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.
There are many considerations to make when choosing whether to learn to code at a coding bootcamp, or by doing a computer science degree at university. Coding bootcamps are around 3 to 6 months long, intensive, teach you very practical, applicable, up-to-date skills, and give you career coaching, but are not usually accredited, so you do not get a qualification. If you attend a coding bootcamp you will need to prove your skills through your portfolio. CS degrees are around 4 years long, cover in-depth theoretical material, teach you established programming practices, and provide you with a degree to show for it, but you will still need to prove your skills in a technical interview. Coding bootcamps cost between $10,000-$20,000 all up front, whereas CS degrees can cost up to $20,000 per semester.
If cost is a factor, then bootcamps certainly win. While coding bootcamps cost an average of $13,584, the tuition at top CS programs can be triple or quadruple that in just one academic year. Carnegie Mellon undergraduate tuition and tuition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is about $60,000-70,000 per year. Although you can find cheaper college degrees under $20,000 per year if you study in-state at colleges like Brigham Young University, Alabama State University, or Georgia Southwestern University.
You also need to think about your living costs while you are studying and likely unable to have a full-time job. The longer you are studying, the longer you will have to make ends meet on a tight budget (see below for more on time commitment).
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 $61-70K upon graduation.
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 $70,698. A CS degree graduate can expect an average salary of $50k-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.
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. Bootcamps like Codesmith and General Assembly offer flexible programs for students who need to balance work, family, and learning. Thinkful also offers students "pause days," where students have the time to step back from the program while still having access to the curriculum.
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 in bootcamps and CS degree programs vary widely, even among their respective counterparts.
CS degree programs often cover the following components:
Bootcamp curriculum components include:
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 Codesmith, 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 the theory behind coding, a CS degree is a better option. To delve right into coding languages and their practical applications, bootcamp is the way to go.
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.
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?
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 do one or the other.
Liz is the cofounder of Course Report, the most complete resource for students researching coding bootcamps. Her research has been cited in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and more. She loves breakfast tacos and spending time getting to know bootcamp alumni and founders all over the world. Check out Liz & Course Report on Twitter, Quora, and YouTube!
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