Is a culinary degree worth the investment?
Like art school, culinary school is often viewed as one of the most valuable investments or a complete waste of money. Professionals rise to the top of their industry in many ways, and there is no shortage of self-taught chef success stories to make you wonder whether applying for culinary school is really worth the money. But there is tremendous value in a formal education in any field, whether that's astrophysics or baking.
While many get their start in the restaurant field by taking a job as a prep cook, you can't replace the educational advantage you receive in culinary school. This does not mean it's the only way to become a successful chef, but it shouldn't be ruled out on the merit of time or cost alone. In this guide, we'll explore the pros and cons of culinary school to help you decide if it's the right fit for you. We'll cover what you learn, how much culinary school costs and what types of jobs you may be able to get after graduating.
Do You Need to Go to College to Get into Culinary School?
Similar to trade school, getting your certification only requires you hold at least a high school diploma or GED. This means that you can begin learning how to become a chef immediately after you finish your primary studies. This is a great alternative to traditional college. A four-year degree isn't for everyone, and there are many who do not find the types of jobs you get after earning an undergraduate from a college or university appealing.
Being a chef is creative, active, and challenging. You'll always be on your feet, and there is even the opportunity to eventually run your own restaurant. All you need to start your career is a passion for cooking, diligence and a willingness to work hard.
Pros of Attending Culinary Schools
The benefits of culinary school range from a solid foundation of cooking and food prep to specialized skills. You are able to gain a level of knowledge that makes you more confident in the workplace and easily helps you advance in your profession faster than someone starting off in the kitchen.
You learn in a structured way through classroom-based exercises that regular line cooks do not. You start off small, learning the different types of utensils and techniques that are involved in meal preparation. You also learn about food sanitation, kitchen prep procedures and time management. Multitasking will be a fundamental skill you develop as you begin to take on assignments and have to manage yourself safely in a crowded environment with short deadlines.
In-Depth Understanding of Techniques
While there are many line cooks who make phenomenal meals and have a wide range of knowledge about culinary science, many still lack certain skills students acquire in school. Your instructors will teach you all the technicalities that are difficult to learn on your own, even if you're a diligent worker. The precision and diversity of refined skills that you develop in school will position you to go in many different directions after earning your diploma.
Learn From Real Chefs
Access to professional chefs is invaluable for a student, and you'll learn from some of the best in school. You don't work with one instructor over the course of your education. Instead, you are able to interact with a variety of professionals who have different experiences, expertise, skills and style. There are many mentorship opportunities available that can help a student build a solid career foundation with the help of their favorite instructor.
Learn Multiple Types of Cuisine
If you become a prep cook at a Mexican restaurant, you aren't going to be mastering sushi or pasta anytime soon. The one major con of working directly in the kitchen is that you are only exposed primarily to one style of food. Even if the restaurant prepares different types of meals, you are limited to the same ingredients and recipes on repeat. In school, you move through different modules that focus on various types of world cuisine. You will learn how regional seasonings and preparation methods can completely transform simple ingredients into cultural staples. Complex dishes and advanced cooking skills are also introduced, and you will be able to work in a variety of locations after graduation.
Cons of Culinary School
We now know that the education from a trade school is highly valuable, but what are the drawbacks?
Culinary school can cost as much as an undergraduate degree depending on the institution. You can apply for scholarships, but most students do not have their tuition 100-percent covered. This means you'll either have to save up or borrow loans. While no one gets excited over the prospect of student debt, there is a silver lining. You can borrow a student loan from a private lender to pay for your culinary degree easily. This can ease some of the burden during your education and give you greater flexibility for repayment after you start working.
You will have to attend classes full-time, which means holding down a job will be difficult. While you can work on weekends and possibly in the evening, you will need to prioritize your studies. Being in the kitchen all day is also tiring, so you might find it too difficult to juggle a career with your schooling. The good news is that rather than attending classes for nearly half a decade, you can finish culinary school in 30 to 60 weeks.
Less Time with Family
If you have a partner or children, then you will not be as available as usual while you're in school. After a full day, you'll have to come home and begin preparing for the next. If you also work, this means there will be even less time for you to spend time with your loved ones. Many adults looking for a career change love the idea of culinary school, but they also can't deny that it's hard for them to be so absent at home during their education. This is something your family will have to understand, but you can still make comfortable routines that you perform together.
Drew Allen is a financial enthusiast, seasoned blogger, music and sports fanatic. He enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and daughter fishing and boating. He is dedicated to his 17+ year career in banking, healthcare, consulting, and private equity.