December 7, 2021

Think you can’t afford to attend culinary school? Think again.

When we asked prospective culinary school students in a recent quiz, “What could stop you from pursuing your culinary dreams?” the top answer we received was, “Paying for school.”1

The good news is that there are plenty of culinary school scholarships and other funding options available to those who apply and qualify—and who know where to look for them.

Perhaps you’re at the beginning of your career journey and you’re realizing that the traditional college path isn’t for you. Or maybe you’re looking to start a second act with a new career. Maybe you’re an empty-nester, and you’re ready to pursue a fresh challenge.

Regardless of where you’re coming from, there are opportunities out there that can help with funding.

The Complete Guide to Culinary School Scholarships — Contents

Types of Culinary School Scholarships
Merit-Based Culinary School Scholarships
Need-Based Culinary School Scholarships
Competition-Based Culinary School Scholarships
Personal Circumstance and Location-Specific Culinary Scholarships
Other Forms of Financial Aid

Types of Culinary School Scholarships

Different types of culinary school scholarships assess applicants in distinct ways.

Merit-based scholarships evaluate candidates’ academic achievement and/or culinary skill. Need-based scholarships are awarded to lower-income students, to help bridge their financing gap. Some scholarships are awarded to participants or winners in culinary competitions. And some are only available to people who meet certain personal criteria, like active-duty military or veterans, single parents, certain ethnic groups or races, place of residence, or members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Make sure to read each scholarship’s eligibility requirements very carefully to assess your eligibility before applying. And always complete the application process in full.

What is a scholarship?

A scholarship is a financial award provided to college, university, or trade school students to support their education costs. They may be awarded directly to the student to spend as they wish, or they may be paid directly to the school for tuition costs. These funds are considered a financial gift and do not have to be repaid.

Smiling culinary student is talking with a financial aid advisor

Merit-Based Culinary School Scholarships

Merit-based scholarships ask the question: how have you proven your passion for the culinary or baking arts? Maybe you worked part-time at a restaurant all through high school and were active in your school’s cooking classes. Or maybe you’re an adult learner who shares your passion for cakes through a baking hobby and your own blog. Some scholarship applications may also have a GPA requirement, especially for students who have recently graduated from high school.

Start your search for merit-based culinary scholarships with these providers.

James Beard Foundation Scholarships

If you’ve followed food culture even casually over the years, you’ll be familiar with James Beard and the legacy he left in the culinary arts. Since its founding in 1991, the foundation has awarded over $8 million in culinary school scholarships and other financial aid to 2,000 students and counting.

They do this through three avenues:

  • Friends of James Beard: Cash grants applied directly to tuition and related school expenses.
  • James Beard School Scholarships: Tuition waivers granted by culinary schools.
  • Grants for working culinary professionals: Financial assistance for people working in the culinary industry to further their education through experiential learning at farms, fisheries, wineries, and other food production venues.

The James Beard Foundation opens their scholarship applications each February for the following academic year.

National Restaurant Association Education Foundation Scholarships (NRAEF)

Founded in 1987, the National Restaurant Association is a champion for people from all walks of life wanting to build career-ready skills in the restaurant and food services industry. It’s given $23 million in financial aid to youth and adults at all stages of their career while helping to build a robust hospitality industry in America.

The association offers several programs and scholarship opportunities for culinary school students.

ProStart® for Students

ProStart® is a two-year high school program for students who want to get a jumpstart on their culinary careers. It provides real-life experience opportunities and builds practical skills. Students who earn their ProStart Certificate of Achievement may be eligible for scholarships and college credit at select culinary schools. Participants are also eligible to compete in the National ProStart Invitational® for additional scholarships (see Competition-Based Scholarships below for more information.)

Direct NRAEF Scholarships

The NRAEF awards general scholarships of $2,500 to select students. To be eligible, students must be enrolled full-time or part-time at an accredited culinary school, college, or university for the next academic year. They must major in an associate degree or bachelor’s degree program in the restaurant, foodservice, or hospitality fields.

The application window for these scholarships is open from mid-January to mid-March each year, with awards announced in June. Students apply by filling out an online application on the NRAEF website.

Named NRAEF Scholarships

NRAEF also partners with private companies to give out additional scholarships. These are called Named Scholarships because they’re usually awarded in the name of an individual or a business. For example, Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRoNA) offers a scholarship for students interested in fine dining. And the SPB Foundation has an award for students who want to pursue careers in craft breweries or brewery restaurants.

The application process for these named scholarships is the same as the process for the Direct NRAEF Scholarships, with applications open from mid-January to mid-March.

Female Escoffier student mixing and whisking a bowl

State Restaurant Association Scholarships

Each state has its own restaurant group, affiliated with the National Restaurant Association. Many of these state groups offer culinary school scholarships to in-state residents. Check with your state’s chapter to see what scholarships you may be eligible for.

American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Scholarships

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a major force in the hospitality industry. It is credited with elevating the status of chefs in the United States from that of a lower-level service position to a well-regarded profession. ACF’s high standards of training have earned the organization a prestigious reputation in the culinary arts world.

