November 15, 2021

Maybe you’ve heard the terms “trade school”, “technical school”, or “vocational school” in conversation, but couldn’t really define what they mean. If you’re considering culinary school, you might also be wondering whether it falls under the “trade school”, “technical school”, or “vocational school” umbrella.

And furthermore, how does a culinary degree or diploma program compare to a traditional college education? Let’s explore exactly what a trade school is, whether culinary school fits into this category, and whether it’s the right fit for you.

What Is The Difference Between a Trade School, Technical School, and Vocational School?

While these terms are often used to categorize different types of continuing education, their definitions aren’t set in stone and are sometimes used interchangeably.

  • A vocational school is a broad term for any type of educational institution that prepares students for a specific job immediately following graduation.
  • A trade school is one type of vocational school that focuses on more specialized hands-on training in a certain industry or skill, like auto mechanics, cosmetology, or medical imaging.
  • Other types of vocational schools might include tech schools where you can earn certifications in technical fields such as engineering, finance, or information technology.

Is Culinary School Considered a Trade School?

Yes, a culinary program is considered both a trade school and a vocational school because it prepares students for a career in a specific trade — in this case, some facet of the culinary world.

For example, Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts offers degree and diploma programs in the culinary arts, baking and pastry, hospitality and restaurant management, and more.

Escoffier student in chef uniform cleaning baking tray in kitchen with other students

Following graduation from high school, a traditional path of education might look like obtaining a college degree from a two-year or four-year college, then joining the workforce.

But many are becoming disillusioned with both the cost of traditional higher education and the lack of opportunity following graduation. This is where a trade school — like culinary school — comes in. Why might you consider such a path?

Trade Schools Are Typically Completed More Quickly Than College

Want to streamline your education journey?

Usually, degrees or diplomas from trade schools take less time to complete than a traditional four-year degree. This is particularly helpful for students who have family obligations or work a full-time job. It means a briefer period of attending school while meeting these other obligations.

“I had already done three years of traditional college, so I wasn’t interested in doing four more….For me, Escoffier was a short program which is exactly what I wanted and what I needed at that time.”
Lexi Nelson, Sous-Chef, La Tour Restaurant; Boulder Culinary Arts Graduate

Trade Schools Can Prepare Students for the Workforce

If you’re interested in learning career-focused skills and entering a career path in a relatively short period of time, trade school could be the optimal route to take. Trade schools, like a culinary school, are skills-based, so they’re less focused on general knowledge that may or may not apply to the industry a student is seeking to enter. Whereas colleges and universities require a broad range of courses, trade schools hone in on one specific skill set.

Escoffier student whisking a bowl as she adds ingredients

Traditional education like college might also have more in the way of lecture and theory, whereas a trade school will involve more training on the practical application. For this reason, students emerge from a trade school with the practical knowledge needed to obtain an entry-level job in the field right away. For example, in Escoffier’s programs, using their professional tool kit, students have the opportunity to learn practical culinary skills which are in demand by today’s employers.

Trade Schools May Offer More Mentorship Opportunities

There’s also the culture of the educational institution to bear in mind. For instance, at a trade school you’re likely to interact often with your instructors, whereas at a university you may find it more difficult to meet your professor one-on-one. For those seeking mentorship in their education or career path, this in itself could be a deciding factor.

Escoffier online culinary arts graduate Tiffany Moore“I can definitely say that my Chef Instructors were very supportive. I got my MS diagnosis while I was going through school and I almost quit. I reached out to one of my Chefs and she just encouraged me… She told me that I didn’t have to stop, and checked on me all the time through text and email. The support from Escoffier was there when I was going through a life crisis.”
Tiffany Moore, Escoffier Online Culinary Arts Graduate

Escoffier’s Chef Instructors can help their students achieve their creative potential. Students have the ability to bounce new ideas off of their Chef Instructors and seek guidance for their professional path from Career Services staff. With dedicated office hours and low instructor-to-student ratios on-campus, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to connect with your teachers and mentors.

