How long will it take?

Launch School
Dec 19, 2019 · 12 min read
Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

Being a long-duration online program, one question we get asked a lot is ‘How long will it take?’. Since the pedagogy for our Core Curriculum is built around Mastery-Based Learning, and our program is therefore self-paced, the short answer is always ‘it depends’. Everyone learns at their own pace and there are many factors which determine that pace, such as previous programming experience, educational background, learning style, and so on.

For an aspiring software engineer weighing up the pros and cons of embarking on a learning journey with Launch School, ‘it depends’ isn’t necessarily the most useful answer in isolation. We thought it might be useful to contextualize that answer with some actual data by getting input from some of our current students, and so ran a discussion thread on this topic in our Community Forum.

Here is how the discussion was framed:

“We get a lot of newcomers asking this question at Launch School. For us, as a mastery-based learning program, this is always one of the more difficult questions to answer. I’d like to invite current Launch School students who are at least through the halfway point to share their experiences around how long it took them. If you have numbers that you’ve been tracking, please share them, and feel free to give a small hint regarding your previous programming background prior to Launch School (I know that’ll be the follow up question).”

The answers we received are reproduced below.

Ryan Schaul

These are rough approximations at how much time I spent. The more courses you complete, the better idea you will have of how much total time the core curriculum will take you. This is for percentage of time taken on the back-end; I just started the front-end so do not have data yet. If someone posts it, it would be nice to see how long the front-end took in comparison to the back-end.

Back-end Total — 100%

Caveats and clarifications:

  1. Your mileage may vary by a large degree.
  2. 101 is a long course. For those with no prior coding background, it is the longest. It is not the case that 120 and 130 will take you as long as 101.
  3. You may speed up as you progress. This is due to several factors: a) you get better at learning how you learn, b) you get used to Launch School’s style of presenting information, c) the farther you get, the more motivated you tend to get and your study habits may improve over time.
  4. 175 and 185 are not assessed but are not “easy”. How much time you spend in these courses may vary more than the other courses.
  5. 170 has recently been revamped. I haven’t gone through the new material yet. The old 170 course was substantially shorter than other courses. My percentage here for the new course 170 is just a guess. I’m putting it at about a 130 or 180 block of time.

For what it’s worth, courses 120, 130, and 180 were about 2 month courses for me, with 120 being slightly more than the other two. I’m full-time, but I think 2 months was a solid but also quite comfortable pace for those. I never felt like I was really hitting it hard. I know others have done them faster. For a full-time student, I think 1 month would be on the quicker side, 2 months on the comfortable side. Coming into LS, I had done basic prep work like Code Academy, Chris Pine’s book, Dev Bootcamp’s prep work, and obviously Launch School’s prep work.


I’ve done the first 3 backend courses and each one took about 1.5–2 months full-time, including assessments. I was brand spanking new to programming. I need to complete the rest of the backend.

Bharat Agarwal

There are lots of variables in this process, I’ve tried my best to convey my estimate of the amount of effort I spent to get to finish core. I started prep in Dec 2017, and finished 239 in Aug 2019.

101 took me 5 months and the old(er) 170 took me 3 months. I started studying full time (and full effort) from Mar 2019 onwards, and finished 180–239 in 5 months. That said, I felt a little burnt out after that stretch, and would’ve probably spaced it out a little more if I had to do it again.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

One thing I will say is that you will probably not be prepared for the depth of the material itself. So many times, there are a couple of innocuous looking links to study in the material, but you read them and then discuss them in the forum and it all adds up. Everybody’s communicating with such technical precision, you have to maintain that standard, and that means being doubly sure about what you post. That adds up.

But, by the time I started going into the front-end courses, I started learning how to mix things up. When to do the exercises, when to bunch up doubts and review them, when to google and when to post questions in the forum. I learnt when to ignore temptations to go to external resources (say, Kyle Simpson books in the JS parts). I learnt to be braver about taking the assessments, that saved up weeks sometimes. I started thinking of the assessments as positive learning opportunities rather than stressful examinations.

You develop an instinct for learning after going through the whole process. This instinct becomes handy when you start reading slightly more advanced technical books after you’re done with core. That’s satisfying.

