Nowadays c-schools are flooded with Emeril wannabes—but with the cost of many two-year programs totaling nearly $50,000, graduates often end up in serious debt. As the New York Times reports, in some of these programs graduates are almost twice as likely as the average college grad to default on student loans.

One of the problems is that low-interest federal loans cap out around $14,000 for two-year programs, so many culinary students rely on banks to finance their training—and then scramble to find high-paying jobs after graduation. Given that there aren’t too many of those in the restaurant industry, the recent grads get into trouble right quick. One unfortunate 29-year-old man the Times talked with “makes $10.50 an hour at a bistro in Austin best known for its French fries, trying to pay down his student loans.” As he tells the paper,

I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I put my degree on applications, and they make fun of me for it.

Oof. The sobering piece certainly puts the nail in the coffin of my vague culinary-school fantasy—but of course plenty of students also emerge with great jobs (or at least good credit). Did you or anyone you know choose between a formal program and learning on the job? What was your experience?

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