Trade Schools Are Focused on Specific Skills Rather Than General Knowledge

In trade school, you’ll be surrounded with like-minded peers who are all pursuing the same (or similar) career path as you. In four-year universities, your classes might be made up of students from a wide spectrum of disciplines, all majoring in something different.

Escoffier online culinary arts graduate Anthony Avasakdi“I always felt that it is important to have education on your side to reinforce what you get in the workforce. Learning in school and learning on the job are very much different from each other. Today classical cooking and learning the basics of true culinary arts skills is not taught in the career world…and I feel that it is a core part of culinary arts that every chef should have the opportunity to learn.”
Anthony Avasakdi, Manager of Culinary & Operator Support Services at Ventura Foods; Escoffier Online Culinary Arts Graduate

You may also tend to have more hands-on application of knowledge in trade school, with less research and writing. Yes, there may also be written exams, but tests in trade school are primarily based on creating and presenting a finished product or completing a project of some kind. Educators can test you on your ability to both retain the knowledge and apply it in a practical, useful way.

Is Culinary School the Right Choice for You?

Now that you’ve gotten an idea of what sets trade school apart from traditional higher education, let’s talk about culinary school specifically. Perhaps you’ve been kicking around the idea for a while, and you just haven’t landed on your decision.

If that’s the case, first ask yourself the following questions:

Are you passionate about food and looking for a career in the culinary field?

Whether it be managing a restaurant, being a sous chef in a kitchen, or opening your own pâtisserie, feeling the call to the culinary world is a good indicator that you should consider an industry-related education.

The kitchen is a high-energy environment and can be a very rewarding career path if you love to create, serve others, and work with a team.

What type of culinary education are you looking for?

Maybe you’re just getting started on a path to a culinary career. Or perhaps you’ve been working in the industry for some time, and you’re looking for a way to stand out.

A culinary degree or diploma can give your resume a significant boost and help you market yourself and your skills. Escoffier students dive into foundational culinary topics like menu design, nutrition, global cuisines, and food service math and accounting — practical knowledge that many employers value.

Escoffier student and instructor working on an assignment.

Are you willing to be more hands-on with your classes?

Culinary school can include written and verbal assignments and some lectures. But the majority of a culinary curriculum is about actually practicing what you’re learning from Chef Instructors, showcasing your skills and your comprehension of the material through tangible products.

Finally, do you have other responsibilities to take care of, like working a job, taking care of family members, or serving in the military?

Some culinary schools, including Escoffier, offer a flexible enough format for you to do both — but others don’t, so it’s important to talk to the school’s admissions department to get the scoop. Adult learners who are balancing careers or family obligations have found Escoffier’s weekly commitment to be manageable. Approximately 15-22 hours per week are spent on school-related activities depending on program, credential and personal pace.

Escoffier’s Boulder campus (including the online programs) is also a designated 2021-2022 Military Friendly® School, meaning that we’ve demonstrated the highest levels of satisfaction in helping veterans transition from military life to school and civilian careers. We work with the Department of Veteran Affairs and all branches of the military to help administer any education assistance provided to veteran/active military students and/or their families.

Alan Momeyer, Former Chief HR Officer for Loews Corporation“What people used to do was go on a leave of absence to go to culinary school. That doesn’t work anymore. People have to stay employed while they are developing their professional skills. That’s where things like online training come in. You don’t want it to be a job, you want to be a career. Nothing makes you feel more like a professional than to get the professional training chefs have gotten.”
Alan Momeyer, Former Chief HR Officer, Loews Corp

Your Culinary Education Options

The bottom line is that trade schools aren’t for everyone. But when it comes to the culinary world, a degree or diploma from an accredited institution is increasingly crucial for success.

If you’re thinking about culinary school, explore Escoffier’s options to see if anything piques your interest. We have two campuses — in Boulder, CO, and Austin, TX — as well as an online campus curriculum. Besides having access to expert Chef Instructors, you’ll complete an industry externship that can further help prepare you for the field.

Getting a great start on your culinary career journey can start with pursuing the right type of education. Our admissions staff can help talk you through whether that education indeed starts with Escoffier.

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