Which Sommelier Program is Best for You?

In wine education, three excellent wine course options include sommelier certification.   Each program has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Which one will be best for you? It depends on your goals and desires. Take a good look at this comparison chart, think about your goals, and you’ll make the right decision. We’ve also included detailed descriptions below the chart if you want to dive deeper.


Your Plan

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Wine & Spirit Education Trust

Sommelier certification

waiter Training

Winery Training

professional  certification


school Accreditation

Career Counselling

Top Schools

SEATTLE, Napa Valley


per semester

sommelier certification

waiter Training

winery training

professional certification


school accreditation

Career Counselling

top schools

Philadelphia, Los Angeles


per semester


sommelier certification

waiter Training

winery training

Professional certification


school accreditation

Career Counselling

top schools



per semester*

Sommelier Courses Overview

Want to work in the wine trade? A sommelier certification is a step in the right direction. Sommeliers are no longer restaurant-bound. Instead, they work in all facets of the wine industry, from winemakers to wine marketers. As a result, there has been a need for specialized training in the wine trade, and sommelier certification has become the de facto standard.

Professional qualifications are more important than a college education in the wine trade. Therefore, most wine schools offer a single-semester program to a complete two-year diploma program.

Breaking down the Sommelier Course Comparison Chart

Sommelier Courses and Certification

Most wine schools offer sommelier certification (right?). But did you know there are five levels of certification, from beginner to Master-Level Sommelier? Our top picks (NWS, CMS, and WSET) offer five classes. Check out our Guide to Wine Certifications in America for more information on how sommelier certification is organized in the US.

Sommelier Certification Costs

Costs for sommelier courses can range from $700 to over $10,000, depending on how you calculated the costs. We use a per-semester calculation, assuming each semester covers a single level of sommelier certification. We do not include the cost of an L1 level program, as only the L2 and L3 are considered sommelier courses.

We also include the average amount of wine a student would have to purchase to complete the program and the average exam fees.

Restaurant Employment

If your goal is a restaurant career, you’ll want this type of sommelier course. It’s an honorable trade, but after COVID, its appeal has been lost for many aspiring sommeliers. WSET and CMS were developed with the restaurant trade in mind, and most of their graduates remain in this field.

Certification for Winery Positions

For income and prestige, it’s hard to beat the production side of the wine trade. However, it’s not as hard to get a job as many think, as long as you have the proper credentials. The NWS offers a more university liberal arts view of wine education, emphasizing this career path.

Professional Certification

This type of certification is typically proprietary and intended to raise awareness and train workers in a specific trade. A for-profit company typically underwrites these types of credentials. Both  CWS and WSET were developed in this way. It’s important to ask if the school you attend offers continuing education credits as part of their program: In the United States, continuing education is a legally required element of professional certification in many states.


If you plan to work overseas shortly, it would be a smart move to have a recognized overseas certification. While not recognized everywhere, both CWS and WSET have strong ties in England, where they were founded. NWS is strictly based in the states, with its headquarters in Vermont.

wine and sommelier school
Sommelier Courses in America

School Accreditation

If university degrees weren’t accredited, diplomas wouldn’t be worth the paper they were printed on. Accreditation is the core of all education, from kindergarten to college.

However, many wine schools are not accredited. This isn’t a problem in the restaurant trade, but it can become tricky when looking for jobs upmarket. For important information regarding this topic, please review our Sommelier Accreditation page.

Career Counselling

Job placement isn’t available at wine schools, but some offer job counseling. The wine trade is built on connections, so if you can get the ear of someone deeply connected, you’ll have a steep advantage.

Sommelier Courses

Top Schools Offering Sommelier Courses

For sommelier courses, there are many great wine schools to choose from. Our complete list is here: Sommelier Schools. Want to skip the research? These are consistently the top two wine schools in America.

  • Napa Valley Wine Academy | Website
    Offers all levels of sommelier certification programs, including Master Sommelier equivalent certification—a Wine & Spirit Education Trust Affiliate.
  • Wine School of Philadelphia | Website
    Offers all levels of sommelier certification programs, including Master Sommelier equivalent certification—a National Wine School Accredited  Facility. 

Sommelier Courses Across America

There are several dozen wine schools in America, most of which offer certification. In addition, sommelier courses are offered in over thirty locations throughout the United States, from Los Angeles to NYC.

There are many exceptional programs to choose from. We already mentioned our top two picks. Other great schools include the International Wine Center in NYC, the American Wine School in Cleveland, and The Wine & Spirit Archive in Portland, Oregon.

This is only a tiny fraction of America’s great wine schools. The demand for wine education keeps growing, and new schools are founded yearly. Go here: Wine Schools in America for a complete list of wine schools that offer sommelier certification.

Court of Master Sommelier Americas

What is a Master Sommelier?

“Master Sommelier” is a trademarked term owned by the Court of Master Sommeliers. It is known as an L5 (Level Five) certification in the trade, which is the top level of wine certification available anywhere.

For the current scandals plaguing the Court of Master Sommeliers–including charges of racism and sexual violence–, please refer to this page:  Court of Master Sommelier Scandals

Several agencies underwrite L5 certifications other than the Court of Master Sommeliers, including the Institute of Masters of Wine. However, the Court is the most famous due to the documentary SOMM and Esquire TV’s “Uncorked.”

Due to the Court’s trademark, no other L5 certification body can use the term “Master Sommelier.” So instead, they offer an L5 “Master of Wine” program. It is the equivalent of a Master Sommelier certification.

For a complete overview of how wine certification is organized in the United States, please see Sommelier Certifications 101

How are Sommelier Courses Accredited?

Restaurant Trade Recognition

There are three types of certification for sommelier courses. The first is industry certification, also known as professional certification, trade certification, or qualification. They are typically designed by a private firm or trade organization. They are very limited in scope and have no legal protections for the students. This is the certification offered by both CMS and WSET.

State-Level Recognition

The second is state-level recognition. Only a few elite wine schools offer this type of certification. Most wine schools don’t bother with this regulation, as there are no federal requirements for certifying sommeliers. Nor are there any state-level requirements for the professional licensing of sommeliers.

Federal Recognition

A state-authorized sommelier course is currently the gold standard of wine education available to the public. However, some universities offer sommelier courses within the confines of a Bachelours Program. These are not open to the public but are the only sommelier courses that offer federally recognized certification.