Job Placement Rates: What You Need to Know Before You Enroll in a Bootcamp
By: Lori Fimoff
If you’ve been researching places to learn to code, you’ve probably come across coding bootcamps that display job placement rates. They often feature claims like, “90% of our students get a job within six months of completing our program.”
At first glance, a statement like that is quite impressive. Attending a bootcamp where 90% of students get hired after graduating can seem like pretty good odds for you. But in most cases, there’s a lot of context surrounding that percentage that needs to be taken into account.
What sort of context? And should placement rates even be something you consider while looking for a program? That’s what I’ll be breaking down for you in this post.
Table of Contents:
- What are coding camp job placement rates?
- How number fluffing can make placement rates misleading
- High placement rates also come with these caveats
- What you really want to know when you ask about placement rates
- How to make placement rates part of your decision-making process
What are coding camp job placement rates?
If you’re researching bootcamps and other programs for learning to code, you’ve likely taken a peek at a few schools’ job placement rates. Job placement rates are meant to show the percentage of people placed in a job after completing a coding bootcamp.
According to Business Wire, Flatiron School was the first to verify and share their placement rate information in 2014. Thinkful followed suit in 2016, becoming the first online program to offer placement rates and to have them audited by a third party. More and more in-person and virtual bootcamps are now sharing placement rates, especially since consumer demand for this type of information has not let up.
So, if you’re a shopping around for a bootcamp or other tech education program, how should you interpret placement rates? And what else should you keep in mind when assessing if a school or program is a good opportunity for you?
What to keep in mind when looking at a school’s job placement rates
1. Graduation rate or program completion rate
For many reasons, job placement rates can be misleading. According to an International Business Times article,
“[Job placement rates for bootcamps] are largely unaudited by third parties and based on differing standards, which makes it difficult to compare the effectiveness of programs. For example, schools tend to omit the completion rates for these programs.”
That means that though a school may boast, for example, a 95% placement rate, that rate may only take into account those who have actually graduated from the program, which could leave you with an inflated percentage, and an inflated view, of what success could look like for you at that school.
It might make sense for a school to only track placement rates of people who actually completed the program, since those are the only people who will have benefitted from all the school offers. But you should also look into the school’s completion rates to get a bigger picture of how often new students find success.
2. What “success” means
Another thing to consider when looking at placement rates is that they may only give you a window into one version of what success looks like for someone learning tech skills. For instance, you may not be looking for a complete career change or a full-time job. Maybe success looks like something different for you.
As Caro Griffin, Skillcrush’s Director of Operations, explains,
“There are a lot of students who aren’t looking to get a full time career — stay-at-home moms who want to start a side hustle, others wanting to level up their current career, etc. That means success looks different depending on the individual student.”
3. A program’s acceptance rates
When looking at job placement rates, it’s also important to think about how they correlate to the program’s acceptance rates.
Many bootcamps are very selective about who they accept. For example, Course Report shares that Flatiron School only accepts around 6% of students. And App Academy accepts less than 5%.
Schools may only accept people who live in metro areas or who already have some sort of background in tech…or they may effectively narrow the field of applicants by setting the price of tuition at $20K or higher.
As Caro says, “The way placement rates are traditionally used by a lot of online coding schools really is not representative of many students’ experiences.” She explains that some schools restrict their admissions, only accepting the most impressive students who live in certain areas, and are, therefore, more likely to land a job quickly. “People who can’t move to metropolitan areas or those who can’t give up caregiving, or those who can’t afford an expensive bootcamp,” Caro says, “right out of the gate they won’t be successful in the program and are not counted in placement rates.”
The truth of the matter is, when a school accepts a subset of students who are already highly qualified, or already have some degree of technical experience, it makes sense job placement rates would be high.
4. What counts as a “job placement”
When looking at job placement rates, you likely have a specific idea of what it means to get a great job after completing a bootcamp. It’s important to understand what types of roles count as “job placements.”
Some schools count any new job as a placement, even if the job a graduate is doing isn’t actually a tech job, but an administrative job in a tech company, for instance. Schools with job guarantees may require students to accept the first job they’re offered, no matter what it is. If they don’t accept, they’re not counted in their placement rates data.
Keep in mind that there are a ton of reasons not to accept a job offer. “Maybe you felt unsafe during the interview or you’re faced with an hour and a half commute,” says Caro. “You’re not always going to accept the first job you’re offered, and placement rates should reflect that.”
