree. Finally, online culinary education is also an option, especially through larger, nationally recognized culinary schools like Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.

Image of a baker sprinkling cinnamon on baked goods.

What kinds of classes are offered?

No matter what program you choose, you can expect to get an education directly tied to jobs in the food service industry. This means that all classes will be tailored to what you need to know as a chef, baker, or business owner within the industry. For example, instead of taking a regular math class, you might take a class in Food Service Math and Accounting, or instead of a history class, you might take a class in World Cultures and the Influence on Cuisine.

Depending on your program or desired course of study within the culinary arts, you’ll take hands-on classes to teach you all the basics and become job-ready after graduation. This may include things like food safety, kitchen safety, learning the tools of the kitchen, business management, and, of course, the ins and outs of becoming a great chef or baker. Some programs even have courses of study in things like plant-based cuisine, nutrition, and sustainability!

Additionally, many culinary programs will have an “externship” requirement for graduation. This means that for an extended period of time instead of going into your school to learn, you’ll be learning on the job at a restaurant, bakery, or other food business. This will give you more real-life experience to put your skills to the test and make you ready to take a job right after graduation!

Paying for culinary school

Just like any education after high school, culinary programs do have a cost. They are, however, generally much more affordable than most four-year colleges or universities. Community college culinary arts programs are likely the most affordable option and dedicated culinary schools or institutes will cost a bit more. On average, a culinary degree may cost less than half of what a four-year degree costs.

Like all post-high school education, you can receive financial aid and scholarships to reduce the cost! In order to receive federal financial aid, the program you’re going to must be an accredited college - be sure to do your research before committing to any school or program. Be sure to fill out your FAFSA and text Get Schooled if you have any questions related to financial aid. You can also check out this list of culinary scholarships!

Career options and tips

Not all people who complete culinary school have to become chefs. There are lots of jobs within the food service industry that a culinary program will prepare you for - like caterer, entrepreneur, hotel or cruise services, airlines, food testing for large companies, personal chefs, nutritionists, bakers, to name a few! If you are interested in finding out if a career in the food service industry is for you, you can search for jobs in your area right now in the industry! Whether you are an entry-level cook, a server, or a dishwasher you’ll get a great sense of the industry and if it’s right for you.

Planning for your future and applying to programs can be overwhelming, but know that Get Schooled is always here to help! Text #Jobs to 33-55-77 and one of our jobs counselors will help you with any questions or support you need. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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