Good baking calls for equal measures of science and art. Bakers understand the kitchen math and timing required for hearty bread and flaky croissants, but they also have the sensitivities of a painter when they are decorating a wedding cake. Attending baking and pastry schools online or on campus can help pave the way to a career as a commercial baker in a manufacturing facility, a baking entrepreneur with your own shop, a pastry chef in a modern restaurant or a retail baker in a café or grocery store.
This page covers how to become a baker or pastry chef, school programs where you can learn the right skills, salary and job outlook figures for the profession and more. If you love baking and you've ever thought about an associates degree in baking and pastry arts, read on to learn more about turning your passion into a career.
What do bakers and pastry chefs do?
There are many different types and styles of pastry and baked goods, and the establishment where you work will end up determining most of your specific day-to-day tasks, but the general responsibilities for graduates of baking and pastry schools are often pretty similar. Here's a quick rundown of some typical duties behind the scenes at a bakery:
- Ensuring that stocks of baking ingredients are of sufficient quantity and quality
- Preparing work surfaces, kneading machines, ovens, racks and other equipment
- Measuring, weighing and mixing dry and wet ingredients
- Kneading, rolling, cutting, shaping, resting and proofing dough
- Arranging dough on appropriate pans or trays and setting ovens for baking
Nearly 75 percent of bakers and pastry chefs work in bakeries, restaurants, cafés and grocery stores, and approximately five percent were self-employed in 2016. Almost one-third of bakers work part-time schedules.
How to Become a Baker or Pastry Chef
There may not be any formal education requirement for bakers and pastry chefs, but employers may prefer candidates who have completed a training program at a culinary school, vocational institute or community college. Here's a quick rundown of the most common steps that bakers and pastry chefs take on their path to a career in the field:
- Obtain a high school diploma or equivalent
- Earn a certificate, diploma or associates degree in baking and pastry arts
- Consider professional certification by an industry association
- Gain experience in an entry-level position and continue learning on the job
Whatever formal education program you choose, you're likely to study a range of career-relevant subjects like these:
- Scratch baking
- Decorating and icing
- Bread and rolls
- Chocolate and confections
- Culinary foundations
- Safety and sanitation
- Basic nutritional science
- Hospitality management
Baking and pastry degree and certificate programs
The three different types of formal training programs at baking and pastry schools take different lengths of time to complete and cover the subject in varying degrees of depth. Take a look at this breakdown of each level of program available:
- Undergraduate certificates are often the shortest programs at pastry chef schools, but the range of program lengths is vast. Depending on the institution and the program, you may need to earn more than 40 credits or fewer than 18 credits to graduate.
- Diplomas tend to average 40-50 credit hours in length and cover baking and pastry concepts in some depth. The level of training here is close to that offered with a full two-year degree, but the curriculum usually includes few general education courses.
- Associate degrees commonly take around two years of full-time study to complete and guide students well beyond the basic level of skill needed for an entry-level position in the field. They also feature courses in academic subjects like communications, math and science that typically transfer to higher degree programs without much trouble.
Although they are rare, four-year bachelor's degrees in baking and pastry arts can also be found. They're typically designed for working bakers looking to move into management roles or become baking and pastry educators, however, and not usually recommended for aspiring bakers looking to get their start in the business.
Hands-on training at baking and pastry schools
Some classroom work is essential to a robust baking and pastry arts program, but you'll also be spending plenty of time in a teaching kitchen where you'll view demonstrations and practice the techniques learned in class. Your program may also include an internship or externship section that allows you to put your new knowledge and skills to the test in a supportive professional environment.
Online baking and pastry courses and programs
Despite the high level of hands-on learning typically required at baking and pastry schools, online courses can still be used to earn your degree. Some programs deliver their curriculum in a hybrid format, conducting classroom sessions online and bringing students to campus for hands-on work, while others offer a pastry arts degree entirely in the virtual classroom.
Attending baking and pastry schools online can bring you into contact with methods of teaching, learning and grading that may be unfamiliar to you at first, but schools that offer these programs can often provide strategies for getting accustomed to them. It helps to be prepared as possible before enrolling in your first class — there also may be online learning readiness tests or other tools available to help you get comfortable.
Baking and pastry certifications
Multiple industry organizations offer certifications for bakers and pastry chefs. Certification is typically not required for employment, but bakers who become certified have an easy way to demonstrate their specific areas of expertise to potential employers.
