Choosing A Culinary School

2005_0816_toqueDid you know that there currently is a rise in applications to culinary schools? The New York Post reported today: “The weak economy has actually boosted interest, in part because people often return to school during slowdowns, and in part because food careers are popular with career changers — including those motivated by a layoff. And to some extent, the food business is recession-proof.” Naturally, I was pleased when the Post asked my opinion on this matter.

The conventional culinary job is no longer simply peas and beans and carrots, rather it encompasses an enormously vast array of  options. One can become a chef in a restaurant or a personal chef for a family; a food historian or a food folklorist; a recipe writer or a recipe tester; a flavor maker or a public policy food fighter…

Yet more options open up after you’ve attended culinary school. Which cooking school you apply to is a personal choice largely determined by your particular goals. High-profile schools offer more in terms of visits and cooking demonstrations by superstar chefs, but smaller schools may provide more nurturing environments and are less of a financial burden.

Where the school is located, what times of day or evening classes are offered and how large the classes are also very real consid- erations for many would-be culinary students. Unlike traditional colleges, culinary schools attract students of all ages. Some have special needs that are not always anticipated by other institutions of higher education.

Many professional schools have three divisions: culinary skills, baking and pastry, and hospitality management. Students at some, (though not all schools), are able to combine programs. A degree program can extend for anywhere from six to 38 months with tuition costs varying from $10,000 to more than $70,000. In all cases, financial aid is readily available.

The schools with larger endowments, like The Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales, often have more highly qualified and experienced faculty, better-equipped kitchens, a more extensive library, and even, sports facilities. These schools, and others in major culinary metropolises, may offer student housing, indicating that  they attract students from around the world. They also tend to have higher tuition fees than smaller, non-residential schools.

There are many factors to consider before enrolling in culinary school, and prospective students are urged to take their time before making a decision about what is best for them.

An Associate of Occupational Studies (A.O.S.) degree from a top-tier school is believed to carry more weight when seeking employment, but this is not necessarily so. Great students with good attitudes are offered terrific jobs, no matter which school they attend.

You may prefer to enroll in a small school where there is a strong focus on the individual and a small class size. In the culinary program at Paul Smith’s College in Lake Placid, New York, for example, there is a 14:1 student to faculty ratio. Teachers, mentors and advisers are always on hand. The college has a magnificent library, and its lakeside campus, nestled in the magnificent Adirondack Mountains, is an excellent destination for winter and summer sports enthusiasts.

Community colleges in every part of the country offer degree programs in culinary arts. In addition to more affordable tuition, they allow students to live at home — another cost-saving consideration.

Remember that culinary school should be viewed as an investment and a beginning. There is still much hard work ahead. One more piece of advice: as you scan ShawGuides for suggested schools and begin to apply for culinary school, ask someone at the reference desk of your local public library for the Occupational Outlook Handbook. It lists all kinds of information you would need to know, (including the salary) of just about any occupation you can imagine.

3 thoughts on “Choosing A Culinary School

  1. Paul Smith’s College is not located in Lake Placid, NY. It’s in Paul Smiths, NY–about 30-40 minutes from Lake Placid.

  2. Thank you. You are absolutely correct. I gave a talk at the college a couple of years ago and Lake Placid seems to have lodged in my little grey cells. What a magnificent campus it is. I so enjoyed being there.

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