ACF’s culinary school scholarships can help thousands of up-and-coming professionals in the hospitality industry get the best education possible. Scholarships of up to $1,500 for students in certificate programs, and up to $2,500 for students in post-secondary degree programs, are offered annually. The window for application is open from April 30th to October 31st each year.

The Vegetarian Resource Group College Scholarship

The Vegetarian Resource Group is a nonprofit organization that promotes the vegetarian and vegan lifestyle through education and activism. Each year, this group offers one scholarship of $10,000 and two scholarships of $5,000 to high school seniors who have shown a commitment to a vegetarian or vegan diet.

This merit-based scholarship is a must-apply for students studying plant-based culinary arts! While the award is not exclusively for culinary students, multiple past winners have been vegan foodies with goals of opening their own plant-based restaurants.

The deadline to apply for this scholarship for the 2022-2023 school year is February 20th.

A plant-based burger sits on a wooden block

The Trotter Project Homaro Cantu Scholarship

The Trotter Project is dedicated to advancing sustainable agriculture, promoting culinary education, and easing food insecurity in underserved neighborhoods. The organization has awarded nearly $265,000 across 38 scholarships as of October 2021.

The Homaro Cantu Scholarship is a $10,000 award that recognizes outstanding students in culinary arts or hospitality management. Students must submit their GPA, letters of recommendation, and a video highlighting their passion for the culinary arts and long term goals. Applications are open from February through mid-May each year.

“It’s your job to work with [Escoffier Financial Aid] to find your opening into your future career. Hit the ground running and do your work. Apply for the scholarships and the grants, and do the paperwork on time.”
Amber Gardiner, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate

Person signing paper document with a black and gold pen

Need-Based Culinary Scholarships

Need-based scholarships take a student’s financial situation into account. They aim to help lower-income students gain access to education that may otherwise have been unavailable to them.

School-Specific Culinary Scholarships

Many culinary schools offer scholarships to enrolled students who can demonstrate financial need. In fact, some of the need-based scholarships that are awarded to culinary students come directly from their schools, whether it’s a dedicated culinary school or a community college program.

The Escoffier Scholarship Foundation raises funds and awards scholarships each year to students who need financial assistance. Applicants must be enrolled at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, demonstrate their financial need through all required Financial Aid documents, submit a short application essay, and maintain a 2.0 GPA. Applications align with Escoffier’s term start dates.

“I didn’t know when to look for scholarships or where to look for them. Escoffier had a lot of scholarships just within their program. That’s exactly what I needed to make sure I felt comfortable with getting this degree.”
Colton Ragland, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate

Food Dreams Scholarship

Food Dreams is a New York-based nonprofit committed to helping under-resourced students access culinary education and mentorship.

The organization’s scholarship is available for high school or international school graduates with financial need. Award amounts vary based on the school and program. After completing their education, recipients complete a year-long apprenticeship at one of Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurants. Applications are accepted year round.

The Trotter Project Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship

In addition to the Homaro Cantu Scholarship, The Trotter Project offers the need-based Pursuit of Excellence Scholarship. This award of up to $10,000 is available to a nontraditional or current culinary arts student with financial need. While The Trotter Project does not define “nontraditional student,” the National Center for Education Statistics refers to students over the age of 24 as nontraditional.

Smiling woman shaking hands with another woman in business deal

Competition-Based Culinary Scholarships

Competition-based culinary scholarships are awarded to those who compete and/or win food-based competitions. These may be awarded directly from the competition hosts, or students’ participation can earn them scholarships directly from their school.

National ProStart Invitational®

The National ProStart Invitational® is hosted by the National Restaurant Association’s ProStart® program. It includes both culinary arts and restaurant management competitions for high school students. The culinary arts competition requires teams to prepare a three-course meal in under an hour without running water or electricity. The restaurant management competition asks students to present their unique restaurant concept to the judges.

Participants in the ProStart Invitational® receive a $500 scholarship from Escoffier. Winners are also eligible for $1,500 to $7,000 in Escoffier scholarships. (These don’t apply to distance learning programs.)

Family Career Community Leadership of America

Family Career Community Leadership of America (formerly Future Homemakers of America) helps young people to build career- and family-focused leadership skills. This high school-based program holds Students Taking Action with Recognition (STAR) competitions which let students showcase their skills in culinary arts and baking. Local winners can go on to regional and then national events.

All FCCLA competition participants are eligible for a $500 Escoffier scholarship. And winners on the local, regional, and national levels may be eligible for up to $7,000 in scholarships, depending on the level of competition and their placement level. (These don’t apply to distance learning programs.)

SkillsUSA

SkillsUSA works with high school and college students, teachers, and industry leaders to ensure that the country maintains a skilled workforce. By partnering with over 650 businesses and trade associations, they bring skilled education out of the classroom and into the real world.

The SkillsUSA Championships are held in dozens of categories, including culinary arts and commercial baking. The culinary competition requires students to produce a four-course meal over the course of a full day. Baking competitors bake breads, rolls, cookies, and pies, as well as decorate cakes.

