The US Department of Labor suggests that career opportunities for culinary professionals will continue to increase over the coming years. The United States population is becoming increasingly dependent on dining options that exist outside of the home, resulting in a surge of employment options in the field of culinary arts.
Turning a passion for cooking into a career requires careful planning but promises great potential to those who choose this stable and ever-expanding profession.
Several key factors should be considered when choosing a culinary arts school:
- Industry reputation: Begin your decision-making process by assessing various culinary schools' reputations within the industry. The school should be easily recognized by those who are directly involved in the field of culinary arts. This awareness should equate to more than simply knowing the name of the school. The reputation should be associated with quality education. Ask yourself if when you graduate and begin applying for jobs, potential employers will have a pre-existing positive association with the schools you are considering and the type of graduates produced there.
- Faculty: The composition of the faculty is a key component to choosing a culinary arts school. Investigate the diversity of the group, looking not only at industry reputation but real-world work experience. It is important in this field that instructors have skills beyond teaching and have accomplished and varied careers beyond the classroom. If you have a style of cooking that you are particularly interested in, assess the faculty to determine if they will able to fulfill that interest. Finally consider what credentials the instructors are listed as having. Credentials can include college training, diplomas, work experience or certification such as that granted by the American Culinary Federation.
- Curriculum: There are several curriculum options available in the culinary arts field depending upon the extent to which you want to pursue studies and are able financially to pursue them. The most well-rounded path of study is the degree program. Two- and four-year degree options are available at many schools. This is often a more costly and time-intensive option, as many general education classes may be required in addition to the culinary arts curriculum. When time and money to invest in studies are more limited, a certificate or diploma program is a great option. Certificate or diploma programs can be completed in as little as a few weeks or spread out over the span of a couple of years. These types of curriculum focus on culinary arts classes entirely and are great preparation for entry-level positions in the culinary arts industry.
- Accreditation: This is a critical component to consider when evaluating if a school is right for you. Any school that has been in existence for greater than 5 years should be accredited. There are a number of accrediting organizations depending on the type of school or training program. A trade school may be accredited by one of three different organizations and college and university programs by any of 6 different accrediting groups. A major accrediting organization in the field of culinary arts is the American Culinary Federation.
- Financial resources: The cost of funding culinary arts education can range from as little as a few hundred dollars to several thousand depending on the type of program you choose. Make sure that the school you choose has a broad range of financial aid resources available to students. Contact the financial aid office to discuss what financing programs may be available to you and what assistance is provided to students throughout their educational pursuits. Don't get your heart set on a program until you know for sure that you can pull together the resources to make that goal a reality.
- Externships: The school you choose should have multiple opportunities to obtain real world work experience via traineeships and externships. This will give you the opportunity to get the feel of what it means to apply those skills gained in the classroom to real work situations in leading restaurants. These training opportunities often lead to genuine job offers, making this a key component to successful culinary arts programs.
- Job placement: Investigate the rate at which the schools you are considering have students finding gainful employment after graduation. Be sure to differentiate students that are finding any job in any field versus those finding employment in their actual course of study. The culinary arts school you are considering should have a successful placement program in place to assist students in finding employment as well career counseling services available to guide you in this process after graduation.
The more detailed your research, the better prepared you will be to make an appropriate choice. Once you have narrowed your options down to a few top programs, it is advised that you make arrangements to visit each school to get a better feel for how you will fit into the program. Many schools will allow you to sit in on classes or shadow a student for the day. Current and former students are an invaluable source for insight that you will not gain from literature or presentations prepared by the school. You can also consider online degree programs; many of these offer students an excellent education on a convenient schedule. After careful consideration and research, you will be well on your way to an exciting career in culinary arts.