I know this question has probably been asked about a million times on this forum, but I'm wondering if anyone here might be willing to share their thoughts on or experiences with pastry school.
I'm facing a career change. My plan was to be a historian, but for a number of reasons, that didn't work out. Honestly, not the worst thing since the job market isn't stellar and it was just making me miserable, so it wasn't really worth it to continue struggling for a difficult career that probably wouldn't have brought me much happiness. I took a job decorating ice cream cakes for the time being, but it isn't a permanent thing. Doesn't pay well enough for me to stick around long term and honestly even if the pay was great, my boss makes me absolutely insane. My original plan after scrapping the historian/academic career path was to go back to school and finish my music education degree. But, when I mentioned even wanting to take a music class at a local community college just for fun while I'm working and trying to figure out my next steps, my parents went absolutely ballistic. As much as I'm old enough to know what I want now, studying music when I started that degree was such a huge fight, and if they're going to be the same way about it, I don't know if I have the energy to have that fight again.
They're solution is pastry school. I mentioned it in a one-off sarcastic comment, and they've taken the idea and run with it. My dad started looking up programs and trying to give me information. Pastry is, apparently, the new thing they think I should be doing with my life.
I like baking and decorating cakes. But I have some reservations about going to pastry school.
I know it's expensive. Even if my parents were to help me fund it, I'd still have to take on some debt. I'm not convinced that the eventual career opportunities are worth the debt. From what I've read on previous discussions here, the job market isn't spectacular and it's a tough industry. Comparing the photos in my gallery or what I post in Friday Night Cake Club to what some of you wonderfully talented people do, I can't help but think that I'm kind of mediocre. I know the idea is that pastry school would teach me much more than just cakes, and that my work on cakes and other pastries would improve with instruction, but I can't help but think that no matter what, I'll still be kind of average. That being the case, I wonder if I would ever be able to make enough money to live comfortably and make the debt I'd take on from school worthwhile.
I also suspect, though I could be wrong, that the specific program I went to would really matter. My dad is pointing out programs in these small, local schools. I'm skeptical, not because I don't think I'd learn anything, but because I suspect in a competitive field, that learning the techniques is only half the battle. I know from applying to graduate school for history, who the professors are and who they know was just as important as how well the knew the material, because their names carried some weight while applying to graduate schools, and their connections really helped me. Is it the same in pastry? Is it worthwhile attending a local school that's probably a bit less expensive versus a bigger program where I might be able to meet people who could help me end up in better internships down the road? I'm fortunate enough to live where I could conceivably commute to New York if need be. It would be a pain, but people where I live do it for work, and me doing it for school isn't out of the question. So if I did decide to do this, would the additional expense of trying for a school in New York City pay off down the road in career opportunities, versus attending a smaller, perhaps less expensive and easier to get to, program closer to me?
I'm also completely ignorant as to the admissions requirements for these kinds of programs. I've been poking around on websites, but a lot of them are pretty vague. One school I was looking at really encouraged visiting the campus and talking to someone in admissions face to face. Since I'm still a little undecided about the whole thing, I'm not sure I want to give them all my information and have them potentially calling me, e-mailing me, or whatever incessantly. I also don't know if I want to start visiting schools and touring campuses and meeting people until I'm a bit more sure whether this is anything worth pursuing. Does anyone know what the admissions process looks like?
TL;DR: My parents are pushing me towards going to pastry school. I don't know if I have the talent to make it as a pastry chef. I'm also unsure about the pros and cons of a smaller, local program versus a presumably more expensive program in the city, where I might be able to do more networking to jump start a career if I did go this route. Basically, I'm wondering what the eventual payoff for the investment might be. And I'm also unsure of what the admissions requirements and process would even look like and I've had a hard time finding that out on websites. Any wisdom anyone here might have to offer on any of the above subjects would be very much appreciated.
Before I even open my mouth, let me say that I have definitely NOT been to pastry school, completely self taught when it comes to the culinary arts. My major was Fine Arts with a minor in Education ('cause I can be practical sometimes). My working life was spent in commercial art, advertising and sales. Also, I am at least old enough to be your grandmother, so my thinking is probably way out of line with yours.
First of all, while you could certainly be a successful pastry chef, it is unlikely that you would ever make a lot of money. Only the rare few ever reach the celebrity stage and get rich. Secondly, I do not believe in student debt! I worked and paid for college and so did everyone else that I knew. I really don't know why it is necessary to complete your education many thousands of dollars in the hole. Seems to me to be an enormous indulgence. While it might be a nice luxury, I do not believe the perks of going to a big name school are even close to the cost. Networking will never take the place of talent and a good work ethic. As my husband pointed out, when you decorate a cake for someone, do they care what school you attended?
