A conversation with Rachel Hezel, on whether or not you should pay for a bootcamp.
This week we’ll get to know Rachel Hezel, Admissions Advisor at Fullstack Academy, a coding bootcamp that offers courses in NYC, Chicago, and remotely. I know that many of you are interested in bootcamps, and would like to know more about how to get into one, and perhaps more importantly, whether they’re worth the money.
I went to Fullstack’s Grace Hopper Program, and would recommend it. But I understand why some people are skeptical about attending bootcamps, especially considering the cost. You don’t have to go to a bootcamp in order to break into tech (just ask Tae’lur Alexis or Lennyroy Robles, who learned to code completely on their own). But I definitely think it’s an option worth considering.
I asked Rachel about why someone should pay for a bootcamp, how to choose a good one, how to pay for one, and what bootcamps look for in potential students.
(All of Rachel’s opinions here are her own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.)
Keziyah Lewis: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
Rachel Hezel: I’m an Admissions Advisor for Fullstack Academy and The Grace Hopper Program. I oversee all of our prep programs, as well as help students through every stage of the admissions process for our immersive programs.
KL: So, everyone knows that bootcamps are really expensive. I tell people to really think about whether they want to attend & pay for one. Even with tuition deferred programs like the one at Grace Hopper, the amount that has to be paid back after getting a job is still quite a bit. Still, I'm glad I went to GH, and I'm not sure if I could have had the same results or portfolio if I had just studied on my own. What would you say to people who want to attend a bootcamp, but are worried about the cost, and whether they can achieve the same results by studying on their own?
RH: This is a very common question, and you actually touched on the answer a bit already! Studying on your own isn’t easy. It requires a lot of self-discipline and dedication, and there will absolutely going to be times when you get frustrated and don’t know how to solve a problem. Bootcamps offer the advantage of a structured curriculum, hands-on projects for your portfolio, and support from instructors and mentors. On top of that, there’s the job assistance piece. The extensive career network a bootcamp can provide is likely inaccessible on your own. The portfolio you graduate with is key for helping you get hired.
RH: Self-learning can only get you so far. Take free online tutorials, for example. They’re great for the fundamentals, but I think the scaffolded code, in-browser editors, and instant gratification paint a false picture of the life of a developer. Of course, everyone’s situation is different and you should weigh the costs and benefits of a bootcamp given your personal circumstances. In short, I’d say the main advantages—and value—of bootcamps are a shortened learning time and a high level of support.
KL: I agree. Having the structure of a formal, live course, plus help from my peers and instructors, helped me to learn more in 3 months than I ever could have on my own. And the career coaching staff at Fullstack were very helpful. Their workshops taught me a lot about job searching and the importance of networking.
KL: Another thing I tell people when looking into bootcamps is to make sure it has a legit program that won't be a waste of money, and that will help students get a job. What are some indicators that a bootcamp is worth going to and not a scam?
RH: When considering bootcamps, you should always check student reviews on a site like Course Report or Switch Up. Those reviews can’t be deleted or edited by the bootcamp, so you can trust their authenticity. You should be able to review a syllabus so that you understand exactly what the curriculum entails, and decide if it’s going to help you meet your goals.
RH: As we touched on earlier, bootcamps can be a big financial undertaking. Contact the advisory or admissions team and ask questions! You’ll want to know how they’re going to help you get a job, and how far their hiring network extends. Don’t be afraid to ask about the level of support you’ll receive during the program and how you can get extra help if you need it. Lastly, a trustworthy bootcamp will provide transparent outcomes data (look for CIRR reports) I think it’s really important that you feel comfortable and supported from your first interaction with a bootcamp.
**KL: I would add that it’s a good idea to get in touch with a former student and ask them about their experience. If you’re in a Slack channel or Facebook group for people in tech, chances are you’ll be able to find someone who has attended a bootcamp. **
KL: As someone who handles admissions, what are you looking for in a potential student?
