Is Code School an Alternative to College?

It’s that season again—the time of year when my friends are posting on Facebook about the amazing results of their child’s college acceptance for the upcoming academic season.

It’s also college graduation season with caps, gowns, and certificates from great universities. It would be awesome if all of our kids were able to attend an amazing school with amazing scholarships and amazing career prospects. But too many end up with college debt, a lack of direction, and no clear path to a job.

As a dad of college-age kids and a couple more coming up behind them, I have to confess that I’m really torn on the education options that 18-24 year olds have in front of them. I would love my kids to get a degree from a great school, in an area of their passion, where there are great jobs.

After all, when we as parents pursued our degrees, we expected to have higher lifetime earnings than those with only a high school diploma. Today, the Liberal Arts degree promise is that students will “learn to think” for the low average price of $33,000 in college debt. Is it really worth it? I’m torn. I still think it could be good, but the value proposition just isn’t as clear as it once was. In 2016, Ernst & Young recognized that success at a university wasn’t a predictor of success in later life.

What if there was another, faster, more effective way? Today, code schools are the new trade school, offering vocational and technical skills that reflect the current market demand of 500,000 open tech jobs across America (not to mention the international demand for a tech-savvy workforce).

There are more than a few distinctions between code schools and two- or four-year colleges that set this new kind of immersive training apart.

Curriculum Changes

In the tech industry, technology is changing faster than curriculum can be updated. The software and tools that a first-year college student learns will likely be outdated by the time they graduate. Students who learn in a faster-paced environment will learn more relevant skills that can be used as soon as they hit the job market. When employers have a choice between someone who knows a modern framework versus someone who learned a technology or tool two (or more) years outdated, they’re likely going to go with the applicant with the more relevant skill set, even if that person has less experience in the industry or no formal degree. That need for the specific technology means a rookie coder will get hired faster.

Instructor Quality

Students taking advanced classes from a code school should learn from experienced developers with street credentials. Often full-time instructors at colleges have been out of the industry for a few years, meaning they have less experience with the technology that is in demand today.

Time Frame

For students who want to be working in the tech industry as fast as possible, a 12-week bootcamp is a much more realistic and practical option than a two- or four-year program.

Job Placement Rate and Support

Bootcamps should and do provide additional support beyond technical training. At Code Fellows, we incorporate our Career Development curriculum in Code 401, where students are trained in the “soft” job skills of networking, salary negotiations, interviewing, resume building, and more. Code schools should provide resources in both face-to-face help, and tools and guides that students can make the most of as they’re conducting their job search.

Code schools should also track the results of their students. We’ve kept our student results updated in the past, and (spoiler alert) we’re working on collecting even more data that will be publicly available in the next few weeks.


Comparing the price of college and code programs is like comparing apples and oranges. Pricing for college degrees range from low for state or community colleges to high for four-year programs at private universities. Add in the variables of in-state and out-of-state costs and you will find that prices cover quite a range. There’s a range in code school pricing too, but it mostly floats around ~$15k - $20k at 40+ hours a week for 16-20 weeks.

At the time of this writing, no Federal Financial Aid is available for code schools, since the model is still comparatively new and bootcamp-style programs don’t fit more traditional credit hours or degree programs. However, many code schools do offer financing options for students and scholarship programs for underserved populations, women, and veterans.


While universities send you into the world with a paper displaying the total of your accomplishments over the last several years, the results don’t always translate into job readiness. Bootcamps that are worth their salt will equip you with more: they’ll get you job ready in a hot market with enviable skills that companies want today.

Is a Computer Science degree a better option than code school?

This is a question that a lot of people are trying to answer. The truth is, which route you should choose completely depends on what you want the outcome to be. Some larger tech companies and advanced positions still require their programmers to have a Computer Science or related degree, while others are removing a college degree requirement entirely. Most computer programmers are self-taught, and the salaries for code school grads are on par with the salaries of graduates who achieved a Bachelor’s in Computer Science.

Salary by Education
Image Source: Stack Overflow

Choosing the Right Path

Is code school right for you as a college alternative? If you are interested in a career in tech, take the time to decide if a shorter, more intense program could be a better route to help you achieve your short- and long-term goals. Few people would turn down the compensation that comes with being a programmer. Like any career choice, it’s the balance between fulfilling your passion and picking a career that meets your financial goals. Picking a passion without cash is a hobby. Picking a career for compensation only makes you a mercenary—just a well-paid mercenary.

How can you test it out? At Code Fellows, we’ve made it easy with:

Code 101: Intro to Software Development & Careers in Tech

This workshop is a 12-hour immersive program for $99. Launch a website by the end of the day, learn about command line and GitHub, get some experience in pair programming, and hear from professionals in the tech industry. It’s a day in the life at Code Fellows and will give you an idea if this path (and career) is for you. Learn More »

Information Sessions

Spend a couple of hours with instructors and alumni to figure out if code school is the right track to help you achieve your goals. See upcoming info sessions in Seattle to learn how to launch a new career in coding in less than six months. Learn More »

Code 201: Foundations of Software Development

If you’re ready to explore this career in a more intensive capacity, then Code 201 is a great place to start. It’s a great way to build skills in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and find out if you should continue on into more advanced course that will get you job ready. Learn More »

There is some current debate contrasting if everyone should or shouldn’t learn to code. Both extremes are a bit ridiculous, though they create great “click bait” for headlines. Coding is clearly not a career for everyone—neither is a career as a plumber or pilot or financial advisor.

However, as the capabilities of computers continues to advance and more of our world becomes dependent on code, the people who learn how to work and communicate with computers are the ones who will have the most potential for a successful career.

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