Bottom line, if you do not have a passion for baking, I think it would be a waste of time. If you do have a passion, try to find a job in a successful pastry shop and get a feel for what it is like, then decide.
My main question is do you want to be a pastry chef? What are you passionate about? What could you see yourself doing long term?
As someone who has a full time job that they only enjoy because I get to work from home and the paycheck that allows me and my husband (along with his paycheck) to live comfortably I am certainly not the person to talk to about following your passion. Baking and decorating cakes on the side is a great way to let me use my creative side and do what I enjoy without relying on it 100% to survive.
I also agree with Sandra about not getting yourself into debt up to your eyeballs with school, especially for something that may or may not be what you are passionate about. I know that some student debt is unavoidable but you need to decide how much you are willing to take on and not over extend yourself just for that fancy school name. Think of all the students that have gone to Yale, Harvard, Princeton, etc. I am sure many get to high paying jobs because of the name on the degree but just as many if not the majority don't. My business degree from a local college is exactly the same as a business degree from Harvard because we all had to take the same classes to get it. In the end, at least in my opinion, experience is what will drive your career. But networking can be useful but you certainly don't need to attend a fancy school to be able to network. Look for local meet-ups or events to attend where you can talk with people in the field that you are interested in.
I do want to touch on the fact that you are giving up getting your music education degree because your parents don't like that idea. Like you said, you are old enough to make your own choices. If that is what you want to pursue then you should do it. This is your life, not theirs. Don't let them push you in a direction that you do not want to go because you will just end up unhappy. I am not sure how old you are but I am in my 30s and I have another 30 years to go in the working world and that is a long time to do something that doesn't make you somewhat happy. I wish I had gone a different direction in school but I am not willing to go back in the hopes that a career change will make my work life more enjoyable...because if I am being honest, a career is not something that ever appealed to me. I work to live not live to work so that is why I choose hobbies that fulfill certain needs in me that my job can never fill.
So take some time to really think about what YOU want and not what would make your parents happy.
When I was deciding about going to pastry school, I didn't want to get stuck with a huge debt either. I went to an accredited junior college that had a culinary program. I think it cost maybe $2,000 back then.
I have had interns work with me that went to the CIA in Hyde Park and it cost them $100,000. I can't see justifying that much tuition for a job that will not pay much to start. Or later on either, unless you get into a corporate situation that pays well. The majority of bakeries and restaurants do not. I've worked in bakeries, restaurants, high end caterers and one corporate job for Bon Appetit management, and it was the highest paid. But, I worked long hours and it was non stop high volume. You can get burned out quickly.
You gotta decide if you have a passion for food and baking, and that's all you can see yourself doing. It is not a profession that you will get rich from. But, I would definitely visit the campus and talk to someone. Don't just jump in blind. They can answer a lot of questions and give you a tour of the facilities.
I just talked my friend out of going into it. She is working as a wedding coordinator, and hates the restaurant she works at now (I used to work there too), and she has a nephew to raise and lives in Santa Cruz where it costs a fortune to live. So, she's going into radiology like her mother because she makes a lot of money. I told her just because you like too watch cake shows is not a reason to go into it. It's nothing like the real world. Make cakes on the side for fun.
Maybe try for an intern job at a bakery to start, just to get a feel for it. See if it's something you can see yourself doing long term.
for example if you become a real estate agent your ability to earn money increases greatly or if you become a teacher you can get a better salary than an assistant teacher -- so going to school for that means more money but rychevamp is exactly right -- there is very little to no money in attending the high dollar culinary schools -- you can learn while you earn if you can get into the right job --
Whatever route you choose, just keep in mind that if you want to have your own business and not just work for someone else, you need to make sure you have your business plan - and all that entails - firmly in place from the get-go. The most important thing is, do you have a passion for baking/cakes/pastries/desserts or is it just something to fill in the blank for now? Are you after the knowledge and experience or the paycheck? One thing about cakes, if you haven't been bitten by the bug, it will be just another job. And if you have been bitten, you can suffer burn-out very quickly if you're not careful and don't have very clearly defined boundaries.
Pastry school is not a necessity, as many self-taught bakers will tell you. I sincerely doubt Buddy or Duff went to pastry school (although I certainly don't know and don't really care either). You learn best by doing, by trying new things and making mistakes and figuring things out yourself. Some of my best "Holy Cow!" cakes happened when I tried something and had to work around a disaster.
No one can tell you this is what you need to do. But, for Heaven's sake, don't let your parents push you into it simply because you don't have an alternative lined up. You're an adult - obviously - and it's up to you to decide your future. If you want to go to school to be a pastry chef, by all means go after it. If it's just something to do - stop. This is your future and it's up to you to decide how you want to live it.
Whatever you decide, we all wish you the best.