How We Select Students

Karen Dawn Zachary
Nov 15, 2018 · 5 min read

Hello, I’m Karen Zachary, the Director of Admissions for Lambda School, and I’m answering questions about how we select students. I’ve done over a thousand phone interviews with prospective Lambda School students. I read about 250 applications per week. It’s my hope that this post will help you put your best foot forward so we can see your potential. I can’t wait to get you enrolled!

Know this: we absolutely WANT to accept you. We WANT to find as many applicants as possible who are ready to jump into a demanding curriculum, learn, and then start a rewarding new career with a great salary. So show us you’re ready for Lambda School!

Photo by Goran Ivos on Unsplash

Q: How does Lambda School decide who to accept?

A: Simple: we look for students with the potential and willingness to get great jobs. For the most part, we are a $0-upfront school, so nearly every acceptance is an investment. We literally spend thousands to educate every student, before we get paid a dime. So please show us (don’t just tell us) that you are a hard-working, pleasant person who’s ready to learn so we can get you started in our next class. Let’s break down how we evaluate who looks like a good candidate.

You love this work, and you’ve taken initiative to get instruction. You love this material, not just in theory (“coding looks like a cool career!”) but in practice. You watch tutorials on your lunch break and on the train to work. You go to hackathons. Coders actually write code several hours per week. UX designers create. Data Science applicants should be taking tutorials in Python or topics related to Data Science. You don’t just watch YouTube videos…you do something other than stare at a screen. Make something…even Hello World is a great step! You’ve built a tic tac toe game? Hey, awesome…that’s really hard the first time!

You’re doing well in our Intro class (precourse work). Or you’ve already easily tested out. Sign up for one of our free intro classes, and keep up with each day’s assignments. Our instruction team has designed precourse work that tells us that you’re ready for day one of our full course.

Your application reflects your suitability, comprehension and likability. Read the application questions carefully, and answer most questions with a one- to two-sentence answer. An overly short answer looks lazy or curt. Also, you’d be surprised how many people answer our “how” and “why” questions with “yes.” Be careful using humor…it can seem sarcastic and rude. For example, we ask about the most impressive thing you’ve created. “Nothing” is an incorrect answer that tells us you are not positive or interesting. I don’t want to do pair programming with someone that’s negative and boring…do you? If you can’t answer with something cool about coding/design/data science, then tell me about a souffle you nailed on the fourth try (shows commitment and improvement!), or a tell me about that time you changed the starter on your brother’s Camaro (problem-solving and practical!), or the time you hiked half of the Appalachian Trail (planning and discipline!) Give us something that adds to your appeal.

You’re serious about full participation all class, every class. As our application states, 95% attendance is mandatory because this class demands all-day interaction to be effective. Additionally, on every interview call, we go over the course hours relative to your specific time zone, and we stress the importance of nearly-perfect attendance and full participation. Yes, we do expect you to participate in the full class even if you go on vacation. (Yes, it’s a sacrifice, but just keep in mind how awesome your next year’s vacation will be when you have a better job!) To succeed, you must participate fully. So we need to believe you’re serious about this time commitment.

You have a realistic plan for financial support while attending our course. Our shortest full course is 30 weeks of instruction plus holiday weeks, and it’s a demanding pace. It’s definitely not possible to work full time while successfully attending Lambda School full time, so on our application, we ask how you’ll cover your living expenses. We want to see an answer that shows you can focus on learning. Bonus tip: We love to see a backup plan, too. A great answer is “Support from my partner, and if needed, I can tutor German again on weekends for extra income.” And budget some time for the job hunt, too. If you’re out of savings the month you graduate, you’re not going to be giving your job hunt the deliberation and attention it requires.

You’ll help us keep Lambda School’s class environment awesome. Classmates will spend 1,000+ hours together from day one to graduation. We care deeply about creating a learning environment that’s welcoming, collaborative and productive. Demonstrate that you are going to be pleasant, encouraging to your classmates, and education-focused. If you act like a jerk in the application, interview or precourse interactions, you’re definitely not getting into Lambda School. So don’t be sarcastic on your application. Don’t talk over your interviewer. Don’t complain about your job/college/debt/previous coding school/roommate. Be nice, concise, professional and reasonably upbeat. Show us that you could makes Lambda’s next cohort even more productive than the last one.

Your interview confirms our assessment that you might be awesome. The interview should flow like a 10-minute agreement that yes, we ARE on the same page about your capabilities and suitability for this class. If we’ve invited you to an interview, it means that we already think you have a reasonable shot of being accepted. Answer the specific questions we ask, and show me that you can stay on that topic. Be conversational but concise…about two sentences per answer. Treat your admissions interview like a practice job interview. We’re going to ask you some predictable questions about your interest, proactivity, availability, financial support and so on. There are no technical questions. Be honest: don’t tell me you’ve been interested in web development for ten months if you haven’t taken a single class that covers javascript. Don’t tell me that you’re available for 95% of our classes then say that you have basketball coaching commitments that will require you to regularly miss class time. I want to believe that if accepted, you are going to take the initiative to prepare for the next day’s class, support your classmates, accept help when you need it, communicate effectively with our Student Success team, carry your weight agreeably in your group project, and be a pleasant partner for the pair programming. Show me that’s true and you’re got a very good chance of getting into Lambda School.

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Karen Dawn Zachary

Written by

Project Manager/Event Planner. Former Lambda School. (Profile photo by In Her Image Photography)