Frequently Asked Questions

Before you read this document, please read the Is This For Me page, and especially watch the video on Mastery Based Learning. Doing that first will help set expectations and answer a lot of your questions. Go ahead and do that, we'll wait. Seriously, read that first.

Mastery Based Learning Questions

Make sure to read all the answers to the questions here. These answers are at the core of what we do at Launch School. Make certain these explanations make sense to you and that you're aligned with the philosophy outlined here before enrolling at Launch School.

First, we want to take you to a professional level of proficiency so that you can compete for engineering-centric career-launching jobs. We do this through assessments, making sure you are leveling up each step of the way and providing feedback on what you need to improve.

Second, we employ a Mastery-based Learning system so that you have the space and time to learn to mastery. This is the hardest concept to realize as it requires a severe change in mindset and approach to learning. This is what the Mastery Based Learning video is all about. In every other training program, there is a hard time constraint, which mandates that you learn a topic in a specified duration. We are the opposite. Everything we do falls out of Mastery-based Learning.

Of course, we have good content, helpful people, and a great community, but the above two things make us different from any other training program in the world. It's possible to get a job faster and without learning to mastery, but it's our belief that in the long run, this way of learning yields superior results and makes all the difference when considered in the span of one's career.

Assessments are at the core of our Mastery-Based Learning approach. We take them very seriously and all our assessments are human graded, so you'll receive a lot of feedback.

There are two major areas of focus in these assessments: 1) assess your comprehension and knowledge of the material, and 2) assess your mastery of the skill. For example, in the first assessment, 109, there will be two parts. The first part is a written test to assess how well you can articulate core concepts from the course; the focus is on knowledge. The second part is a live coding interview to assess your coding fluency and problem solving ability; the focus is on skill. Every assessment will have an extensive study guide to set expectations and explain the process, so you'll see more when you get there.

There are also some minor areas of focus in the assessments around your ability to communicate, professionalism and overall interview presence. For this reason, we employ a variety of different assessment interview formats. For example, the 109 assessment interview may be live coding, but other assessments may involve a take-home project, and the interview will be talking through the architecture and choices made on the project. Every assessment interview will be slightly different, giving you exposure to a variety of real job interview formats.

If you do not pass an assessment, we'll give you a prescription around what you need to work on to improve. This could involve practicing hundreds of exercises or reading a book or reviewing a few assignments. There are some consequences around not passing, like a delay in when you can retake it again, and those consequences will be relayed to you during the assessment.

Assessments are very comprehensive in our program, and it's pretty common for people to tell us that preparing for an assessment took several times longer than going through the course. If you are aiming for great jobs and building skills for a career, you will really enjoy the process of preparing for them. If you need to learn concepts quickly, you will find them extremely annoying.

Our support structure is based on our pricing, which itself is a consequence of our focus on Mastery-Based Learning.

We could charge, for example, $20/mo or $2000/mo, and that affects how much support we can provide. At $20/mo, we would have to remove all human contact, and everything would have to be automated. We don't want to remove human feedback from our program, and feel that it's really important to be able to monitor students and give meaningful feedback to help people improve. At $2000/mo, we could hire people to be around all the time, and anytime you have an issue, someone would come right over and help. But at that price point, financial pressure will be very high and it'll be very difficult to learn to mastery. For example, if we ask that you do some more practice, you will think about how much that costs, rather than what it takes to learn to depth.

We feel that at $200/mo, it allows us to maintain a balance of offering human-quality feedback without introducing overbearing financial pressure, allowing the focus to be 100% on mastery-based learning. But this also means that there are some types of support we can't provide. For example, we don't tutor people and you are not assigned a mentor. We want to move human interaction and feedback to the highest impact areas, where you get the best return on investment. To us, that's assessments and code reviews. We also staff TAs around the clock and will monitor the course forums and pull down your code to help you get unstuck. But this type of asynchronous support combined with the lack of tutoring means that you have to be a certain type of student.

If you are very new to programming and need more tutoring or support, then our program may not be the best fit. If you are a bit farther along on your learning journey and can respond well to guidance and can take feedback in the form of code reviews, then our program may be a good fit.

Most bootcamps that take a few months to complete don't compare appropriately with our program. It's not better or worse, but there's a quantitative difference in the level of proficiency one can reach in a few months of cramming compared with following a multi-year Mastery-Based Learning approach. One is a quick intensive immersion experience geared towards short-term results, while the other is structured for a slow mastery of fundamentals meant to last a career. The Launch School courses go far and beyond what one can learn in a few months, and that's why it typically takes 12-24 months for people to work through our courses.