Here's a list of certifications offered by the Retail Bakers of America:
- Certified Journey Baker (CJB)
- Certified Baker (CB)
- Certified Decorator (CD)
- Certified Master Baker (CMB)
The American Culinary Federation also offers five levels of certifications for bakers and pastry chefs:
- Certified Fundamentals Pastry Cook (CFPC)
- Certified Pastry Culinarian (CPC)
- Certified Working Pastry Chef (CWPC)
- Certified Executive Pastry Chef (CEPC)
- Certified Master Pastry Chef (CMPC)
Each of the above credentials comes with its own set of education and experience requirements that must be met before you can sit for the certification exam. Check with each certifying agency for more details.
Career advancement options for bakers and pastry chefs
As you gain more experience on the job, master difficult techniques and earn industry certifications, the positions available to you are likely to grow in salary and prestige. Top restaurants, resort hotels and other establishments typically seek out established, expert-level bakers and pastry chefs to ensure that their guests have premium culinary experiences.
Another way to advance in a baking and pastry career is to shift into the administrative side of the profession. Earning a certificate or a degree in hospitality operations or culinary management can set you up to become the boss of the bakery.
The Best Baking and Pastry Chef Programs in the U.S.
In order to figure out which schools had the best baking and pastry chef programs nationwide, we gathered data on more than 80 accredited schools that specifically focus on awarding associate degrees and certificates. Read on below to find out which baking and pastry colleges scored the highest in terms of affordability, flexibility, student success and more.
If you're looking for affordable baking and pastry chef programs, Sinclair Community College should probably be on your list. The average net price for degrees at Sinclair was just over $2,900 for the year in 2018, meaning that students received enough grant and scholarship aid to reduce the cost of tuition, fees, housing, books, supplies and other essentials significantly before loans and out-of-pocket payments had to be applied to their bill.
Baking and pastry chef programs at Sinclair: Sinclair offers two programs to aspiring bakers and pastry chefs: an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree and a 17-credit bakery specialist certificate. The associate degree in baking and pastry arts also includes training in the related field of hospitality management.
No other two-year school in New Mexico educates more students each year than Central New Mexico Community College, where over 22,000 learners attend classes each semester. It also placed among the top institutions in the country for its sheer number of baking and pastry graduates, reporting that more than 90 students graduated with degrees in the field in 2016-17.
Baking and pastry chef programs at CNM: The A.A.S. in advanced baking and pastry at CNM consists of a minimum of 60 credit hours and provides training in nutrition, food entrepreneurship and general culinary and beverage skills as well as the fundamentals of bakery and pastry shop work. A 22-credit certificate of completion in baking is also available.
Just four other baking and pastry schools in the country reported a lower average net price than Washtenaw Community College, and only two other schools on our list saw a larger percentage of first-year students return to complete their degrees in their sophomore year. The southeastern Michigan institution also makes flexibility a priority, offering classes in the evening, on weekends and in hybrid and fully online formats.
Baking and pastry chef programs at WCC: Three different baking and pastry study plans are available at WCC, ranging from a 10-credit certificate in baking and pastry essentials to a comprehensive A.A.S. in baking and pastry arts and management that takes 63 credits to complete. A 22-credit certificate in baking and pastry skills and operations is available as well.
Around 10,000 students attend classes each term at Elgin Community College, a comprehensive institution located about 40 miles west of Chicago. Students here can take advantage of full- and part-time day care services for infants and preschoolers during the spring and fall semesters, and an arts center on campus holds workshops and gallery exhibits to enjoy during your downtime.
Baking and pastry chef programs at ECC: The A.A.S. degree in pastry arts at ECC introduces students to the discipline with courses in cooking and baking fundamentals, kitchen techniques and baking theory before moving into more advanced concepts. Training in food purchasing, hospitality supervision and customer service operations can be a big help to aspiring bakers hoping to open their own shop.
College of Lake County welcomed its first class of students in 1969, and it's only grown in size and stature since then. Just two other schools on our list reported a lower average net price than this institution in the Chicago area, and its first-year student retention rate placed it among the ten best baking and pastry schools nationwide in that category.
Baking and pastry chef programs at CLC: Beginning bakers can enroll in the baking and pastry assistant certificate program at CLC to learn the basics of the craft, and a pastry chef assistant program builds on those fundamentals to prepare you for more advanced work. An associate-level baking and pastry arts program at CLC that includes several business courses is also available.
No other baking and pastry school in the U.S. even came close to awarding as many degrees in the field as Institutio de Banca y Comercio on the island of Puerto Rico. Over 500 baking and pastry degrees were awarded here in 2018 — more than three times as many as its closest competitor. IBC also recorded the top graduation rate of any school on our list.
Baking and pastry chef programs at IBC: The program in international bakery and confectionery arts at IBC teaches students how to handle a variety of kitchen and bakery equipment and teaches the fundamentals of popular desserts from around the world. The study plan consists of 54 credits and can be completed in as little as one year of full-time study.