Here’s my estimated distribution of hours, with actual time spent provided in brackets:

100–5% (2 months)

101–20% (5 months)
120–10% (2 months)
130–5% (1 month)
170–15% (3 months)
180–5% (1 month)
185–2.5% (3 weeks)

202–5% (3 weeks — only covered 75%)
210–10% (5 weeks)
225–12.5% (1 month)
230–10% (5 weeks)

Previous programming experience: I’d attended a JS bootcamp prior to starting prep. Maybe that contributed to my finishing the latter courses faster. That preparation was nowhere near the depth of what I covered in the core curriculum.


Here is my data that I pulled together over lunch.

  • * This was the old 170. I plan to learn the new content.
  • ** I did a big back-end project after learning html/css so this is short
  • *** I skipped (but may return to!) the optional css/html assessment
  • **** this is my current course!

Further breakdown

More context and my learnings

  • I had no real prior programming experience so the prep and 101 took me a long time.
  • I had a few big life events (moving across the country, a month-long holiday) that meant some courses took meant 120 to 139 took a greater percentage of the days, but less of a percentage of the actual studying time.
  • I was working full time for the first year and playing a lot of soccer outside of work. When I went down to 3 days per week in June I was able to increase the quality and quantity of study. 30% of my actual study time has come in the most recent 20% of days.
  • I think because of ^ it took me a long time to develop effective study habits. I can now structure my learning a lot more intentionally which has improved how quickly I can retain new concepts. For example — reviewing a lot more frequently and going through ALL my ANKI cards, not just the current thing I’m learning.
  • I agree with being braver on assessments. The LS rhetoric about failing exams made me very cautious for the first one or two. Each course when I reach that moment where I’m maybe 80% confident I schedule when I’ll take the exam or actually book in the interview. That acts as a hard deadline and so far its worked well to focus revision.
  • I agree with the positive feedback loop of motivation that you develop as you get further along. I’m joyously putting in a heap of deep launch school study each day at the moment. I wake up and there is never a second thought about doing my couple of hours before the working days. Come Wednesday afternoon I’m excited to have my two-study days coming up.

Adrian Carroll

I went through the core curriculum from July 2017 to October 2018. It took 1255 hours (tracked) to complete. I studied every day except Christmas Day.

I had a very small amount of programming experience as I took a module in C during an Electronics Degree and then did CS50 after that.

It took a further 10 months of study after the core curriculum to land a job. I had job offers after the core curriculum but the money wasn’t great. So from prep course to decent job it took around two years and over 2000 study hours.

Jordan Moore

I started the core curriculum in March 2019. I had no real programming experience beyond game design in an application that used basic programming logic. Thanks to some good planning in the past few years and a bit of luck, I’ve been able to be full-time in my studies. Full time for me means: 6–7 hours/day M-F; 1–3 hours on Sat-Sun.

Each course with an assessment has taken me around a month to finish. Courses without an assessment have on average taken me less than a month each. Right now, I’m about to submit revisions for the last assignment in LS202 and then begin JS210. I’m very excited for Javascript. In addition to completing the courses, I’ve created two projects (PokeComp and Stardew Valley Crop Assistant) and written blog posts/technical articles to practice my skills further.

I’m hoping to have the Core completed before January.

Cody Stair

It took me almost 6 months total to complete the backend portion of the core curriculum. And the amount of time spent on each one is almost EXACTLY represented by Ryan Schaul’s percentages above in his post. Now for some context:

  • I had almost ZERO experience in programming before starting the prep course. The extent of my experience is that I had done a couple of HTML/CSS tutorials and a couple of JavaScript tutorials. I’m in my early 30s and had never programmed before this.
  • I work a full-time job. I average about 15–20 hours a week studying at Launch School. I get up at 5:30 through the week and put in a couple of hours, come home after work and put in another hour or two, and try to study as much as possible on the weekend.
  • I started prep in July of 2018, started 101 in August 2018, and then had to pause my subscription until April of this year (2019). I pretty much started from scratch in April with 101 again and am now moving on to 202.
  • 101–109 was the longest course for me by far, mostly due to both my lack of prior experience and “learning how to learn” with a mastery-based approach.

