The Recurse Center (formerly known as Hacker School; also called RC) is an independent educational institution, combining a retreat for computer programmers with a recruiting agency. The retreat is an intentional community, a self-directed academic environment for programmers of all levels to improve their skills in, without charge. There is no curriculum and no particular programming languages or paradigms are institutionally favored; instead, participants work on open-source projects of their own choice, alone or collaboratively, as they see best. The Center has been an active advocate for women in programming.
recurse center acceptance rate
Reapplying. You’re welcome to reapply, but you must wait at least three months after the decision on your previous application. It’s not uncommon for us to admit people who we had previously rejected. In fact, 6% of all Recursers applied at least twice before being admitted.
The first step of the process is filling out a written application. To help you write the best application possible, you can read about what we look for in Recursers.
On average, we review applications about a week and a half after they’re submitted. We try to prioritize reviewing applications for the nearest batch. When we make a decision, you’ll either receive an invitation to interview, or an email notifying you that we don’t think RC is a fit at this time.
The conversational interview
If you’re invited to interview, you’ll be sent a link to book a time to meet. We try to have slots available at a variety of times on both weekdays and weekends. If none of the available times work for you, please email us at [email protected].
This interview is intended to be a general conversation. We want to learn more about your interests as a programmer, what you’re working on, why you want to attend RC, and what you hope to get out of your time here. Conversational interviews typically last between 7 and 20 minutes and are usually conducted over a Zoom video call.
Your interviewer will email you a link to your Zoom call before its scheduled time. If you don’t have a Zoom account, you’ll have to download their software before your call — please plan ahead and do this in advance. If you prefer to use Hangouts, email us at [email protected] to let us know.
There are no trick questions, and you won’t be expected to program anything. We may ask some technical questions about the code you submitted in your application or projects you’re working on. You’ll also have an opportunity to ask us questions to help you figure out if the Recurse Center is a good fit.
After the conversational interview, your interviewer will decide whether or not to invite you to a second interview. Once they decide, they’ll send you an email to let you know. We’ll try to get a decision to you within four days of your interview, but it’s usually sooner.
If you need accommodations for your interviews (hearing, vision, learning, or otherwise), please email us at [email protected] after you submit your application.
The pairing interview
For your pairing interview, you’ll share your screen and pair program with an interviewer on some code you’ve written. We typically use Zoom for screen-sharing. Please make sure you have a Zoom account, or have installed Zoom before your interview. In case Zoom isnt working for one or both parties, please have a Google Hangouts account as a backup. This way you and your interviewer can switch if you have technical difficulties. If you prefer to use Google Hangouts instead of Zoom, email us at [email protected] to let us know.
Before your interview, you’ll write a program that fulfills one of our pairing interview programming tasks or a program of your own creation, and put your code in a Gist. Use a programming language you are comfortable with.
Our goal in this interview is not to get the task done. What we really want is to see what it’s like to work with you. This is easiest if you select a task which is within your abilities but not trivial for you. A few things to keep in mind while choosing a task:
After the pairing interview, your interviewers will get together and decide whether or not to admit you. You’ll either receive an invitation to confirm your batch, or an email notifying you that we don’t think RC is a fit at this time. As with the conversational interview, we’ll try to get a decision to you within four days of your interview.
What we care about
Here are qualities we look for, and some advice about how to convey them in your application:
You enjoy programming. Recursers spend most of their time here programming or doing things directly related to programming (code reviews, discussing programming problems as a group, etc.). RC is for you if the idea of spending most of your time on programming appeals to you.
Application tip: Show us code youve written. If you have a technical blog or anything else that shows you like to program, thats great too, but not necessary.
You want to get dramatically better. This applies regardless of whether you’ve been programming for two months or two decades. We don’t think there’s a meaningful upper bound on how good a programmer you can be. And even if there is, 99.9% of us aren’t close to it. RC is for you if you believe you could be a much better programmer and you want to work on improving yourself with a community of others who feel the same way.
Application tip: Tell us about your weaknesses as a programmer and how you’d like to grow. If you’re a new programmer, this can be hard, since you might not even know what you don’t know. That’s fine! It’s okay if your answer is “I’ve only been programming for eight weeks, and I’ve never written a program from scratch that’s longer than 20 lines.”
You’re self-directed. RC is not like traditional educational environments. We’re not a bootcamp and we have no curriculum or teachers. RC is for you if you want to be able to focus on what interests you and have the freedom to structure and prioritize your own time.
Application tip: Give us examples of times you’ve made substantial progress learning or doing something hard without externally imposed structure. Show us that you can make informed decisions about how to spend your time without someone telling you what to do.
You’re sharp. RC being self-directed means you’ll get the most out of it if you’re a smart, deliberate thinker and learner. RC is for you if you can pick things up quickly, be rigorous and introspective, and understand the limits of your knowledge.
