Aspiring chefs who want to be the next Anthony Bourdain may want to reconsider going to a big-name culinary school.
That’s because the high cost of tuition often has a low return since many entry-level cooks make just over minimum wage.
And when your potential salary is so low, taking on large student loans may not be the best financial decision.
But that doesn’t mean you have to forego your dreams of becoming a chef. There are other ways to break into the industry without taking on thousands in debt.
In fact, according to some chefs, the alternative routes are often the best ways to build your career.
How much does culinary school cost?
As of last year, the average cost of culinary school tuition at the nation’s biggest schools is three times the tuition at a regular four-year school.
For instance, if you attended the Culinary Institute of America, a two-year degree in baking and pastry arts or culinary arts would cost more than $66,000.
But unlike a career as a lawyer, working in the culinary industry usually comes with low earning potential.
According to PayScale, which compiles wages nationwide, the average pay for an entry-level line cook is just $10.23 an hour. With that kind of income, paying off six figures of student loan debt is next to impossible.
Other routes to a culinary career
If you are passionate about food and want to pursue a career in the culinary industry, you can do so without racking up tons of debt.
Many top chefs got their education through community colleges or trade schools, then worked their way up.
And according to head chefs, students who go through big-name culinary schools are no more prepared than students who pursue alternative routes.
“The private schools do offer excellent facilities and usually have great instructors,” says Chef Jeff Bacon, Executive Director of Providence Restaurant and Catering and the Executive Chef at Second Harvest Food Bank in North Carolina
“Are they ten times better than a community college?” Bacons ponders. “I would say no.”
Bacon has trained and worked with cooks from top schools. However, he says students from trade schools and community colleges are often more work-ready.
“Many of the students who have gone through community college, trade schools, or apprenticeships are usually better prepared to work in a real kitchen,” Bacon explains
Chef Jose Gonzalez, Executive Chef at Cuba Libre Restaurant and Rum Bar in Orlando, agrees.
“The most valuable asset and I look for in any candidate is the attitude and energy that they bring to the interview and to the workplace,” says Gonzalez. “We can teach and train skills but we can’t teach attitude or dedication. That has to come with the individual.”
Community colleges and trade schools
Many community colleges and trade schools offer culinary programs at a fraction of the big schools’ prices.
These programs are also usually accelerated. So students can complete their education and get a job in the field within one year. And, programs are often eligible for federal student loans.
For example, York Technical Institute (YTI) is a trade school offering programs in pastry arts. The program costs $20,500, but students can complete the curriculum in just 12 months.
And because YTI designed the program to focus on practical skills, 93 percent of the students get jobs in their field.
What’s more, many graduates have gone on to excellent careers in the industry. Past students have worked at top restaurants and major resorts like Walt Disney World.
There are hundreds of community colleges and trade schools nationwide that offer quality culinary training. To find a good school, first ask for the school’s accreditations.
“Institutional accreditation varies by state but programmatic accreditation offered by the American Culinary Foundation is the national standard,” says Bacon. “I always recommend those schools so that issues of transfer credits and state by state validation do not come up.”
Additionally, make sure the programs includes completing the necessary training requirements to get hired. Many states have certifications for food safety.
“We look for ServSafe sanitation training in all of our back-of-house employees and certification in our leadership positions,” Bacon adds.
Going to culinary school
If you want to go to culinary school, check out local trade schools and community colleges before enrolling in an expensive, big-name institution. You can get a quality education and be ready for a great career without taking on six figures of debt.
“Do not let yourself be fooled by the big name, high priced private schools,”says Bacon. “Unless you can cover 80 percent or more of the overall expense in scholarships, you are usually better off choosing a community college program.”
“Paying off $100,000 plus in student loans on $10 to $12 an hour is no one’s idea of fun,” remarks Bacon. “You can complete most community college programs for a tenth of the cost of a big name institution.”
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 6 lenders of 2019!
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1 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
2 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.54% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.27% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of March 18, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
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3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.
All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.5% effective February 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.
Citizens Bank Disclosures
|2.54% – 7.12%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.54% – 7.27%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.67% – 8.96%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|3.23% – 6.65%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.69% – 7.43%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.98% – 9.72%6||Undergrad & Graduate|