What about number fluffing?
When searching for a tech education program, it’s a good idea to dive deeper into any data shared in a company’s sales and marketing, too. Jonathan Lau, co-founder of the independent directory of boot-camp reviews and rankings SwitchUp, told International Business Times, “Oftentimes, boot camps will make these numbers up. They’ll exclude students who they think were bad and mark them as a failed student and do all sorts of weird things that bump up their numbers and make it look better.”
Quite a number of coding schools have come under fire recently for misleading promises, including the popular bootcamp Lambda School. Vincent Woo, a journalist and founder of the software company CoderPad, recently exposed Lambda School for a whole host of unsubstantiated messaging.
Woo explains that Lambda School claims to have an 86% job placement rate. As you can see in the image below, Lambda School reported their outcomes to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR), a nonprofit whose mission is to give prospective bootcamp students verified outcome data so they’re better informed.
However, Woo got a hold of a Lambda School investment memo that displayed a much lower percentage. He says the memo “matter-of-factly states that, ‘We’re at roughly 50% placement for cohorts that are 6 months graduated.’” Woo goes on to explain,
“A recent interviewee for work at Lambda School also confirmed to me that the company’s own internal numbers, which the interviewee was provided as part of their interview process, seem to indicate a roughly 50 percent or lower placement rate.”
50% or lower? That figure paints quite a different picture than 86% does. So why is there such a substantial difference?
Well, while most coding bootcamps have reported data from several cohorts of students to CIRR, Lambda has only submitted data for its first cohort of 71 graduates.
Woo says, “Sheree Speakman, the CEO of CIRR, told me that Lambda has not undergone the standard independent auditing for the sole report it has submitted, and that her communications to Lambda School regarding further reporting and auditing have gone unanswered.”
So that begs the question, can the 86% placement rate for the first 71 students be trusted? According to Sabrina Baez, Lambda’s former director of career readiness, no, that figure is off. Baez told Woo, “I would say out of that 71 students, within six months of them graduating it was probably a 50-60 percent placement rate.”
Lambda School isn’t the only one that has been subject to placement rate controversies. Flatiron School has also faced blowback for their placement rate claims. In 2017, the school paid $375,000 to settle charges brought against them by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office for inaccurately marketing their job placement rates and graduate salaries, as well as for running the school without the appropriate educational license.
The findings state that the placement rate on Flatiron’s website did not disclose that it included contract positions, internships, apprenticeships, freelance roles, and part-time roles, along with full-time positions. Furthermore, the website didn’t state that the average starting salary listed only included salaries from students who accepted full-time salaried positions.
This information was accessible, but you needed to download the Jobs Report to find it.Today, however, the fine print is listed right on the website under the employment rate and average starting salary figures.
And it’s important to note that for some students, contract positions, freelance, and part-time roles, might be the end-goal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that all of the students placed in jobs weren’t hired full-time — the problem is when prospective students are misled about the program outcomes.
I spoke with Woo and asked him if there was a better way to hold bootcamps accountable to their placement rate claims? He didn’t think it would be easy.
“Bootcamps will either need to self-regulate harder (by giving CIRR more money and power), or the government will need to regulate harder. No one individual can hold bootcamps accountable, it has to be a movement.”
Why number fluffing happens
It would be unfair to simply report that some placement rates aren’t transparent without giving more context about why some coding camps present their numbers the way they do. Bootcamps aren’t necessarily telling downright lies to boost enrollment. Although that does happen, it’s often much more complicated than that.
For one thing, many consumers want to see placement rates, meaning coding programs are incentivized to share that information and make it look impressive. When prospective students are researching options and see one school post a high placement rate, it’s natural to want to compare that rate to others.
I spoke with one of our prospective students, Elizabeth Stern Lukin, who inquired about our placement rates here at Skillcrush. She mentioned, “I did see other coding bootcamps advertise their placement rates,” which is why she decided to ask for ours.
Lukin did acknowledge that she knows placement rates claims aren’t always accurate and that “job placement isn’t necessarily an indicator of success, because where people end up depends on their motivation/abilities/interests/goals/what’s out there.” But that might not be obvious to every prospective student, especially when someone is totally new to the world of tech. And like so many other prospective students, Lukin was still curious about our rates.
