Changing Paths: From Chef to Computers

Isn’t it funny that the main reason you GO to college in the first place is to be exposed to all kinds of different choices — both in what you can study and what you want to pursue as a career — but you only get a short amount of time to experience those choices before you have to put all your chips down (on a major)?

That’s pretty much the way it has to be, I guess, unless you want to pay for eight or nine years of college instead of four. But it does lead to situations like Matt’s, where he thought he wanted to be a chef, only to finish his training and find out he wants to work with computers.

Well, like many of your stories I’m a college student who’s in debt at the end of his degree and decides that he wants to change careers.

I’m only about $2,200 in debt from going to school in Daytona Beach College, which is a great college, where I got my AAS in Culinary Management, because I was sure that’s what I wanted to do. It was a great experience and everything, especially since one of the teachers is a Master chef, and all the chefs have some kind of award, but now talking to my boss, at the restaurant I work at I’m not sure I want to work as a cook.

Well, if you’re only in $2,200 of debt because of that, then I wouldn’t sweat it. As you know, it could be lots, lots worse. Plus, that $2,200 will pay for itself many times over from all the people who will delight in your cooking ability from now on.

I have already registered to go to St. Mary’s College of Maryland, where I won’t have to pay rent since I’ll be living with my parents. I’ll be majoring in Mathematics-Computer Science and it sounds like I might end up getting into an internship in the next year or so with a really reputable company, where I’ll be their first internship.

Wow, sounds like a pretty smooth transition thus far.

I won’t get any scholarship money but it sounds lik e I’ll be getting $11-12/hr to start and when I finish my degree I’ll get $25/hr.

I don’t know what you’ll be doing, exactly, but you can certainly make more than $25/hr. as a programmer, too.

Here comes the bad parts; my resume sucks, because I never participated in much, I don’t know anything about how computers work (yet), and SMCM is gonna cost me 13k a semester, and I hate the idea of loans.

Let’s address one issue at a time; first off, there a small question that I’ve been wondering about for a long time; how come when I apply to all these colleges with my terrible resume I get accepted to all of them?

Because it must not be as terrible as you think! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I mean, my GPA stays around 2.5-3.0, I’m not taking any special classes, and I really only have a few things on my resume, so it doesn’t make any sense.

What you’ve described is not a terrible resume. Average, maybe, but not terrible, and average works just fine for getting into schools that aren’t especially selective.

My second question concerning my resume is that is it wrong to put volunteer activities into the “work experience” area? I mean, I’ve been doing it for a while, but I just wanted to double check with someone.

No way — it’s a great idea. If you did the work, you did the work, regardless of whether someone paid you to do it or not. I will say, though, if you’re questioned directly about whether it was volunteer work or not, you should definitely tell the truth. And for more on resume tips for new grads, just hop yourself on over to! 🙂

My next question is about not knowing much about computers. I mean, is it alright to start taking classes with absolutely no prerequisite knowledge?

Well — it is if your college says it is. I don’t know exactly what you’re studying in the way of computers — hardware, networking, security, engineering, programming, design?

I feel like I should know a little bit before I start. I checked out books and they haven’t helped me, and my mother, who works on computers, said that it really is easier just to learn in the classroom, is that true?

I think it’s different for everyone. Most computer wizards I know did indeed have some knowledge of their own before starting a program of study, but that’s not the case for everyone. Generally speaking, I think any accredited program of study should be designed to make you a competent professional in that area without you needing to have any background prior to beginning that program. And if it DOES require you to have some previous knowledge, it should be disclosed rather prominently, I would think.

My last questions, is there any way to get money other than loans, my savings (very little), and scholarships and am I looking at these scholarships wrong?

Loans, grants, work-study and scholarships are the primary ways of paying for college with money that isn’t in your pocket to begin with in some form or fashion (your savings, your parents’ savings, etc.). That’s pretty much it.

I mean, it seems that I don’t fit into any of these. They say that there’s lots of scholarships for twins and for people going into computer science, but I can’t seem to find anything.

Have you signed up with Fastweb,,, etc.? Those services should point you in the direction of whatever you qualify for. You won’t find everything there, of course, because they’re constantly adding new scholarships to their databases — but they should be your starting point.

Then, rely on trusty old Google to find you others. I assume you’re a twin, since you mentioned that. I did a search for “scholarship for twins” and found this page, which details several programs (although most are school-specific).

Another quick search for “computer science scholarships” led me to’s page for several popular computer-related scholarships. Google is definitely your friend in this area.

I saw your article a few months(?) back about the white/average person, but that didn’t seem to help me much on that question (no offense).

None taken.

Can you help me find the people who have the money I need?

Well, to be honest, if your grades are average and you have zero experience with computers, then I’d be surprised if you’re able to win a computer scholarship (although I could be wrong — massive amount of volunteer experience never seem to hurt anyone).

I completely understand that you’re uncomfortable taking large loans, but the truth is you’ll probably have to start taking some if you’re going to continue at SMCM right away. In lieu of scholarships, then, you have to ask yourself how you can minimize the costs.

One way I’m sure you’ve heard me advocate on these pages is by taking general-education courses at a community college rather than a four-year school. I don’t know whether you have to pretty much start over from scratch after the culinary degree, or whether you had to do gen-ed courses for that as well that you can now transfer over to St. Mary’s.

Another option, of course, is to go to a cheaper school. There are tons of schools in and around D.C. and I’m guessing you could probably find a cheaper but similar degree at one of them while still being able to live at home with your parents — but you’d know better than I.

Check into those options for chopping some extra costs; otherwise, it’s time to say hello to everyone’s favorite sugar daddy, Uncle Sam.

That’s my best advice for the day. What about you all — got any suggestions for Matt? Let us know in the comments below.

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