How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

By Kevin Brouillard · August 09, 2023 · 7 minute read

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How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

If you’re passionate about food, a career in the culinary arts may be right for you. Going to culinary school can help you acquire the knowledge, skills, and hands-on experience required to work in the field.

But how much does it cost to go to culinary school compared to trade school or traditional college? It depends on where you go and the type of degree you pursue. Getting a bachelor’s degree at a private school can run as high as $120,000. However, going to an in-state public culinary school and/or pursuing a shorter (associate) degree can cost significantly less.

This guide will examine culinary school cost factors and payment options to help you decide if it’s the right move for your future.

Tuition Rates for Culinary Schools

The cost of culinary school will depend on what degree you pursue and whether you go to a private or public culinary school.

Getting an associate degree at a public school can run $35,000 to $40,000 if you live in-state, or $40,000 to $50,000 if you live out-of-state.

An associate degree at a private culinary school, on the other hand, can run $50,000 to $56,000.

Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the culinary arts generally comes with a higher price tag. At a public school, it can cost $47,000 to $50,000 (if you live in-state) and $50,000 to $100,000 (if you live out-of-state). The cost of getting a bachelor’s degree at a private school can run around $120,000.

When evaluating a program’s sticker price, keep in mind that tuition pricing may reflect a standalone semester, rather than the entire program cost. Depending on your field of study and type of degree you pursue, you may need anywhere from four to eight semesters to finish a program or degree.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Why Is Culinary School So Expensive?

Culinary schools can have an intensive structure. Condensed schedules can translate to more time spent in both the classroom and kitchen than typical college students.

Whereas a lecture hall can accommodate hundreds of students for an Intro to Economics course, culinary students typically receive more one-on-one instructions in smaller class sizes. Also, culinary coursework that involves cooking and baking has the added cost of buying ingredients and materials.

Culinary school costs might also include purchasing cooking equipment, such as knives, cutting boards, and a kitchen uniform. Depending on the program, these may be automatically factored into the tuition price or tacked on as an additional fee.

Recommended: What Is the Average Cost of College Tuition in 2023?

Types of Culinary Degrees Available

You have a variety of options to choose from for a culinary degree. The types of schools offering culinary degrees include technical schools, community colleges, four-year colleges, and independent culinary institutes.

Students can choose from certificate programs, an associate’s degree, or a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts.

Certificate programs are usually the shortest to complete with one to two semesters of coursework and training. Associate’s programs generally last two years and may incorporate a mix of hands-on training, internships, and coursework. Bachelor’s degrees require more time ― generally four years ― to complete but can help further develop culinary skills and knowledge in related subjects like business and nutrition.

Culinary degrees can also focus on a specific discipline, such as baking and pastry arts or hospitality and restaurant management. Interested students can explore this list of accredited culinary schools to find a program that suits their needs and career goals.

How Can You Pay for Culinary School?

A combination of funding sources may be required to cover tuition, equipment, and related expenses. Prospective students and parents can consider the following options to pay for culinary school.

Grants and Scholarships

Figuring out how much culinary school is going to set you back starts with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal financial aid. You may qualify for assistance in the form of grants if you have significant financial need.

There are also numerous culinary-specific scholarships that you can apply for. The National Restaurant Association awards merit-based scholarships between $2,500 to $10,000 for students pursuing undergraduate degrees in culinary arts and related fields.

Some additional grant and scholarship opportunities include:

•   The James Beard Foundation This nonprofit organization awards scholarships, tuition waivers, and work-study grants to students attending accredited culinary schools.

•   The American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) Full-time students attending accredited culinary schools can apply for an AIWF scholarship from local chapters in California and Kansas.

•   Rachel Ray, Yum-o! The famous Food Network chef’s nonprofit funds culinary scholarships in partnership with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation.

You can also explore grants for college from state government and private organizations for additional funding.

Federal Student Loans

Students may need to use student loans when scholarships and grants aren’t sufficient, and they cannot afford to pay out of pocket.

Through the Federal Direct Loan Program, you can access both subsidized and unsubsidized loans to pay for school. Subsidized loans are awarded based on a student’s financial need. The Department of Education pays the interest on subsidized loans while you are studying at least half-time, and during the six-month grace period after leaving school. You may be eligible to defer loan payments further if you attend graduate school, join the military, or experience financial hardship.

Unsubsidized loans don’t require you to have financial need to be eligible. Schools determine how much students can borrow based on the cost of attendance and a student’s total financial aid package. Interest on unsubsidized loans begins accruing as soon as the loan is disbursed.

Dependent students can get up to $31,000 in federal student loans for four years of full-time study. Only $23,000 of this can be subsidized loans. Independent students, however, can take out up to $57,500 in federal loans, with subsidized loans also capped at $23,000.

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If financial aid isn’t enough to cover culinary school costs in full, working while studying could help pay the remainder.

Students with financial need may qualify for part-time employment through the Federal-Work Study program. Work-study jobs are typically geared towards a student’s area of study or community service. Awards can vary according to the student’s need, the timing of application, and how much total funding is available at a given participating school.

Finding part-time work at a restaurant or food-related enterprise is another funding option that also supports professional development.

Private Student Loans

If financial aid and other sources aren’t enough to pay for culinary school in full, you can consider a private student loan.

You can obtain private student loans from banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Some students may need a cosigner to qualify for private student loans due to a lack of credit history and income.

Private student loan interest rates and loan terms vary by lender, which gives borrowers more choice in term length. However, private student loans do not carry the same borrower protections as federal student loans, such as income-driven repayment plans, deferment or forbearance, or the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. You may want to consider private student loans as an option only after you have exhausted all other sources of aid, including federal student loans.

💡 Quick Tip: It’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and federal student loans before committing to them.

The Takeaway

While many food service and restaurant jobs don’t require education beyond a high school diploma, completing culinary school could lead to a higher-paying career. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary in 2022 for chefs and head cooks at restaurants was $56,130. With experience, you can earn considerably more. According to Glassdoor, the average annual pay for an executive chef in New York City is $87,629.

There are numerous ways to cover the cost of culinary school, including federal and private student loans, work-study, financial aid, and scholarships.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/visualspace

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