How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

By Kevin Brouillard · September 22, 2021 · 6 minute read

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How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

If you’re passionate about food, a career in culinary arts may be right for you. Going to culinary school can help students 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? Simply put, it depends. Culinary school cost varies based on institutional reputation, program type, and the duration of study.

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

Tuition Rates for Culinary Schools

In 2019, the median public in-state tuition for culinary school was $3,635, while median out-of-state and private tuition was $19,504.

When evaluating a program’s sticker price, keep in mind that the curriculum structure and schedule for culinary school can differ from four-year or community college.

Some culinary programs may condense more coursework and in-person instruction into a semester or year, while others offer a more extensive course of study.

Tuition pricing may reflect the entire program cost rather than a standalone semester, too. For instance, the Institute of Culinary Education offers a range of six- to 13-month diploma programs, while a technical certificate from Florida State College at Jacksonville takes 14 months to complete.

Why is Culinary School So Expensive?

Culinary school costs can be steep. For example, tuition and fees amount to $77,310 for the two year associate’s degree program at the Culinary Institute of America’s California Campus.

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.

Types of Culinary Degrees Available

Prospective students have a variety of options to choose from for a culinary degree. The types of institutions 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 can vary from one to 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.

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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. Students may qualify for assistance in the form of grants if they have significant financial need.

There are also numerous culinary-specific scholarships that students 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.

Students 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, students 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 borrowers are studying at least half-time, and during the six-month grace period after leaving school. Students may be eligible to defer loan payments further if they attend graduate school, join the military, or experience financial hardship.

Unsubsidized loans don’t require students to have financial needs to be eligible. Schools determine how much students can borrow based on the cost of attendance and a student’s total financial aid package. Borrowers are responsible for paying interest on unsubsidized loans once 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, students can consider a private student loan.

Students may obtain private student loans from banks, credit unions, private organizations, or colleges. 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. Students may want to consider private student loans as an option only after they have exhausted all other sources of aid, including federal student loans.

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 2020 for chefs and head cooks was $58,740, compared to just $26,000 to $27,000 for line cooks and food preparation workers.

If you need to borrow to cover culinary school costs, SoFi can help. SoFi offers private student loans with competitive rates, flexible payment options, and no fees.

Finding your interest rate can be done in a few minutes online, and there’s no pressure to sign up.

Learn more about private student loans with SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/visualspace

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