There are a few top tier bootcamps who can seem to drive people to high salaries after just a few months. If you look closer, the typical learning sequence may involve 6+ months of preparatory work, then an intense 3-month experience, then another 3-6 month post-bootcamp learning journey before the job; that's roughly in line with our expectation of 12-24 months. On top of that, our teaching pedagogy believes that learning slowly and to mastery results in a higher level proficiency in the long run. Yes, we are saying our graduates are better developers than those from top bootcamps. This is hard to prove, but you can decide which learning journey makes more sense for you when it comes to learning to depth.

In many ways, the goal of Launch School aligns very closely with the goal of a Computer Science undergraduate degree, with one major exception: we focus on software engineering practices and not on computer science theory. In other words, we focus on producing software engineers and not computer scientists. That is, if you wish to pursue an advanced degree in computer science, Launch School won't help with that. We also don't have the general education requirements that you'd find with a traditional computer science degree.

Launch School is on par with most computer science programs when it comes to core application development languages and tools, and is in fact much closer to industry practices than most computer science courses. We have many computer science degree holders in our program, and all of them tell us that Launch School complements the knowledge and skills acquired from their computer science degree very well.

We recorded a conversation with one such student that you may find relevant: https://launchschool.com/blog/meet-a-student-tommy-caruso

For most people, Mastery-Based Learning is going to be unlike any learning experience they've ever experienced. Most people buy-in to the idea of MBL, which at the core is about learning one thing well, then learn another thing well, etc. Most people agree with that pedagogy in theory, but haven't experienced the practical consequences of such a learning approach. We've noticed that practitioners of Mastery-Based Learning tend to suffer in two major areas:

  • Most of your time will be spent on topics you find difficult or do not enjoy. In traditional education, courses are taught in a fixed time duration. If you encouter a course that you have previous experience in, you can expect to have a relatively pleasant time for the duration of that course. In Mastery-Based Learning, you don't have an easier semester or quarter, but just get through the course much faster. On the other hand, if you encounter a course you dislike in traditional education, you can sometimes "tough it out" for the duration of the course. We've all experienced courses like that, where the topic or textbook or instructor just didn't resonate with us, and we couldn't wait until that semester is over. You might have even thought that receiving a lower grade would be an acceptable trade just to get past this topic. In Mastery-Based Learning, you can't wait for the course to be over and you cannot take a lower grade; mastery based means you must reach a sufficiently high level of proficiency before you can move on to the next topic. Therefore, your experience in a MBL learning program will be mostly working on topics you need to improve on, whether it's because the topic doesn't come naturally for you or because you dislike the textbook or whatever reason. Because the topics you find easy or have prior experience get completed rather quickly, the vast majority of your time in MBL will be spent with topics that you can't complete quickly, for whatever reason. This is why you cannot put a time limit on how long it will take to finish a course and must set aside performance goals; you must have mastery goals and just show up to work every day, regardless of how fast or slow you're going.

  • Because there are no performance goals, there is tremendous uncertainty around when you'll finish, which brings a lot of anxiety. For most people, not knowing when they'll finish means they get squeezed by either time or financial pressure. For example, it's common for someone coming into Launch School to set aside some time duration, say 12 months, to finish the curriculum. Taking a look at the entire curriculum, they may think that if they finish a course a month, they'll be on track to finish everything in their alloted time. However, their schedule is quickly shattered when it takes 3 to 4 months to complete the first course alone. Looking ahead at the rest of the curriculum brings extreme anxiety and doubt, and they're only in the first course. Don't fall into this trap. The fundamentals are important for a reason, and you must make time to learn them well, however long it takes. Saving a few weeks or months may seem like a short-term gain, but that's a knowledge deficit that you'll have to pay back with interest for the rest of your career. Another source of anxiety is around one's environment. Though family and friends mean well, they can also be a source of anxiety when they ask when you'll finish. Traditional education is something people understand, even if it takes years to graduate, but Mastery-Based Learning is something very few people truly understand. There's no graduation, but a continual learning journey of micro improvements.

