Not sure if a programming bootcamp vs. college is right for you? We’ve got you covered! Start with a thorough self-assessment: consider what you can afford, the time you can dedicate to an educational program, the skills that you want to learn and your personal career goals.

Cost

If cost is a factor, then bootcamps certainly win. While a bootcamp may cost ten or even fifteen thousand dollars, the tuition at top CS programs triple or quadruple that in just one academic year. Carnegie Mellon undergraduate tuition is around $60,000 per year and tuition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is about $20,000 per semester.

For less than the cost of one semester in a CS degree program, you can develop programming skills at a bootcamp and be on your way to earning $75-80K upon graduation.

Return on Investment

Whenever you make a purchase whether it’s a car, home or an educational program, it’s always wise to calculate your ROI. While traditional college graduates are facing unparallelled unemployment rates throughout the nation with no end in sight, most coding graduates secure a job within 3 months of graduation. Since these accelerated learning programs thrive on their job placement rates, it’s equally important to schools that graduates are placed.

Timewise, ROI’s a no-brainer - Most coding bootcamp graduates invest 3-6 months in a program, while college students invest 4 years. But what about the financial investment? The average starting salary of a coding bootcamp graduate is $75-80K. A CS degree graduate can expect an average salary of $45-106K. For a fraction of the time investment, coding bootcamp graduates will earn nearly as much as computer science graduates.

When it comes to ROI, coding bootcamps require less time, less money and offer nearly equal earnings when compared to a CS degree.

Time Commitment

While you may learn all the skills you need in a bootcamp, you won’t have much time to practice. With some bootcamps as short as 8-10 weeks, you’ll learn the basics of a programming language. Many bootcamp graduates take a month or two before the job search to develop their expertise.

In contrast, most computer science degree programs last 4 years. Ambitious graduates may be able to knock off a semester or two, but the reality is that CS degree programs aren’t for the faint of heart. That said, with that time commitment comes practice. There’s no shortcut to the number of hours and practice you’ll get as part of a CS degree program, and by the time you graduate, you’ll be well past amateur programming blunders.

CS Degree programs require a longer time investment, which means deeper understanding and more practice hours. In contrast, you’ll finish a bootcamp in a matter of weeks, but may need to spend some time doing self-study to get up to speed.

Curriculum

Curriculum in bootcamps and CS degree programs vary widely, even among their respective counterparts.

CS degree programs often cover the following components:

  • Programming in Java
  • Programming in C++
  • Operating System Design
  • Computer Science Theory
  • Advanced Mathematics
  • Algorithms

Bootcamp curriculum components include:

  • Ruby
  • Python
  • JavaScript
  • GitHub
  • APIs

Computer Science curriculum offers a more well-rounded view of computers that includes understanding not only the computer’s operating systems, but the how’s and why’s. The coding languages you’ll learn in a typical CS program are not what you will use to build a website or the next mobile app. However, they provide a general foundation for programming and a deep-dive into the algorithms that help developers scale apps. Most coding bootcamps don’t really go beyond the Command Line. Instead, the focus is on coding languages and tools for developers.

Beyond curriculum, think about your own learning style. If you learn by doing, and benefit from hands-on, project-based learning, then a coding bootcamp is an interesting option. Rarely will a bootcamp instructor lecture the class; rather, expect short introductions to concepts and then assignments that explore in-depth. Many bootcamps employ the “I-We-You” method, which General Assembly student Darshan explains: “The idea is that first, the instructor shows the class how to do a specific concept, and then you do it together as a class. Then you work on that concept by yourself for homework assignments. I’m not the type of person that can listen to boring lectures, so I definitely appreciated the teaching style that General Assembly used.”

As coding bootcamps evolve, many are beginning to add CS fundamentals into their own curriculum. One example of this is Fullstack Academy, who has added a whole additional day of instruction to their MEAN Stack bootcamp devoted to computer science theory

If your learning-style leans towards lecture, a set curriculum, and predictable lessons, then the traditional CS Degree may fit your needs.

For a more well-rounded understanding of computer systems and a general understanding of coding, a CS degree is a better option. To delve right into coding languages and their practical applications, bootcamp is the way to go.

Career Outlook

The decision on whether you should join a bootcamp or  pursue a computer science degree depends in large part on your career goals. Your final career goals (think 20 to 30) years from now are just as important to consider as the cost and curriculum.

If you see yourself as the VP of Engineering in a large corporation like Apple, Amazon or Google, you'll need a CS degree. To a non-technical HR executive, a computer science degree from a top school is a better testament of your skillset than a Codecademy profile complete with badges and a GitHub repository full of open source projects. It’s not impossible to get a job at a top corporation without a CS degree, but be prepared to prove your skills to HR.

However, if your goal is to join a startup or launch one of your own, then a coding bootcamp is a much better option. At a startup your personal projects and self-taught experience will be taken as a sign of your entrepreneurial drive, which is highly valued. If you plan to launch your own startup, all you need are the coding skills to build your app, website or tool.

If you want to launch or join a startup skip the CS degree and go to bootcamp. If rubbing shoulders with executives at Google, Apple or Amazon is in your future, plan to earn a CS degree at some point down the road.

Alternatives

Forget the programming bootcamp vs. college battle, who says you have to choose? Why can’t you have the best of both worlds by earning both a computer science degree and going to a coding bootcamp?

  • Get a CS Degree then join a Bootcamp. Take it from a CS graduate and bootcamp student, you can do both! Get a foundational understanding of programming with a CS degree, and join a bootcamp afterwards while you are doing the job search.
  • Start with a bootcamp, save for CS. If you can bide your time, start with a bootcamp, get a good job and save as much as you can to pay for a CS degree. Get a few years of solid experience (and savings!) then work part time while pursuing your CS degree. Or better yet, secure a job with a company that offers tuition reimbursement. By the time you get out, you’ll be a double-threat with both a CS degree and solid programming skills.

Remember, when thinking about a programming bootcamp vs. college, consider the type of job and setting you want to work in, what skills you need to learn to get there and your own personal interests. Career decisions are never final and regardless of whether you choose a coding bootcamp or a computer science degree, it’s never too late to go back and learn one or the other.

About The Author

Alex williams image

Alex is an educator turned programmer in training. Find out what she's up to at alexandriawilliams.com.

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