Coding programs are ultimately responsible for making a decision about the ethics of calculating and sharing placement rates. Still, if one school skews their numbers or measures their rates in a certain way in order to make them look higher, suddenly other schools are doing the same in order to compete. Otherwise the school that is transparent appears less successful in comparison.
Not all schools measure and/or share placement rates, including schools like Udacity and Skillcrush. The thing is, bootcamps all operate with different goals in mind. And while, of course, all bootcamps want their students to get jobs, focusing solely on placement rates isn’t what every school is about.
Transitioning into a new career in three or six months, or even a year, is an incredibly difficult undertaking, and one with many winding paths and possibilities that are different for each individual student. Looking at just that one number to assess the value of a school or program doesn’t tell the whole story.
Is a high job placement rate still important to you? You’ll have to accept these conditions.
So you know that you should take placement rates with a grain of salt. Many different factors can make those numbers look more impressive or simpler than they really are. Another thing to keep in mind is that any program offering a job guarantee or advertising a job placement rate likely has a few characteristics.
Specific Job Outcomes
There are many bootcamps that offer specific paths for students based on landing a certain job. The school may have a few career options available to choose from, like software engineering or front end development, and they design their programs to teach you the skills to land an entry-level job in that field. So if you already have your heart set on a job that falls within the scope of what the school teaches, this type of program could be a good fit for you.
This kind of bootcamp is also particularly well-suited at tracking placement rates because everyone enrolled in one of their programs is on the exact same track. That’s why many bootcamps that subscribe to this model of teaching provide placement rates.
However these programs are not right for everyone. All students are placed on an identical predetermined path, which means all students are working toward an identical predetermined end goal. That means the school employs a less flexible, one-size-fits-all approach, which will not suit everyone.
Plus, if you’re not sure which direction you want to go with your career, you’ll want to be wary of locking yourself into a one-track program like this. Some bootcamps are more flexible in terms of the programs they offer. And some let you switch between learning tracks without an additional cost (like we do at Skillcrush).
This versatility lets you take the time you need to figure out your career path as you’re picking up skills and better understanding where you want your focus to lie. Others, like Udemy, aren’t as job-focused, and are more about simply helping you build skills in virtually any area of your choosing, no matter your ultimate goal.
When schools offer more flexibility and provide a wide range of opportunities for success for their students, it becomes nearly impossible for the schools to quantify this success in terms of an easily digestible success rate or placement rate.
Another major factor that’s important to consider when looking at coding programs is whether or not the bootcamp is in-person or online. In-person courses tend to mean more intense involvement between the school/instructors and the students. Therefore, it’s simply easier for schools to track job placement.
For those who prefer having in-person interaction with their teachers and classmates, a face-to-face program can be extremely beneficial.
But if you’re the type of person who needs the flexibility of learning on your own time, if you don’t live in a major city where an in-person bootcamp is offered, or if you’re living through a global pandemic (!), an online course may be better for you.
Low acceptance rates
As I mentioned previously, many bootcamps are very selective about who they accept. That low acceptance rate can correlate to a high graduation or completion rate, as well as a high job placement rate. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the most prestigious school is always the surest path.
We can look to higher education for another example. Take Yale University, for instance. According to College Scorecard, Yale has only a 6% acceptance rate, but a 96% graduation rate. Whereas Valparaiso University has an 89% acceptance rate, but a 67% graduation rate. Yale accepts far fewer students than Valparaiso does, but because their admissions requirements are so strict, the students who are accepted are more likely to graduate. At Valparaiso, more students are admitted, but a smaller percentage of those students end up graduating in comparison to Yale students.
So, if you’re wondering which school has a higher graduation rate, the answer is obviously Yale (96% vs. 67%), But if you’re wondering which school someone is most likely to graduate from, the answer is clearly Valparaiso (6% vs. 60%). That means a student is ten times more likely to graduate from Valparaiso than Yale.
In the case of applying to bootcamps, a program with a low acceptance rate may not actually be the one that provides the most opportunity for you as a student. Sometimes the best opportunity is the surest path to getting your foot in the door and finding the support you need to keep progressing.
Higher price tag
Schools with high price tags also tend to track placement rates. In order to guarantee a specific outcome (like a job), programs have more overhead, such as expensive, in-person curriculum. Since they accept fewer students, they need to charge more simply by the necessity of doing business. If a bootcamp has to pay for a physical location and has a smaller number of students buying their courses, the program must be more expensive in order to cover the school’s costs.