The two bullet points above are the major derailment factors when it comes to MBL. You may have thought that Launch School is difficult because of the advanced technical concepts, but what we've seen is that very few people have trouble with understanding technical concepts from an intellectual perspective. Instead, the biggest problem is around giving themselves time to learn to mastery each step of the way and managing their anxiety. This is not something that can be fixed quickly, so we've started a series of converstions with some of our current students to share their experiences and struggles as they navigate the MBL journey. You can catch their stories here: https://launchschool.com/blog/categories/meet-a-student/

A lot of people write in about their background and then ask us if they have the right experience to be successful at Launch School. What we've observed over the years is that prior programming background or experience doesn't necessarily correlate with success (by "success", we just mean being able to do well on the Launch School assessments). There are some people with virtually no programming experience who ace our assessments, and there are also people with years of experience as working developers who can't pass the first assessment.

What we've seen is that people who know how to study intensely and consistently do really well in our program. Even with a lot of background information, it's hard to project who can study intensely and consistently for 12-24 months. Having prior programming experience or even working as a professional developer doesn't convey that attribute. There are certain things that seem to correlate with this, such as finishing a PhD or JD. It doesn't mean that you have to have a PhD or JD to do well at Launch School, but it just means that those who have gone through an advanced degree know how to study deeply and have shown the ability to do it for a long time. Anything that shows prior evidence of consistent studying is a good sign.

But what does it mean if you have never studied consistently for a long time? The good news is that it's a skill, just like anything else, that you can pick up and improve upon. If you've never studied deeply and consistently before, or if it's been many years since you've been in school, you may want to first learn how to study before starting Launch School. There are many resources on this topic, but one that serves as a good entry point is Learning How to Learn. We highly recommend completing that course prior to starting Launch School.

Another critical aspect to studying consistently is having a stable personal life. Many people don't think about their personal life when embarking on a new learning endeavor, yet personal stability is the key to consistent studying. For example, because we're an online program that gives people a bit of flexibility, some take advantage of this and attempt to travel the world while going through Launch School. That's possible in theory but nearly impossible in practice. Having such a chaotic personal life just doesn't lead to consistently deep studying habits. There are also some personal life situations that are not optional, like getting married, getting divorced, having kids, getting laid off, etc. Because we're such a long program, life seems to find a way to interfere. Be aware of this and do your best to control the things you can control to focus on Mastery-Based Learning.

To put learning at the forefront, you must have great study habits and a stable personal life. Prior technical experience is not required but consistency is, and stability in one's personal life is the only way to consistency.


Other Miscellaneous Questions

After completing the Launch School courses, you can expect to have the right balance of mastery and awareness of fundamental topics expected of a professional software engineer. From here, you will have the foundations to go in a variety of directions, from applying for jobs to learning more advanced tools and frameworks. Many people ask if they'll have a portfolio. The answer is "yes", but smart employers will want to see what you built by yourself without assistance, so while we will show you how to build dozens of projects, that won't be a portfolio of your ability. More important than a portfolio, you'll have real skills and a deep mastery of fundamentals.

Not until you have mastered the fundamentals. First, you must take our courses with a Mastery-Based Learning approach and make sure to do well on the assessments. Once you complete that step, that's when we feel we can maximize your potential by leveraging the Capstone Mentoring program.

It's a little confusing right now because of the way our program is divided up into "back end" and "front end", so there's a desire to target the shortest path possible to a job. That's not our goal at Launch School. The goal of our program is to drive students to career-oriented engineering-centric jobs, whether it be backend, frontend, or systems focused, or some other engineering related job role.

Programming is an odd profession in that there's no credentialism. It's similar to cooking, in that there are cooking jobs that range from minimum wage through six figures and beyond. You can be a cook at a fast food restaurant or be a Michelin star executive chef.

The short learning path leads to the programming equivalent of the fast food cook. Again, it's a bit confusing because it appears you can get a programming job with very little studying. I want to encourage people to not aim for the low hanging jobs because, just like the low hanging cooking jobs, those types of jobs do not prepare you for a rewarding career.

Another reason to not just try to take the Front-end courses is due to the way we sequenced the courses. Course 210, for example, is our JavaScript course. But note that the title of the course isn't "Introduction to JavaScript"; it's "Computational Thinking and JavaScript Programming". The reason is because we expect that you can take apart JavaScript, the language, on your own, so our focus is on "computational thinking" concepts. The reason we expect you to know how to learn JavaScript at that point is because we spent a lot of time in course 101 on how to deconstruct a programming language (Ruby), so we expect that you can take what you learned there and apply it to JavaScript. If you're very new to programming and have never truly learned a programming language well before, you're going to struggle a lot in 210. Therefore, it's important to go in sequence at Launch School.

