Culinary Arts Major and Undergraduate Degree Program Information

Culinary arts programs are offered as associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees. Training includes the basics of food preparation and food service with more advanced training in culinary skills and hospitality management at the undergraduate level.

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Essential Information

Professional chefs and managers in the hospitality industry are often required to obtain formal training at the undergraduate level. Many choose to enter a culinary arts associate or bachelor's degree program to gain practical, career-focused training for an array of possible careers in the cooking industry. Two-year associate degree programs teach culinary fundamentals like food handling, kitchen safety and menu planning, while students in four-year bachelor's degree programs learn how to cook a variety of dishes and may have the opportunity to complete internships. For both programs, hands-on training is a vital component.

Applicants to these programs are required to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Depending on the program level, students may need to have formal cooking experience or complete an assessment test to demonstrate their knowledge of culinary arts.

Associate Degree in Culinary Arts

Associate degree programs in culinary arts provide novice or beginner chefs with the training and experience required for entry-level roles in the field. Students are taught the essentials of working in a kitchen including nutrition and food handling. Most programs include diverse training in a variety of cooking forms, including meats and seafood, pastry arts, and buffet techniques. Some associate degree culinary arts programs also include training in managerial skills, such as record keeping, food purchasing, and guest services. Some specific courses often include:

  • Beverage service
  • Cooking theory
  • Menu planning
  • Baking and pastry arts
  • Food safety and sanitation
  • Cost management in culinary arts

Bachelor's Degree in Culinary Arts

Students pursuing a culinary arts major at the bachelor's degree level are trained in both culinary skills and hospitality management. Much of a student's time is spent in a kitchen setting, learning through hands-on courses in a multitude of culinary styles and methods. Among the skills covered are food safety, nutrition, cooking for large groups, and menu development. Managerial skills include marketing, cost management, and personnel management. Students often complete internships or work experiences in on-campus kitchens, such as coffee shops or cafeterias, or off-campus sites like local hotels or banquet facilities. Many culinary arts four-year programs also require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for admission. Students majoring in culinary arts prepare for leadership roles in the food service industry by taking diverse courses covering a wide range of topics. These courses may include the following:

  • Food science
  • Meat and seafood preparation
  • Food safety and sanitation
  • Baking and pastry arts
  • Wine and beverage service
  • Restaurant management

Popular Career Options

Graduates of culinary arts undergraduate degree programs are qualified for work in a variety of settings. These include restaurants, hotels, and private residences in jobs such as the following:

  • Restaurant chef
  • Catering service manager
  • Private chef
  • Food service manager
  • Kitchen director

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Chefs and head cooks held approximately 127,500 jobs in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The employment opportunities for chefs and head cooks are expected to increase by 9% between 2014 and 2024. Though, competition at upscale restaurants, where the pay is higher, is generally stronger for chefs and head cooks. There will be many opportunities due to the high number of chefs and cooks who leave the field. Earnings in culinary arts vary widely based on employer and region. The BLS also reported a median annual wage of $41,500 for chefs and head cooks, as reported in May 2015.

Continuing Education Information

Many employers in the field of culinary arts value undergraduate education and work experience over advanced degrees ( While culinary arts degrees at the master's level are rare, individuals looking for leadership and management roles in food service or the broader hospitality industry often pursue the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Certification in culinary arts is generally not required. However, the American Culinary Federation offers voluntary certification for personal chefs, pastry chefs, and others looking for advancement or evidence of their skill level.

Culinary arts bachelor's and associate's degree programs prepare aspiring chefs for the job roles and responsibilities needed to become professional chefs and restaurant managers. In both these two-year and four-year programs, hands-on training in a restaurant setting is an essential part of the curriculum.

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