The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions from an almost-college-age baker

tuffett's picture

Questions from an almost-college-age baker

Sorry if this isn't the best place to post it. I hope that it reaches the right audience, though.

I am 17 years old and about to go to college. Obviously I have plenty of time to change my major (right now I am majoring in biology for pre-veterinary medicine). Although I only have been seriously baking for a year and half, I know that I have found my passion. I love everything about baking, even large-scale. My dream--far-fetched as it may be--is to one day open a vegan bakery, somewhat similar to Great Harvest (where I work over the summer), selling bread and sweets. Clearly Great Harvest has it a lot easier with connections ot the national franchise, but same idea.

I know that there is a high failure rate for new bakeries, but do you think I should follow this dream and work (and I know it will take a lot of it) to open a bakery? I went through all of the college process because I was torn (and still am somewhat) between becoming a veterinarian and becoming a baker, two drastically different jobs. I feel morally compelled to become a veterinarian, but my true love is baking, so I believe that I would prefer the latter.

Next year, I will be on scholarship at university. In anyone's experience, is a business major (and MBA) helpful to running a bakery, or is it mostly a waste of time? Same for culinary/baking/pastry school. Is trying to open a bakery even worth it at all, or should I focus on a more reliable career and relegate baking to a hobby?

I appreciate anyone's opinion, and please be honest--I can handle whatever harsh stories you have to share.

Thank you!


Graid's picture


Firstly, I wish you luck in your endeavours, whatever they may be! I hope I don't sound too cautious here, I'm rather risk averse by nature and that does impact upon the advice I give, but it seems to me like persevering with your veterinary degree would still be wise even if you do aspire to being a baker. It's not often (at least in my country) that someone has the skill and the grades necessary to become qualified as a veterinarian, and it is a job of course which absolutely is impossible to have without a degree. You don't need a business degree to open a bakery, and would be able to pick up the skills necessary to run one without having studied it at University. I don't mean to downplay the significance of these business skills, but I do feel that the knowledge required to a vet surprasses it in terms of the specialist nature of it.

Having a degree in veterinary science would give you a really good fallback option or start point as it is a comparatively well paying job. It could in itself help you fund opening a bakery later. I would think very carefully before dropping a rare chance at getting qualified for a job like that. Generally speaking of course to start a business requires capital, and obtaining this, providing you are not already wealthy or willing to risk a loan, is a matter of getting a job. A veterinary career is a comparatively lucrative start point.

Wild-Yeast's picture

I think the DVM is much more valuable [monetary that is] than is the alternative of becoming a baker.  The thought hit me that you could do a minor in pet nutrition and go into the dog treat business - maybe even franchise an idea that would make the business scalable [i.e. franchising]. 

The DVM degree will give you a great technical advantage on any MBA - once you have the DVM an MBA extra is, shall we say, a piece of cake [if you feel you need it]. Degree education is changing as evidenced by the number of online degree programs that are now being offered allowing a more efficient way of learning though it has its drawbacks. The DVM degree program contains a fair amount of practicum so it's not something that can be accomplished on the internet. MBA programs are literally everywhere on the net.

I think you've got the right bird in hand - let what's in the bush wait till you've got some degree heft under your belt. 

One last thing - keep on baking, whatever you do, improving your skills along the way...,


thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

If you go into it young, you might be able to make a life of it.

If you come to it later, after you know what it's like to have 10x the disposable income of a baker**, it'll be much more challenging to make a successful go of it, to say nothing of being unable to afford the lifestyle you will have grown accustomed to.

(**With just an undergrad degree, you will earn more your first year out of college than you would earn in 3 years as a baker (and that's a conservative estimate). If you become a vet, you'd easily earn 10x more.)

Baking professionally is hard work. It doesn't pay well, and it's very repetitive: after the novelty of making the bread wears off, baking can get very boring very fast. And even after it wears off, it'll be back-breaking work day-in, day-out. (Some think they can bake whatever they want, but the surefire way to failure in the food business is a lack of consistency. You earn customers by making something they like. You keep customers by making that same thing over and over again.)

You'll learn very quickly what the Dunkin' Donuts guy really means when he says, "Tiiiiiiiime to make the donuts."

