If you love food and cooking, a culinary arts degree may be able to help you transform your passion into a profession. Up-close instruction from industry insiders and hands-on experience in a professional kitchen are invaluable resources for aspiring chefs, bakers and culinary entrepreneurs.
Dedication and poise under pressure aren't all it takes to ascend through the ranks and become a head chef at a world-renowned eatery. The right knowledge, skills and mentality are an important piece of the puzzle, and culinary arts degree programs give you the opportunity to develop those things and more.
Online degrees may be available for culinary students, particularly in areas of the field that require little to no hands-on training. Degrees such as culinary operations and hospitality management can sometimes be earned entirely online, while other undergraduate degree programs may offer hybrid formats that split time between the real-world kitchen and the virtual classroom.
Best Colleges for Culinary Arts Degree Programs
We analyzed a set of data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and ranked hundreds of schools on eight distinct metrics of student support, engagement and success. Click the button to see just how we organized our methodology, and check out the list below for the ten best schools and colleges for culinary arts degrees.
South Georgia Technical College placed near the top on several of our metrics, including taking the No. 2 spot among schools in our top ten for its graduation rate. It also posted our list's second-highest percentage of culinary arts students in its 2015 graduating class, losing out only to an institution that awards culinary degrees exclusively.
The student-faculty ratio at SGTC was 14:1 in 2015 — about 12 percent better than the national average of 16:1 reported by U.S. News and World Report in 2016. The program aims to provide a balanced combination of practical skills and culinary theory that can be applied professionally to cooking, baking, catering or management.
Our entry at No. 2 took the top spot for tuition and fees affordability among our ten best schools for culinary arts degrees, charging students less than $1,150 on average for the full year of study in 2015-16. That amount was affordable enough to place Cypress College among the top five culinary academies nationwide in the tuition and fees category.
More than one quarter of students enrolled at this Cypress, California, institution took at least some of their coursework in the virtual classroom in 2015. Cypress offers an associate degree for the academically minded, as well as non-degree certificates in hotel management, restaurant management, culinary arts and baking and pastry.
This two-year college in Southern California placed at No. 3 among our top ten schools for the affordability of its average tuition and fees expense in the 2015-16 academic year. It also rerouted more than 43 percent of its annual budget expenditures back into course development and other instructional costs, suggesting a commitment to educational quality and student success after graduation.
Associate degrees for culinary students at LATTC include Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree programs in culinary arts and professional baking. Both programs have been externally accredited by the American Culinary Federation Educational Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEFAC), which works to ensure that graduates are prepared to apply for entry-level ACF industry certification shortly after completing their degrees.
Lake Tahoe Community College is another California institution that offers affordable culinary arts degree programs. The NCES reports that students paid an average of $1,224 for a year of classes in 2015-16, giving it a place among the top four schools on our list for affordability. Students graduated from LTCC at the No. 3-ranked rate among schools in our top ten.
If your schedule makes it challenging to complete a traditional full-time program, you may be able to take some of the general education core courses for your culinary arts degree online at this Lake Tahoe school. Only one other institution in our top ten reported a higher percentage of distance education enrollments than LTCC.
This Georgia institution took the No. 1 spot among schools on our list in the distance education enrollment category, with more than 45 percent of students taking at least one course online in 2015. Campus-based flexibility measures are in place as well, including alternative tuition plans and courses that meet on weekends and in the evening.
Along with an associate degree and career diploma in the culinary arts, Atlanta Technical College offers technical certificates in individual aspects of the field. These one- and two-semester programs include culinary nutrition assistant, culinary nutrition manager, general food production worker and prep cook.
The range of programs available at this institution in Scottsdale, Arizona, includes one study plan that is uncommon among our ten best colleges for culinary arts degrees. Students looking for a thorough education in the basics of the culinary field can choose a Certificate of Completion (C.C.L.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in culinary fundamentals, which focuses more on kitchen skills and less on culinary theory.
