Is Attending a Design Bootcamp Still Valuable in 2021?

July 18, 2021


In 2020, design bootcamps are the second most popular bootcamps in terms of the number of students enrolled, only losing to bootcamps that specialize in programming or web development. 

If you’re a designer that already graduated from a bootcamp and are now struggling to get a job - read our comprehensive guide on getting a job in the industry.

Over the past few years, bootcamps have exploded in popularity, as many see them as a way to quickly gain entry to an industry that traditionally required a college degree or prior experience. UI and UX design roles, in particular, are well-paid too – average salaries can range from $50,000 to upwards of 100,000, depending on your specialization and skillset. 

Junior UX Designer: 66,000

Junior UI Designer: 51,300

Junior UX Researcher: 84,000

Junior Product Designer: 78,000

Junior Web Designer: 50,000

Junior Graphic Designer: 42,000

Junior Information Architect: 95,000

Junior Interactive Designer: 51,000

Junior Visual Designer: 55,000

However, as new bootcamps flood the market and graduates finish their bootcamps each year, searching for their first jobs in a new industry, are design bootcamps still worth attending in 2020? And if you’ve already finished your bootcamp, is the certificate or proof of completion still valuable? Let’s start by trying to understand why people are interested in bootcamps to begin with.

What are You Trying to Get Out of Your Bootcamp?

Many students might decide to pay for a bootcamp for several different reasons. Some might already have an existing job, and they might just want to formalize their education or level up their skills to broaden their knowledge or skillset. Examples include product managers or developers that aren’t switching jobs, but just need to learn the basics for a new project at work.

The majority of prospective bootcamp students, however, DO want to switch industries and get a higher-paying job in a field that’s more rewarding and challenging. To attract these students, and put their minds at ease, nearly every bootcamp markets to these interested students that many previous graduates landed their first role in the industry as an entry-level or junior designer. 

Regardless of your underlying motivation, know that there are several pros and cons to attending a design bootcamp in 2020. In the rest of this article, we’ll walk through a few reasons why a design bootcamp is still valuable, and why it might not be anymore.

Reasons why Design Bootcamps are Worth It

1. Employers see bootcamps as more reputable than self-studying

Compared to self-studying or a formal education, design bootcamps are a good middle-ground for companies looking to hire design candidates because they know that you’ve had experience working with real-world problems. Compared to an online class, where you may or may not receive feedback after submitting an exercise or assignment, bootcamps tend to foster more active discussions around lingering questions related to the work you submit. This feedback is crucial in the process of learning design because it helps you not only improve your technical skills in learning the tools, also helps foster soft skills in being receptive to feedback and collaborating with others.

Instructors in most bootcamps are typically vetted and have industry experience, although instructors from many non-accredited online courses that aren’t a part of a bootcamp can be just as reputable. 

2. Bootcamps are a great way to meet new people

Aside from the curriculum, attending a bootcamp is a good way to network and meet others that you might not otherwise interact with. Other bootcamp attendees come from different backgrounds and industries, so hearing about new perspectives and cross-pollinating ideas  with others is a great way to digest the information you learn in your bootcamp.

For example, one of my classmates was previously an architecture major, which is actually not very uncommon. There’s quite a bit of overlap between physical architecture and information architecture, which is essentially the organization or mapping of digital content. In his final presentation, he drew a lot of great parallels between the two fields, and also shared some tools and resources he used from his time as an architect.

Since graduating from General Assembly several years ago, I still occasionally reach out to a few people that graduated from my program. I see them at conferences and design talks, and I also enjoy catching up with them and keeping them in my network. 

3. Bootcamps sometimes have job search and placement preparation programs

Depending on the length of your program, or which bootcamp you attend, some bootcamps have career counseling departments that can help you in your job search. These services typically give you feedback on your resume or portfolio, in addition to tips when interviewing with companies.

However, these services can sometimes be hit or miss. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a career coach or mentor that is extremely invested in your career. Most of the time, unless you attend a bootcamp that guarantees a job or has a financial interest in landing you one, some of the advice these programs give you can be lackadaisical or cursory. 

Reasons why Design Bootcamps are not Worth It

1. Bootcamps are expensive

The fact of the matter is, design bootcamps are expensive. Compared to many four-year college programs, bootcamps are a lot cheaper, but they’re still a business too. In addition to the monetary cost, you need to consider the cost of your time and energy.

Many bootcamps are rigorous and mentally-demanding, as these programs base their marketing on the fact that they can help you get up to speed as quickly as possible, but as a result, sometimes you only get a shallow overview of the work you’ll be doing as a designer in the industry. Especially if you’re doing your bootcamp part-time in addition to juggling a full-time or a part-time job, you might not get the most of your program.

Learning design requires a lot of practice outside of the classroom because it’s not sufficient to just rely on the material you learn from your instructor. Applying it to real-world problems and scenarios is what builds up your knowledge in the space.

2. Bootcamps don’t guarantee a job

Within the field of design, especially when it comes to UX, unfortunately, there’s still a strong bias against those that don’t have a formal education. In some fields, especially those that are sensitive or require a high-level of proficiency with the underlying technology, companies still prefer candidates that have either a college-level degree (or higher) as well as previous experience in the industry. 

Especially for companies that have no previous experience hiring designers, hiring managers might see a formal degree as a prerequisite to doing the work, which in many cases, is wrong. Additionally, depending on which bootcamp you attend, employers still might skip your resume or application just because they are not familiar with the name of the bootcamp you attended.

[diagram of bootcamps: there are probably dozens more - how do you expect companies to memorize all of these names?]

As the bootcamp education model continues to grow, I am seeing more and more random bootcamps popping up and saturating the market. Without doing research on whether these bootcamps are reputable, it’s hard to tell whether or not the curriculum is valuable or even trustworthy. As an applicant, you don’t want the company you’re applying to to have to do this research when they see your resume or application.

What is the Alternative to Design Bootcamps?

If you have the money and time to invest in a design bootcamp, I definitely recommend them as they’re a great option to build your network and learn the fundamentals of design. However, for many, a design bootcamp might not be the best use of your money, time, or effort.

A good alternative to design bootcamps is self-studying through reputable online classes and programs. These tend to be a lot cheaper than bootcamps in comparison, and will give you the fundamentals to build out a portfolio of work that you can get feedback on and improve before sharing with employers and companies. The path to becoming a designer is going to be steeper than paying for a bootcamp, but you can make it easier by leaning on a network of mentors and designers that are willing to help you out.

[our top recommendations for online classes and programs]

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