All participants are eligible for a $500 scholarship from Escoffier. First, second, and third place winners may also receive $1,500 to $7,000 in awards from Escoffier. (These don’t apply to distance learning programs.)

Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP)

C-CAP is a regional culinary nonprofit that partners with high schools in Los Angeles, Arizona, Chicago, Newark/Camden, Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia. Its cooking competitions challenge students to make classic French dishes in a timed competition. Winners can receive scholarships to their college or culinary school of choice.

Judge ranks food at a competition

Personal Circumstance and Location-Specific Culinary Scholarships

Beyond the large-scale scholarships that are often open to anyone, there is a vast network of scholarships for more specific groups of students. These scholarships are available to a smaller pool of applicants, so they often involve less competition.

Veteran & Military Scholarships

Escoffier also offers a Student Veteran Scholarship. All students who apply and qualify for Veterans Benefits from a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces are eligible for the Veterans Scholarship without completing the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This scholarship can only be used for direct institutional expenses, including tuition and fees. An institutional scholarship encompasses multiple categories and has one scholarship application award. The scholarships in this category are eligible to be awarded together, but students cannot exceed the overall scholarship maximum of $7,500 in a residential diploma program or $15,000 in a residential Associate Degree program.

Scholarship awards for online programs include up to $1,000 for active military and veterans; children/spouses of veterans can be awarded up to $500.

Veterans and active duty military can qualify for multiple types of scholarship and financial assistance. Through the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, active duty military or honorably discharged veterans are eligible for up to 100% of their tuition and fees, housing, and textbooks and supplies for up to 36 months.2

Some schools (including Escoffier) extend their aid through the Yellow Ribbon Program. This allows those schools to partially or fully fund additional education expenses that are not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®.

“I worked with Jordan in the Financial Aid Department, who helped me get some of the scholarships I qualify for because my dad is a disabled veteran. Jordan does a ton of paperwork and extra work for me to get things submitted for this application, which needs to be updated every four months.”
Kadie Sardo, Boulder Culinary Arts Student

Military woman hugging her husband and son

Location-Specific Scholarships

Some scholarships are open only to students who live and attend school in a specific state, county, or city. The Frans Hagen Scholarship, for example, is open to Washington, DC high school students, college students and current industry employees who are pursuing a culinary education.

Research scholarships for residents of your city, county, or state to see what’s available. Your state restaurant association and local chamber of commerce may be good places to start.

Demographic-Based Scholarships

Other scholarships are open to people who meet certain demographic criteria. These are often designed to close a gap for historically underrepresented groups, like scholarships for Black or Latinx students through the United Negro College Fund or the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.

There are also some scholarships just for women, and others for members of the LGBTQ+ community. Scholarships may also exist for people in certain life circumstances, like The Soroptomist Live Your Dreams Awards for single mothers. Escoffier also offers a Single Parent Grant.

Chef working in a kitchen and showing his plate

Employer-Based Scholarships

Some employers have their own internal scholarship programs. If you work in a restaurant or other food-service business, ask your managers if there’s a scholarship program that you can apply for.

Other Forms of Financial Aid

Grants

Grants are need based aid that can come from Federal or State agencies. The Federal Pell Grant is the most well-known and widely-used grant program. Students apply for the Pell Grant by filling out the FAFSA. Amounts vary based on factors like the school’s cost of attendance and the student’s Expected Family Contribution towards their education. The maximum award for the 2021-2022 school year is $6,495.

Some states also offer education grants. For example, the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant Program (TEOG) offers grants of up to $3,238 per semester for Texas residents attending an eligible two-year school.

Sticky note with the words FAFSA Pell Grant written on it

Student Loans

Student loans can provide the up-front funding that students need to finance their education. After completing their programs, students repay the loans over several years.

The federal government is the largest provider of student loans. They are available to the majority of postsecondary school students, and often have modest interest rates. There are also private companies that offer student loans, like Sallie Mae and SoFi.

Students can work on securing student loans and scholarships at the same time. The more scholarship money you receive, the less you’ll have to borrow!

“Utilizing a student loan is not necessarily a bad thing. If you choose to use a student loan, be a smart borrower. Construct a budget and only borrow what is needed to cover your school expenses, like tuition. The Financial Aid office at Escoffier is here to answer your questions and help you make the right decision.” Jason Rodriguez, Escoffier Director of Financial Aid

Now It’s Up to You!

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, adults in their mid-50s report changing jobs 12.4 times. There’s no reason to assume that the same won’t hold true for you! Some of those changes will be by choice, to explore new avenues and stay engaged in your work. Others will be by necessity, due to changes in the job market.

Whatever your dreams are for the future, don’t let finances get in the way.

There are so many financial support options for those who apply and qualify, and so many opportunities for people willing to take that leap and get the education they need to be successful.

Escoffier’s financial aid advisors are here to answer your financing questions and assist you to craft a financial plan that makes sense for your specific situation. We’re here to work with you to help find the right path to your career in the culinary arts. Reach out to us to discuss your options!

To learn more about financing your culinary education, visit these pages next:

1Escoffier Quiz, November 2020
2GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

This article was originally published on June 5, 2017, and has since been updated.