Financial aid refers to the entire range of options to help you pay for your cooking school degree. This includes scholarships and awards, grants and loans, as well as work-study opportunities.
The people who can best help you determine your best options are the financial aid officials at the cooking school you plan to attend. Schools know that few people can afford to simply write a check to cover the ever-rising costs associated with getting a degree. They also understand that it is confusing to sort out financial aid options, so they have people whose only job is to help people like you (and perhaps your parents). Use them!
But don’t rely only on financial aid advisors to ferret out all the available options; there are so many scholarship opportunities, you should explore them for yourself as well. If you are serious enough about cooking to want to attend cooking school, then you are serious enough (and probably talented and driven enough) to qualify for a scholarship.
Keep in mind that most cooking school students qualify for some sort of grant, whether it is from the federal or state governments or the school itself. There are also hundreds (if not thousands) of special-interest organizations that want to see more women, or minorities, or Italian-Americans working as professional chefs. All of them have grants available. You probably qualify for at least a few of them.
If you qualify for nothing else, you will almost certainly be able to take out student loans to help pay for cooking school. There are many available. The best known and most popular are the federally guaranteed loan programs: Stafford loans, private loans, and PLUS loans. All loans are not the same. Only Stafford loans are deferred until after you have graduated from school. Most other loans need to start being repaid even while you are taking classes, meaning that you would probably need assistance from family members to make them feasible.
And don’t neglect to consider the option of working while in school to help pay your way. Work-study can defray your costs and give you valuable experience, whether in a kitchen, an office, or outdoors. Try to work through your school’s work-study program, rather than going outside it. Work-study jobs are tailored so that they don’t interfere with your school work. They pay well, and you may even get credit for the work you do.
The point is, try not to be discouraged by the big numbers you see on the brochures and websites associated with attending cooking school. There is a great deal of financial aid out there, whether you want to attend a public or private school. Don’t second-guess the process or psych yourself out before you even try. There is almost always a way to pay for what you really want to do. Cooking school is no exception.