Don't misunderstand me: Some succeed wildly, like Nancy Silverton, and who knows what a franchise like Great Harvest really earns–maybe it's a bundle, but I doubt it–but those that do succeed earn their success through a lot of really hard work.

We sadly live in a world where (most of us) have to sell our labor to the highest bidder instead of doing what we love; but, that doesn't mean you can't find great value in selling your labor for something other than money, like the rewards that come from the sheer happiness of baking.

That said, at your age, your options are unlimited: You could always become a vet, make a lot of money, then retire early and start a bakery, with your veterinary skill and practice as fallback.


Have you seen Young James Harriot, a BBC miniseries about "the famous cow-fiddler’s [James Harriot's] early adventures at Glasgow Veterinary College in the Thirties. You would really like it. It's very well done. It's not available for purchase, but I imagine you could find it for download online, as I did.

clazar123's picture

We have a member that has a bakery and has an open invite to people to come as "interns" for a few weeks at his bakery in the state of Montana. He would be a great person to talk to about this very subject. He might also be able to offer some real world experience in the form of an "internship".

Use the search box: Back Home Bakery and Mark is the owner. He has some great videos on shaping,also. Nice guy.

I had 2 kids who are now out of college and I know a lot more kids still in college. I know they say to follow your passion but I have a different take on life. Sometimes a passion should be a hobby (an avocation) rather than a job. Many times a job that can support your passion works out better because then you get to enjoy all the positive aspects of a passion and none of the pressure that turns it into a chore. At any time the avocation can become the job but with an alternate degree you have options.

tuffett's picture

Wow, huge thank you to everyone who responded. You've given me a lot to think about! I don't think that I'm any closer to picking one career or the other, but you all have definitely added some pros and cons to both sides. I really appreciate the input from adults who have already gone through this.


lazybaker's picture

Volunteer at a vet clinic and see how it goes. 

Chausiubao's picture

Torn between pursuing research in biology and going the route of the baker, I went the safe road and studied biology. I ended up finishing my degree (molecular biology, so not exactly the same as you, but not so dissimilar either) but I had a few opportunities to work in the industry throughout college and the experiences cemented my decision to become a baker.

I ended up going to culinary school, getting an apprenticeship, and now I've started working at a hotel. 

The only way you'll truly know whether you want to become a baker or not is to become a baker, in other words try to get a part time job in a bakery in your area, even while going to school. As others have said, its hard work, and no matter how romantic you are, a job will become a job, no matter how much you love the work. But even in the rigors of a physical job, there is still the romance of labor, which you might find yourself discovering, for others, that is the deal breaker. 

 But, as young idealistic kids, all we have to lose is time right?


Yerffej's picture

Follow your heart.


proth5's picture

I am now thinking of some of the tart words I have heard spoken by "my teacher." 

My teacher spoke one time of times s/he spent travelling in Ireland where just before the money ran out - s/he found a job in a bakery.  While recounting this story my teacher gave me one of those steely eyed gazes that I have come to know and love "If I had a fancy degree - I wouldn't have been able to do that."

Ok, ok I have a fancy degree.  I have a fancy MBA as a matter of fact.  (And it has allowed me to have some wondrous experiences - don't get me wrong.)

So would an MBA be useful if you wanted to become a baker?  I'm going to have to say that I think not (and not just to avoid those looks from my teacher.)  What I find is that although I can make a decision and implement it - I can also get wrapped up in the business details and fail to find the joy in the product.  I'm used to dealing in umpleasant realities - not so much in pleasant ones. (You should, however, learn basic business skills - like doing a balance sheet, cash flow statement, and writing a business plan.  These are not difficult things to do and you can self teach on that.)  A business dergree is about learning the business of business. It is - so often -  a preparation for working in the world of finance or marketing.  While these can be interesting things and I would hate to call them a waste - they are not fundamental to the skills required to run a small or medium sized business.

I know MBA's and I know bakers.  If we are the average of the five people we associate with most - I'd rather associate with bakers.  And that is something to think about - because if you enter business school you will be surrounded by people who are looking to cash in big on Wall Street - or earn big bucks in consulting firms.  You will either adopt their world view or be a little lonely.  I survived my swim with the sharks by deliberately making friends who were not in business school.  Maybe that tells you something.

