Will spending 40 to 80 hours a week in a coding school actually help you land a new job and increase your salary? Or will you end up in worse shape: buried in debt, under-trained and unemployed?
When it comes to selecting a coding school, it is “buyer beware.” For-profit schools usually self-report outcomes, and regulations vary by state, so you’ll have to do your homework before you enroll in order to tell if a school will meet your objectives and live up to its promises.
Here’s a look at the top things to evaluate before selecting a coding school:
Relevance of the Curriculum
When it comes to these schools, there’s much variation in curriculums, teaching methods, costs and business models, explained Liz Eggleston, co-founder of Course Report, which publishes reviews, rankings and outcome data on more than 370 bootcamps. Trying to vet them all can be overwhelming.
A better approach is to first identify your career objectives, learning preferences, the programming language you want to learn, budget, and timeline. With that data in hand, compile a list of three or four contenders by comparing your requirements to a school’s courses and syllabuses, schedule and location, teacher-to-student ratios, prerequisites, training delivery methods, costs, and teacher profiles.
For example, some “zero to sixty” schools are meant to bring total novices into the technology-industry fold, while other programs focus on helping current developers with CS degrees make a leap by learning a new technology stack. Are you looking for immersive, instructor-led training, or do you want a part-time program?
If you’re a beginner, it’s critical to determine what skills you need to land your first full-time job in programming or development. To do that, connect with recruiters and managers at your target companies to see if they actually hire graduates from a particular school, and how their applicants have fared during coding evaluations. In addition, ask an experienced programmer to review the relevancy and thoroughness of a school’s curriculum.
“At the end of the day, learning is a social activity, and your instructor matters a lot,” noted Jonathan Lau, founder of SwitchUp, a platform that matches students with technology education courses. “Make sure the instructor has plenty of teaching experience and good reviews because not every rock-star programmer is equipped to teach others.”
Promises and Outcomes
Any legitimate coding school will be registered as a business, Eggleston noted. Plus, the staff will be fully transparent in sharing completion and placement rates for students, as well as starting salaries. How long does it take for new graduates to find employment? Does graduating qualify them for junior-level positions, or do they need to get started with side projects to build up their résumés? Can they really score a six-figure salary after just 12 weeks of instruction? These are things you need to know.
Instructors should be willing to let you sit in on a class so you can experience the learning environment firsthand, Lau advised. Many schools also offer a free or low-cost trial.
“Don’t just talk to the people they refer you to,” Eggleston said. “Conduct your own due diligence by connecting face-to-face with alumni to see how they felt about their learning experience and how their classmates fared after graduation.”
“While the majority of online reviews may be accurate or verified, some are fake or posted by competitors, so you can’t solely rely on the information you find online,” Lau added. “Plus, graduates who have had a bad experience may be reluctant to share their views in a public forum.”
Estimating the return on investment can be challenging when programs vary in length and structure. Some schools charge tuition up-front, while others feature success-based tuition models that charge a percentage of your first year’s salary after graduation.
No matter how you crunch the numbers, your goal should be to achieve payback within 12 months, Lau said. Using a cost-per-week or per-hour metric can help you analyze and compare the return on disparate programs.
“Consider the hidden costs in addition to tuition,” he said. “For instance, factor in your living expenses while you’re in school, lost salary and the cost of finding a new job, then divide that number by the instructional hours to get a rough sense of a school’s hourly costs.”