Unlike grants, which tend to be based on financial need, scholarships are generally awarded for merit or demonstrated talents. They can be divided into several categories to help you stay organized. There are scholarships that can be used at any cooking school in the country; there are those that are specific to a culinary specialty or a particular school; and there are scholarships given by local organizations for graduates from a town or region.
The first step is to find all the scholarships for which you may qualify, gather all the information you can (online or at your local or school library), and begin the application process. A good place to start is Fastweb, a search engine for all types of scholarships. Make note of the deadlines for each. A valuable piece of advice is to complete your application as early as possible. This is likely to impress judges, who are more used to having applicants wait until the very last minute.
Most scholarships will require recommendations from teachers or employers and a personal statement or essay from you. Do your research on both! Find out what the organization or school sponsoring the scholarship is interested in, then make sure the letters focus on that. Sometimes you can look at past winners on the organization’s website. Read these closely and model your application on them. Don’t be afraid to call past winners or judges to ask for advice. It can only help you, by demonstrating your commitment and forethought.
Many scholarships are relatively small (in the $200 to $2,000 range), but don’t dismiss them for that reason. They can add up to big savings. Plus, they look great on your resume.
There are some large, prestigious scholarships for high school seniors available for up to four years of education. The American Culinary Federation, for example, offers a number of scholarships, some to high school students and others to students currently enrolled in college. Some can be used at the cooking school of your choice, while others are available only to students planning on attending particular programs (Baltimore International College, Johnson and Wales University, or the Culinary Institute of America).
The criteria used to determine who receives these prestigious scholarships are outlined in detail at the ACF’s website, along with information about past recipients. The higher your grades in high school or (if applicable) college, the better your chance of winning a scholarship. Other criteria include participation in youth cooking competitions (if you win one, so much the better!), work experience, and community volunteerism.
Like the ACF, the James Beard Foundation is dedicated to promoting a high standard in American culinary training and practice. The foundation offers a number of scholarships and awards to promising students. These are highly competitive, and based on much the same criteria as the ACF scholarships. For more information and deadlines, consult the James Beard Foundation website.