Pros: Very well rounded intro to basics, many connections to the industry
Cons: expensive but you get what you pay for
I graduated in '95 and went back this past Thanksgiving w my 9yo daughter. We eat at the French restaurant, Escoffier. It was great!
You get what you pay for. The problem is that many of the students who graduate, think they are chefs upon completing the program when in fact, they are just glorified entry level line cooks for the most part. With that being said, as a Chef or Director, seeing a CIA grad vs someone who graduated from most other schools (excluding J&W and NECA), I know I am looking at someone who has been exposed to much more and while they will still need training, it wont be on knife skills or making stocks.
I had worked in the industry for classic French chefs prior to going to school and I worked full time while going to school at Maximes. I also built a house by myself in Rhinebeck and sold it to pay for school. I think I took out about $6k total in student loans.
When I graduated, my first job was down in Mississippi as the Exec Chef at a large university. All the interviews were done over the phone and I was hired sight unseen. They even paid for me to move down there, and paid for a hotel and storage for a month while I found a place to live. When I finally got there, I commented on how I was hired without them meeting me in person. The response was "you graduated from the CIA". I was hired by a management company, Sodexho/Marriott and during the course of my 8 years employment with them, worked in almost every state as well as Antarctica. I've worked in hospitals that served 25k meals a day with 125 cooks in the kitchen. I was known as the "hatchet man" because every job I was sent on was to cut the budget. I didn't learn this type of thing in school but the school gave me the "credibility" and opened the doors for me.
I learned the most in the cooking field by finding the best restaurant and working there. I learned the most from the cheap old school French Chefs. Cheap because they spent money on ingredients, not staffing so I often worked 16-18 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. If you cant afford the best culinary schools. don't compromise unless your going to do a CC program. Find the best restaurant in your area and work for free if you need to. Start as a dishwasher or busboy if you need to. One day, someone will call out sick, get fired or walk off the job, and that will be your opportunity to step in.