Should I Go To Culinary School? Pros and Cons

Whether you’re a high school student debating your next move… an established adult considering a career change… or an experienced cook looking to advance your skills or start your own business… Attending culinary school is a big decision that involves many considerations.

What are the pros? What are the cons? Is a culinary degree the right choice for you?

Culinary school may open up new career opportunities, expose students to mentors and an extensive network of culinarians, and can teach useful skills and techniques. Plus, if you love to experiment in the kitchen, it can also be a lot of fun!

But it’s not for everyone. The guidance that comes with culinary school also requires an investment — an investment of your time, effort, financial resources, and months or years of 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 career path another way.


Why do people attend culinary school?

People attend culinary school to learn a wider variety of skills than they would working a paid cooking job. Culinary schools expose students to a variety of techniques and cuisines and provide a valuable learning environment with instructors who can give you their full attention. Students who pursue associate and bachelors degrees also gain managerial skills that prepare them for roles other than working in the kitchen.

However, unlike many trades that require formal training or apprenticeship, becoming a cook does not require attending culinary school. Its therefore not a necessity for aspiring chefs and is more of a personal choice than a professional requirement.

What is culinary school?

Culinary school refers to formal higher education that prepares people to work as professional cooks and in the hospitality industry. However, culinary school can describe very different academic experiences and training programs. Most culinary schools offer either culinary arts or baking and pastry arts tracks, of which students commit to one. Here are common courses of study all referred to as culinary school:

Most programs, regardless of the degree awarded or length, introduce students to the professional kitchen environment by having them work in restaurants operated by the culinary school. Students usually also work in the dining room serving guests to further their understanding of restaurant operations.

Some culinary schools have dedicated campuses where students study and live. Certificate programs typically dont offer housing but might help students find places to live in the area.

Pros of going to culinary school

Here are several pros of going to culinary school:

Thoroughness of training

Culinary schools excel at teaching you the fundamental cooking techniques and terminology a chef would expect you to know. At culinary school, you learn:

Positive learning environment

Professional kitchens are extremely fast-paced environments. Often, ingredients are expensive or in limited supply, making it essential that cooks avoid mistakes as much as possible. During actual service, if a cook burns a dish and has to redo it, guests may have to wait twice as long to eat and become agitated. These conditions make it difficult to learn as a beginner. However, in culinary schools, instructors expect students to make mistakes. Since guests arent waiting to eat, there are fewer time constraints and students can take more time to practice and perfect skills.

Exposure to cuisines

Culinary schools introduce students to a wide range of global cuisines and their ingredients. This exposure might help students decide what kind of restaurant they want to work in and guide their future career decisions. Familiarity with diverse ingredients also helps cooks become more creative when developing their own dishes.


Many culinary schools maintain strong relationships with alumni who eventually open their own restaurants or become executive chefs. These networks can help culinary school graduates find employment and establish relationships with other culinary professionals in cities across the country.

Additional educational opportunities

For students who enroll in associate and bachelors degree programs, culinary school can provide useful education experiences outside of the kitchen. Culinary school helps prepare students for operating restaurants with business and management curriculums. It also might offer opportunities to study wine, food cultures and foreign languages. These additional subjects are often valuable for members of the service industry who work with international clientele or might work abroad themselves.

Cons of going to culinary school

Here are cons to consider before enrolling in culinary school:


The primary con of culinary school is its cost. Culinary schools that grant associate and bachelors degrees are often as expensive as regular private colleges. Even the shorter certificate programs can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, students weigh college debt against the increased earning potential college degrees enable. However, most restaurants pay all cooks similarly, with only small wage increases for more experienced cooks. Whether you attended culinary school has little or no effect on your starting wage.

Since most innovative and well-known restaurants are in major cities, cooks often pursue opportunities in areas with a higher cost of living. Consider if you could make monthly student debt payments while living in an expensive area.

Unrealistic expectations

Some cooks with years of restaurant experience attend culinary school to enhance their skills. However, most students enter culinary school with little or no professional background. Without working as a cook first, you might not know for certain if the job is right for you. Students may develop the impression that their professional experiences would resemble culinary school. However, cooking professionally is a physically demanding job that requires long hours, irregular days off and limited schedule flexibility. Many culinary school graduates cook only for a short while before realizing becoming a chef isnt the right career path for them.

Its important to understand that completing culinary school doesnt qualify you for a chef position without substantial work experience. Cooks begin as hourly employees and often work for a few years before receiving a promotion into a supervisor, or chef, position.

Limited career paths

Culinary school prepares students for a limited range of career paths. Especially if you complete a certificate program, you only receive education applicable to working as a cook. Many culinary school graduates ultimately pursue careers in the service industry besides cooking. They might work as restaurant managers, concierges, wine professionals or for a restaurant group in a corporate setting. However, most of these roles either dont require a culinary school degree or are equally accessible with traditional undergraduate degrees in hospitality or business management.


Do I really need to go to culinary school?

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. After all, hiring managers generally look for staff members they can spend the least amount of time, energy, and financial resources for training on the job.

Is culinary school a waste?

Like art school, culinary school is often viewed as one of the most valuable investments or a complete waste of money.

Is it worth it to become a chef?

The foodservice industry is growing fast, which makes becoming a chef a lucrative and appealing career path for many people. Additionally, the growth of the Food Network and proliferation of YouTube celebrity chefs have glamorized the industry. But, working in the restaurant industry is not like what you see on TV.

Will culinary school get me a job?

Culinary school can give entry-level candidates an edge for all the technical training and skills required to be successful within the restaurant. I think it can help but it doesn’t guarantee you a job or success. You still have to be willing to work hard. It’s a great industry to be a part of but it’s not an easy one!

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