Going Back To Culinary School
Each week I get email from visitors interested in going to culinary school and asking how they should choose a good one so I wrote this article and wanted to share it with you.
Also, I have posted a good article from Chef Mark Vogel called, So You Want to Become A Chef that I think you should read and will enjoy.
Have you ever thought about going back to school to become a better home cook? Or maybe you have aspirations of becoming a professional chef. Based on the number of culinary schools out there, there must be a lot of you with the same idea.
I just read an article in our local Philadelphia paper about the growth in local culinary schools and the numbers surprised me. It appears a lot of supermarkets, gourmet stores, local restaurants, colleges, ex-chefs and just about anyone else who has the room and expertise is putting on an apron and opening a school and I think it's great.
These schools are designed not only for home cooks who want to learn the basics but also for those who have experience and want to build on those skills. Besides, it's a great way to get out of the house, meet some new people with like interests and taste some great food.
But what about the individual who wants to make cooking their career and go back to school for a degree in culinary education?
Lucky for them, there are now more than 500 vocational, college, and university programs scattered around the country with more schools opening each year that offer first rate educational degrees in this field. The bigger question is how do you choose the best culinary school for you?
Here are a few steps you may want to take to help you narrow down your decision:
Step 1 - Figure out what you want to do after you graduate.
Do you want to start a catering company, make pastries and fancy desserts, or how about manage a restaurant? Once you have an idea of what it is you would like to specialize in, you can limit your search to only those schools that offer the necessary classes.
Step 2 - Determine what's most important to you in a school.
Some of the areas you may want to think about before choosing a school are:
- Entry requirements
- Length of program and class schedule
- Costs and financial aid
- Class size
- Classroom facilities
- School's faculty and reputation
- Degrees and accreditation
- Location and housing
- Schools contacts, job placement, internships
Step 3 - Create a list of schools to contact for more information
Click here for a map of cooking schools located in more than a dozen states. This is a good place to start but is by no means complete or you can just fill out the short form to the right and get started in finding a school near you.
If you don't find a school close enough or that strikes your fancy, try doing a search on the Internet. Just type in "cooking schools" or "culinary schools" and you will find hundreds of leads to schools worldwide. Type in culinary schools with a city or state" and it will narrow down the field even more.
Once you find a few schools that look promising, fill out the information form for more information. Typically someone will call you within a day or two to answer your questions, provide you with additional information and offer to send you some brochures and an application.
Be sure to have a list of questions you want answered when you speak with a schools representative. You might also ask for a list of current students and graduates to contact for their assessment of the school.
This is also a good time to ask about scholarships and what the school has to offer. If financing is going to be an issue, it's better to find out alternatives now rather than wait until you have been accepted.
Remember, the school representatives are there to help and most I've found don't push too hard although it is their job to sell you on the school.
Step 4 - Narrow down the field.
Once you look over what the schools have to offer and have spoken with the representatives, start eliminating those that just don't fit in with your needs. Maybe a school is too far, too costly or just doesn't offer the courses you are interested in taking.
Step 5 - Visit the schools that fit best
In my opinion, this is one of the most important steps you can do to make sure you are going to be happy at any cooking school. You want to see the actual classrooms you will be attending, see some of the teachers and students in action, get a feel for the surroundings to make sure you will fit in.
I once made the mistake of taking a new job on Wall Street with a competitor without ever seeing the offices I would be working in. Sure the money was better and I thought I would make faster advancement, but when I arrived for my first day of work, I couldn't believe the conditions I would be working in. The office space was old, dirty and outdated compared to where I was working. I was horrified.
So make sure the school you are thinking of investing your time and money is as good if not better than the brochure they send you.
Step 6 - Apply to your top picks
After you make your visits, narrow down the field to your top choices and prepare the applications you were sent. Be sure to be neat and complete and provide them with everything they ask you for. If you have any questions about the application, pick up the phone right away and get answers. You don't want to be sending in incomplete forms.
Step 7 - Choose your school
Once notified by the schools of your acceptance, you can decide which school works best for you. Because you did your homework and followed the steps above, this final choice should be easy.
Be sure to inform the school of your choice that you will be attending and find out what steps are required to get you enrolled and what you will need to start school.
Although this article was written for those of you interested in going to culinary school, you can follow these same procedures to choose any continuing education degrees. If you think about it, it's just like getting everything prepped and ready to go (mise en place) before starting to prepare a meal.
Read, Read and Read Some MoreOne of the best suggestions I have for anyone thinking of going to culinary school or just getting into the restaurant industry is to read everything you can get your hands on. Learn from professional chefs who have worked in the industry and those who have taught in culinary schools.
There are many great books available to get you started in your culinary education and I suggest you read as much as possible before making that big decision to make sure this is the right move for you. Below is just a sample of books you might be interested in checking out.
For a much more comprehensive list of books for aspiring culinary, baking and restaurant management students, I suggest checking out my post on books for future culinary students and chefs.