That being said - an education on a scholarship is something not to waste.  If in four years you emerge relatively debt free (and that is an important point - because if you incur a lot of student loan debt you will need to concentrate on earning money just to service that debt) you are still young. You will still have the energy and time to change course.  What you should do, though, is treat your university time as an education  - not a stint in trade school.  My fancy undergraduate degree is in engineering.  By never taking less than 20 credit hours a semester (Ah, to be young and strong) I managed to study a lot of stuff other than engineering.  Now, engineering is useful stuff, but the rest of what I learned has been more valuable to me than the engineering knowledge.

It seems like you have actual baking experience and that means a lot because it is a tough way to earn a living - with relatively low pay and bad hours (or good hours, if you can see it that way.)  But you might wish to examine why you feel - as you put it - morally compelled to enter the vet field.  Do not enter a profession for any other reason than you want to do it for most of the rest of your life. Do not let some pressure of what you "should" be doing determine your course.

Good luck - it all seems monumental right now, but your future will unfold.  Sometimes in very unexpected ways.



proth5's picture

saying to ponder. 

At the end of my undergraduate years I was trying to decide if I should head to the bright lights and try to make it in acting.  I had some offers for some very, very minor (and not well paying) work - and I had an offer for my "regular" job.

My acting teacher asked me "Do you think you can do anything else?"  When I answered "Yes, I think so" he told me "Then you'd better go do it because this is a hard way to live if you know you can live otherwise."

Don't know if this really applies to you - but worth thinking about nonetheless.  They were valuable words for me...

bbeavis's picture

Taylor -

I'm in a DVM program right now, and although the medical professions often seem as though they may provide you with more fiscal security, I would caution you to consider the debt to income ratio that many veterinarians face.  We are the poor country cousins of the medical profession, and many do not reap much in the realm of financial rewards well into their 30's or 40's, because you spend the first 20 years paying off the $120,000+ you have accumulated in student debt, often on a salary in the range of $40-60,000, depending on location and type of practice. 

In order to be a DVM, in the US at least, you have to complete your bachelor's degree and then apply for admission to veterinary school.  Approximately 40% of students are accepted on their first round of applying - a worse acceptance rate than medical students, because we have so few accredited universities.  Once accepted, you have another 4 years of coursework and clinical rotations to complete before you can license to practice.  It is not something I suggest you pursue if you truly feel that your love is baking.  If you have not already, I suggest you spend a substantial chunk of your summer volunteering at a veterinary clinic.  Talk to the doctors about their experiences, their stress levels, their incomes, and their debt.  If you feel comfortable, ask about their family life, is it easy to balance, etc.  Divorce rates, suicide rates, and drug/alcohol abuse rates are substantially higher within the veterinary profession than the population at large.  Its not an easy profession, and I love what I do, but if you don't love it, you won't make it.  

I really cannot stress enough that in today's economic climate and with the current cost of education that you very likely will never be *rich* as a veterinarian, if that is something that factors into your decision-making process. 

Best of luck to you. I applaud you for being thoughtful enough to consider your options before you hit the ground at university.'s picture


This sounds like the classic conundrum of artists -- performance, musicians and graphic artists who have this passion but must decide whether to relegate it to avocation or commit to it as a vocation.  Always a tough one.  Good news is you're young enough not to have to make the commitment right away.  Whew.

Biz school can certainly open many doors but also slams a big door for some students who come to view with distaste the profit maximization aspects and the more blatant motivations of some peers (see proth5 above -- amen to that).  Keep your head when swimming with the sharks.  Of course, anyone looking to open a business of any sort, large or small, internet or handcraft, can benefit immensely from what biz school teaches.  Learning to do the necessary market research, make a business plan and assimilating the basics of accounting -- all solid gold and valuable for starting a bakery from scratch, or buying an existing one and shifting its direction.  

My $.02 is to go with the scholarship and milk biz school for all it can offer.  At the same time, KEEP BAKING LIKE CRAZY, at home and part time at a local bakery if at all possible.  Get in there and learn what it's like day to day (more like NIGHT to day :-), esp. outside the umbrella of Great Harvest.  Very different as an independent, but there is a huge support community for that in the US now.

And yes, absolutely consider culinary school.  I know nothing about that realm of academia beyond positive reports about SFBI's courses that TFLers have taken and Peter Reinhart's pitches for Johnson & Wales where he teaches.  And don't count out the age-old apprenticeship route.  There are master bakers all over the world who may welcome a like-minded passionate apprentice.  TFL stallwart Andy ("Ananda") in Newcastle, England comes to mind -- he is a legit lecturer in the craft and, from his posts, a true artisanal baker.

