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Online baking and pastry degrees and programs

Innovative restaurants are big business these days, and general managers across the country are looking for the next top pastry chef or rustic, traditional baker to help them take their brand to the next level. It may not be obvious to the uninitiated, but making bread, cakes, muffins, pastries and other delights is something of an exact science, and formal training can give you the precision and the practice you need to bake with the best.

Baking and pastry schools may be less common than those that provide a more general, academically oriented education, but there are still hundreds of institutions to choose from nationwide. We put together a table that shows how many pastry and baking arts colleges there are in the various regions of the U.S., using data provided by the National Center for Education Statistics:

Region No. of institutions with baking and pastry schools No. of institutions offering online baking classes and degrees
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 42 0
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 8 0
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 35 1
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 11 0
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 54 2
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 37 0
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 34 0
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 12 0
Total (all 50 states) 233 3

Entry-level baking and pastry degrees

Undergraduate degrees are typically sufficient to get your baking and pastry career underway, although certain employers may also require some experience in the industry along with your education. Here's a rundown of the sort of things you can expect to study on the road to entry-level degrees at baking and pastry schools:

  • Associate degrees - If your main focus is learning the practical arts of baking and confectionery, an associate degree is likely to teach you what you want to know. Depending on the specific curriculum at your institution, you may study such aspects of the field as hearth and specialty breads, menu development, confectionery art, culinary math, kitchen equipment technology, chocolate, advanced baking principles, special occasion cakes and customer service, among others.
  • Bachelor's degrees - Bachelor's degrees at baking and pastry colleges tend to have a more significant general education requirement and spend more time on the business-oriented elements of the bakery industry. Subjects such as dining room management, food and beverage cost control, nutrition, retail baking, business leadership, financial systems, food service management and managerial accounting are often covered at the bachelor's level.
  • Non-degree study - It may not be as comprehensive an education as either of the full degree options, but earning an undergraduate certificate in baking and pastry arts can teach you some of the most important fundamentals and give you an idea of whether or not you want to move into more intensive baking and pastry training. Certificate programs typically consist of 4-6 courses and may be available at community colleges as well as culinary schools.

Online baking classes are currently somewhat scarce on the education market, but there are a few institutions out there offering courses and degree plans in the virtual classroom. It may be best to use these courses only as ways to introduce yourself to formal culinary education, however, and work toward attending one of the more hands-on baking colleges if you decide to get serious about learning the trade.

Advanced-degree baking and pastry programs

Depending on the employer and the industry, opportunities for advancement into management or other executive positions may require that you supplement your experience with an advanced degree. If you do decide to go deeper into your culinary education, here's some information on what you're likely to encounter:

  • Master's degree programs - Bakers who want to take their skills to a wider audience with a café, restaurant or wholesale distribution system for their products may need the administrative and operational advantage that a master's degree can bring. Degrees such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in restaurant management, Master of Management in Hospitality (MMH) or Master of Science (MS) in logistics and supply chain management can help you scale your career up to another level.
  • Doctorate programs - Research- and scholarship-oriented degrees specific to the baking and pastry arts field have yet to appear at any accredited universities, but graduates of baking colleges who want to study food at the doctoral level can look into Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in food science or nutrition. Ph.D. programs may come with science or research prerequisites that aren't typically covered at baking and pastry schools, but most universities have established ways that students can catch up.
  • Graduate certificates - Baking and pastry certificates for students who have already earned a bachelor's degree tend to be largely identical to those available at the undergraduate level, although some may require larger courseloads or longer times to completion. Graduate certificates in business, management, logistics, HR, nutrition or food science could also add value to a baking and pastry career.

Since many of the advanced degrees that apply to graduates of baking arts and pastry schools focus on more businesslike aspects of the food and restaurant industry, there's more room for serious online study at the graduate level. Hybrid programs, where you split time between traditional classrooms and online coursework, can also be a good option.

Q&A with an expert

Robin Richardson, executive chef of The Bakery at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky.

Robin Richardson, executive chef of The Bakery at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky.Why would you encourage someone to consider a baking and pastry degree?

Even for an experienced baker, getting a degree will teach different techniques in baking science, advanced bread making and modern pastry to make you quicker and more efficient. Our Baking and Pastry Arts program at Sullivan University provides hands-on training in baking theory and technique, as well as opportunities to test your skills in regional, national and international competitions.

What are the most common educational paths for students hoping to make a living as bakers or pastry chefs?

Many of our students attended technical high schools before continuing on to culinary school at our National Center for Hospitality Studies.

Would you say that baking and pastry students gain adequate real-world experience over the course of their degree plan or do you recommend some entry-level experience in the industry before enrolling?

Our students gain a tremendous amount of real world experience, especially in their last quarter internship/externship at restaurants and bakeries around Louisville, including Sullivan University's on-campus retail bakery, The Bakery, where I help students directly as head chef. Here we source desserts for local restaurants and custom design cakes for weddings and special events.

What are the main differences between degrees in baking and pastry and general culinary arts degrees?

This can be summed up in one word, "SUGAR!" A degree in baking focuses on bread, dessert and pastry production while culinary focuses on hot food with a goal of producing a seven course meal.

What's some advice you might have for a student who's just started thinking about getting into the baking and pastry field?

Before investing in such a specific education, give it a try first to make sure it truly is your passion. Bake at home or take a job at a local bakery. It really is a lot of hard work and not everyone is cut out for it.

