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Researching Culinary Arts Programs
By now you should have made a decision regarding the type of degree that you want to earn, and whether or not you would like to enroll in a public or private institute. Since there are numerous cooking programs in the Helena area and across the USA, you must create a checklist of important qualifiers so that you can start narrowing your choices. Some obvious qualifiers, including cost and location are a good place to begin. But picking a school because it is the nearest or the most affordable is not the ideal way to decide on your education. There are other variables, including reputation and accreditation that you need to assess also. So following are some critical areas that you need to research for each school as you compare and contrast them and make your ultimate decision.
Accreditation. It's important that the culinary arts school you pick has some form of accreditation from either a local or a national organization. As previously stated, the accrediting organization should be a U.S. Department of Education recognized authority, for instance the American Culinary Federation (ACF). ACF accredited schools have successfully completed a detailed assessment relating to their course of study, instructors and facilities. So not only does accreditation help ensure that you will receive exceptional training, but it may also help in obtaining a student loan or financial aid which are often not available for non-accredited schools.
Age. Newer schools frequently have the benefit of having modern facilities and equipment. However, they may not have been open long enough to earn an accreditation or to cultivate a reputation. Conversely, more established schools may still be using their original, dated equipment, but have established a long history of excellence and obtained one or more accreditations. Also, the longer a school has been in operation, the more graduates the school can solicit for its job placement program. Naturally there is some give and take based on the age of the cooking schools. And older, more highly regarded schools usually update their equipment and facilities. The important takeaway is that in the best case scenario, your chosen school will have an exceptional reputation, accreditation and a state-of-the-art facility with newer equipment.
Job Placement Rates. To begin with, ask what the graduation rates are for the culinary institutes you are reviewing. Low graduation rates are indications that numerous students were dissatisfied with either the schools or the programs and dropped out. They can also indicate that the teachers were not qualified to teach the curriculum. Ask the schools to provide their job placement rates as well. If a school has a high job placement rate, it will help verify that it has a good or outstanding reputation within the culinary field, as well as a large network of professional associations. Be wary of any school that will not furnish this information.
Location. The culinary arts institute that you attend should be within driving distance of your Helena home, unless you can move. You may consider attending college online, but you would still need to travel for your externship training. Alternatively, maybe you have chosen to enroll in a particular culinary arts college located in another state because of its reputation and programs offered. It would be a good idea to visit the campus before enrolling, to make certain that you are comfortable with the area and your potential living conditions. Inspect the training facilities personally to make certain they are modern and that the equipment is contemporary. Consider also that some schools focus their job placement programs within their regional communities, so select a location where you will enjoy working.
Class Sizes. The ideal approach to learn how to cook is with lots of personalized training. If the cooking program you enroll in has bigger classes, you will undoubtedly get limited personal attention from the teachers. The best means to assess the communication and interaction between teachers and students is to attend a few of the classes. Ask a couple of the students what their experience has been. Find out if they are pleased with the amount of attention they receive in class in addition to the overall training. Also, talk with some of the instructors and find out what their teaching approaches are together with their backgrounds and credentials.
Flexible Class Schedules. There is no benefit to in enrolling in a culinary institute if you will be unable to attend the classes. So confirm that the school you decide on offers class scheduling that will fit in with your busy lifestyle. If you can only attend at night or on Saturdays or Sundays near Helena AL because of your job schedule, check that the school you decide on offers either weekend or night classes. If you can only attend on a part-time basis, check that the culinary college has a part-time offering. Also, ask what the make-up protocol is if you need to miss a class due to family, work or other commitments.
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