Attending culinary school is a big decision with a lot to consider, no matter where you are in your current career. From high school students debating their next move to older adults considering a career change to experienced cooks looking to advance their skills or start their own business, you’ll want to be as informed as possible before you make your choice.
What are the pros? What are the cons? Is this the right choice for me?
Culinary school may open up new career opportunities, expose students to mentors and an extensive network of culinarians, and teach useful skills and techniques. Plus, it’s fun!
But it’s not for everyone. The guidance that comes with culinary school also requires an investment — an investment of your time and hard work.
If you’re on the fence, this list of culinary school pros and cons may help you decide to take the next steps, or pursue your path another way.
The Pros of Culinary School
There are myriad benefits to a culinary school education, from mentorship to career opportunities. Here are a few to consider while you weigh your options.
Study with a Variety of Chef Instructors in Culinary School
At culinary school, students don’t spend their days with just one Chef Instructor. Each student will interact with multiple instructors throughout their programs, exposing students to a variety of worldviews, techniques, and culinary styles.
Access to these experienced culinary experts also provides opportunities for mentorship to students. Some students build long-term relationships with their Chef Instructors, reaching out again and again for advice and career tips. Many Chef Instructors also have experience as restaurant owners, and they may have helpful guidance for future entrepreneurs.
With their varied backgrounds, this large group of Chef Instructors can give students a more well-rounded culinary education than if they simply learned from one Executive Chef or chef mentor on the job.
“You have mentors in a restaurant setting, but you won’t get the variety. At Escoffier, you’re exposed to 10+ executive chefs, and you’re surrounded by them every day. There’s a wealth of mentorship at your fingertips.”
Chef Shane Witters Hicks, Escoffier Boulder Graduate & Private Chef, The Soulful Spread
Access Networking Opportunities with Fellow Students and Alumni
In culinary school, your networking opportunities aren’t limited to your Chef Instructors.
Students may meet dozens of like-minded fellow students while they study. These students may be at various points in their own culinary careers, from beginners to experienced cooks and chefs looking to improve their skills. These students can be future resources for job opportunities, moral support, and further education.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduates also get access to the Escoffier Alumni Association, so they can expand their network to former graduates that may have advanced further in their careers.
“One of the lessons I learned from Escoffier is that it’s our job to pass on all of our information or knowledge to the next generation. I was fortunate enough to have Escoffier pass its knowledge to me, and now it’s my turn to pass that knowledge down.”
Douglas Rhoades, Escoffier Graduate & Chef, McMurdo Station, Antarctica
All Escoffier students also complete an industry externship during their programs. This real-world experience has the benefit of giving students a position to put on their resumes, and provides yet another networking opportunity. Co-workers and supervisors at your externship may know about new job openings and opportunities in the future!
A large network can also help future restaurant or food truck owners to find qualified candidates when they’re in a position to do the hiring.
Gain Exposure to Advanced Techniques and Cuisines From Around The World
When working in a professional kitchen, your job is to execute the prep or cooking necessary to serve that limited menu to customers. While you may learn those 10 or 20 dishes quickly, your opportunity to learn more varied techniques can be limited.
A good culinary school curriculum is one that builds each day. Since it’s not tied to any specific menu, students get to explore a wider variety of skills, from basic knife skills and sanitation methods to more complex world cuisines and advanced cooking techniques — all in 30 to 60 weeks.
Develop Good Habits in the Kitchen
Speed is vital in a professional kitchen. This means that some cooks may try to take shortcuts to move more quickly.
These shortcuts could include rushing through inventory, estimating weights instead of using a scale, or turning up the temperature on the oven. And the result can be wasted product, sub-standard food, or a sloppy workstation.
At culinary school, students are expected to develop good habits and discipline from the beginning. They must arrive on time, in a clean uniform, ready to work. Organization and cleanliness are paramount in a successful cook, which is why starting with good habits is so important.
“One of my main takeaways from Escoffier was discipline. The mise en place is no joke. I understood it’s a mindset, and coming to the table prepared starts with something as simple as getting your knife sharpened and getting your coat pressed.”
