Do you want to start studying UX design and can’t decide whether you should choose a full-blown design degree or opt for a bootcamp? Today we’ll be looking at the pros and cons of each option and will help you understand which path is the right one for YOU.
Deciding on which path to take to study UX Design is a tough call to make. For once, there’s a ton of information out there, and it’s hard to know which sources you can trust. But more importantly, it’s hard to tell for sure which option is going to make you more employable.
This is where we come to the rescue! Here at AJ&Smart, we’ve been hiring UX Designers from all walks of life for the past decade, and today we’ll be sharing our observations of pros & cons of Design Degrees vs UX Bootcamps.
Let’s dive right in!
We've also just released a video on the topic. Give it a watch:
What is a UX Bootcamp?
A UX Bootcamp is a short, intense, immersive study program that takes you from a complete newbie in UX design to job-ready in anything between three months to a year. The price tags range anywhere between 3 to 13 thousand dollars, so you really have a lot of options there. Most of the bootcamps are online, although if you do prefer in-person learning, you can find in-person bootcamps as well. So let's take a closer look at what makes bootcamps standout, and why they're on the rise of their popularity right now.
Are UX Bootcamps Worth It? The Pros
UX Bootcamps are Designed to Get You a Job
The biggest pro for choosing a bootcamp is that their main focus lies on getting you that first UX design job. Depending on where you reside, some bootcamps even might offer an “employability guarantee” (a lot of bootcamps in Germany do!)
Especially if you’re looking to switch to UX from a different career path, the extra help with networking and career planning that bootcamps offer will help you feel more secure.
Flexibility of The Learning Process
By design, bootcamps offer more flexibility than a classic degree. You can learn from the comfort of your own home, while traveling, or while still working at your full-time job. Granted, it will be quite intense, but on the other hand, you won't need to give up your entire life to start pursuing a design degree.
Up-to-Date Information and Focus on Practicality
Bootcamp coaches and trainers are often true experts & practitioners in their fields: so you can be sure you’re always learning the most up-to-date, relevant information. You also get a dedicated mentor who will help you plan your learning and career progression: something that universities often lack.
As you go through your studies, you’ll be building a real portfolio of projects, and that’s one of the main requirements for getting your first UX job later on! Depending on which bootcamp you choose, you might actually be working on real-life projects, which is an invaluable learning experience.
Speed of studies
Bootcamps will get you job ready in record time. Now, this might be a pro OR a con, depending on how much basic design theory understanding you already have. Simply put, bootcamps teach the basics. They concentrate on tangible skill sets within User Experience Design, such as coding or graphic design. They are quick and intense and will get you job-ready quickly, but the speed does come with a price: you might not have the same level of theoretical understanding as someone who has spent 4 years learning for a degree. That’s not to say you can’t learn the theory in a bootcamp, but you’ll need to be proactive about filling in the blanks.
UX Bootcamps Cons
Bootcamps are INTENSE
Depending on which pace of learning you like and how much extra responsibilities you have on your plate, this might actually be a positive point for you. But if you’re working full-time, prepare yourself for long nights and weekends. You’ll need STAMINA to get through the bootcamp program and deliver your housework on time while simultaneously balancing your other commitments.
It’s a thing! If you’ll leave the bootcamp feeling like you didn’t learn enough, or that you’re not a ‘real’ designer, then no amount of career help, tips and networking events is going to give you that confidence. And that’s ESSENTIAL in the current job market.
Especially if you opt for an online bootcamp, you will be studying alone all of the time. Now, if you’re an avid self-learner and prefer studying by yourself, this might sound more like a pro to you. But if you prefer to study in a group and have direct contact with your peers, you might struggle.
Lack of theory
Bootcamps are short and intense by design, and while that definitely has some positives to it (like being job ready very fast), it has some drawbacks as well. While bootcamps will provide you with the theory you need to become a UX Designer, you won’t have the time to go in-depth on any of the concepts. This is a BIG con because later in your career you’ll potentially have difficulties communicating your design decisions, and this is an essential part of your job as a UX designer. So if you do opt for a bootcamp, make sure to put in the extra effort of exploring the design theories, reading up on design history, and exploring the adjacent fields.