And between biz school classes and bar crawls :-), DO take enough (micro)biology and physics courses as electives to develop some solid common sense about what's going on in doughs.  It takes way more than that to become a master baker, but you can avoid alot of wives tales and silly traditions by getting the ground truth that college science courses can offer.

Good luck with it!



embth's picture

I am happy that someone commented that earning your DVM will not likely make you wealthy.   My daughter is a veterinarian and she works very hard....on call often nights and weekends, visiting farms,  dealing with large animals as well as pets.  It is tough physical work!   When the veterinarian suffers bites,  kicks, stomped feet, cracked ribs, etc. it is just part of the job.     As  "bbeavis" stated earlier, veterinary medicine has to be something you truly love.   It was THE career my daughter was focused on from her elementary school years.    Although I am thrilled that she has the life she always wanted, as her mother I often secretly wish she had become a librarian.   Rising early to "make the donuts" is also hard work, but much less dangerous.    Good luck in whatever path you follow .... Embth


butterflyblue's picture

But as a writer, and not a baker.  I have an MFA in Creative Writing.  I was a Peace Corps volunteer for two years, and a bank secretary for two more, and now I've been a stay at home mom for five (and writing, of course). 

My best advice is: whatever you do, don't get deeply into debt at a young age.  I did.  I don't regret majoring in something that is economically useless, but I regret going into debt to do so.  The debt load you carry will likely have a lot to do with what job you take after you graduate.  You may have to go with a higher paying job no matter what you WANT to do, just to pay the loans.  And even if you don't - if I had gone with a less expensive school that offered better scholarships (and I could have) I would have had thousands of dollars to do other things with later in life.

My college education has been invaluable, not for the specific content of any of my classes, but just for the life education and breadth of view that it gave me.  But I didn't need it to become a writer.  I would have written, anyway, though it would have certainly been different writing.  The same holds true for baking.  You  can bake regardless.

I don't know if vet school is right for you or not, but no matter what you major in, baking is always something you can do.  Get as much experience in vetrinary medicine as you can via internships, etc. to figure out if you have a passion for that or not.  And take other classes outside of your major, to see if you have any other undiscovered passions that could change your life plans.

pdiff's picture

Go to school, start the pre-vet program and see where it leads you.  It doesn't mean you have to make a choice.  You don't have to be one or the other.  Chances are you'll end up in a place where you never anticipated you'd be anyway, neither baker nor vet.  Maybe with a college degree, maybe not.  It's just too early to tell right now (and thankfully so!  Who would want to know what the rest of their future would be?).  But no matter what you end up doing, you'll always be a baker.  Whether it's from a crappy tiny oven in a one room apartment somewhere or a swanky five star kitchen, you'll be able to bake.  If you love it you'll find a way to do it.  Perhaps, sometime, you'll get the chance to try it as a business.  For me, I like baking, not selling baked goods.  I'm certainly not a Baker, and have a career far from it, but I make the time to bake.  I still make fairly large amounts at times and have found I never have trouble getting rid of it :-)  (there's always a food bank or someone on the streets who needs it, if my friends get burned out on my production).  The only sure thing is that baking will always be a part of you if that's what you love.



Jackie_the_Novice's picture

So much excellent advice and insight thus far (especially the likely income/debt ratio that many veterinarians experience, and the suggestion to volunteer/work in a vet clinic and bakery to see what sparks your passion).  I was a scientist, and I love the education and experiences an early career in science provided me; I wouldn't trade them for anything. I recently shifted into the creative arts (at nearly middle age), and my only idea to add to the discussion is to get involved in both activities/passions as an undergraduate, integrating them together if possible. It might be a simple-minded suggestion, but perhaps you can work within the community and college to hold a bake sale to help animals.  (Shelter animals, or farm animals, as many farms are having problems in this difficult economy). I have found that activities combining passions can be a good way to sort things out. See what rises to the top.  

I must tell you I absolutely applaud you for recognizing, at 17yo, what moves you. You may not know for many years how remarkable that is.

Best wishes in your decision, no matter how long that decision takes.