Mistake #2: Not Doing Your Homework
Once you know what you want out of your culinary education experience, you must find the right school to get you exactly that. Unfortunately, for most of us, this isn’t as easy as opening the Yellow Pages and seeing what schools are located within city limits. Choosing a culinary school that offers all the right qualifications – and at the right price – can be a time-consuming process.
Step One: Research Ahead of Time
No matter what else you do, research culinary schools ahead of time. There are a number of great resources online and we suggest you check out our site that breaks down each school’s qualities and enable you to make a more informed decision. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking at a major international name or a small school located nearby – these resources get you the information you need quickly and effectively.
Step Two: Consider Location, Location, Location
Location is more important in culinary school than you might think. While you can get a good education in almost any U.S. state, the reality is that New England (New York in particular) and California are the best two places to get a top-tier culinary education.
The schools located in these two locales are almost always more expensive than what you’ll find in the middle of the country, but if you want to become one of the elite, there are few better ways to go. This is especially true if you want to get started on a good career, since the number and caliber of restaurants in these areas lend themselves to better job opportunities upon graduation.
If you’re fortunate enough to live in one of these culinary “hot spot” locations, you really only need to consider how far you’re willing to travel and how much you’re willing to spend on tuition. For everyone else, you have to pit the costs of moving, the costs of living, and the hassle associated with moving to an unknown location against the benefits of the school. For example, not only will a prestigious New York school have higher tuition costs, but your room and board is likely to increase, as well.
You’ll also want to consider housing when you look at schools. Many culinary schools operate as typical four-year universities, with on-site housing for students. Others simply have a campus located in the downtown of a major metropolis. Before you move across the country to attend culinary school, you need to make sure you’ll have a place to live – and that you can afford it.
Step Three: Learn the School’s Specifics
No matter how prestigious, each culinary school has its own benefits and drawbacks. Use the following list as a guide to determine the pros and cons of each. If you can’t find readily available information on any of these characteristics, be wary and ask around. All reliable schools should post them either on their websites or in brochure format.
Entry Requirements: Different culinary schools offer varying degrees of difficulty for getting in. Do you need a high school diploma? Is it a traditional four-year university with entrance exams? You’ll also want to watch out for large fees associated with applying, as this might indicate a less-than-reputable school.
Program Length: Culinary schools typically range from nine months to four years. If you are looking at a longer program, make sure there is some sort of Associate or Bachelor’s degree at the end.
Class Schedule: Day, night, and flexible classes are common in culinary school. Make sure you can juggle school, work, and life.
Costs: Depending on where you go, culinary school can cost from a few thousand to several tens of thousands of dollars annually – and this might not include additional expenses or room and board. Calculate the total costs annually in order to avoid being unpleasantly surprised.
Financial Aid: Culinary school can get expensive. Does the school have its own financial aid programs? Does it accept federal grants and loans? What assistance does it provide, and is the information available before or after you’ve already signed on the dotted line?
Class Sizes: The hard-and-fast rule is that the smaller the class, the better your education. If a class is primarily lecture-based, a large class size is okay. For hands-on learning, you want the smallest class possible to get more one-on-one time with your instructor.
Faculty: The quality of your instructors is a large part of the quality of your education. Are there recognizable names among the staff? What degrees/accomplishments are they required to have? Do they work in the local culinary community and have contacts or networks that you can tap into?
Facilities: You want a school that has the most up-to-date and industry-standard equipment available. While learning traditional techniques is always a good way to round out an education, you must be able to learn on what is in most restaurants and kitchens today.
Reputation: This is one of the most important parts of choosing a culinary school. Word-of-mouth and reputation are everything – no matter what the school may promise or guarantee. Always check with current students, alumni, and even area restaurants to learn what the general consensus about the school is.
Degrees: Some culinary schools offer certifications, while others offer Associate or Bachelor’s degrees. Most degrees are standard everywhere, but be wary of school-based certifications. Unless it’s coming from a recognized name, certifications often mean little out in the larger culinary community.
Accreditation: Schools should always be accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology or the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. For more advanced culinary training, it’s best to look for accreditation through the American Culinary Federation Foundation Accrediting Commission.
If you think you might leave school before you’ve finished, you’ll also want to look for regional accreditation, which is the only way to be able to transfer credits from one school to another.
Externships/Internships: Real-world training is a must in the culinary field. Try to avoid schools that don’t offer some sort of on-the-job practice either through an externship or internship; however, don’t expect to get paid for these, since few schools offer that bonus.
Job Placement: Job placement services are sort of the icing on the cake. While no school can guarantee you’ll have a job after graduation, many schools do offer career guidance in the form of resume assistance, interview tips, or help locating jobs.