Hi Melissah and CookinTim!
Melissah, what CookinTim said is right. The requirement to have experience before being accepted into the school is a fairly new thing, to my knowledge, in the last decade. When I applied (1996?) I had no experience, and they required at least 6 months cooking experience, 75% or more made from scratch. It was a catch 22 because I had no cooking experience and nobody wanted to hire me because of that, so how was I supposed to apply to the school? A friend who's dad owned a local upstate NY restaurant needed a prep/dishwasher, so I took the job. As fate would have it, about 2 months into the job, the broiler cook called in sick on a Friday night, and I volunteered to step in... the rest is history.
Melissah, I don't know if they still require it, but I also had to take a culinary math test before they would accept me. Math was never my forte, and I failed miserably. The recruiter took pity on me, and I promised I would get tutoring, and she said I could come back and retake it. I paid a local state college student $10 an hour, and using the practice guide they give you, passed on my second try with flying colors. I did very well at the CIA, I actually became a Fellow (which is- after you graduate -you have a chance to apply for- it is a back or front of the house chef/instructor assistant position for 6 months). I did lots of other stuff at the school after that, including working in the film/video/research department and recieved a scholarship from the Italian Trade Commision to study Italian food, wine, culture, language. I am not trying to toot my own horn here, I just want you, and CookinTim to know of the wonderful opportunities that can happen at that school, and after.
I really do believe a degree from an accredited/respected school does accelerate your rate of advancement- or at least get your foot in the door faster. I started school with no professional experience at the age of 27. I am now 34, and an Executive Chef with Compass Group- servicing the Boeing, Wichita facility. It is a huge responsibilty, given the sheer numbers of people we feed every day. Also, keep in mind, geography. My husband and I are big fish in a small pond- (there are only 2 other graduates working in this town, plus one former CIA instructor working for Excel Corp). I would probably still be a line cook at Gotham if I had stayed in NY. There is nothing wrong with that either, I know I would have gained tons more knowledge. However, I have chosen foodservice- the hours, the flexibility, the pay all work for me. Quality of life is very important to me.
COOKINTIM!!!!! Tell me about yourself! Where are you from, how old are you, where in the program are you? Have you had Chef Clark for Fish Kitchen yet- OMG- he is terrifying in the kitchen, but a sweet old retired Marine(?), Harley guy- really a pussycat. I heard he kicked his entire class out of the kitchen one time, and proceeded to cook all the food for all the stations for that day's lunch service- and made the class watch through the windows!
I know this was long, but the CIA holds a dear place in my heart, and always will . I really believe it gave me the foundation to get where I am today and the confidence to keep moving upwards. Good luck to both of you- Happy Cooking!