This location of this western New York institution provides one of the most scenic community college environments imaginable. Its namesake waterfall and state park are just minutes away, and it sits on a strip of land that divides two of the five Great Lakes from one another. Niagara County Community College was also named on the 2018 Best for Vets list published by Military Times and operates a standalone culinary institute on campus.
Baking and pastry chef programs at NCCC: Programs available at NCCC's Niagara Falls Culinary Institute include a traditional baking and pastry arts associate degree that takes two years of full-time study to complete, a 27-credit certificate program and an accelerated A.A.S. curriculum that can be completed in as little as 16 months.
Originally established in 1966, El Centro College was the founding institution of the Dallas County Community College District. It's grown to accommodate nearly 12,000 students each semester, and it's the only two-year school in its district to offer programs in culinary and baking and pastry arts. The numbers also suggest it's committed to providing flexible student schedules -- more than 42 percent of students were enrolled in online classes in 2018.
Baking and pastry chef programs at El Centro: The bakery/pastry foundations certificate program here focuses on baking theory and lab work, while the bakery/pastry specialist plan includes a practical experience section that provides part-time work in a professional bakery or kitchen. El Centro's bakery/pastry associate degree program can be completed in 60 credit hours.
Ozarks Technical Community College is one of the youngest baking and pastry schools on our list. It opened its doors to an inaugural class of 1,198 students in 1991, but enrollment grew by an average of around 11 percent each year and its student body numbered over 12,000 in 2018. Today, it operates three campuses and two learning centers in southwest Missouri and culinary degrees are among the most popular options in the catalog.
Baking and pastry chef programs at OTC: The 64-credit baking and pastry concentration within the A.A.S. in culinary arts at OTC includes several courses in administrative skills like dining room management, hospitality marketing, supervisory management and menu design. Bakery-specific study includes specialty breads, cake decorating and plated dessert presentation.
Just shy of 9,000 students attended school at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2018. Career and technical programs are the most common type of study plan completed at this Stone County institution, and MGCCC's online enrollment of more than 47 percent was the highest of any school that made our list.
Baking and pastry chef programs at MGCCC: The baking and pastry arts programs at MGCCC each come from the same curriculum. The A.A.S. program covers everything from the basics to advanced techniques and includes general education coursework that can give you a head start on future continued education, while the certificate only teaches the basics and the diploma leaves off the general education work but covers the full range of career-specific learning.
Skills and Abilities for Bakers and Pastry Chefs
The challenges and opportunities of baking and pastry careers are unique, and the Occupational information Network (O*NET) has compiled a list of skills and abilities that can help new workers weather the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities. Here are a few of the key traits from that list:
- Coordination of your actions with the actions of others is a vital part of a well-run bakery, helping foster efficiency among the crew
- Visual color precision is the ability to distinguish shades of color and levels of brightness from one another and helps you tell the difference between underdone and golden brown
- Monitoring, or the ability to assess the performance of systems, organizations, people and oneself, is an important part of day-to-day quality control
- Judgment and decision making can be especially valuable for bakers or pastry chefs in high-volume or high-pressure environments
- Active listening can help you stay on top of the goings-on at various stations in a bakery or pastry kitchen and provide a more complete picture of the operation
Baker and Pastry Chef Salary and Career Outlook
Pastry chef salary expectations depend on quite a few factors, including your level of education and experience, advanced knowledge, certifications and more. Different states have different salary ranges for bakers and pastry chefs, as well, and certain organizations may pay more for baking and pastry expertise than others.
We went to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and collected some median national salary figures for bakers and pastry chefs, in order to give you a general idea of the pay you can expect on average. Check out the table below:
|Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage||Projected Job Growth Rate|
Professional Resources for Bakers and Pastry Chefs
There are numerous organizations around the globe that either advocate on behalf of bakers and pastry chefs or provide valuable professional resources like continuing education courses and networking opportunities. Take a look at this short list of professional organizations that work to serve students and graduates of baking and pastry schools:
- Pastry Chefs of America (PCA) offers two membership categories for individuals and two at the enterprise level. Individual memberships offer opportunities to network with other members and provide a subscription to the organization's newsletter.
- The American Bakers Association (ABA) has been focusing its efforts on the wholesale baking industry for more than 120 years. It works to lobby congress and interface with regulatory authorities on the behalf of baked goods producers throughout the country.
- The American Culinary Foundation (ACF) is home to a global network of bakers, chefs, restaurateurs and other industry personnel. Members get deep discounts on registration for ACF regional and national conferences and save up to $200 on certification fees.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- The school must offer at least 1 program for the subject in question
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following variables:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- No. of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificates conferred for the subject (relevant CIP codes), National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
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- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 2019, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/
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