Culinary School: Do I Choose My Classes?

by Olivia DeWolfe
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 23, 2011

Culinary courseworkIf you are thinking about enrolling in culinary school, you may wonder how your program curriculum is decided, and how much choice you have in deciding your courses throughout the program.

Culinary degree programs are usually designed by professional chefs, chef instructors and/or other experts in the industry, and their general goal is to produce qualified graduates who are ready to develop successful careers in the industry. For that reason, many schools offer a set curriculum, with classes that build upon one another. The goal is to provide a solid foundation that students can utilize in a career.

However, schooling is much like a recipe: while there are certain steps that must be followed, there's almost always a little leeway to make your experience your own.

Choices within the culinary-school curriculum

Whether you're looking for a traditional or online culinary-degree program, you should decide on the area you want to specialize in. What type of culinary-arts career do you want: baker, chef, instructor, manager, wine steward, etc.? Are you interested in catering, food science, hospitality, natural foods, nutrition, hospitality or being a private chef? Do you want the skills, such as accounting and marketing, to run a food service business? This is important for deciding which program you want to pursue, which in turn impacts the number of choices you might have available during your education.

The length of the program you choose can also determine how much say you have with your classes. Shorter programs -- such as those for a certificate or a one-year diploma -- may offer less choice because the time frame is limited and the essentials need covering. Conversely, longer-advanced culinary degree programs, such as a four-year bachelor's degree, may allow more options. For example, with a longer program, you may have elective choices in your final year, or be allowed to decide where to perform an externship. Two-year programs can fall anywhere along this spectrum; you may have all the choices of a four-year program, or you may follow an established path like a certificate program, or you may be somewhere in the middle.

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