When I decided to change careers, choosing a school that was right for me was imperative and nerve racking. I was worried about choosing the wrong school and wasting a lot of time and money and possibly becoming discouraged as I made this huge shift. The most important thing for me was that I felt comfortable with the instructors. Other things I took into consideration were:
- first impression
- a school that was mature and focused
- class size and age
- placements upon completion
Do your research and request information packets from each school. Once you have picked at least 3 top schools that you are interested in, make an effort to visit each one in person. I think that this is vital to be able to make an educated decision.
I met with the Chef instructors of five schools and sat through classes to monitor their teaching styles. I talked to the students, got their e-mail addresses, and asked them many questions. I tried to check in on them periodically to ask how they thought the program was going but it was difficult to keep in touch with most of them. I wanted to know their thoughts on the training, how it met their expectations, and what they intended on doing after the program.
I did a lot of research on the internet. I originally thought that I would attend Dubrulle but then discovered that it was bought by the Art Institute of America. I didn't like the way the program had changed so I was back to square one, doing more research. That was when I came across NWCAV on-line through the Shaw Guides. NWCAV was a brand new school, created and owned by Chefs who had previously taught at Dubrulle. Their mission statement connected with me and I had to check it out.
After visiting all of the schools, NWCAV seemed right for me. It felt completely down to earth and comfortable. Even though the program length concerned me a bit (because all of the other schools had longer programs and more costly ones), I felt that I would get the education that I wanted. At that time, it was brand new so there wasn't any "reputation" to check out. Ultimately, my gut told me that I should go there. NWCAV was unpretentious and what intrigued me most was the fact that it was Chef-owned. This was their baby, their passion, their livelihood, and my impression was that they would do everything to make it successful. They weren't working for someone else and just showing up. They were working for themselves and I found that extremely attractive since I hope to work for myself one day.
I must admit that I got a bit hung up with choosing a school based on the "name" but I realized that whatever you put into a course is whatever you get out of itno matter where you are. So my advice would be to not stress out too much about a school based on its name. Make sure you feel that you can learn from experienced Chefs instructors. You have to like them. If you don't care for them or something just doesn't click, you probably aren't going to listen well.
So, did I make the right choice? Absolutely. I felt welcome at NWCAV. They select students that are serious, focused, and committed. Our group wound up being an incredible bunch of people from all over the world. I loved the pace and the intensity of the course. We studied many topics over the course of 15 weeks and each was straight to the point. Ingredients were top notch. We butchered pigs and worked with every type of protein. The course exposes you to a bit of everything. The equipment is of high quality and the space is well designed. I also loved the skylights in the kitchen and how bright it was in there every day. Our class had 21 people in it with 2 instructors present at all times with personal attention given every day. I enjoyed how every instructor has a different background and brought something unique to the table. Their instruction was extremely educational while entertaining. We always had fun learning. The Chef instructors are passionate about teaching and sharing their knowledge and they truly care about their students.
What I also realized, is that it doesn't really matter how long the program is (even though it was so much fun, we didn't want it to end). It is the beginning of a learning curve. This is a field where you can't learn it alland you certainly can't learn it all in 15 weeks (or in 2 years for some programs). You take the training with you as you work in the industry and pick up more as you go. NWCAV's program is well planned and provides a stable foundation for you. Oh, and by the way, the cost is extremely reasonable but the training you will receive is priceless.
I wish I had something like this to read when I was out there searching for schools. I hope that it winds up helping someone to make his or her decision. It is a big decision to make and I didn't take mine lightly. I'll let you know how the pastry program goes this fall. If you have any questions, I would be happy to help. In the mean time, good luck with your assessments of schools!