Nick Miller

Hi folks! I started the core curriculum in Sept 2017 and finished around the end of Nov 2018. I finished Capstone in May of this year and have been working as a backend engineer since July.

  • I used good ol’ Toggl to track my time during the core curriculum when I still had a job and wanted to keep myself on track. I didn’t really start using it until the second half of the core, so I’m just going to post those numbers.
  • My method of studying involved several passes through the material; typically a superficial first pass to get a lay of the land, then a “hold yer breath” deep dive into the material on a second pass.
  • Measurements also include time spent on assessments, even those fun multi-day project assessments.
  • I’m 35, and had no programming experience when I started prep.

202 (1st time) — 24 hours
202 (2nd time) — 106 hours
210 (1st time) — 50 hours
210 (2nd time) — 84 hours
225 (1st time) — 9 hours
225 (2nd time) — 63 hours
230 (1st time) — 40 hours
230 (2nd time) — 135 hours

Mark Hyams

I took about 8 months of part-time study (about 500–550 hours) to get through the back-end courses, plus another month (maybe about 50 hours, I didn’t track time carefully) for the prep-course. I came to LS with a bit of hobby programming, but no formal training.

Here’s how the courses divided up for me:

  • 101–109 => 29.7%
  • 120–129 => 16.2%
  • 130–139 => 15.2%
  • 170–171 => 3.1%
  • 175 => 17.8%
  • 180–181 => 7.6%
  • 185 => 7.4%
  • misc => 3%

I did spend a significant amount of time in 175 doing an optional project, so that skews the numbers a bit. Also, my time in 170 is on the old course. It really is true that 101 is the longest. Things speed up after that because you get used to the LS format, and you fine tune and become more efficient with your study habits.

Matt Clark

I’ve been doing Launch School for almost a year now on top of working a full-time job. Before LS I had no formal training but I had been learning Python, JavaScript, and PostgreSQL some on my own. I had completed a handful of courses from and partially worked through material from other places like Free Code Camp, the Odin Project, and Udemy. I had probably been doing this for about 8 months on my own before starting LS.

Back End

Front End

Melissa Manousos

Background on me: I am a 40-year old career-changer. I quit my fulltime job to pursue web development fulltime in July 2017. I had no formal education in programming or computer science. Prior to Launch School, I had done a Skillcrush course that cursorily introduced me to Ruby, JavaScript, and jQuery. I had also completed the freeCodeCamp front end curriculum which included HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and part of the Viking Code School Prep material (which mostly dealt with logic and design). I built out a few HTML and CSS sites from scratch and maintained a website in WordPress.
I likely could have gone a bit faster, but there is a certain point some days where my brain just can’t hold more information.

  • I did the old LS170 course: the abbreviated version of networking foundations and the Sinatra material all in one course that then suggested building two projects before taking the written assessment.
  • I took the LS202 assessment.
  • I did the old JS210 course which had a written assessment at the end of Lesson 6.

* I was on vacation for some of this period. There were at least 2 entire weeks where I didn't code.
** I did some additional courses (Wes Bos's free Flexbox and Grid courses) which added to the number of days.
*** I have more patience for HTML and CSS since I am very particular about layouts and I find it less mentally taxing than the logic involved with scripting languages.
**** I got a "Not Yet" on the JS210 Mid-Course written assessment which added to my total number of days.

Some additional information about my totals:

  • I included time spent doing Exercism and CodeWars challenges, as well as building and reviewing Anki flashcards, in my total time spent.
  • I continued doing Ruby Challenges through 170, 180, 202, and into 210. That time is also reflected in the total hours for those courses.
  • I was co-hosting the Women’s Group for the past year so included time spend in the meetings and preparing talks, as well as attending study groups and one-on-one study sessions in my total time spent.
  • I am scheduled to take the final 239 Interview assessment tomorrow. These totals include an estimated 4 hours of preparing for that today and 1 hour for the assessment tomorrow.

Grand Totals:

For the most part, I tried to not deviate from the course materials much at all. Mostly the outside resources I used were for additional practice problems (CodeWars, Exercism, Advent of Code) rather than to dive further into topics or get alternate explanations.

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