MBA or Coding Bootcamp? 4 Questions to Help You Decide

06/27/2016 06:56 pm ET Updated Aug 27, 2016

You have your business school offer in the bag, you’ve attended the admitted students day, but then you hear a friend just spent 12 weeks learning to code and received a six figure offer. Do you stay the course and get your MBA, or switch gears and enroll in a coding school instead?

More and more recent grads are finding themselves making a choice between an MBA or a coding bootcamp. It’s not a surprise, the average graduate salary from coding bootcamps is around $70,000 after an investment of $10,000 - $17,000 in tuition, with some programs seeing average starting salaries for grads north of $100,000.

Despite the salary numbers though, it’s not a clear cut decision. So how should you decide between business school and a coding bootcamp?

What Are Your Career Goals?

Do you plan to work in tech? While large tech firms like Google and Facebook are hiring more employees with diverse education and experience backgrounds, the vast majority of their hires, and the core of their companies, remain software engineers or product managers with strong technical skills.

If your goal is to be an entrepreneur and launch your own venture out of business school in any tech-oriented field, coding skills can be key. When you can code, you can prototype and experiment, identify new opportunities sooner, build an engineering team and attract investors - all vital to building a successful startup. If you can’t, then you’ll need to find a technical co-founder and rely on others for those skills.

However, if you’re more firmly focused on finance (investment banking, private equity, etc.), consulting, or real estate then business school is likely a better choice. While even these fields are beginning to be disrupted by technology, the majority of companies still tend to favor (and sometime require) applicants with an MBA.

How Much Financial Assistance Will You Need?

While tuition at most coding schools is usually less expensive, you’ll need to find the funding yourself. Currently, federal financial aid is not available for coding programs and most coding schools do not have financial aid staff like business schools do. However, there are a growing number of innovative financing options available and some coding schools also offer scholarships. For example, Codesmith has a scholarship for applicants from backgrounds underrepresented in technology.

If you decide a coding program is the right fit and you’re not in a position to write a check, be prepared to do some work to line up financing.

What Type Of Learning Environment Do You Like?

The essence of coding bootcamps is a focus on learning through building. MBA programs increasingly have real-world projects, but such projects are often a small subset of the core lecture and theoretical case study format. It’s often not until a graduate is on the job that they begin applying what they learned during their program. At a coding school, the lectures provide the theory students will be putting into practice in their project work later that day.

From a time commitment standpoint, coding schools are extremely demanding. In the most intense programs, students must be on campus 9am-8pm Monday to Saturday with many students staying until 11pm every night and sometimes sleeping over. Because so much learning is condensed into a matter of months, it can be a frenetic pace and require considerable self motivation to keep up with the work day in and day out. If you are more comfortable in the traditional four courses, 12 credit hours a semester format, then an MBA may be a better fit.

How Important Is A Diploma From An Established B-School To You?

Coding bootcamps are still fairly new, meaning the curriculum evolves and they have somewhat of a ‘start-up’ feel, unlike more established business schools, some of which have been around for more than a hundred years (the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1881).

Upon successful completion of an MBA program, you will have earned a degree. However, coding schools do not offer a diploma or certificate. At the end of your program, hiring outcomes will be what you have to show for your hard work.

While an MBA can be a point of pride, it doesn’t always impress employers. In fact, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recently said, “...degrees are always secondary to skills.”

Still not clear if an MBA program or a coding bootcamp is the way to go? Consider doing both. You may be able to fit a coding program into your summer before or after graduation. You may even be able to get time off from regular class and attend a program for credit.

Coding programs are just starting to give people the tools to be part of this community and it’s still early days. So as you make your decision, weigh all these factors closely, ask graduates about their experiences then once decided, prepare for this exciting next step wherever your path takes you.

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