Two tech professionals studying for agile certifications

For many aspiring web developers, choosing the right college and major has become a daunting task. For one thing, there’s no set path to follow. Although 70 percent of web developers have bachelor’s degrees, 42 percent major in something other than computer science, computer engineering or computer information systems, according to Zippia.

On top of that, more colleges are offering programs, minors and concentrations focused on front-end, back-end, full-stack technologies or specialties such as interaction design, interactive web management, social media and so forth.

So is one major or degree program more advantageous than others? Clearly there are a plethora of factors to consider. But when it comes to preparing for a career in web development, here are the key things to evaluate when choosing a college degree program.

Will Your College Education Prepare You for the Workplace?

Today, employers are increasingly prioritizing skills over degrees when recruiting candidates for web development positions, observed Gabriel Douglas, a veteran tech recruiter.

In fact, the data shows that only 33 percent of job postings for web developers in the U.S. list a degree as a requirement.

In order to select a curriculum that will give you the skills employers expect you to demonstrate, it helps to understand the career path you want to pursue and the requirements you will need to meet. Do your homework, advised Tom Henricksen, an application developer. Talk to a few web developers to see which skills you need; you don’t want to invest time and money learning outdated or non-core technologies.

Choosing the best degree program ultimately depends on whether you want to gain broad, theoretical knowledge of computer systems that can lead to a wide range of careers, or if you want to focus specifically on web development, Douglas explained.

Generally speaking, most hiring managers prefer depth of knowledge over breadth of knowledge, he added. However, if you’re not sure which career track you want to pursue or where your strengths and interests lie, stay broad. 

If you really want to impress a hiring manager, get a degree in math or any type of engineering. If you don’t have any particular love or proclivity for math, look for a program that gives you the option to pursue a bachelor of arts (BA) instead of a bachelor of science (BS).

For instance, if you know you want to start out in back-end or full-stack web development and transition to software engineering, architecture or management down the road, then consider a degree in computer science with concentrations in data structures, web development or application development.

On the other hand, an interdisciplinary degree that emphasizes application of computer science fundamentals as well as design, UI/UX, programming skills, frameworks and coding libraries makes sense for students who prefer visual work and want to pursue careers in web development, front-end web development, web design or related fields like website quality assurance, reliability testing or even DevOps.

A career in web development requires lifelong learning, so as long as you learn the fundamentals of software development during college, you can always expand your knowledge and pursue any number of careers once you have some experience under your proverbial belt.

Have You Kicked the Tires?

Before you invest time and money in getting a college degree, take advantage of free resources to see if web development is really for you. A program’s low graduation rate may indicate that students are not receiving enough support, but it could also mean they didn’t understand what the coursework and actual job entails.

Will You Have Opportunities to Gain Hands-On Experience and Soft Skills?

Whether you get the job often comes down to personality, passion and proving that you can apply your knowledge and accomplish the organization’s goals.

That’s why the best degree programs provide opportunities to master “soft skills” like communication and teamwork through internships and projects that produce real deliverables. Some even require professional portfolio reviews at various intervals and Capstone projects to ensure that students have ample opportunities to demonstrate hard and soft skills acquired from the courses within the specialization.

When reviewing schools, look for other innovative approaches like short lectures followed by labs, hands-on learning exercises, “flipped classrooms” and frequent lectures from actual practitioners.

Will You Be Able to Attract the Job You Want?

Although the federal government requires colleges to provide potential students with job and graduate education placement data, be sure to dig into the numbers to see where graduates are working and the level of interest they received from employers.

Once you’ve narrowed your choices down, run the curriculums by a few hiring managers to get their input, Henricksen suggested. Some companies only hire from certain schools. You want to make sure that you at least get the chance to interview.

Will You Receive Job Search Support?

Almost every university has a career counseling and job placement programs—but as the saying goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Will you receive advice to help you choose a career path and select courses of study, create a resume or crack coding interviews?  Will you have opportunities to network with alumni and potential employers?

Put together a list of questions to ask recent grads about their experiences. If they’re working their dream job, how did they get there? What advice do they have for you?


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