Deciding on a culinary career might not take much thought, but how do you choose the right school from more than 1,000 postsecondary culinary, restaurant, and hospitality programs?
Factors to Consider
First, ask yourself some fundamental questions. Why do you want to go to culinary school? Is it to become a chef, hotel manager, pastry artist? Do you want to specialize in a particular style of cooking or region? Where do you want to work? Resorts, restaurants, bakeries, catering?
Finally, what kind of degree do you want? A certificate or diploma can take from one month to two years. An associate degree takes from nine months to two years, and a bachelor’s degree takes four years. Fourteen-week culinary programs and three-week tours to epicurean centers such as France and Italy are at the other end of the scale.
Do Your Research
Another aspect to choosing a school is to examine the reputation of the program and the resumes of the chefs teaching there. Look for the prizes and awards the school has won. Where are current graduates working? Many programs proudly list their placement rates and well-known employers of their students. Is the faculty respected in the culinary world?
Location also can be a significant factor in your choice. By attending programs in large cities, you will have more choices for externships, and when you finish the program, more job possibilities. Externships in leading restaurants and hotels are a big part of high-quality culinary programs.
If you want to learn seafood cooking, for instance, it makes sense to go where there are many seafood restaurants. Culinary schools often have student-run restaurants on campus, but there’s nothing like working in a busy restaurant kitchen to gain the knowledge you need to start a culinary career at a higher level.
Accreditation: The Critical Detail
Accreditation is also important, as the school’s facilities, faculty, and curriculum have been investigated and found to meet standards. There are several accrediting organizations, reviewed and evaluated periodically by the U.S. Department of Education, such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as well as the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology and the American Culinary Federation Accrediting Commission.