Make Every Penny Count In Culinary College

Five tips for getting the most out of your culinary school tuition.

Culinary College Enrollment Soars

With Food Network now reaching 87 million households and the names of celebrity chefs on everything from cookbooks to barbecue sauce, the culinary industry is in the public eye more than ever. It’s hardly surprising that culinary college enrollment has also ballooned in recent years, with some of the most prestigious culinary colleges experiencing a 31 percent increase in enrollment, according to a 2011 Time magazine report.

At the same time, cautionary tales have emerged from sources such as the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, citing instances where culinary college students have accrued tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt. While it’s certainly true that as a novice cook you will need to be prepared to work your way up to better-paying jobs, culinary college is a great investment—if you take the right approach.

Getting the Most from Your College Investment

Here are five tips on how to maximize your cooking college return-on-investment:

1. Choose the culinary college that best fits your career aspirations and education budget

You don’t have to go to the most expensive culinary school in the nation to have a successful culinary career. If your goal is becoming a competitive executive chef position in an internationally-acclaimed restaurant, getting your training at one of the most prestigious culinary colleges might make the most sense for you. If you have a more modest career goal in mind, you might consider a culinary program at a private college, public university or community college near you, where tuition may run only a few hundred dollars per quarter.

2. Make sure your culinary college has a positive graduation rate and career placement record

As you’re looking at schools, be sure to ask about each school’s graduation and job placement rates. Learn as much as you can about where former graduates have found jobs and how their careers have progressed. This should give you an idea of the career assistance you will receive and your own post-graduation job prospects.

3. Work your way through culinary college—or save money prior to enrollment

Taking a restaurant job before enrolling in culinary college will not only let you develop your skills while getting paid for your efforts, it will allow you to save money for your cooking college tuition instead of taking out loans. If you continue to work while in cooking college, you’ll be able to immediately apply the concepts you learn in class in a real-world environment.

4. Choose a certificate or diploma program

If you’re set on attending a highly-regarded culinary college that’s pricey, consider choosing a shorter program. This will save you time and tuition money, and prospective employers will take note of your school’s reputation and may not be as concerned with whether you received your degree.

5. Consider starting your own business

If you’re passionate about cooking but concerned by the average cook’s starting wage, consider using your culinary college education to launch your own business as a personal chef or caterer. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ current Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for chefs and head cooks is $43,180. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors.


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