I am a 91' graduate of CIA and I had an excellent experience while I attended the CIA. There is little I know about the other school so I can't really comment on it. However, as far as CIA I feel it is one of the best places to get a good foundation for your cooking career. There was a fair amount of competition between the students when I was there but as long as you don't let this get to you it actually can help motivate you.
i am also a grad of the cia (just graduated and on to my Bachlors).
it is a wonderful school.
when i was trying to pick schools (cia was not one of them), i asked some chefs that i worked for a simple question: what is the best school in the world? they all said CIA. i must admit, they are right.
it is tough to compare NECI and CIA becasue they are two diffrent programs.
i must say that i am very impressed with the cia. there is tons of room to learn out side of the classroom. we have the biggest culinary library and the biggest culinary video library in the world. we have the most CMC's, CMPA's, and the most CMB's then any other school. we have much better resources here as well.
i guess you coudl say i am a little biest.
the best thing for you to do is to get a course outline from each school, compare them and what they can do for yo uafter school and then go visit both schools.
I guess it is up to me to sound off for NECI, were I graduated from. I, like the two gentlemen previous, happen to be biased about which school I think is the best-of course that would be NECI, sorry guys!!! Just kidding really!! Though I prefer NECI's smaller, very hands-on approach, I have nothing bad to say about CIA. Both schools can set you on the right track to becoming a chef, but they can't make you a chef. They both teach the foundations that are fundamental to our career. Both schools have turned out some very good chefs. NECI is a smaller school. That means a much lower student to teacher ratio, about 7:1. It also means that it doesn't have the facilities that CIA can afford, or offer as many special courses. Being in a larger school, can mean that it is easier to "just make it through", at a smaller school it is much tougher to "just get by" as you have instructors watching you all the time. CIA's culinary library could probably fit 50 of NECI's libraries. CIA has also been able to attract a great, high-profile faculty, made up of many CMC's etc. Most of NECI's instructors do not have those credientals, but I guarntee that they are just as qualified to instruct as any CIA instructor.
Well, those are the pros and cons of both schools as I see it. Though, I tried to be as objective as possible, I'm sure my bias has shown through. But, really, both schools are great starting points for this career. Im sure you will be happy with either one.
As a graduate of Neci also, I have to agree on everything that Pete said. While the CIA has a bigger name recognition (though not by that much) things like a bigger library do not a good school make. How many books can you read? The bottom line is they are both excellent and you will do equally well at either school, depending on how you apply yourself. I know a good portion of the faculty at Neci and they are all highly experienced and capable. A lot of it boils down to what type of experience do you want? Cia being in Hyde Park is closer to NY City and offers a more urban environment and mentality I venture to guess. While Montpelier, Vermont has a non NECI population of 35. (just kidding) it is however a very small town with not a lot to do, unless its grown since I was there. Very hometown feel but also kind of backwoods in some respects.
Visit each one and see which atmosphere you can handle for 2 years. As I said you'll do equally well at either.
Don't forget about NECI's campus in Essex, VT... right near Burlington, which is a really cool small city/big college town. That's a where I'm headed. As for Hyde Park... from what I know of the place, there really ain't a whole lot going on there, either... except the CIA, of course. As for why I chose NECI, it has a lot to do with my sense of the school as a small, intimate type learning environment... and as slightly alternative. Very good, but not the name that leaps to everybody's mind when you say "cooking school."
I haven't even been yet, and I'm already biased. I guess that's what a free hat'll get you.