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Information on Culinary Arts Schools and Careers

Considering a career as culinary manager or chef? School may be a good choice for you.

Culinary Arts

It’s easy to list the reasons why anyone would want to start a culinary arts career. Do what you love for a living. Work with your hands. Make art.

Chefs and restaurant managers are integral to healthy, successful restaurants and food establishments. Chefs design menus and recipes, manage the operations within the kitchen, and maintain food quality. Restaurant managers maintain the business and the daily operation of a restaurant, coordinating activities across kitchen staff, keeping track of supplies, cost, and revenue, and maintaining customer and employee satisfaction. Both help hire and train new employees; in some cases, the head chef is also the manager or owner of the restaurant.

Gaining experience while on the job is necessary to learn skills. Culinary arts schools, however, can help launch the careers of new and growing culinary professionals.

Choose Among Types of Culinary Arts Colleges

Some big, some small; some in big cities, some in smaller towns; some with campuses across the nation, others local: it’s easy to see that culinary arts schools in themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The types of institutions vary, too. Some of the most common institutions offering a culinary arts education are listed here, along with some basic characteristics:

  • Culinary Schools: An education from a culinary school is rich in culinary training. Many of these schools for culinary arts, depending on the program, can also teach students about business skills and scientific processes relevant to a culinary arts career.
  • Vocational schools with culinary arts programs: These schools are effective in training students to use a wide variety of culinary skills, and can also include fundamentals in related business practices and scientific processes. This is a practical choice for many students.
  • Colleges that have culinary arts majors, degrees and certificates: Public and private, these colleges offer culinary arts training appropriate for aspiring chefs and managers. Students can find a wide variety of culinary arts degrees in these schools.

Prospective culinary students should research the schools according to their location and degree offering appropriate for them. Some schools actually offer online culinary arts degrees. In the end, while experience is important in the restaurant business, a diploma from a top culinary arts school demonstrates the depth of culinary knowledge to employers.

Culinary Arts Degrees for Aspiring Chefs and Managers

Students in colleges for culinary arts may choose to pursue either an associate degree, bachelor's degree, diploma, or certificate depending on their career goals.

Culinary arts certificates and diplomas in culinary arts usually take four months to a year to complete. Students in these programs learn fundamental culinary techniques, such as knife skills, sauce making, braising, roasting, beverage pairing, and seasoning. Alternative certificate and diploma programs in baking and pastry arts are also offered in most culinary arts schools.  

Associate and bachelor’s degree programs in culinary arts, on the other hand, are longer and offer more extensive training. An associate degree usually takes two years to complete, while a bachelor's degree takes four.  These programs may augment their included cooking training with basic human resources and culinary arts management, accounting, event management, and marketing courses—greatly needed skills for positions of leadership and for launching a new food business.

Some culinary arts colleges will include an externship as part of their chef training, which is a great way for culinary students to gain professional experience while still in school. A professional environment can help students practice speed, precision, and organization while making dishes. As a general rule, however, gaining experience in a professional setting with or without a culinary arts program is instrumental in a developing culinary arts career.

What are Typical Requirements and Cost of Culinary Arts School?

Most culinary arts colleges require an application and application fee, which some schools waive for financially-strapped students. Additionally, some culinary arts schools may ask for a short essay or personal statement, GPA, recommendations, and an official high school transcript as part of their application. Some require students to have previous food service experience under their belt; others allow students to start brand-new. Altogether, schools vary in their entrance requirements.

Costs also vary according to the training program, the school, the desired degree, and whether the program is taken at full or part time. Culinary arts programs are offered at a number of price points—so students should find one that fits their needs. It's also worth noting that schools and private institutions, as well as government sources, can offer a variety of financial aid options including culinary arts scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study to help finance a culinary arts education. Researching options pays off. Like any post-secondary training, a degree in culinary arts is an investment.

What Career Skills Are Essential for Culinary Arts Students?

In a nutshell, important chef skills (aside from the chopping, basting, marinating, and mixing) include: practice, persistence, ability to follow directions, setting priorities, communication, and leadership.

Persistence keeps a student in a cooking school focused while practicing, practicing, and practicing. The ability to follow directions is important when navigating complicated recipes. And when making multiple dishes at a time, it is good to know how to set priorities and have the coordination to adequately multitask. Communication is also necessary when working as a team; leadership is essential for chefs and managers who must keep a clean and efficient kitchen.

Not mentioned above, but obvious, is the sensitivity to taste, smell, texture, and appearance so essential to the creativity and performance during a culinary arts career.

Is a Culinary Arts School Really Necessary?

While it is true that many of the skills learned in culinary arts schools can be learned in jobs and internships, culinary school continues to be a unique educational experience.

Culinary arts school packs a wealth of experience and information into just a few years, allowing students to quickly gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the food industry. For those serious about turning a passion for food into a career, the depth of a culinary arts school education is hard to beat.

Culinary Arts Salary and Chef Career Information

Many graduates of culinary arts schools enter the workforce in entry-level positions. Students who pursue chef training may start as a line cook, while graduates of management programs may start as assistant restaurant managers. Full-service restaurants and traveler accommodations, like hotels and resorts, employ the largest number of professional chefs, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As in any other profession, gaining experience during a culinary arts career is integral in gaining positions of higher responsibility.

