Studying Culinary Arts: Degrees at a Glance
Culinary arts programs at the associate's and bachelor's degree levels prepare you to work for restaurants, cafeterias and catering companies. While formal education is not required to work in the field, earning a degree can give you the knowledge and experience necessary to obtain employment. While many graduates work as chefs or cooks, you could also specialize in pastries or desserts. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of chefs and cooks was expected to decrease one percent from 2010-2020, while bakers were expected to experience a two percent growth in jobs. Growth is limited because of restaurants attempting to lower costs and the advent of technology that makes the baking process more automated.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals who would like to cook and bake in professional establishments||Those who want to work in more of a management role within a restaurant|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary)|| - Food preparation workers ($21,000)*|
- Bakers ($25,000)*
| - Chefs and head cooks ($47,000)*|
- Food service managers ($53,000)*
|Time to Completion||2 years full-time||4 years full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements||- About 20-24 courses|| - 40-48 courses|
|Prerequisites||High school diploma or equivalent||High school diploma and sometimes an associate's degree|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Associate's in Culinary Arts
In addition to learning how to prepare different types of foods in your associate's degree program, you'll learn about business aspects of the field. Programs combine classroom work with practical experience, and you'll have the opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in the kitchen. While an associate's degree can prepare you to work, you will still need to compete with high school graduates for employment opportunities as entry-level cooks; some employers may value experience over education.
Pros and Cons
- If you're passionate about cooking, you'll get to work in a field you enjoy
- People will always need to eat, so there is always a need for cooks
- Creativity and experimentation are possible with recipes
- May need to work irregular hours (nights and weekends)
- Job requires standing for long periods of time
- Limited employment growth from 2010-2020*
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Courses and Requirements
While enrolled in your associate's degree program, you'll complete general education requirements and core culinary arts courses. The first year of the program includes many introductory courses, such as baking, food preparation, sanitation, culinary technology and nutrition. Second-year courses may include wine and beverage management, international cuisine, catering and management. You're also required to complete a practicum in a professional kitchen in order to demonstrate your skills to faculty members.
Online Course Options
Fully online associate's degree programs in culinary arts are not available. Because of the hands-on nature of the program requirements, students need to attend classes in person and work in a real-life kitchen.
How to Stand Out in This Field
Although an associate's degree may help you stand out when applying for entry-level positions because it is not a strict requirement, experience is still very important to work in the field. You can try to gain experience while still enrolled in school; you may consider working at a local restaurant or cafeteria. This can further strengthen your cooking skills. You could also consider earning professional certification from the American Culinary Federation. While not required, certification demonstrates a certain level of competence and expertise. The BLS notes that certification could lead to advancement opportunities and salary increases.
Bachelor's in Culinary Arts
A bachelor's degree program offers you additional career opportunities and a chance to specialize in a specific area, such as wine and beverage or pastry arts. While many bachelor's degree programs are traditional four-year programs, some are two-year degree-completion programs that require you to have earned an associate's degree before enrollment. Since students gain hands-on experience in their associate's degree programs, online degree-completion programs are available. After earning your bachelor's degree, not only can you work as a chef or cook, you may work as a consultant, recipe developer or health promoter. Again, graduates may compete for jobs with applicants who have no degree but do have considerable culinary experience, since formal training is not required to work in the field.
Pros and Cons
- A bachelor's degree can lead to additional career opportunities
- Students can specialize in a specific culinary arts area
- Online options are available
- Experience is valued over education
- Earning a bachelor's degree may not guarantee salary increases
- Completing a bachelor's degree program may be costly
Course and Requirements
The first two years of courses in a culinary arts bachelor's degree program may resemble those in an associate's degree program. You'll likely take general education and foundational courses in the first two years. Courses that you'll take during the last two years may involve advanced nutritional principles, business and management topics, cultural perspectives on food and cooking research. You also need to complete an internship in a professional kitchen and learn under the instruction of an experienced chef.
Online Course Options
While you may be able to complete a bachelor's degree program in culinary arts online, admissions requirements often include having an associate's degree and prior experience. Prospective students are expected to have a foundational understanding of cooking and nutrition. An online culinary arts program features many of the same courses found in on-campus programs, such as food and nutrition theory, financial management and human resources.
How to Stand Out in This Field
Because the American Culinary Federation offers multiple certification levels based on the amount of education and experience you have, you could earn certification to stand out in the field after earning your bachelor's degree, just as you could after earning an associate's degree. You could work as a cook or chef while in school to accrue four years of experience. Having good business skills could qualify you for management positions or prepare you to open up your own restaurant or catering company. You could consider taking business electives to strengthen these skills. Because restaurants can be hectic at times, having strong leadership and time management skills is also beneficial.