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Culinary Arts Programs
How to Choose a Culinary School

Culinary Arts is a highly creative field that also offers great job security.  In better times, people may prefer artful concoctions. In tougher times, they may want more solid comfort food. In any case, there's always a demand. U.S. Department of Labor statistics predict that job openings for skilled culinary workers will be plentiful throughout this decade.

"Skilled" is the key word. It's still possible to develop your skills informally, on the job, but better commercial kitchens are more likely to give the best and more creative positions to formally trained culinary arts professionals. In Culinary Arts, this generally means college, a certified apprenticeship, or a well-qualified culinary school.

There are many ways to get a culinary education, and one will be more suited for you than others. What's right for you depends on your talents, goals, and current situation. Do you wish to go into management? Do you want to concentrate exclusively on cooking? Is a degree important to you? Do you learn best by doing? Do you like theory? What is your financial situation? How quickly do you want to be in the workplace? You can train for a culinary career in as little as six months or as much as four years or more. Here are some of your options:

2 and 4-year College Programs
There are now approximately 1,000 college-level programs specializing in culinary or hospitality in the United States. Two-year programs will provide an associate's degree; four-year programs will deliver a bachelor's degree. In both cases, there is a mix of liberal-arts courses along with culinary courses you will take.

Degree programs tend to track students toward management in the areas of lodging, restaurant, hospitality, food service, or travel and tourism, including clubs, resorts, and casinos. With this management track comes higher salaries for starting positions.

Before embarking on a degree program, students are strongly advised to get summertime or part-time experience in a hotel or restaurant setting to see if they truly enjoy the atmosphere and work.

Apprenticeship Programs
Apprenticeship programs have been traditional in Culinary Arts for hundreds of years. One of today's most popular and well-regarded apprenticeship programs in the United States is administered by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). 

In this program, apprentices must complete three years of full-time (6,000 hours) on-the-job training in a food service kitchen under a qualified chef. This includes logging hours in ten different sections of the kitchen for culinary apprentices; pastry apprentices complete six stations.

Salaries for apprenticeship vary nationwide, but they are a percentage of the local "journeyman's rate" and are progressive, as apprentices move in their three years from beginner to sous chef or supervisory status. There is also a minimum requirement of 192 classroom hours in technical courses per year, generally taken at a nearby community college. Some apprentices choose to add extra classes so that they can receive an associate's degree.

ACF guidelines are registered with the U.S. Department of Labor, so completion of an ACF apprenticeship carries with it a certain distinction not provided by informal apprenticeships.  Students receive a certificate from the Department of Labor, a certificate from the ACF, and become Certified Culinarians by the ACF.

"School is a very controlled environment. It's nothing like working in a restaurant and coping with emergencies that come up," stated Arlene Weber, Apprenticeship Program Co-ordinator for the ACF. "Apprentices develop strong real-world experience."

Culinary Schools
There are more than 700 cooking and culinary schools in the United States. Over 100 of them have been certified by the American Culinary Foundation. "The typical U.S. culinary school is a dynamic learning environment rich with cultural and social diversity, enhancing the student's educational experience," noted Gary Prell, a longtime culinary and hospitality educator in Colorado. Well-regarded certificate schools are surprisingly versatile, and students emerging from them can go into traditional cooking careers, open restaurants, work as food and wine writers, find themselves in film, print, and television as food stylists, or even become celebrities, starring in front of the cameras teaching cooking.

Two important factors to consider in choosing a culinary school are its placement rate of graduates, and the satisfaction of students with their resulting career paths.

Provided by Linda Gnat-Mullin from the French Culinary Institute.

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