RH: The qualities of a successful bootcamp student can be boiled down to three things: knowledge of programming fundamentals, motivation to learn, and ability to be a team player. That being said, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the types of students who find success in a bootcamp. Students might be new college grads or veterans of a different field looking to make a career switch. Age, gender, educational background, and occupation vary widely.
RH: We all know that coding isn’t easy. It requires patience, problem-solving, and a lot of passion. If you’re not in love with it, it’s harder to work through the roadblocks. Successful bootcamp students are always hungry for more knowledge and love building things. I also mention teamwork because working with a team is vital not only in the bootcamp setting but in the professional software engineering environment as well.
KL: The Grace Hopper Program and several other bootcamps have tuition deferred programs. Do you know of any other resources that students can use to help them pay for a bootcamp, or living expenses while they study?
RH: I would suggest checking with the bootcamp(s) you’re interested in for scholarships as a first step. Many bootcamps offer scholarships to veterans or underrepresented groups in tech. There may also be other scholarships offered throughout the year with various application criteria and award amounts. If you need financial assistance, let the bootcamp know and see what options they have available.
RH: Companies like Skills Fund, Upstart, and Climb offer loans for coding school tuition. In some cases, you can take out additional “cost of living” funds to help cover everyday expenses while you’re in a bootcamp program.
RH: Deferred tuition, income-share agreements, or monthly payment plans are available at some bootcamps. These types of arrangements can help offset the cost of attendance.
RH: If you’re relocating to attend bootcamp, remember to factor the cost of housing into your total cost. Check to see if the bootcamp offers any type of subsidized housing. There are also Facebook groups dedicated to temporary housing in larger cities. Craigslist has sublet listings and cities like New York even have dedicated communal living spaces. All of these can be great options for temporary relocation.
KL: I needed help paying for living expenses during the program, so I was able to get an Upstart loan. I think it’s a good option, and I wouldn’t have been able to do Grace Hopper without it. I’ll finish paying off the loan by the end of the year. But it was a lot of money, and I do wonder if I should have thought more about taking a cheaper route into the industry. That’s why in the newsletter, I post bootcamp scholarships. And at** juniorsintech.com/resources**, you can find scholarships there.
KL: A reader asks: Why should someone pay for a bootcamp when there are similar free/low cost alternatives? Like Udemy courses, or for example, a couple bootcamps have released their curriculums online for free.
RH: I think this goes back to what I mentioned earlier—a bootcamp offers support and a network that you don’t get through online tutorials. There’s an absorbent amount on information available online. Bootcamps provide a guided path and a curriculum that updates as tech and in-demand skills change. When self-learning, it’s hard to know exactly what you should learn and in what order. It also does not support you in learning to work as a team or pair programming, which is a crucial professional skill.
RH: It’s difficult building a portfolio on your own. If you’ve got no technical background, you’ll need that portfolio to get your foot in the door for an interview. Many free online courses don’t teach you how to set up your dev environment, install packages, version control, etc. They might even say things like “Don’t worry about how this works under the hood. Just complete the steps.” For that reason, there are students who have completed loads of online courses but have not advanced past beginner-level knowledge.
RH: I think to find success in this field you really need to push outside of your comfort zone. That's where a bootcamp curriculum really outshines any online tutorial. You have to build things. You have to collaborate with a diverse group of people. Try things even when you don’t know how you’re going to see them all the way through. Fail. It’s part of the process.
**KL: I agree. There’s so much info online. Sometimes you don’t know what you should be learning. Going to a bootcamp helped me focus on skills that employers were looking for. Also, it challenged me more than I could have challenged myself on my own. **
I’d really like to thank Rachel for her advice. She invites anyone who has further questions about bootcamps or Fullstack/Grace Hopper to get in touch. You can find her on Twitter (@gwendy_jones) and on **[LinkedIn](https://www.linkedin.com/in/rachelhezel). **