Best Culinary Programs

Become Team
Become Team
November 11, 2021

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Working in the food industry can be a satisfying and lucrative career. The median pay for a chef or head cook in the U.S. is $53,380, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Even better, the field is supposed to grow by 25% over the next decade, which is much faster than average — meaning that top chefs will have their choice of career options. Becoming a chef is possible with only a high school diploma, but it also requires significant on-the-job experience. A culinary program can help you get the experience you need and expedite your career.

20 Best Culinary Programs

The best culinary programs are accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF), which the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognizes.

While a local culinary school with a different accreditor might still be worthwhile to attend, all of the following schools are accredited by the industry standard, the ACFEF. They're all also reasonably priced and have good graduation rates. Here are 20 of the best culinary schools in alphabetical order:

How We Choose the Best Programs

We chose the best culinary programs based on the following credentials:

  • Under $35,000 net price
  • Over 50% graduation rate
  • American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF) accreditation
Atlantic Technical College Coconut Creek, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $11,239
Graduation rate: 76%

Atlantic Technical College's Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality program is a year-long, full-time program that prepares you for state or national industry certification. You can also use the credits you earn in the program toward an associate degree.

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts-Austin Austin, TX

School type: Private for-profit
Net price: $21,842
Graduation rate: 59%

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts' Austin campus offers two different programs: an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Culinary Arts and a Diploma in Culinary Arts. The programs include a 12-week externship for hands-on experience.

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts-Boulder Boulder, CO

School type: Private for-profit
Net price: $21,842
Graduation rate: 52%

Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts' Boulder campus offers the same programs as the Austin campus, and it includes an externship at local restaurants.

Carver Career Center Charleston, WV

School type: Public
Net price: $3,020
Graduation rate: 84%

Carver Career Center's Adult Culinary Arts program takes 11 months to complete. Once you complete the program, you'll qualify for ACF certification.

Culinary Institute Lenotre Houston, TX

School type: Private for-profit
Net price: $24,887
Graduation rate: 67%

Culinary Institute Lenotre offers Culinary Arts Associate Degree and Culinary Arts Diploma programs. The associate program takes 100 weeks to complete, and the diploma program takes 60 weeks to complete.

East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) Mesa, AZ

School type: Public
Net price: Varies
Graduation rate: 86%

The EVIT Culinary Arts program is a dual enrollment program, meaning you can attend this program while still in high school. This makes entering the culinary industry a lot quicker (and cheaper, as dual enrollment often leads to discounted tuition).

Fox Valley Technical College Appleton, WI

School type: Public
Net price: $10,804
Graduation rate: 55%

Fox Valley Technical College offers two Culinary Arts programs: an associate degree and a certificate program. The certificate program is designed for those who already have a knack for the culinary arts.

James Rumsey Technical Institute Martinsburg, WV

School type: Public
Net price: $7,485
Graduation rate: 81%

James Rumsey Technical Institute's 11-month Culinary Arts program qualifies students to take the National Restaurant Association ServSafe exam to become certified.

Lake Career and Technical Center Camdenton, MO

School type: Public
Net price: $3,622
Graduation rate: 87%

Lake Career and Technical Center's Culinary Arts programs awards students a certificate after 900 hours of study.

Lake Technical College Eustis, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $5,222
Graduation rate: 85%

Lake Technical College offers a 40-week Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality. The program places 95% of its graduates in the culinary industry.

Lakeshore Technical College Cleveland, WI

School type: Public
Net price: $8,495
Graduation rate: 51%

You can complete Lakeshore Technical College's Culinary Arts associate degree program in four 15-week terms.

Lincoln Technical Institute-Shelton Shelton, CT

School type: Private for-profit
Net price: $20,274
Graduation rate: 65%

Lincoln Technical Institute's Shelton campus offers a culinary arts diploma program that takes roughly 66 weeks to complete. It includes an externship, and they have a partnership with Disney.

Mitchell Technical College Mitchell, SD

School type: Public
Net price: $20,310
Graduation rate: 73%

Mitchell Technical College Culinary Academy of South Dakota's associate degree program offers both classroom learning and apprenticeship training. The one-year diploma option prepares you for immediate employment in the foodservice industry.

Orange Technical College-Mid Florida Campus Orlando, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $5,517
Graduation rate: 67%

Orange Technical College's Mid Florida Campus offers a one-year Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality program. Upon completion of the program, you can use your credits toward an associate degree at Valencia College.

Ozarka College Melbourne, AK

School type: Public
Net price: $5,809
Graduation rate: 57%

Ozarka College offers two Culinary Arts programs: an Associate of Applied Science and a Technical Certificate.