Chef Freida Nicole Davenport, Escoffier Graduate & Owner, Freida’s Sweets and Meats
Even for students who have already spent several years working in professional kitchens, culinary school can help them to refresh their habits and get back to the fundamentals.
Culinary School Can Open Up More Career Opportunities
A culinary school education is not a requirement in order to have a career in food or a professional kitchen. But it can certainly help.
69% of employers prefer or require that supervisors have a degree or diploma from a culinary program. And 53% prefer that chefs and head cooks have a degree or diploma.1 By earning those credentials, you increase the number of jobs that you would be eligible for.
Culinary school also proves your dedication to food as a career, not just a job. In an industry where turnover can be high, chefs may prefer a candidate who is committed to a career in food, rather than one who simply sees the position as a temporary job.
“If I have two like candidates and everything were equal, I have to look at the culinary student that went to school and say: ‘He’s got something invested in this.’”
Mark Krepczynski, Executive Chef, U.S. Grant Hotel
If you don’t plan to work in a professional kitchen, culinary school still has the potential to improve career prospects. If you were hiring a food critic, wouldn’t you prefer one that has the culinary knowledge to back up their writing skills?
The Cons of Culinary School
Maybe these aren’t really “cons,” but let’s acknowledge that there are some challenges that come along with culinary school. Here are three you should consider before applying.
Culinary School Requires a Time Investment
Education takes time. Getting your education may delay your ability to make big changes, like getting a new job, taking a vacation, or starting a new business.
But unlike a 4-year degree program, Escoffier students can receive a culinary diploma in just 30 weeks, and an Associate degree in as little as 60 weeks. If you don’t go to culinary school, those 30 or 60 weeks will still pass. But at the end, you won’t have the culinary skills that you would have had if you attended a program.
Culinary School Requires a Financial Investment
Except for the very rare case where a student finds ample scholarships that cover 100% of the costs, culinary school is not free. There is a financial investment required to attend.
Fortunately, nearly 9 in 10 Escoffier students received financial aid in 2019.2
Plus, culinary school students may see a financial return on their investment. Some employers are willing to pay more for culinary school graduates, so they can benefit from that formal training in their kitchens.
It’s a Challenge to Juggle Work, Family, and School
Culinary school students often have to work while they’re in school to continue paying the bills. And some are later-in-life students, who also have families to look after. This can make attending school for 6+ hours per day a challenge.
Escoffier’s online programs help to meet this challenge. Students can complete these programs on their schedule, as long as they meet the required course deadlines. Watch instructional videos and practice those skills at night after the kids are asleep, or early in the morning before work.
Plus, each Escoffier student is assigned a Success Coach to help them if they run into trouble. These cheerleaders and problem solvers are in your corner to help you right through to graduation day.
Culinary School Pros and Cons Recap
Pros of attending culinary school:
- Study with a variety of Chef Instructors in culinary school
- Access networking opportunities with instructors, fellow students, and alumni
- Gain exposure to advanced techniques and cuisines from around the world
- Develop good habits in the kitchen
- Culinary school can open up more career opportunities
Cons of attending culinary school:
- Culinary school requires a time investment
- Culinary school requires a financial investment
- Students may have difficulty juggling work, family, and school
So, Who Is Culinary School Right For?
Put it all together, and what does it mean? Culinary school may be the right path for anyone who wants a deeper understanding of cooking and food. It’s for future cooks who dream of a culinary career — which could mean working in a professional kitchen or opening a restaurant or food truck, or working in an alternative career as a food photographer, food writer, chef consultant, recipe developer, and more.
It’s for people who see education as an investment in themselves and in their futures, and who understand that there is great potential to see both financial and personal returns on that investment.
If that sounds like you, culinary school just might be the right path.
To get a little more insight into the value of culinary education, try these articles next:
- Why Earn An Associate Degree in Culinary Arts from Escoffier
- College Not For You? Try Culinary School
- Why Older Students Should Consider Culinary School
1 Source: Oliver Wyman Culinary Survey March 2017 and Analysis
2 90.2% of Boulder students (including students enrolled in the online programs) and 88.4% of Austin students received financial aid in 2019.