Love Cooking? Turn Your Passion into a Quirky Extracurricular Activity
Love the kitchen?
If you’re passionate about cooking, you can turn that love into something more than just a hobby. Transforming your passion for cooking into after-school pursuits can add to your extracurricular profile — which colleges love. And it doesn’t end there! Many occupations aside from the obvious cooking-focused ones like chef, caterer, and so on involve a great degree of cooking, such as hospitality manager, food scientist or chemist, and agriculturalist.
If you hope to incorporate cooking into your profession — or just love to be in the kitchen — here are some off-the-beaten-path ideas that can turn your passion into an extracurricular that will peak admissions committees’ interest.
Depending on your cooking experience, you may want to start out by taking a class to hone your skills in the kitchen. Many top cooking schools, such as the Culinary Institute of America and the Institute of Culinary Education, offer short (sometimes one-session) classes year-round. Some offer special classes for younger students. If you’re looking for something more local, check out the continuing education catalogs at local colleges, or look online.
Volunteering with Cooking
Cooking can be a great community service project. You might work in a soup kitchen, food pantry, or homeless shelter. As we discuss in Can I Volunteer if I’m Under 18?, there are sometimes age restrictions on these types of activities, so be sure to inquire beforehand. Nursing homes may also give you the chance to volunteer in the kitchen, but once again, be sure to look into the age requirements.
You could also work with a youth group or other volunteer group to prepare food for shelters. Many nonprofits that serve people in need depend on donations from volunteers, and preparing sandwiches and other meals can be a great help. If you’re already part of a group looking for community service projects, suggest preparing food for the hungry. Or you can start a group specifically dedicated to this purpose.
Check out Do I Need Community Service for My College Applications? for more volunteering ideas.
Other Extracurricular Ideas Involving Cooking
- Start a cooking club at your high school. Chances are, there are other cooking enthusiasts at your school. Come together to talk over recipe ideas, make dinners together, and try new cuisines. To learn more about how to go about creating a club, check out Organizing Your New Club.
- Host a Top Chef-style competition at your school. This can be connected to a club, or just an isolated event. Not only will this allow you to engage with cooking, but you’ll also be demonstrating leadership and initiative — two skills colleges definitely want to see in applicants. As organizer, you’ll be able to bring in different people, personalities, and skills to pull the competition off, which gives you experience as a manager as well.
- Get a job at a local bakery or restaurant. While you may not get to actually be a chef, even working as a waiter or behind the counter will give you experience and allow you to learn a lot about a working in a culinary environment. Having a job in high school shows colleges that you’re a go-getter and willing to take on a lot of responsibility at a young age. Check out How to Spin Your High School Job into an Impressive Extracurricular for advice on how to describe your job on college applications.
- Engage local chefs to come speak at your school. Not only will you learn something about cooking, but you’ll gain experience coordinating, organizing, and leading an event. Read How to Organize a Speaker Event in High School for tips on bringing outside speakers into your high school.
- Network, network, network. If you’re interested in getting involved in a culinary field, or just want to make it a larger part of your life, contact local chefs and businesses and visit farmer’s markets. There are plenty of people who can show you the ropes, but you may need to go looking for them. Networking is a skill that will get you far in life, so start honing it now. Read The Introvert’s Guide to Networking in High School and What’s an Elevator Pitch, and Why Should a High Schooler Write One? for advice on becoming a great networker.
So you want to be a chef?
If you’re looking for more formal experience in the kitchen, there are plenty of summer programs that will prepare you for culinary school. Many of these programs engage renowned chefs, cookbook authors, and culinary instructors to show young chefs the ins and outs of the business and give them plenty of practice in professional kitchens.
- campusNYC (New York City)
- Julian Krinsky Cooking School (Villanova University)
- Project Discover (Fordham University)
- The Putney School (Vermont)
- Sur la Table (locations across the country)
Many famous cooking institutions also offer programs for young people.
Stir, Bake, Sauté, Fry…
Just cook! Gain as much experience as you can in the kitchen. If a parent, family friend, or other adult you know has experience in the kitchen, ask them if they can teach you some basic skills. Read cookbooks to learn about cooking. Travel to other states and countries and sample different cuisines. While you’re there, ask restaurant and workers about the local flavors. Being in the kitchen not only gives you a fun skill, but also offers a window into other cultures and helps you gain worldly experience.
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