Ultimately, culinary managers and chef salaries vary by position and industry. More highly paid chefs work mainly in upscale restaurants and hotels, as well as in major metropolitan and resort areas. According to the BLS, the average annual earnings of chefs and head cooks nationwide in 2014 came to $45,880, with the top 10 percent earning $73,720. That same year, the average annual salary for food service managers came to $53,500, with the top 10 percent earning $82,360. Notable among all of the findings was that, understandably, the highest paying food establishments had the most competitive jobs.

For those who love making and sharing food and are looking for a different kind of job, pursuing a career in culinary arts may be the right thing to do. Culinary arts degrees can help the aspiring chef move ahead.

Additional Resources for Culinary Arts Careers:
Bureau of Labor Statistics information on chef and head cook careers
Bureau of Labor Statistics information on careers in food service management

Featured Culinary Arts Schools

Check out this directory of Culinary Arts schools and institutes to get started!

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5 Program(s) Found
  • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
  • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
  • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
  • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
  • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Program(s) Found
Le Cordon Bleu Schools of North America , Online (campus option available)
  • Its first location, in Paris, officially opened its doors as a culinary school in 1895.
  • Teaches students by having them spend significant time in the kitchen practicing precision techniques.
  • Provide hands-on training from instructors who are certified, master chefs.
  • Offer flexible schedules and online programs.
  • Has 30 schools worldwide, spanning 5 continents, including 17 campuses in the U.S.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Online Courses
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
1 Program(s) Found
  • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
  • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
  • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
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  • Online Courses
1 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
  • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
  • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
  • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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  • Online Courses
  • Financial Aid
1 Program(s) Found
  • Offers more than 150 self-paced, career-relevant programs that are connected to a supportive 24/7 online community of students and faculty.
  • Profiled in many publications such as The Boston Globe, Fox Business, and  Inside Higher Ed.
  • Nearly 25,000 graduates each year.
  • Accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
  • Founded in 1890 in Scranton, Pennsylvania    
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  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
  • Received the 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
  • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
  • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
2 Program(s) Found
  • First opened its doors in 1980 as the Academy of Medical Art and Business.
  • Students can choose from a variety of diploma or degree programs, as well as continuing education courses.
  • Provides programs in massage therapy, dental assisting, criminal justice, cake decorating, and more.
  • 7.5 acre campus is located in the foothills of Blue Mountain, north of Harrisburg, PA.
  • Involved with many community service organizations, including the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank (CPBB), March of Dimes, and Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
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  • Accredited
  • Financial Aid
4 Program(s) Found
  • Gives students the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree in the culinary arts field in less than 15 months or bachelor’s degree in the food service management field in 2.5 years through their year-round schedule.
  • Located in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.
  • Offers externship experiences to students for experience in the field.
  • Hosts regular career fairs for employer recruitment.
  • Has student housing available.
  • Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC).
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1 Program(s) Found
  • Offers career-focused programs in allied health, business, and computer technology, and more.
  • On-the-job training available through externships, internships, and clinical placements.
  • Graduates in good standing can take refresher sessions in courses at no additional cost.
  • Day and evening class options are available for flexible scheduling.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
4 Program(s) Found
  • Has been training students in the culinary arts since 1946.
  • Teaches hands-on culinary training in French, Asian, Mediterranean, Latin and American cooking, along with professional baking and pastry techniques.
  • Helps students gain professional skills in culinary management.
  • Offers an Italian Culinary Arts program where students get to externship in Italy.
  • Its instructors are respected chefs who put their dedication and life experiences into their instruction.
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  • Financial Aid
1 Program(s) Found
  • Dedicated to providing a hands-on, personal approach to education since 1946.
  • Provides associate degrees and short-term certificate programs in business, design, healthcare, and more.
  • Offers alumni free “brush up” classes, allowing graduates to exercise certain skills or software that they may not have used in a while.
  • Gives students many options for campus activities, including intramural sports, drama club, and campus parties.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
2 Program(s) Found
The Chef's Academy , Indianapolis
  • Listed on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
  • Offers intern and externship placement assistance for real-world experience.
  • Offers programs in culinary arts, pastry arts, and hospitality & restaurant management.
  • Accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF).
  • 2 campus locations in Indianapolis, Indiana and Morrisville, North Carolina.
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1 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
  • Its student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
  • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
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4 Program(s) Found
  • Instructors are typically real-world professionals with many years of experience in their career fields.
  • Ranked #3 in Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2014 by Military Times.
  • Presents the full tuition cost up front. In most cases, even textbooks are included in the total price.
  • Provides career services associates to help students review their resume, provide career counseling, help with job searches, and more.
  • Has 27 campus locations across the southern United States, plus offers online degree programs.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
4 Program(s) Found
  • Culinary Arts program includes the 3-week Farm To Table® Experience, where students gain a direct, in-depth look at where food comes from.
  • Numerous scholarship opportunities and financial aid are available to students who qualify.
  • Accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
  • 2 campuses located in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
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Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid