A Brutally Honest Review of the University of Gastronomic Sciences

Update (Sept. 2017): Michele Fino, a professor of law at UNISG, reached out to me to send an update on the UNISG masters program. It has been appended below.

This is a cathartic rant disguised as a meticulously planned assessment.

Over the past year, I have fielded questions from dozens of prospective students at the University of Gastronomic Sciences (UNISG). They sent heartfelt messages, wanting to know everything from what the classes are like, to whether vegetarians will be slapped in the face with a piece of prosciutto. I carefully replied to every email that was sent to me, giving answers that I felt were judicious while catering to the writer’s sensibilities. See, by the time most people have discovered UNISG, they have fallen in love with the school already, and idealize it as foodie heaven on Earth. Which to be fair, in many respects, it is.

I am not going to discuss the warm and fuzzy parts today; the rest of my blog does that already. Instead, I am going to give a completely uncensored portrait on what it’s like to be in the Food Culture & Communications (FCC) masters program at UNISG.

This piece will not make me popular, and effectively shoots myself in the foot, but I am a big believer in the Louis Brandeis adage that sunshine is the best disinfectant. It should go without saying that the views expressed herein are my own, and not necessarily supported by other UNISG students or the administration.

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At best, attending UNISG gives you experiences of a lifetime. At worst, it’s a scam.

UNISG’s most innovative feature is its experiential elements: extensive tastings, visits to artisanal producers and farmers in the field, travel to elusive foodie gems that you would never otherwise discover.

Unfortunately, the school wrestles mightily with the balance between these hands-on activities and traditional academic structure. In the end, the latter loses out, big time.

Here are some basic facts of life as a UNISG FCC student:

  • Classes: Your regular class schedule includes two sessions a day, from 9 am-12 pm and 1-4 pm, five days a week. However, many days include free mornings or afternoons. After the first two months of classes, it was rare for us to receive a full 10 lectures in a week. Some of these lectures will be rewarding but many will feel like fluff classes, scheduled last-minute to fill time. Once, we had a lecture on the history and development of refrigeration. Another time, we had a lecture from a member of the Langhe-Roero tourism board, who told us about their efforts to market and brand the region.
  • Professors: UNISG does not employ any full-time professors for the FCC program. (The undergraduate program does have permanent staff.) Instead, lecturers from other universities are asked to visit. At most, they are present for a week, and more often, they are only around for 2-3 days. That means classes are compressed into a very short time frame, and you have no opportunities to really analyze or absorb the material. Moreover, it’s more difficult to get to know your professors, they can’t provide feedback on more than one assignment or exam, and you have no chance to show growth over time, the way a semester-long course would provide you. Since professors are only around for a few days, many aren’t invested in teaching and don’t seem to take it seriously, treating their brief stay at UNISG like a week-long vacation in Italy. I have turned in at least half a dozen papers without receiving any feedback or comments from the teacher, who has long returned to his home institution. Having said all that, we did have several stellar teachers, including Stuart Franklin, Fabio Parasecoli, Ann Noble, Carole Counihan and Corby Kummer, who taught ideas I will never forget.
  • Organization: Poor. Some of you may laugh and say, “Oh, well what do you expect from Italians…” but it starts to get less humorous when your euros are on the line. I have a litany of complaints, but my biggest concerns are with class management. UNISG provides course readings online, but these are often uploaded only a day or two before the class begins, so you have little lead time to get the readings done. Occasionally, a class will require reading a book held in the library. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t hold books on reserve, so the lucky student who dashes to the library first nabs the book for the next three weeks and is under no obligation to share it. In addition, UNISG doesn’t require that professors provide a detailed syllabus ahead of time, which means we sometimes go into a class only knowing the professor’s name and course title. Worst of all, with its bureaucratic inefficiencies, UNISG actively impedes some of its better lecturers from doing their jobs. Our nutrition professor, Emily Ventura, was one of the most engaging, well-prepared teachers we had. In order to build upon an earlier professor’s lectures on nutrition, she asked if she could sit in on those lectures to make sure her material was not repetitive. The university told her she could only attend classes for a fee of €100/day. Meanwhile, students bring their friends to classes all the time, free of charge.
  • Library: The library is only open 4 hours a day, mostly during class hours. This is actually a major improvement over last winter, when the library completely shut down for about two months because the librarian quit (because the university didn’t renew her contract on time). Even when the library is open, you will have a difficult time finding the books you want. There are no fines levied for overdue books and no forced recall system, which means every student returns books at their leisure, if at all.
  • Career Counseling: Practically nonexistent. There is some emphasis on networking and job placement, as we are required to participate in a 2-month internship at the end of the program. However, support for this internship is weak. Unlike most U.S. universities (and like most Italian universities), there is no office or personnel dedicated to career counseling or job search support. We do meet a fair number of artisanal producers, farmers and researchers through stage and it is possible to build professional relationships with them. I also met good contacts at the Terra Madre conference last October. But overall, networking and job placement are areas that you will have to put energy into yourself. Note that you must cover the costs of an internship, so unless you want to intern at the University or with Slow Food, you’ll likely be paying for housing twice: in Bra and at your internship.
  • Thesis: Here, the academic and experiential aims of the program are once again at loggerheads. The thesis is supposed to be a report based on findings and information you’ve learned during your internship. But the internship is an applied work experience, while a thesis is traditionally an academic research paper. When you’ve spent the last two months working full-time, where do you find time to conduct serious research? How do you structure a thesis based on an internship when you don’t know what your experience will be like? Hence, the thesis requirements at UNISG are laughably minimal: 4,000 words (excluding citations), written without the support of an advisor and defended against a committee of 3-4 professors, only one of whom has read your paper. I took the initiative to propose a thesis topic that was unrelated to my internship, and began researching my paper well ahead of time. In the end, I wrote a piece that I was proud of and learned new something from the process. However, for most people, the thesis is simply an extra-long report, summarizing and reflecting upon their internship.

To put it quite bluntly, UNISG has poor academic rigor.

Over the year, I gauged my classmate’s reactions to the university carefully. A few were content, and felt the program met their expectations. Some rationalized the expense because they couldn’t confront the possibility that they’d wasted their money. Others got angry and tuned out.

I took action. On a couple occasions, I sent emails regarding the program to the administration, with joint signatures from some of my classmates. The emails were received politely, with acknowledgements that improvements could be made and promises that change would occur. At the end of the year though, I don’t feel that much has truly changed, and moreover, that the university has not learned from their mistakes. Not a good sign.

Incidentally, I was always under the impression that the undergrad program was better run, but last month, some undergrads began sending emails to the student listserv titled “La Revolution” with comments such as, “Enough now! I don’t know about you, but I am really tired of how they ‘organize’ (and tax) things at this university.” So perhaps things aren’t so great at the undergrad program after all.

Which leads me to the question, what is the future of the university? Right now, there are only two other established food studies masters in the U.S. (at NYU and BU), but interest in the field is growing and new programs are being established every year. With expanded options for students, is UNISG going to remain relevant, especially for the American students who comprise about half of the masters classes? I understand that standards are much lower in Italian-run universities, but this English-language program caters to foreign students, and UNISG will have to amp up its game to remain competitive.

Would I have been better off traveling on my own for a year? After all, you can get a long way in Europe with €15,000 (the cost of tuition). However, the university’s connections with Slow Food grant students incredible access to farmers, producers and activists; you would never be able to reach them on your own. How can I forget the warmth of the cheesemakers who welcomed us to their Alpine goat farm? When will I ever again smell the singed wood of a freshly-made wine cask, see the live birth of a kid, taste the bittersweet smack of fir honey?

But is that worth €15,000?

In the end, I don’t regret my time at UNISG, though I think I was one of the luckier ones. I was highly proactive, sought out and harnessed opportunities, made use of the university’s networks, and managed to land a job before graduating. So, it wasn’t a complete wash, mostly because of what I put into it.

To future students: continue to push the university and push the envelope. Always question. Why do the vending machines sell bottled water and why are there are no drinking fountains installed? What do producers say when their Slow Food representatives aren’t around? How can the program provide valuable learning experiences on par with the magic that happens on stage trips?

Here’s to a UNISG that truly embodies the future of food.

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New Developments in the UNISG Masters Program (Sept. 2017), from Michele Fino, professor at UNISG. Text has been edited lightly for typos and clarity:

Currently, at UNISG, we have four Masters Programs. All of them are taught in English, are structured on 90 EU University Credits, are taught in Pollenzo. We lead no more activities in Colorno, Parma.

The four Masters can be divided into two groups: on one side, we have the Master of Gastronomy: Food in the World, that features two majors. It starts in October and ends one year later.
The second group is composed by the Master in Food Culture Communication and Marketing of High Quality Products and by the Master in Wine Culture Communication and Management: these two start in January to end in December.

As you can guess, the first group’s masters are Masters that are philosophically closer to the Bachelor Program of Pollenzo (Bachelor in Gastronomic Sciences). They are different because of the majors: one is dedicated to Food Ecology and Sovereignity, focusing on anthropological and political aspects related to biodiverse diets and environments. The second focuses on Food Cultures and Mobility, in order to illuminate the influences of migrations and human mobility on the food systems we live in today.

The second group is, in a certain way, more clearly business oriented: the Master in Food Culture Communication and Marketing focuses on the definition of quality and sustainability, including very interesting workshops with lecturers, artists and experts, in order to provide the students with new features for a trustworthy and innovative marketing strategy of good, clean and fair food. The Master in Wine Culture Communication and Management, aims to create new professionals, deeply skilled about the making and marketing of wine (from the vines to the fairs) but also experts about history, culture, language and traditions of the viticultural best areas on the Planet. This new kind of wine ambassador is expected to innovate the panorama of this worldwide famous drink in order to allow everybody, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, via Bordeaux and Florence, to get in touch with its souls.

All the Masters embed crucial hands on experience, dozens of tasting sessions, at least three study trips.

90 thoughts on “A Brutally Honest Review of the University of Gastronomic Sciences

  1. Thank you, Lady Parmalade. It cannot be written down often enough what has to be improved. Wish me luck that I won’t loose my hope.

      1. Thank you so much for writing this! Unfortunately still nothing has changed much. Except the water fountains have been installed. Anyways I think your article is still putting pressure on UNISG, they have been banning web pages with content like your article from the UNISG server. But articles like yours are always finding their way back to us, somehow. Maybe it makes some of the “younger” students angry enough to start taking action.

        Greetings from a 3rd year undergraduate,
        Kim

        1. Hi Kim, thanks for the update! That’s great to hear about the water fountains, but I am sorry to hear that not much has changed. It’s too bad that they are blocking pages like mine from the servers, but I do wish the university well and hope they make progress with every year. Good luck!

  2. Thank you for writing this. Unfortunately none of it surprises me. I never got the chance to tell you, but your trip inspired me to apply for this program shortly after you did, and I was offered a spot last minute. However, I was told that only the university was wheelchair accessible and that I couldn’t participate in any of the off-site trips. Although more limited access is certainly understandable in Italy, I was offered no alternative but to stay on campus while the rest of the class traveled, and no one could confirm that I could sit-in on other classes or do anything else while I waited. I opted out because of that, and it sounds like I would’ve missed the coolest stuff!

    1. Cool, thanks for letting me know! It’s too bad the university isn’t more accommodating, but I definitely think you would have missed out on the best parts of the year, and it would have gotten more complicated than it was worth. Definitely something to be said for ADA legislation.

  3. Well said, and much needed. Here’s to sunshine and fresh air. Nothing can improve, no problems solved without first honestly acknowledging reality.

  4. kudos. really well said and an extremely accurate assessment. this is the response that i often give to prospective students, but from now on i will add a link to your blog for a thorough recap.

    the most important thing is that we continue to make change. let’s do it together.

  5. Can I just say, I have been reading your blog before I officially decided to come to the University. I am in the FCC Masters class that started in March and found your blog to be incredibly helpful in so many ways. Now that I have been here for a few months, I definitely agree with many of the things you write about in your review. Currently I am studying for a Cheese Technology exam which was a class I had 1.5 months ago and we just got an email saying it will be 4 essay questions and we can really write whatever we want, but the more we write the better appreciated it will be. Really? Coming from the US I have really had to tell myself this is more a cultural/life learning experience rather than proper academic stimulation. I will definitely take your advice to be proactive because I am desperate for some actual communication aspects as far as how these producers are marketing or selling their goods! Sorry for the mini vent, but thank you for all that you write. You are an incredible writer!

    1. Hey, thanks for the feedback! UNISG is definitely frustrating at times, but there are definitely opportunities if you take charge. Best of luck with the rest of your year, and holler if you ever pass through NYC and want to grab a therapeutic drink.

  6. Thought provoking post indeed. I’m a student of the current MFCC program and maybe there’s room for the cost attached with student housing too in the above equation. 5000 Euros as comapred to places I know were offering the same for 2500-3000??!! With 2000 Euros I could have bought myself a Canon 5D Mark II.

    – a fellow fcc’er 🙂

    1. Hi Kunal, definitely a good point. I did not mention housing at all in my post above because it was getting long, and I figured about half of students never dealt with UNISG housing because they found their own independently so I’d focus on issues that applied to everyone. There are benefits to having housing and utilities set up when you arrive in Italy, but it is much more expensive and repairs take forever. I’d be interested to hear if they’ve improved any this year.

  7. As a current student I can attest that this is all completely true, balanced and fair. My class (the current IGT) has taken repeated steps, organized meetings, begged administration to listen, signed petitions, risen up in mutiny during poorly run stages and generally bitched our faces off, and nothing has changed. the school needs to close for a year, cut the fat off its current faculty, reorganize its masters, get a consultant to help them save money and define their goals, and offer the option for students to stay with local families to learn italian and learn how to cook from the people who know it best and THEN reopen when they can provide the experience that everyone here is paying for because at this point they just keep accepting applicants and one class rolls into the next and the classes dont overlap for one to hear the complains of the other and nothing ever changes. that said, to all future students id say, learn at least basic italian before you come, use your weekends to WWOOF, meet bra locals, get invited to their homes and into the back of their businesses, search internship opportunities yourself and dont wait for the school to find them for you because they never will, but do use the Slow Food cache to your advantage. Milk it hard. Anyway, thanks for writing this much needed blog post!

    1. Those are some excellent suggestions. It feels like there’s no direction, they’re just putting out fires as they come. Anyway, make the most of your year and milk that Slow Food cachet to your advantage!

  8. Hi. Thank you for sharing your experience there. I just got the news that i was accepted for the FCC Masters, but still didn’t decided if i’m going. It is a lot of money… After reading this (and also the comments), I’ll think a lot before deciding…

  9. Hi, when I recently read about the fcc masters I was overwhelmed – it sounded almost too good to be true. After reading this thread I’m reconsidering… Is it difficult to get accepted? What are the pre-requisites? And…how reputable is the course with potential employers? Would love to hear back!
    Ruki

    1. Hi Ruki, I’m glad you’re interested in UNISG and have found this thread. The FCC program does indeed sound too good to be true when most people first discover it, and of course, the reality is that it has flaws, like anything else. Regarding acceptance, there is competition (when I applied, there were about 3 applicants for every opening) but they’ve since added additional FCC sections, which should improve your chances. As long as you demonstrate that you are invested in sustainable food systems, you should feel qualified. As for reputation with employers, I can only speak to my experiences in the US. The university is not well-known but is looked upon favorably once you explain what the program is about. UNISG’s reputation in Italy is much stronger, since that is the stronghold of Slow Food. Hope that helps, and if you have additional questions, feel free to shoot me an email.

      1. Hi! A fellow UNISGer referred me to this post and I am so impressed with your honesty- THANK YOU! I will be visiting the campus in a week to see if I can see myself there in a year and really looking forward to it (just need to find accomodation lol)!

        I’ve been trying to communicate with a few other students and it all seems to be the same- total rip off yet totally worth it. If only UNISG could put some pride and dedication to their mission/vision, it seems like it really could be foodie heaven on Earth. I will be posting about my visit on my blog, thanks again Lady!!!!

  10. Hey Justine, so glad you found this post! Definitely ask lots of probing questions of current students and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. I’ll be curious to hear what you think of the school after your visit; keep me posted!

  11. Hi Crystal,

    I’m curious to know if you have any ideas/thoughts on other programs (perhaps shorter, perhaps less expensive) running in Italy (or anywhere in Europe really), that might offer some of the same benefits of the UNISG masters, but minus some of the downsides. Or if you think there are ways to do that outside of a set program?

    thanks!
    Adrienne

  12. Hi Adrienne,

    I don’t know of many other programs in Italy or Europe on food studies, but I also haven’t done much research on it. The other two programs I considered are in the US, the food studies programs at NYU and BU. I do have a friend studying Food Anthropology in London at SOAS, but that is very focused on anthropology. You might also look into a Geography program in the UK or Ireland and try to concentrate in food studies. Let me know if you turn up anything interesting!

    -CC

  13. Hi there, Were there vegetarians in your program? I’m thinking about applying and was wondering how big of a part of the program is meat as I am a veggie.
    Thanks!

    1. My class had no vegetarians, but the other section had two (out of 25 students). So there are definitely people who manage the year just fine without eating meat. Having said that, you are going to the holy land of pork and cured meat, so you will be missing a good deal of tastings and dinner options. However, I’m sure you’re probably used to dealing with this sort of thing already.

  14. Thanks for this honest account. I’ve always romanticized the idea of living in Italy for a year while studying food and going on glorious food trips but your story makes me rethink whether it is worth spending 15,000 euros. Thanks again!

  15. I was in the first class back in 05/06. Bummed to hear nothing has changed. I figured the “issues” we’re due to it being new. I thought my class complained a LOT and I sort of felt bad for the staff in the middle because they were all good people. It was a fabulous, life changing experience, yes. Not cheap either. The learning I did there was experiential and little of it occurred in the actual classroom. The best thing they could do is hire five full time professors to cover the bases and bring int the guest profs. Consistency and greater academic demands would stregnthen what is already an incomparable year. Your assessment is dead- on from what I experienced. I hope they listen and rise to the challenge.

  16. Thank you for all the input about UNISG. A friend sent me the link when I mentioned looking into this school seriously. Having already live/worked in the food industry in France I chuckled and nodded my head REPEATEDLY when reading your comments. Often European programs sounds too good to be true and if you have never lived abroad you might think this is all so insane.

    1) Crystal is NOT crazy talking about the disorganization and frustration she expierenced. It is NOT just Italy or UNISG. I (along with many others) had these issues with my school and general life in France. European life is different. I suggest taking an extended trip abroad before you commit to 1 year of residency.
    2) If you are looking for a Super academic program I highly recomend BU. They have some online classes and many summer intensives. There is NO thesis for BU which is a bonus. NOTE I was a student there but had such a F**k up with my first online class I withdrew. Teachers ignoring emails, inability to access class and a bill for a class I could never take. It did get resolved but MONTHS passed. It left a really bad taste in my mouth about the program.
    3) The cost for the coming year tuition at UNISG is 16,000E. It is a hard number to swallow especially when you pay it all at once. However, please do the calculations for another Masters program. BU program is 42 credits at $740 each $31080 MINIMUM as there is registration and an added $50 for online classes. At the current exchange rate Tuition for next year at UNISG = $19840. AND you are done in a year! Wow!!!!
    4) So far all the student’s input I have read says it was an experience of a lifetime. Has anyone heard of any seriously negative experiences?

    Crystal I am still very interested in this program as I want to get my MA to teach. I am a chef already 10 years, have professional wine training, and have lived abroad. I am looking at the 2013 Nov program of Media, Representation and High Quality Food.

    What track did you take? Is this degree academically recogonized? Do you think with my background I would be bored? I love stages and have done several in many countries. Did you find these as well as the trips worthwhile?

    ANYONE who has input I would really love to chat. I will be making decisiding by October what I am going to do and want as much info as possible. Kindess regards and thanks for what you have already shared.

    1. Hi Stella, thanks for your comments and interest in UNISG! I’m glad you have some firsthand experience with living in Europe; that will certainly come in handy if you end up going to Italy. And you make an excellent point about the cost of the UNISG program–it’s much cheaper to do one year in Europe than 2 years at BU or NYU. Of course, those programs will be very different experiences and have a different caliber of courses, etc etc.

      To answer your questions: there were no tracks available when I attended in 2010-11. The tracks were created right after I left, possibly in response to student feedback that our classes were too broad to fit our interests. The university is not that well known in the US, but there is growing awareness of food studies programs in general. I found that simply explaining to employers that I have a masters in food studies was sufficient. As to whether you would find the program worthwhile, my class had several chefs, including a CIA graduate, but you won’t be doing much cooking in class (just for dinner parties and potlucks). You might be bored with some of the product lectures, which describe production on cheese, wine, olive oil, etc, but these do usually come with tastings so that is a perk. In terms of your eventual goal to teach though, this program will not give you teaching skills or provide you with certification to teach. My class included several people with teaching backgrounds, and they returned to their institutions after graduating to teach and incorporate what they learned into new sustainable food curricula. But the program itself does not lend itself to landing a teaching position; you would have to do the legwork on that, possibly by reaching out to culinary schools for your internship.

      Keep me posted on what you decide and let me know if you find yourself in NYC and want to chat!

  17. Thanks a lot for this post. I have wanted to attend the masters program since 2009 but after reading this post I am having second thoughts. If you were looking for universities all over the world to do a master in food communication, would you go to UNISG? I REALLY want to study something with ecogastronomy or food communications, I was looking at the University of New Hampshire but they only offer a dual ecogastronomy major and being it 4 years, it is too long (and expensive) for me. Thank you!

    1. One big perk of UNISG is that it’s only one year long, and relatively cheap compared to the leading masters programs in the US (NYU and BU). Having said that, the level of academic rigor and professors will be much stronger in the US, but you won’t have the experiential stages that UNISG provides.

      What is your end goal? What kind of skills or connections do you need to get there? Is a masters necessary for that? If you haven’t already, take a look at goodfoodjobs.com (co-founded by a UNISG alumna) and check out their blog profiles of people in the good food world. Good luck!

  18. One thing to consider is that a lot has changed.
    At time the university does appear to be sluggish, narrow minded, and somehow careless.
    However, things are getting better. A lot has changed with the help of Emanuel Lobeck, who i have to say summed up the whole situation quite effectively just a few months ago. This is possibly the only University in the world (with a reputation that proceeds it) where you will have the opportunity to shape your own education. You have the opportunity to influence some of the most influential people in the world within this field – but you have to play it right. It is not a university that is focused on academic rigour in the same way that the USA of Australia or the UK or universities throughout the world are. It is an experiential university. Without question this is its strength and its main selling point. Regardless of what you think regarding the cost ladyparmalade 15 000 euros doesn’t actually get you that far in Europe. I have travelled it extensively over the course of the last 10 years and i have to say you budget between1500-2000 a month, as a cheap traveller. The money you spend on tuition would only just (if at all) cover the cost of the stage trips. It is not expensive to come out with a masters qualification and it cheap when you consider how much travelling, eating and networking you have the opportunity to do. You need to be driven, you need to be focused and you need to be smart. Don’t get angry. Do not get despondent. I tried, it doesn’t work. Make friends with the tutors, make friends with the administrators and make friends with the locals. There is a wealth of experience to be earnt if you look around. Take nothing for granted and try your best to socialise a lot but not necessarily only with those in your class. Meet the locals, wherever you are and try, try, try to take it all in. If you want to be challenged academically you can challenge yourself here. I found that almost all of the lecturers were willing to go toe to toe if you threw down the challenge and would always (if time permitted) be happy to join you outside of class to spar. Remember, they are looking for inspiration too. If you want to write, push yourself to publish. If you want to make wine, get up into the hills and do it.

    There are so many complaints that can be made about this university. Kunal, i agree, the accommodation is a fucking joke. To all the future students in the masters program – stay the hell away from it. Trust me on this. Trust me. But at the same time, like anything, it is a springboard. For many people it may just be the first step in the right direction, a step that is often very very hard to take. It is a risk, no doubt but if you don’t enjoy yourself, i can honestly say it would be largely due to your own attitude. There is so much happening in this town, so much happening in this school. The more you challenge it, the better it gets. I know, from leaving not long ago, it is already so much better than it was. Largely, i like to believe, due to the influence of a few key individuals and their hard work.

  19. Hi, thanks for this very interesting article. May I ask you where you work now and where your fellow students work now? Where did you do your internship?

    Cheers,

    Nina

  20. I am happy and unhappy at the same time about finding all these infos here, because i was almost sure to apply at UNISG… Now i have strong doubts and my question and hope is – has anything changed maybe..? But probably none of you knows… So just in case that there is some update possible – thanks in advance…..!

    1. For Simone, Pelle and anyone else inquiring about UNISG these days, I can’t give an accurate answer as to what has changed since I have not been back to the university for a couple years now. I do think that the administration is striving to make improvements but you would best be served by visiting or talking to current students. For what it’s worth, it’s possible to make the best of any situation, and if you go into this program with realistic expectations, your experience will be that much stronger. Or perhaps you’ll decide you’d be happier on another path. Best of luck to everyone in their decisions!

  21. Thank you so much for your detailed review! I constantly struggled with the notion of attending UNISG and was encouraged to attend by Carole Counihan after I finished my undergrad in Anthropology of Food Studies. She also suggested BU and Chatham University. I lean more towards BU and hope to find a brutally honest review of their Food Studies programs as well!

    1. Thanks for reading Rebecca! I did enjoy Professor Counihan’s class and wish we’d had her for longer, one week was definitely not enough. UNISG does hold information sessions in the US, so attend one if you can. Best of luck in your future education!

  22. Hello! I would love your advice. I’m from Costa Rica (Central America) currently studying culinary arts, but I’m 24, already an economics graduate, have worked with indigenous populations, love social economics and fair trade, trying to do projects about it, I have a writing background, I’ve also been a political activist since I’m 15 (not right now, left it to focus on culinary arts), I took some agroecology workshops, and finally, I am very very proactive about artisanal food production, for example, being here in a tropical country I already have a set up for doing dry cured meats and salamis, going also for craft brewing based on indigenous communities corn, and trying cheesmaking soon, all of that while I owned a small catering service to get some extra bucks.

    So, based on my background, you can see why I loved the UNISG programs (was looking for culinary sciences programs, and found this very interesting university). I’m not worried about the academic rigour, but mostly about how hard is to get in. Did you had any latin american class mates or knew about some of them in other programs? What was their background?

    I think I would really enjoy being there, but I don’t know how are the possibilities for me to get in, it’s kind of tough in my coutry, usually nobody notices us and only top private school students go abroad and universities embrace them because they feel inclusive by admitting “third world students”, although most of them are almost millionares.

    About the costs, I’ll figure it out if I get accepted.

    Thanks a lot!!

    1. Hi Eduardo, thanks for reading my blog! You have a very extensive background in many parts of the food system already, wow! I think you would be a strong candidate for UNISG. They definitely like to see geographic diversity in the class. My cohort had a student from Ecuador and one from Mexico. It’s clear from your experiences that you are the type of student that they want, don’t worry about the prestige of your school.

  23. BTW sorry to bother, I forgot another suggestion.

    What would you recommend better? The undergrad program or a masters? I think that if can get to afford 3 years of stages and soaking in the atmosphere, could be more interesting than just one year (and based on comments, probably the academic contents are not exclusive).

    Thanks again!

    1. It’s up to you if you can afford the time and money. Given your background though, and since you already have a degree in economics, I don’t think it makes sense to do the undergraduate program. Also, in terms of age, you’ll fit in closer with the masters students.

  24. Hi Lady Parmalade,

    Thanks a tonne for this insightful glance into the FCC programme at UNISG! I’ve been eyeing the course since 2007-08. Not anymore!

    As suggested by you in one of the comments here, I’m looking at Master’s in Geography in Ireland, as an alternative. Would you please help me with which specialisation (similar to the FCC programme), to exactly look for, within the spectrum of Geography?

    Again, thank you so much for this insightful article!

    Warm regards,

    Ruchi Marshal.

      1. Hi Crystal,

        I’m glad I came across your blog!
        I shall contact Prof. Colin Sage, as suggested by you… Thank you so much once again 🙂 !

        Ruchi Marshal 🙂

  25. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog – it’s always so vital to understand the student experience at university.
    I am a lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK and we launch a new BA (Hons) Food Entrepreneurship Undergraduate degree in September 2015.
    If anyone would like more information feel free to contact me on a.j.white@mmu.ac.uk

    Best wishes to you all with your studies and future careers.
    Amanda

  26. Hi! Thank you for your review, it’s been really helpful!
    I’m seriously considering the idea of enrolling to this master, but my main concern is: I’ve been truly passionate about food and food culture since I was a kid, but now I’m 30, I have a BSc and a MSc in Business Administration and Law and working as a professional in the consulting field, so enrolling to this master would mean a complete change of career. I’m sure it would be a thrilling year anyway, but what I’m looking for is a master that gives me the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully enter into a field that has always been a dream for me… based on you and your colleagues’ experience, do you think that this master would really make the difference, is it better to consider other programs or all food studies are just a plus while passion and committment are enough for entering the field? Thank you!

    1. Hi Dani, thanks for reading my blog! It’s a tough decision. These types of food studies programs often have a lot of mid-career shifters (myself included) so you’re not alone. Similar to the chef world, you could certainly get a start in the food industry by volunteering your time and working your way up through networking. (See the website Good Food Jobs if you haven’t already for the types of jobs that you would be looking at.) This will take time but save you 20k or so euros in tuition. Or, if you have the savings (I wouldn’t advocate going into lots of debt for a food studies program), this degree can be a shortcut to giving you exposure to the knowledge and people you’ll need to succeed in the sustainable food world. Still, I think the most potent combination is having both real world and academic experience, and also knowing what your goals are rather than expecting a life path to magically materialize after attending a food studies program.

  27. Hi Crystal!

    Really glad to come across your blog regarding UNISG. I was considering about going to this program because one of my college classmates went, and she seemed to enjoy the program a lot. However, I was not too convinced from her after hearing her wonderful stories about the program. Basically, she described it as everyday drinking, eating and socializing with people from all walks of life… sounded amazing but it didn’t really fit my criteria when it came down to the price.

    Reasons being because she is.. let’s say the more of a care-free trust fund baby who doesn’t have to work ever in her life. She is all about living and experiencing life haha! And obtaining a Master degree while doing that was definitely a plus for her as well. I, on the other hand, would have to factor tuition, duration, and expenses in my considerations. I’ve always wanted to experience living in Europe, but I don’t think I would want to shell out 15g euro for some program that sounds not in-depth enough (correct me if I am wrong?)

    I guess my question is this, would you say, if money was not an issue and job placement was not important, this program would be a fun and memorable course to take? Ie. living in Italy for a year, as well as having fun and obtaining a master after.

    If this program is basically like how my friend has described, it was definitely a perfect fit for her. But to me, I feel like I can probably spend less money or just use the 15g to travel across Europe in the summer. Or would you say getting that Master would be a better decision if compared to just traveling? Thank you for reading this, and comments would be much appreciated!

    1. Hi Henry, thanks for reading my blog. Note that it’s been over 3 years since I was at UNISG so the program could have changed and improved since I was there. I do think there’s value in the experiential aspects of UNISG, and that you get unprecedented access to small producers and farmers that you will never be able to meet on your own as an average traveler. So the ability to network and get to know these operations in fine detail is important. On the other hand, you will not be forced to write an intense research paper or do a literature review or that sort of thing. So you will have to be motivated to create a course of study and action on your own. If you’re interested in researching artisanal pizza making, or obesity in children, or biodynamic agriculture, you will have to push yourself to do this at a level that is more rigorous than what the program requires. Also, having a fancy piece of paper after graduating does give you some credibility, a leg-up compared to everyone else who “wants to be in food” and doesn’t know how to get started. So, IF money is not an issue AND you have a healthy sense of direction/self motivation, I do think this program can be beneficial. Hope that helps.

  28. I am a current master student at UNISG and many of these problems still exist. The program is wonderful in creating a network of producers and potential colleagues. But academic rigor is still missing.

  29. As a Master’s graduate of the (from what I hear defunct) Colorno campus. I cannot deter someone from this program enough. It’s worth precious little aside from a lazy year in Italy. Your money will be far better spent at any other school. The wow factor for this program is strong. If it looks too good to be true, I assure you it is.

  30. Hi Crystal!
    I have a few questions: does the university help you out finding the internship or do you have to find and arrange everything by yourself?
    And what about Slow Food volunteering? Is it true that there’s the opportunity to volunteer?
    Do you think that this course would be useful to work in the enogastronomic tourism field (having a degree in Business Administration and having taken a few exams in Marketing)?
    Thank you!
    Dani

    1. It’s been several years since I was there, so you may want to check with a more recent student. When I was there, the university didn’t give much guidance on the internship, you pretty much had to find something and arrange transportation/housing on your own. It is pretty easy to volunteer/intern with Slow Food, that is sort of the last resort backup option for many. And yes, this program could be complementary to a degree in business administration/marketing if you’d like to go into ecogastronomic tourism. It gives you opportunities to meet producers, farmers and businesses who might be interested in those services, and you’ll come away with in-depth product knowledge, which could be helpful if you’d like to work in Italy or nearby.

  31. Hi Crystal,

    do you know of any other programs (perhaps shorter, perhaps less expensive) running in the US that might offer some of the same benefits of the UNISG masters maybe more focused on entrepeneurship?
    thank you!!
    gaia

    1. Great question! It’s been a while since I’ve researched this, and food studies programs have exploded in the US in the last few years, so there are probably many options out there that I’m not aware of. New School in NYC offers continuing education courses in food studies, Sterling College in VT also has short summer courses on food systems. It all depends on the time/money you’re able to commit, and what your end goals are. Hope that helps!

  32. Your words were really helpful … But now I am in a fix .
    The current students the University linked me to had only good things to say.But the harsh reality you typed down is really making me think about whether it is worth €16500 Euros . pls help ! I’l be grateful .

    1. Hi Ishita, glad you found the post helpful! I can’t help you decide what to do, however my intention was to help prospective students set their expectations and be alert, so that they can be proactive about seeking opportunities and finding solutions when they see a problem. It has been several years since I was at UNISG, and it’s possible that things have changed a lot. Even if they haven’t though, the experience is what you make of it. Best of luck!

  33. Hello, I had a doubt. I am from México but I study in the USA. I’m about to finish high school but for the undergraduate they ask for two years of college, which no school in the USA or México requires, and the administration hasn’t been able to answer me correctly. Is there something I could do? Thank you and have a good day.

  34. hello,
    I’m a law student but I really wanted to work in the gastronomic area and I have just heard about this university. Do you know how they choose students ? And is it very difficult to get in ? Also I have had two 6 month internship in auction houses in the wine department.

    1. Hi Raphaelle, the application may have changed since I applied, but at the time it was mostly about demonstrating your interest and passion in food through some short essays. And of course, having some food and beverage industry experience helps, so your wine experience is a plus. They have also expanded the program in recent years to fit more students, so while nothing is guaranteed, I’d say if you have a decent academic history, good writing and can demonstrate interest in food, you should be able to get in.

  35. thank you for writing this. i would like to apply for the 3 year undergraduate program in 2016, but i’m not sure… this articol surely made me reconsider my idealistic opinion on the university.

  36. Hi there,
    Just wanted to mention to all that this is still a wonderful University. If you allow for it, it will change your life. Every place and every person has it’s ups and downs, however my year for this masters program had more ups than I could’ve imagined. It is a food haven and well worth the euros. It’s an education that is not being taught in most other places and needs to be heard more often. If you have the opportunity to attend, do not pass it up!

      1. Hi crystal,
        I am srija from India. I have a biotechnology background and I have always wanted to get involved in a food based industry.
        I wanted to know the career options and support provided by UNISG after the course, masters in gastronomy.

        1. Hi Srija, apologies for the delay, I just now saw your comment. It sounds like you have the right background to make an impact on the food industry and sustainable agriculture! At the time that I was a masters student, we were required to complete a 2 month internship, in a field of our choice, and while the university could help refer you to contacts within their network (particularly in Italy/Slow Food), you were primarily responsible for setting things up yourself. The Career Services office at that point was also just getting off the ground, they have since added more staff I believe, which should help. Ultimately though, I think the best thing to do is to proactively meet people yourself and get to know other students (including the undergrads). Years later, I am still occasionally meeting with friends of friends that I met at UNISG, who are now involved with businesses and organizations that I’m interested in.