Application tip: We care more about depth than breadth of knowledge—we’d rather you have a deep understanding of one language than a superficial understanding of three. If you’re really new to programming, we want to see that you’ve previously been successful in learning something hard, whether that’s law, biomedical engineering, or the intricacies of how coffee is manufactured. We want to see that you understand the code that you’ve written and don’t just bang things together until they work.
You’re friendly. The primary educational value of RC comes from Recursers’ interactions with each other. To improve everyone’s experience we try very hard not to admit jerks. We also think this is educationally important.
Application tip: We get most of our signal about this from your interviews rather than your written application. When you interview, be kind, engaged, thoughtful, and polite.
You’re intellectually curious. Since RC is so self-directed, there won’t be any external forces (like a boss or teacher) pushing you to stay focused and engaged with your work. RC is for you if you can motivate yourself with your excitement about technical ideas and desire to always be learning more.
Application tip: Your best opportunity to demonstrate this in your application is the question about the most fascinating thing you’ve learned recently. We want to hear about something surprising you learned, and it doesn’t need to be about programming. We’ve seen great answers to this question about everything from making jewelry to plant taxonomy to music theory.
We have a higher bar for people applying for mini retreats. The admissions criteria are the same, but we only admit applicants who show us clear, positive signals on all of our criteria. We’re also looking for people who have thought about and have promising plans for how to make the most of their short time at RC.
Normally we take chances on people and admit them even if we’re not sure they meet all our criteria. This lets us get great people at RC who we might otherwise miss. However, because one week is very little time to get focused and productive, we don’t take these chances for mini retreats.
What is Recurse Center?
In the words of the RC website:
I descibe it as a retreat for programmers who want to get back into learning. You take time off from work, away from deadlines and the stresses of everyday life. It’s kind of like going back to school, but you get to decide what you want to learn, and homework is never boring because you get to choose the fun stuff that you wanna work on.
RC-ers come from varied backgrounds. During my batch, we had a range of people from academia, fresh university graduates, large tech companies, non-profits, who are self-taught, from non-technical background and so on. Most RCers are from the US, but we also had internationals from the UK, Canada, France, Netherlands, Brazil, and Malaysia (represent!). The diversity is amazing – I didn’t have to worry about fitting in because everyone is different, and there is so much space to just be yourself, which was pretty freakin’ amazing.
The Center was initially founded in the Summer of 2010 as Hackruiter, an engineering recruiting company, using seed money from Y Combinator. The idea quickly arose of trying to transform recruiting for start-ups by running a retreat as part of the process, with the goal of helping clients become better programmers.
It officially opened its doors as “Hacker School” in New York in July, 2011, obliquely anticipating the coding bootcamp movement that arose in the mid-2010s. Hacker School came to wide public attention in mid-2012, when it partnered with the e-commerce company Etsy to offer “Hacker Grants” in support of female developers. A number of companies soon joined Etsy in funding these grants, and in 2014 the grant program expanded to offer support to other groups not well represented in American technology industries.
In 2015 Hacker School was renamed the Recurse Center.
The programming retreat is free of charge for admitted applicants to attend. The organization itself is for-profit and supports itself through recruitment, by placing some participants in programming jobs. In 2014 the retreat reached the “tipping point” of self-sufficiency purely from recruiting income.
Internal costs to the company have been reported at “nearly $12,000” for each participant.
The Center does not publish statistics on its admission rate, although there is no published rule against reapplication.
Educational philosophy and name
There is no curriculum; each participant imposes their own structure for self-directed learning on their stay at the Recurse Center, with guidance as requested. Despite its original name ”Hacker School“, the Recurse Center is not a school — its model of self-directed learning was inspired by the Unschooling philosophy of John Holt (1923–1985). Nor does it have any connection to the popular notion of a hacker as someone who breaks into computer systems — rather, “hacker” here was intended to suggest a programmer who is technically resourceful but also supportive of other programmers.
In 2015 the organization changed its name to the Recurse Center to avoid confusion over these matters.
Since its founding, the faculty have experimented continually with day-to-day experience in the retreat. Experiments have included:
Social environment and influence
The Center did not initially publish a code of conduct, but eventually formalized its expectations of participant behavior in June 2017. Prior to that, it listed social rules intended to shepherd community behavior and “to remove as many distractions as possible so everyone can focus on programming.”
There is a large community of alumni that have remained active past the end of their ”batch“, interacting with each other and with new participants in person or via virtual tools.
Specializations of participants
The level of participants skill and experience is diverse, in common with retreats in other creative fields and unlike many engineering organizations. Participants range from long-experienced software developers on sabbatical, to people who have been coding for only a few months, to retirees, to college students on vacation. Some participants hold doctoral degrees; others have left school before completing secondary or even primary education. Many participants are engineers, but others have strong non-engineering backgrounds, in the Humanities, journalism, pure mathematics, the performing arts, among many others.