Grad School or Bootcamp? How to Choose

If you want to change or grow your career, there are a lot of options for how to do this. Even when you know you need more education, there are a ton of paths to choose from. You can take your own online courses via Skillshare or Linkedin Learning, you can attend conferences, you can find an apprenticeship or rotational training program, you can do a bootcamp (some come complete with a job guarantee!), or you can do a full degree program. I often work with clients who are considering a bootcamp or grad school, and it can be difficult to figure out when the cost savings and time efficiency of a bootcamp makes sense, and when you are better off doing a full graduate degree program. 

What's Your Goal? 

The first step in your decision making process about further education should be to consider what your goal is at this stage in your career. Are you looking to make a career change completely into something new and more satisfying? Are you unemployed and need a new role that pays the bills, preferably sooner than later? Are you looking to add skills to your portfolio to make you more employable moving forward? Are you seeking a promotion or to move upward in your career? Want to just earn more money? 

First, be very clear about what problem you are trying to solve for through education, or what you are hoping to accomplish next career-wise. 

Once you've identified what you want to achieve, do some research about what will be required to get the job or career or opportunity you want. Ask people who do that role what it would take to make that move yourself. Then you can determine which type of program might best fit your goal. 

When to Choose a Bootcamp

Bootcamps are short-term skill-based education programs. You can find them in a variety of professional areas, from entrepreneurship to data science, programming, design, writing, and more. Bootcamps are great for skill building. When you know that what you need to get you from where you are to where you want to be professionally is more or new or different skills, a bootcamp or skill-based education program may be the right choice. You'll build skills much faster and less expensively than if you do this via a full degree program, and you may have more flexibility to start and complete the program sooner or from the comfort of home. 

An alternative to a boot camp for skill building is a certificate program through a university or college's professional development arm (called various things at various universities). If you want the name recognition of a name brand school but not the cost or commitment of a full degree, a certificate program could be a good way to build your skills as well. 

Some bootcamps offer career support with the skills you'll be building, and that can be a great support if you know you will struggle with a job search. Career support via boot camps usually takes the form of help with resumes, linkedin profiles, and interviewing, so if you know you need help in those areas, choose a bootcamp that provides career coaching as well as the technical skills. 

Know that skills are sometimes all you need to move into the next step in your career, but you may find that you need much more than just the technical or professional skills that boot camps offer in order to have an effective career transition or growth.

When to Choose Grad School 

Grad school is the best fit when you need credentials or a network, not just technical skills. Let's look at the value of both of those things. 

While bootcamps can be excellent at specific skill development (like coding or data analytics or design), most have not been around long enough to develop solid reputations as excellent educators. There is also no standard or evaluation yet for what makes a high quality program. So that can make it hard for companies to value boot camps as a proven way to have built the skills needed to do a particular job. A graduate degree program from an established university carries a bit more weight and trust, often, than most bootcamps do, and the credential you get by being granted a graduate degree is a form of certification that you have what you need to do a particular job. Many roles in management for example require an MBA, and doing a boot camp or certification program in one aspect of management or business will not be enough to satisfy that requirement. So if you aspire to management, you may be better off with a full MBA degree, for example. Similarly, if you need professional licensure to do the work you want to do next, it may be more beneficial to do a degree program that meets those licensing requirements than a skill-building program alone. 

The network potential of many graduate programs is one of the most valuable reasons to take them. Whatever your career aspirations, you will have more success by utilizing a strong network in the field you are or want to be in, and graduate degree programs are often excellent places to build your network. They often leverage a community of alumni as well as create relationships in the local or national employment community of that discipline through engagement offices or via the larger university's advancement and funding apparatus. They may host networking events, invite community speakers to campus, and facilitate networking between students via activities, retreats, events, or clubs. These networks can be incredibly valuable later on in your profession as well. Well-respected universities often attract well known employers for recruiting events and job opportunities, and these opportunities are sometimes only available via the school, not via a job search in any other way. 

Most graduate programs also have career support, some have very intensive and effective career offices and programs, so look into what is offered as you investigate your options as well. 

In short, if you have a good reputation in your existing field or with your current company, and/or a strong network of your own, or know that the main thing keeping you from the next step in your career is skills, then a boot camp is undeniably the right choice for its cost and time efficiency. 

If you are making a change into an area where you will need a new or stronger network, or need a credential to move up or forward in your career, then a full graduate degree program is likely the best choice for you. 

If you need help navigating your next education choice, I can help. Reach out or book in a career strategy coaching call and you can get clear next steps this week.