No. Part of the reason is due to the way we price the program (see the question on support above), but we also believe that true learning happens when you struggle on your own, but the key is to make sure you're not hitting dead ends.

Having a dedicated tutor is a great way to learn, but it's also the most expensive. Also, the reality of your day-to-day learning experience will be on your own, and a small fraction of your journey will be actual 1 on 1 with a tutor. Instead of assigning you a tutor that you meet a few times a week, you will have all the instructors and teaching assistants (TAs) available to answer questions any time. We staff TAs around the world so your questions are answered around the clock. With our well crafted curriculum, we believe it's more important to get you unstuck quickly and keep the momentum, rather than wait for an appointment a few days later to talk to someone for 30 minutes. For career or context related questions, our instructors are available to our students and if you can get through our program, we'll get to know you pretty well.

We realize that some people do require tutoring early on, and that is definitely a viable, if expensive, learning option. If you're very new or have been out of school for a long time, hiring a 1 on 1 tutor may be a better learning approach than learning at Launch School.

Yes. We've taught students from 6 continents (still looking for our first Antarctican student!). Just be sure to have high speed internet connection and a willingness to work consistently. We do have some geographic restrictions for our Capstone Mentoring program.

Yes you can. One of the advantages of being an online program is that we can be flexible, and a mastery-based learning approach demands it. You can go at whatever pace as long as you ace the assessments. We recommend that you spend at least 15 hours/week; anything less than that and knowledge starts to evaporate faster than you can accumulate it.

We expect that you have at least 15-20 hours a week to go through this course.

Keep in mind that our program is mastery focused, so if you only have 10 hours a week, that may work as well, but you will consume the courses at a much slower pace than others. You'll have to decide if you can sustain that over a much longer period of time.

You can start right now! Our courses are all self paced, and you can start any time. Click here to sign up. Our preparatory courses are completely free, and you should start there. The first course is an orientation course that goes into even more detail about what we do and how we do it, so you should login and start after reading this document.

No. Just like music studios teach you how to play the guitar with a fixed curriculum and exercises, instead of letting you make your own music, we put a lot of thought into our curriculum to introduce concepts slowly, give plenty of exercises, and give you a smooth ramp up experience. We believe that learning with us following our curated curriculum is the best use of your time.

We've found that custom projects serve as a very poor learning tool for beginners. Usually, students under or over estimate their ability, chose a project that focuses on the wrong technical problems, or try to run before learning how to walk.

Our course projects are carefully chosen and refined from teaching hundreds of students to maximize learning on core concepts before moving on to more advanced topics.

We've taught enough students now where we have encountered some common complaints about our program. In some cases, students are able to overcome them, and in other cases, it prevents them from finishing the course. While we're working on improving, these are the most common complaints we've heard about our program.

  • Some of the lecture videos are too long. They range from 30 minutes to over 60 minutes, and it's hard to keep my attention for that long.
  • The production quality isn't the highest.
  • Coding by myself is very lonely, and can be demoralizing. It would be nice if there were others who I could code with.
  • The chatroom is not very populated outside of normal US day time.
  • It's very hard to stay committed and motivated for such a long period of time.

Make sure to also scroll up and read the question related to the downside of Mastery-Based Learning, if you haven't already. There are two major issues in that answer that we see in many of our students.

The biggest difference is that we are 100% committed to a mastery-based approach (make sure to watch the video on the Is This For Me page). There are a lot of different ways to learn to program, and it's hard to figure out which path is right for each individual. Are we a better fit for you, or is one of our competitors -- who can know for certain? What we're trying to do is take the anxiety out of the equation by:

  • being as honest and transparent as possible and explain what we do, rather than fill our pages full of marketing messages
  • providing a friendly pay as you go pricing, so you can try us without committing thousands of dollars upfront
  • having a free Preparatory phase, so you can try us out without any obligation

The choice here shouldn't bring too much anxiety, and we want you to come into our program excited and eager to learn, not weary and suspicious. We aren't perfect for everyone, and unfortunately, no one can know for certain, even yourself, until you give it an honest try.

If you follow the advice we laid out very carefully and patiently, we can take you far.

The cost of the program is $199/month.

To start, just create an account, and you can start our free Prep courses. The Prep courses will guide you through the prequisite knowledge necessary before starting our real courses. If you really disliked the Prep courses, then you probably won't enjoy the paid courses. If you enjoyed the Prep courses, then you may like the paid courses.

Your subscription is month to month. You may cancel at any time and you will retain access until the end of the current billing cycle. Because of this flexibility, we do not offer refunds.

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