Coding Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree

By The SwitchUp Team | Updated 11/22/2023

With lucrative salaries and a constantly growing number of job openings, the tech industry is certainly an attractive career path to follow. But what's the best way to prepare for these jobs — attending a quick coding bootcamp or investing time in a computer science degree?

The answer depends on you. Both choices have advantages and drawbacks, so you need to weigh your options in light of your long-term goals, priorities, and budget. Understanding both possibilities will help you make the best choice, so let's explore coding bootcamps and degree programs in more depth.

Computer Science Degrees

Virtually every college and university across the country offers some type of computer science degree, so there's no shortage of choices. Degrees are available at every level, including associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. You can also enroll in shorter, typically one-year, certificate programs.

While master's and doctoral programs usually concentrate on some aspect of computer science, associate and bachelor's degree programs provide a broader, more thorough education. You'll take many courses and electives in general subjects like language, math, and science in addition to your CS degree classes. In your degree-specific courses, you're likely to study common programming languages, computer architecture, data structures, and more. Some programs may also allow you to concentrate on one aspect of computer science, such as artificial intelligence, graphics, cybersecurity, or game design.

You may decide you'd like to have the traditional college experience, but you can also select one of the many computer science degree programs that are available online. Many students prefer the convenience of completing their coursework on their own schedules.

The cost of earning a college degree varies dramatically, from several thousand dollars to more than $150,000. In addition to tuition fees, you'll also need to pay for books and supplies, and you may need to factor in room, board, and transportation to and from college.

Common Bachelor's Degree Investments

Admission Requirements: Must have a high school diploma or the equivalent; may also require a certain minimum high school GPA

Cost: Varies widely depending on tuition and other factors; the average annual tuition was $9,375 at public universities and $32,825 at private universities in 2020-21

Payment: May offer financial aid — scholarships, grants, student loans

Length: Four to five years

Coding Bootcamps

If you feel that a coding bootcamp may be worth the investment of time and money, you'll find plenty of options to choose from. In fact, it can be somewhat daunting to select the right bootcamp, so you'll want to thoroughly research the possibilities before making a choice.

Perhaps the most common subjects to study at bootcamps are software engineering, web development, and data science, but there are several other subjects available as well. Some schools also break down their web development courses into front-end, back-end, and full-stack development.

Coding bootcamps generally take three to six months to complete, but there are a few accelerated courses and longer, more comprehensive courses. Some require you to attend classes in person, but many bootcamp providers offer virtual, synchronous classes that allow you to learn from home. Full-time bootcamps are usually immersive, meaning that classwork and homework will require all of your time, but you can also choose part-time or self-paced bootcamps if needed.

Your bootcamp coursework will revolve around hands-on projects, created individually or possibly in teams. These projects will form the basis of your portfolio that you can use to demonstrate your skills to prospective employers.

While the average cost of a bootcamp is about $15,500, some shorter bootcamps cost as little as $6,000 and most are under $20,000. Many bootcamp providers include career development and job search assistance services in their fees. Some bootcamp providers offer money-back guarantees, meaning that you don't pay for the bootcamp if you can't find a job within a set amount of time.

Common Bootcamp Investments

Admission Requirements: Must speak English fluently and be eligible to work in the U.S.

Cost: About $15,500 on average

Payment: Payment plans may include deferred tuition or income-share agreements; some offer scholarships; some accept GI Bill® benefits

Length: Three to six months

Ready for more details on bootcamp options? Review our ranked list of the best coding bootcamps

Comparing Degrees and Bootcamps

Coding bootcamp vs. degree — it's a common choice that aspiring tech professionals face. Although you can generally complete a coding bootcamp sooner than it would take to earn any type of computer science degree, the time investment should not be your only consideration.

For example, you may want to examine the long-term return on your financial investment. Our research shows that, on average, bootcamps cost about 10% of what you'd pay for a computer science degree. However, many bootcamp graduates are landing just as many tech jobs as college graduates, and their entry-level salaries are virtually equal. In terms of salary potential, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for software developers was $127,260, for web developers $82,340, and for computer support specialists $68,050 as of May 2022.

Also, both colleges and bootcamp providers feature services like job hunting assistance, interview coaching, and resume preparation for graduates. However, many bootcamps go the extra mile by offering a money-back guarantee if you can't find a job after completing your bootcamp.

You may also want to take your personal learning style into account. Most bootcamp graduates note that succeeding in a coding bootcamp requires self-direction, discipline, stamina, and good time management skills. If you're the kind of student who performs better when you're given more structure and guidance, college courses may be the smarter choice for you.