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Which UX Bootcamp Should You Choose?
We get this question a lot, and the most honest answer is...it depends on your circumstances. It depends on where you live, how much time you have, which area of UX you’re more interested in, etc. etc. Here are some notable bootcamps to get you started (in no particular order of preference):
Should You Get a Design Degree? The Pros
Thorough Theoretical Base
A big pro of going through a degree program is that you’ll learn not only the HOW, but also the WHY of UX Design. You’ll dive deep into design theories, rationale behind the principles of design, and will overall gain a deeper understanding of the field. This is going to be really helpful in your job as a UX designer, especially as you’ll need to communicate design decisions or have to make a call on a feature.
Headspace For Reflection and Self-Development
One of the main pros for doing any sort of degree, is that going to university secures you a few years where you can focus JUST on the learning. You can experiment, branch out, explore adjacent fields, learn just for fun, take your time to discover what it is that you’re really good at and which career path you’d like to pursue. You’ll also build your network organically by studying alongside future designers for 4 years, so you don’t have to force or rush the process.
University degrees bring a level of reputation and credibility with them that Bootcamps cannot (yet?) compete with. While the UX industry is generally more of a meritocracy and values skills over certificates, for some jobs and companies, you still need an official degree. For instance, if you’d like to work in a governmental structure, or would like to teach in a university yourself, an official degree is still often required.
Design Degree Cons
The Cost of Studies
Student debt has got to be one of the biggest cons of opting for a design degree. Even though this depends on where you live, in a lot of countries university education is still very expensive. There are, of course, scholarships and opportunities to waive the fees, but if that’s not on the table, you might be looking at a hefty debt at the end of your studies.
Another point to consider is that going to university is a massive time investment. If you decide to pursue a Master program after completing your Bachelor, you're looking at anywhere between five and six years. You also don't get the same flexibility that the bootcamps offer: while some universities let you tweak your curriculum a little bit, most of them have quite rigid schedules that you can’t deviate from.
UX Design is a VERY fast-moving field, and classic universities can’t keep up with that pace..a LOT of times. Some horror stories from the fields include people still doing wireframes in PowerPoint (yuck!)
Lack of Practical Skills
If you decide to pursue a design degree, you will get a deep dive into the theory of design. This will ultimately benefit your career, but what that also means is that it’s on YOU to gather practical, real-world experience. A lot of times UX design university studies are disjointed from actual requirements of a UX design job, and won’t teach you the actual skills you’ll need for it.
Should you choose a Design Degree or a UX Bootcamp?
So the big question of the day is: what should you choose?!
This won't come as a surprise, but there's not a single right answer. It all depends on you and your circumstances. Regardless of which path you’re leaning towards, take your time and always do your research. Go through the list below and answer the questions to really make sure you’re making an informed, weighted decision:
- Reach out to the alumni of the program you want to attend. More often than not, they'll be open to grab a cup of coffee and will be willing to tell you about their experience with the studies.
- Research the program’s track record in terms of graduate employment. What positions are they working in? Would you like to work in the type of companies they are employed at?
- What sort of industry connections does the program have? Are there any cooperations with companies or institutions you’re particularly interested in?
- Compare the curriculum of your preferred option to at least 2 other options. Are you confident the skills the program covers are the ones you want to learn?
- Who are the teachers and what kind of track record do they have? Do they have practical experience? Are they recognized experts in the field?
- How much does the program cost? Can you apply for funding or a scholarship to compensate the costs?
- What is your goal upon graduation of the program? Will your studies help you get there?
After you’ve gone through these questions, you’ll hopefully have a clear idea of which program is the right one for you.
Regardless of what you choose, remember–becoming an expert in UX Design is a continuous learning process. Don't expect to become a UX guru right after graduating a bootcamp or university. That's actually where a lot of your learning starts. It takes time to become an expert, but ultimately, investment in your education is never in vain.
If you're thinking of learning more about UX design, our guide to the best free UX/UI courses is a great place to start.