Is Culinary School Worth the Time and Tuition?

Three things to think about before you enroll.

Culinary School: Dollars and Cents

culinary school class

By Rebecca Noss

Your parents wanted you to become an accountant, which could explain why they keep saying things like, “You’re going to pay how much for culinary school tuition so you can get a minimum-wage job?”

Not to say that culinary school isn't a good choice or that it's not worth the money, but you'll have to do some careful thinking and planning. Paying back high-priced student loans on an entry-level culinary arts salary can be a challenge. So don’t get caught up in the moment and sign up for private, high-interest loans that you’re going to struggle to pay back on a line cook salary. Assuming success is your goal, why not make good decisions at the beginning of your culinary school journey?

Three Things to Think of Now

1. Have a plan. Have a real plan: one where you take a sober look at your bank account, your financial aid options and your earning potential after graduation. If you’re not sure how you’re going to make those loan payments, what’s going to change in the next one to two years? Or six months—depending on your repayment schedule.

Instead, start working in a restaurant kitchen. It doesn’t have to be a glamorous job. But at least you’ll have a better idea what to expect and where you want to go when you graduate from culinary school. Not to mention that having job experience in addition to your education will help you qualify for better, higher-paying positions that much faster.

2. Be honest with yourself. Culinary school is not exactly a get-rich-quick scheme, so it’s good that most people become chefs for the love of cooking rather than the salary—although According to Salary.com's May 2012 survey, the median national annual salary for executive chefs is $67,995. But the majority of the chef jobs out there aren’t executive chef jobs, and you’ll most likely have to work your way up, even with a culinary school degree. Learn, now, how to make a reasonable budget (one that includes paying off any student loans you may incur).

3. Look into your loan options before you start talking to school representatives. Remember that their job is to sell you something, and you’re in charge of your own financial future. Don't rely on someone else to be responsible with your money.

Scholarships and grants are the best, if you can get them. Look around. There may be more options than you think. Also, Federal loans are usually low-interest, which makes them reasonably manageable. If you’re thinking about private loans, be sure to read the fine print. It’s important to know what you’re getting into. Think about the repayment schedule. It always comes faster than you think.