Have you already started your culinary career without formal training and wonder if a culinary or pastry arts degree or diploma could set you apart? Or are you on a completely different career path, wondering if you should switch gears to follow your passion in food?
In this guide, we take you step by step through a structured decision-making process to help you decide if going to a culinary or pastry arts school makes sense for you. It takes into account your personal motivations, how to pay for school, and thinking through the logistical steps to making it happen. The decision is a big one and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
You can also use this PDF Worksheet to fill in your answers and print it out, so that you can put together a solid plan as part of your ongoing research.
Plenty of people before you have made a mid-career change to follow their dream of becoming a culinary or pastry chef, to open their own restaurant or catering service, or simply to advance in the culinary profession.
If you’ve been interested in food – as a hobby at home, or as an avid restaurant diner or cooking show enthusiast – attending culinary school could launch you into a new and rewarding career. While not a part-time culinary school, our online culinary and pastry programs provide more flexibility.
Here’s how to think through your decision:
1. Understand Your Motives
What’s driving your decision to go to culinary or pastry arts school? Before making a big decision, it’s important to gain clarity on what you really want and why.
Here are some questions to ask yourself. There’s no wrong answer, but it’s important that you’re clear on your motives before you begin your studies.
Rank the following factors in order of importance. Do you want to:
- Do something you’re passionate about?
- Work in a high-energy environment?
- Do a job that makes a difference to other people?
- Have a job with lots of variety?
- Have more mental stimulation?
- Start your own business?
- Do a job that lets you be creative?
- If you’re already in the field, have more opportunities for promotion?
When you’re talking to our Admissions Advisors, you’ll be able to tell them your motives and expectations. This understanding will help them guide you towards the career you want – both in your studies and after you graduate.
It will also give you focus if you study while still working at your current job. There is no “wrong” motivation for studying. But if you want to get the most out of your time in school, having this understanding will help to keep you on track.
If you’re not sure how to rank your priorities, don’t worry. Our Admissions Advisors can guide you through a conversation on the phone and, together, you can set your educational priorities. They’re here to help you.
2. Financing: How Will You Pay for Culinary or Pastry Arts School?
You need a solid financial plan in place to make a smooth transition from your past career to your new one, or to get your degree or diploma if you’re already working in the food business.
Start by considering your existing resources. If you’re attending culinary school online, you can keep working to help pay for school. Also consider your savings to determine how much you’re willing to allocate to your education investment, or if people in your family are willing to help you.
Other ways to consider paying for culinary school include:
- Employer reimbursement. If you’re already working in the field, consider asking your employer to reimburse part of your tuition and fees.
- Student loans. Financial aid is available to those who qualify. Loans are a common way for people to pay for culinary school, but use discretion. Determine in advance how much you’ll be comfortable paying back down the road.
- Grants and scholarships for those who qualify. Check out these various scholarship and grant opportunities, as well as research some on your own.
- Active duty, military veterans and certain family members. If you’re separating from the military, or will be in the next year or two, there are federal grants and loans specifically for veterans and their spouses. With our online school you can start studying while you’re still active, or even while deployed overseas.
Be sure to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to understand the wide variety of aid and federally-backed loan options that could be available to you.
You can always talk to a Financial Aid advisor to learn how to apply for financial assistance. Are you thinking a few months or a year down the road? Our advisors can fill you in on the expenses you should expect, so you can start saving for them before you’ve even registered.
3. Research Programs of Interest
Are you going to aim for a degree or a diploma? Pastry Arts or Culinary Arts? Online or on-campus?
Your decision ultimately comes down to your goals and personal life situation. Many students who already have careers choose to continue working while studying, coordinating with their employers to work around their studies. Attending school online offers a bit more flexibility, but many students at our campuses in Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colorado also continue working in their current jobs while studying.
Our online programs even include a Success Coach for each student, and our Austin and Boulder campuses have advisors on staff to help identify obstacles, set goals and design academic plans if needed.
- What are your family and other obligations to keep in mind? How will you balance those?
- Will you keep working? Will you need to change your work schedule?
- What will have to change in your weekly plans or any other upcoming plans?
- Can you meet the required study schedule?
- Is the institution accredited?
- Who are the faculty? What is their work experience and credentials?
- Have you seen the curriculum? Does the school teach things you want to learn?
- If you need flexibility, does the school offer 100% online programs?
- Do you meet the basic admission requirements, like having a high school diploma or GED?
- Can you meet the upcoming deadline for application?
You also need to consider the kind of externship you’re interested in pursuing and plan for the time that will be required for on-hands training in a professional kitchen.
An externship is mandatory. It ensures that you can get hands-on experience and one-to-one mentorship in the field of your choice, whether it’s in a restaurant, a commercial kitchen, with a catering company, a bakery, hotel, or resort.
4. Plan For Your Success
Higher education is a commitment. It takes time and effort to gain new skills in any field. It’s important to think through the number of hours you’ll be able to dedicate to your education each week.
Who can help hold you accountable to your dreams? Who in your life can call you out when you’re not living up to your commitments? It’s important to have friends and family members who will have the “hard” conversations with you if required, and celebrate your wins with you as you do the hard work.
Take time to think through your decision-making plan. Print out the worksheet and talk through your answers with people who know you well.
Before we wrap up this guide, here are two final thoughts…
Don’t Make a Rash Decision: Avoid These Mistakes
The decision to go back to school is a big one…so give it some solid thought.
According to career coach and Forbes columnist Kathy Caprino, there are five common mistakes people make when contemplating a career change. Here’s a quick overview of those mistakes:
- Running as far away as possible from your current career because it’s ‘broken’ you.
- Not having a sound financial plan before making the leap.
- Not taking the time to examine what kind of work you really want next.
- Not doing enough research about your newly chosen career.
- Giving up on your change too quickly.
By the time you contact us to begin your culinary training – either online or on campus – you’ll have the vision, clarity and conviction to succeed.
It’s Never Too Late to Make a Change
Don’t buy into the notion that it’s too late to make a change in your career path. We see students of all ages and at all stages of their work life taking advantage of our online culinary school or joining us at our campuses in Boulder or Austin. Your life experience can actually be an asset if you’re launching into the culinary or pastry arts.
No matter what’s motivated you to make the change, we’re here to support your learning journey. Our Career Services staff give students and graduates the resources and knowledge they need to help find – and flourish in – their next job. You can read a few of our alumni success stories here. Then contact us to find out more about your next career in the culinary or pastry arts.
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