Types of baking and pastry careers

It's true that a degree in baking and pastry doesn't typically stretch to suit careers outside of the culinary field, but there are a number of directions you can go just within the food and restaurant industry alone. Here's some salary and employment data for some of the careers commonly available to graduates of baking and pastry schools, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Baker $26,270 7 percent 185,300 No formal requirement
Restaurant cook $24,430 4 percent 1,109,700 No formal requirement
Private household cook $37,680 4 percent 36,200 No formal requirement
Pastry chef $45,920 9 percent 127,500 High school diploma or equivalent
Food service manager $53,640 5 percent 305,000 High school diploma or equivalent
Vocational education teacher, postsecondary $56,490 7 percent 147,600 Bachelor's degree

Common misconceptions about baking and pastry degrees and careers

Degrees in baking arts and pastry are less common than many other career-oriented fields of study, so it's understandable that they've been subject to a few misunderstandings in the public imagination. Let's take a little time to set the record straight about a few of those misconceptions:

Misconception: Baking and pastry degrees are useless because you don't need a degree to get a job in a kitchen.

  • Fact: This myth likely stems from a lack of attention to the difference between the terms "cook" and "chef" in the culinary industry. Cooks can be hired straight off the street in some cases, provided the kitchen where they find work has adequate resources to train them for the specific dishes being served there, while chefs are expected to come into their positions with extensive culinary knowledge and experience. You may be able to get a job as a production baker — following recipes and cleaning machinery, mostly — without any education, but aspiring master bakers and pastry chefs are likely to need formal training to get where they want to be.

Misconception: Degrees from all baking and pastry schools are essentially the same.

  • Fact: Anyone who's even glanced at degree plans available at baking colleges would know right away that this isn't true, at the very least in that bachelor's degrees, associate degrees and certificates each educate aspiring bakers in different ways. Different schools also deliver their courses and internships/externships with different levels of intensity and different specific goals in mind, and some schools may have more years of experience behind them or more nodes in their student-professional network than others.

Misconception: Vocational schools like baking and pastry schools are an easier ticket to a job than the traditional academic path.

  • Fact: It's a persistent myth in the world of higher education that degree plans at trade and vocational schools are somehow less difficult than those that teach a standard academic curriculum. Trade school programs may take fewer overall credit hours of study than conventional bachelor's degrees, but the work you do during the time you spend in class is by no means categorically easier at vocational schools than it is in university programs. It's not categorically more difficult, either, mind you, it's just different subject matter and a slightly different mode of instruction.

How can I enroll in an online baking and pastry degree program?

Individual baking and pastry schools set their own admissions requirements and enrollment policies, so the best way to find out how to move forward is to get in touch with some baking colleges first-hand and ask how you'd be best served to proceed. Take a look through our listings below to get started on the path to a sweet career in baking and pastry arts.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, accessed April 12, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. School pages, accessed April 26, 2016: Baking and pastry Program Curriculum, Kendall School of Culinary Arts, https://www.kendall.edu/learn/baking-and-pastry-program/degrees/aas-baking-pastry/typical-course-sequence/; Associate of Applied Science in Baking and Pastry Arts, http://www.stratford.edu/culinary-arts-and-hospitality/associate-baking-and-pastry-arts; Patisserie and Baking Associate Degree Program, Le Cordon Bleu, http://www.chefs.edu/programs/le-cordon-bleu-patisserie-and-baking-program/associate-degree-in-le-cordon-bleu-baking-and-pastry-arts; Baking and Pastry Arts Associate Degree Program, The Culinary Institute of America, http://www.ciachef.edu/baking-and-pastry-arts-associate-degree-program-ny/; Bachelor's Degree in Baking and Pastry Arts, New England Culinary Institute, http://www.neci.edu/academic-programs/on-campus-programs/baking-and-pastry-arts/; Baking and Pastry Arts Bachelor's Degree Program, The Culinary Institute of America, http://www.ciachef.edu/baking-and-pastry-arts-bachelors-degree-program-ny/; Baking and Pastry Arts Major, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/campus-majors/associate/as-baking-and-pastry-arts; Baking and Pastry Arts, BS, Johnson & Wales University, http://catalog.jwu.edu/programsofstudy/culinary/baking-pastry-arts-bs/providence/; Patisserie and Baking Certificate Program, Le Cordon Bleu, http://www.chefs.edu/programs/le-cordon-bleu-patisserie-and-baking-program/certificate-in-le-cordon-bleu-patisserie-and-baking; Master of Management in Hospitality, Cornell University, https://sha.cornell.edu/admissions-programs/mmh/; Restaurant Management Master's Degree, Rhode Island Institute of Technology, http://grad.rit.edu/masters-degree/restaurant-management; Master of Science in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, http://worldwide.erau.edu/degrees-programs/programs/masters/logistics-and-supply-chain-management/; Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Food Science Graduate Program, http://foodscience.psu.edu/graduateprograms/phd; Baking and Pastry Certificate, Baker College, http://www.baker.edu/programs-degrees/baking-and-pastry-certificate/; Baking Certificate, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/campus-majors/certificates/baking;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 18, 2016: Bakers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/bakers.htm; Cooks, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/cooks.htm; Chefs and Head Cooks, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm; Food Service Managers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/food-service-managers.htm; Career and Technical Education Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/career-and-technical-education-teachers.htm;
  4. May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed April 18, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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