Sheridan Technical College Hollywood, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $9,042
Graduation rate: 68%

Sheridan Technical College's Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality program takes a year to complete. The program combines classroom, lab, and online learning. You can use your credits toward a Culinary Arts Management degree at Broward College.

Suncoast Technical College Sarasota, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $12,163
Graduation rate: 92%

Suncoast Technical College's Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality program offers lab and classroom learning. Students also have the opportunity to participate in a three-year apprenticeship through the ACF.

Waynesville Career Center Waynesville, MO

School type: Public
Net price: $28,703
Graduation rate: 88%

Waynesville Career Center's Culinary Arts program is open to high school students and adults.

West Kentucky Community and Technical College Paducah, KY

School type: Public
Net price: $7,780
Graduation rate: 51%

West Kentucky Community and Technical College offers 15 different culinary programs. You have the option to earn an associate degree, diploma, or certificate.

William T McFatter Technical College Davie, FL

School type: Public
Net price: $10,230
Graduation rate: 63%

McFatter Technical College offers three different culinary programs: Baking and Pastry Arts, Professional Culinary Arts & Hospitality, and Culinary Vegetarian and Plant Based Specialty.

How to Become a Chef

Many chefs start out with a high school diploma or GED. Most apprenticeship programs and culinary schools require this, so it's worth staying in school until you have a diploma in hand.

You will also want to look for an entry-level job in the foodservice industry. This will not be glamorous: You may end up clearing tables or washing dishes. But do your job well, and the professionals at the top of the ladder might notice you. You'll also find out if it's the right career for you.

Then, consider higher education. You may opt for a two-year degree at a community college, an intensive four-year degree that leads to a bachelor's, or attend a culinary arts program at a vocational school. The latter will focus exclusively on the tools you need to become a respected chef or cook.

FAQs on Culinary Programs

Do you have to take a culinary program to become a chef?

Not necessarily, but having a diploma or certification under your belt may make you eligible for higher pay or better benefits. The best culinary arts programs will give you valuable experience and set you up for a well-paying job.

What will you learn in a culinary program?

Culinary programs teach you professional cooking basics: you will understand mise en place (meal preparation), knife skills, sanitary practices, and more that will help you prepare delicious meals with little fanfare. You will also learn time management, leadership, accounting, and nutritional science.

How long do culinary programs take?

Your culinary program may take anywhere from several months to four years or more, depending on the program you choose. If you are in a bachelor's-level program, expect to take approximately four years to earn your degree. For a program with a specific focus, such as pastry skills, expect to spend six months or more.

How much do culinary programs cost?

That depends on the school, your circumstances, and the length of the program. A bachelor's degree may cost you up to $30,000 a year. More focused programs may cost $12,000 or more for a one-semester program that targets a specific skill.

How to Choose the Right Culinary Program

The best culinary programs offer students the opportunity to learn in a structured setting and gain experience that will serve them in the industry. Here are a few of the things you should look for when choosing the culinary programs that are best for you:

Good balance of kitchen and classroom learning
You need classroom sessions to understand the chemistry of cooking and practical experience in a working kitchen. You'll also need to learn skills such as time management, self-discipline, and organization.
Externships
Many of the best culinary arts programs have arrangements with local restaurants or other institutions that need cooks. Some even run their own restaurants where students experience the joys and challenges of running a busy kitchen.
Career placement services
The best culinary programs offer their students access to robust career services. A good career office can help you formulate a strong resume and cover letters and point you toward potential employers who are a good match for your skills.
Qualified instructors
Your instructors should be chefs with experience in a professional capacity. Look for certification by the AFC or the National Restaurant Association, along with an associate or bachelor's degree in the culinary arts.

Other Ways to Become a Chef

Some chefs achieve their professional goals without formal education, and in fact, foodservice is one of the few areas where that is possible. But that doesn't mean it's easy. Celebrity chefs such as Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, and Tom Colicchio never went to culinary school. They learned their skills by working their way up through the ranks.

Of course, this takes time and luck, and if you are hoping to earn a good salary with decent benefits, a culinary institute or school may be your best bet.

In addition to basic undergraduate or technical degrees in the culinary sciences, you can also earn an advanced master's-level degree in areas such as wine and beverage management and business with a focus on food management. Degrees like these prepare you for management positions in the hotel and restaurant industry.

Financial Aid for Your Culinary Program

Scholarships for Culinary Programs

American Academy of Chefs Culinary Federation Scholarships

Vegetarian Resource Group Scholarships

Federal Grants for Culinary Programs

Pell Grants

Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)

Companies with Tuition Reimbursement Incentive Programs (TRIPs)

Starbucks

McDonald's

Become Team
Become Team
Contributing Writer

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