Schools that are less expensive tend to be ones that are fully online without strict admissions requirements (if any), and therefore they have more students and don’t need to charge as much.
If all of these are not conditions you can accept, you still have plenty of options for learning tech skills — you just need to look beyond placement rates to pick a program.
What you really want to know when you ask about placement rates
When you ask a bootcamp what their placement rate is, you’re probably not actually that interested in what happens to the average student who enrolls. What you really want to know is whether or not you will get a job after taking their courses.
I asked Lukin for more information about why she wanted to know what Skillcrush’s job placement rates are. She said,
“I do a lot of research before committing to something — especially when it comes to changing my career. I do want and need a job (in tech!) when I complete the BIT [Break Into Tech] course [package], so knowing how successful the program is in helping graduates get hired (or start their own business or freelance) is an important consideration for me.”
But we now know that placement rates might not provide that information for you. So what will?
What to look for in a coding school instead
If placement rates aren’t the key to determining whether or not a coding bootcamp will help you land a job or find success — whatever that success happens to look like for you — what should you look for instead?
Caro’s advice is to turn to testimonials:
“Look at what alumni have to say, and check if you can see students’ full names, links to their websites, the actual work they’ve done, and what successes they’ve had after the program.”
That will allow you to see proof that alumni are finding success. You may also want to ask, “‘Do these students look like me? Do they have similar backgrounds and goals as me? Do I see the success I want mirrored there?’” says Caro. This way you can get a feel for the types of people who enroll and whether or not you see yourself represented.
If the program is in-person or one that requires a larger investment, you can ask to be connected directly with an alum, Caro adds. That way you can get all your questions answered and learn about their experiences first-hand.
Finally, Caro mentions that it’s important to be able to talk with someone who has some career training during the enrollment process. “When Skillcrush students email us, we’re transparent about our courses and how much work everything will take.” Our classes aren’t right for everyone, and any good coding program should be honest about that with potential students. “There have been times where we advise someone not to take our classes,” says Caro, “whether due to the fact that they’ll thrive more in an in-person setting or that they’re still in college — since we’re very career-focused, we may not be the best fit.”
Talking to someone who isn’t just trying to sell to you, but is actually trying to help you get the best learning experience possible can make a huge difference in your success.
What else can you do to be sure you’re picking the right coding education program? I spoke with Woo about this, and he felt strongly about taking advantage of any sort of trial period:
“Lots of Lambda students I talked to encountered red flags during the early part of their enrollment, but chose to remain enrolled out of a sense that they had invested too much. I would suggest that bootcamp students take advantage of any grace period offered and quit early if you have any misgivings around how well the school is organized or how well the curriculum is actually written.”
When placement rates are valuable
Placement rates can still be a valuable tool in your bootcamp decision making process, but they shouldn’t be the first and only thing you consider. In fact, they should probably be the last thing you look at.
If you’re trying to decide between two very similar schools, and they both check all the boxes for you, then go ahead and take their placement rates into account. But don’t simply take the flashy placement rate numbers at face value. Remember to read all the fine print before making a black and white comparison between the two rates.
What makes sense for you?
In the end, picking a program for learning tech skills is all about finding the level and type of risk you’re comfortable with taking on. Coding bootcamps that boast high placement rates can seem low-risk, because they all but guarantee a job…right? As we’ve seen that’s actually not the full picture. Low acceptance rates, very specific career outcomes, and the greater financial and life investment that come along with some bootcamps can actually come with their own risks.
If you do decide to take on more financial risk, do your due diligence! Make sure you’re committed to the program and that you fully understand all the terms and conditions associated with the placement rates and any sort of job guarantee that you’re offered. Should you decide you don’t want to continue down your tech career path or should you not land a job, you don’t want to unknowingly disqualify yourself from a refund because you didn’t understand all the stipulations.
If you’re not sure about your career path, or if you’re not ready (or able) to live in a major city and put down a sizable tuition payment, the good news is that there are plenty of other ways for you to learn, whether that’s learning to code online or just finding a flexible program.
When it comes to choosing a coding bootcamp, it’s important to take job placement rates with a grain of salt, and try not to get overly invested in a single (albeit flashy) metric of success when picking a tech education program. Instead, think about what you want to accomplish by learning tech skills, and find the school that will be the best fit for your goals.
And always remember to read the fine print.