Before you make a decision on which type of program to pursue, consider some of these additional differences:

Coding Bootcamp vs. Associate Degree in Computer Science
  • An associate degree gives you a more well-rounded education than a bootcamp. You'll take general courses like English, biology, and political science along with your computer science classes.

  • Bootcamps focus on learning by doing, using hands-on projects to teach you fundamental skills. An associate degree combines this same type of learning activity with other theories and applications.

  • An associate degree, especially earned at a community college, may be less expensive than a bootcamp, which could cost anywhere from about $6,000 to $20,000. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual tuition at a community college was $3,501 for in-state students in the 2020-21 school year. Multiplied by two years, $7,002 is still more affordable than most bootcamps.

Coding Bootcamp vs. Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science
  • When you earn a computer science degree, you'll receive a comprehensive education that includes general education courses, degree-specific courses, and electives. Many employers prefer to hire and promote job candidates with bachelor's degrees because they've had a more thorough education.

  • Bootcamps average about $15,500, while a bachelor's degree is far more expensive. The National Center for Education Statistics' most recent data show that the average annual tuition was $9,375 at public universities and $32,825 at private universities. Assuming you can earn your degree in four years, that would be $37,500 and $131,300, respectively.

  • If you need financial assistance, you may qualify for grants, scholarships, and low-interest loans at an accredited college. A few bootcamps also offer scholarships, but for the most part, the only financial assistance they can offer is some kind of payment plan that allows you to break up your tuition payments over time. 

  • Bootcamps generally prepare you for a fairly narrow range of occupations, primarily software engineering and web development, with a few programs on data science. Computer science bachelor's programs may allow you to study for a broader range of jobs that includes all of those options, as well as roles related to network administration, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, and more.

Coding Bootcamp vs. Master's Degree in Computer Science
  • Coding bootcamps and computer science master's degree programs both tend to focus on one particular subject. However, bootcamps are usually designed to give you a working knowledge of the fundamentals, while master's programs are typically designed to extend and deepen your pre-existing knowledge of the subject.

  • Bootcamps, which average about $15,500, are generally cheaper than master's programs. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average annual tuition for graduate school was $19,749 in the 2020-21 school year. This puts the average cost of a two-year master's program at $39,498. When combined with the cost of your bachelor's degree, you'll need to carefully consider how a bootcamp and a graduate degree may affect the return on your investment.

  • While a bootcamp and a master's degree both enhance your employability for tech jobs, a master's degree may be a more impressive credential for employers. A master's degree may make you a more attractive candidate for mid- to high-level jobs, especially those that involve unusual skills or management.

Wondering what you need to do to land a job with one of the biggest names in tech? Let us help you decide whether college or a coding bootcamp is the best path to prestigious tech jobs.  

Bootcamp vs. Degree FAQs

Is a Coding Bootcamp Better Than a Degree?

It's only natural for you to wonder which is better — coding bootcamp or degree? However, it's difficult to pick one over the other because they both have benefits and disadvantages. Deciding which one is the better choice for you comes down to factors like cost, how quickly you'd like to move into the workforce, and your long-term career goals. As part of your decision-making process, you may want to read independent student reviews to discover what other bootcamp students have to say about the experience.

Does a Bootcamp Count as a Degree?

No, a bootcamp does not count as a degree. Also, you will not earn college credit toward a degree, even if you take a university coding bootcamp. However, you will probably receive some kind of certificate showing that you successfully completed the bootcamp course.

Is a Certificate or Bootcamp Better?

Earning a traditional or online college certificate in computer science is a viable alternative to completing a bootcamp, so it's a good idea to weigh the pros and cons of each one. Both types of training programs focus on developing a particular skill, so completing a program demonstrates your knowledge to prospective employers. While many full-time bootcamps can be completed in three to six months, a certificate program may take up to one year to finish. Also, you may need to meet the college's admissions requirements to enroll in a certificate program, but you will probably pay less for a college certificate than you will for a bootcamp.

Are Bootcamp Grads Getting Hired?

Yes, bootcamp grads are getting hired, often finding relevant jobs as software developers and web developers, as well as data scientists, UX/UI designers, and product managers. In fact, we conducted a study in 2021 and discovered that bootcamp graduates were finding tech jobs at a rate that was comparable to computer science bachelor's degree earners. Our research also shows that many bootcamp grads have been hired by some of the best-known companies in the tech industry — think Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft — and for tech jobs in many other industries, from manufacturing to retailing.

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