  37. Hi Crystal,

    Thanks so much for all of your words above. I’m sure you must be exhausted by so diligently responding to every post as above, but I must tell you that it’s truly a gem as you are the single person I have found in four years to contact. I fell head over heels for this school four years ago, but as everyone has noted, the cost is high. I’ve applied for the Fulbright (which understandably I did not get) and have actually gotten into and accepted funding for a different Food Studies graduate program (and potential MBA) in the US. My heart is aching though, knowing that I’m not heading on over to Italy as I’ve been wishing for the past four years; nothing looks as good or exciting a life experience. I know you cannot speak to the program as of now, but even for your time– it does sounds like a once in a lifetime experience. Was it worth it to you?

    Do you know if priority is given to individuals without a Masters or if having one might actually give me a leg up in terms of applying? I feel qualified (through farming experience and a real drive). I know the price is going to only go up if I wait another two years, but am cautious to bite the bullet. I’ve honestly never been abroad (or even out of the state) on my own, so I’ve been wary to jump into another country without having the life skills first. With the lack of structure, I am assuming that it’d be a tough transition. Any advice or thoughts?

    Many warm thanks, in advance.

    1. Hi Marie, thanks for reading and apologies that this response is coming so late, for some reason I didn’t see your comment until now. Congrats on your acceptance to another Food Studies program (and possible MBA), that is very exciting and I think it will be a worthwhile experience for you. You’re right, going to Italy to study food is living the dream, so to speak, and in many ways, it was a very romantic, once in a lifetime experience. It was worth it to me, though I say this knowing that I could afford it comfortably after several years of working, and I didn’t go into any debt for it. If you’ve gotten funding for a different program, I think that is extremely valuable and you shouldn’t feel any regret over accepting it over going to Italy, because there will be other opportunities to travel and study abroad, if you’re determined to do so. In terms of admission, I don’t think it really makes a difference whether or not you have a masters already, it’s much more based on interest and drive, which you can demonstrate a number of ways. As for the complications of living abroad, I think you’ll find yourself up to the challenge if push comes to shove. However, why not try traveling abroad for a couple weeks first to get a taste for it? You might find it exhausting, or you might discover it’s one of the best ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Good luck!

  38. Hi Crystal,
    would you like to get in touch with some new things happening at UNISG in the last five years? Nothing’s like it was 5 years ago.
    It’d be a pleasure to share information and possibly opinions about the new programs, the new organizational features and the new goals as well.
    Best regards.

  39. Crystal, this was a great review. I was just wondering if you ever got in contact with Michele Antonio Fino, and if you were given an update of how the university has changed over the last five to six years? I’m considering applying, but would like to hear an update, as it’s seemingly hard to find any other honest reviews of the university. Thanks again!

  40. Hi Crystal, thanks for your insights; they certainly gave me pause and food for thought. However, I am not deterred and still plan to attend UNISG in 2019 giving me 18 months to madly work and save money. I am 41, have journalism quals, run a comms consultancy and I’m over it. I am one of those cliched “mid-life career shifters” who wants to turn left and follow her passion for food. I’ll be heading over from Australia with my husband and two sons (7, 8) for an adventure of a lifetime. While the Masters program is the catalyst for the leap, it’s only part of the reason. Simply living in Europe, exposing my kids to another language, school, culture, place – it’s all part of the attraction. I am fully aware of the fact we’re romanticising the hell out of it but that’s ok with me. I wondered if when you were at UNISG there were many students like me with families and kids in tow? Will i be a fish out of water? Not that I really mind actually, just curious. I have so many questions but they’re probably of a more practical nature and I will just have to figure them out. Thanks for being so generous with your time in answering all these comments. I am following your blog now as I’m interested in the career paths UNISG graduates and others in the food sector and taking and how I might apply that to myself.

    1. Apologies for the delay, and thanks for your story. I certainly think that the program can be valuable if you know what you want to get out of it, and it seems that you are aware and driven which will help immensely. Regarding being a family with kids, while most folks were in their 20s-30s and did not have kids, we did have a couple students who moved to Italy with partners, and I’m sure other cohorts have had folks in your situation. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to make it all work. Best of luck on your adventure with UNISG!

  41. Dear Crystal,
    thank you for updating your precious post.
    In my email I forgot that:
    – since 2015 fountains have been installed in all the blocks of university, providing students with tap drinking water, filtered and chilled. For free, of course;
    – the study trips evolved a lot and we encourage more and more the exchange between producers and students, with no medium or little one, just in case of language need;
    – the programs evolve day by day, to cope with the new challenges that depend of the fact of being the first university in the world fully devoted to gastronomic sciences: there is no back ground to look to, there are no other examples to get inspired by!

    Thank you again.
    Michele A. Fino
    m.fino@unisg.it

  42. Thank you so much for your honest reviews! I’ve been dreaming about 5 months to be a student at UNIGS. But, not always make sure to spend my thousand euros… I’m still dreaming to live in Italy! I’m a nutritionist and wanna study about food, nutrition. Do you have any university master suggestions about these topics?

    1. Hi Beste, thanks for your comment and story! Indeed, it’s a big investment to do a masters program, but if you plan it correctly, it will be worth it. Unfortunately, it’s been about 6 years since I last researched programs, so I don’t have any good suggestions. However, there are many new programs that have launched since I was a student so you have some great options. Good luck!

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