Scottsdale Community College took the first-place spot among schools on our list for instructional spending in 2015, putting more than 55 percent of its annual budget toward foundational initiatives like course development.
Culinary Institute Inc. — also known as Culinary Institute LeNôtre — is the smallest institution among our best schools for culinary arts degrees, awarding just 121 degrees to graduates in 2015. The student-faculty ratio at this Houston, Texas, school is approximately 13:1, which places it in a tie for first on that metric place among schools in our top ten.
Students graduated from Culinary Institute at the highest rate among schools on our list. Its 2015 graduation rate was so high, in fact, that it ranked No. 9 among all culinary arts schools nationwide in that category. The only degrees offered here are degrees in the culinary arts, so those who enroll can be assured that they'll have plenty of potential study partners.
This school in the coastal California city of Oxnard took the No. 3 spot among schools in our top ten for its percentage of students enrolled in distance education courses, reporting that more than 38 percent of its student body took at least one course online in 2015. It also tied at No. 5 for the average affordability of its tuition and fees.
Oxnard College was one of the schools on our list to offer an Associate of Science (A.S.) degree in restaurant management as well as the standard culinary arts curriculum. Restaurant management students spend extra time studying cost control, purchasing and receiving, supervisory skills, marketing and other administrative skills.
Laney College came in at No. 2 in the affordability category among our top ten schools, charging students an average of just $1,156 during the 2015-16 academic year. The Oakland, California, school offers three culinary arts degree programs: cooking, restaurant management and baking and pastry.
Approximately 20 percent of students at Laney take some of their courses via distance education, according to the NCES. On-campus students who need schedule flexibility may be able to take certain core courses in evenings or on weekends. Academic and career counseling is available for students, and alumni can take advantage of placement services once they finish their degrees.
Rounding out the list is Grossmont College, a San Diego institution that offers culinary arts students the chance to pursue an uncommon study plan that might be just right for those who want to strike out on their own. The A.S. degree in culinary entrepreneurship combines culinary skills coursework with management and administrative topics to prepare you for the challenges of being your own boss.
Only one other school on our list earmarked a larger percentage of its budget for instructional expenses than Grossmont College in 2015. Students who prefer larger campus environments might be comfortable here, also — no other school on our list awarded a larger number of degrees overall than Grossmont.
Culinary Arts Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Specific positions or certain establishments may prefer applicants who have a full-fledged culinary school degree, but it's rare that an entry-level job in a professional kitchen will require more than a high school diploma and some experience in food service. Here's a quick summary of jobs available in the culinary arts.
Career outlook for culinary arts
The job market has a tendency to grow more in certain sectors than others, and careers in the culinary arts are no different. Here's a quick overview of employment projections for a few professions available to graduates of culinary arts degree programs.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Chefs and Head Cooks||$56,310||128,190||11.1%|
|Food Service Managers||$59,820||235,470||10.8%|
|Butchers and Meat Cutters||$34,010||136,770||2.9%|
Financial aid and scholarships
Grants and scholarships in the culinary arts come in two flavors: academic scholarships and professional development scholarships. The American Hotel and Lodging Educational Foundation, for example, offers some of each to eligible applicants. Here's a short list of scholarship opportunities for students in culinary arts degree programs.
End of June
Q&A with an expert
How can students select the right program?
I think they need to go and visit the program and interview the instructors if at all possible. What you'd be looking for in the instructors is people who have been out in the field and have experience making money and have mastered that piece. And of course, food competitions are always an example of technical skill so if instructors have won medals or received awards, those are great too. But I would encourage people to also look at the financial expertise [of instructors].
What are some common career paths people might take after earning a degree?
One of the things I tell my students is that with a culinary arts degree, your options are completely open, even if you don't end up in a culinary arts field, For example, you could be a sales person for a food-related company. Also, lots and lots of retirement communities are looking for chefs. One of my colleagues is a chef at Soldier Field in Chicago. Thinking in traditional terms of working in a restaurant or country club or hotel are all options, but there are so many more. There are so many twists on what somebody can do
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015