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Coding Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree: Which Route Should I Take?

Want to transition to a career in software engineering, but don’t know what you need to get there?  Attending a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree could both get you to your desired destination. However, the two option differ by duration, course content, and costs, as well as their respective employment outcomes. In this article, we will consider the differences between a bootcamp and university degree in computer science and discuss what may be the best option for you.

What is a coding bootcamp?

A coding bootcamp is a technical program that aims to teach you programming skills necessary for employment in the current market. Coding bootcamps focus on providing their students with job-ready lean coding abilities without getting very far into theoretical concepts. They allow students to quickly learn and apply foundational knowledge in writing software programs and websites, and be prepared for employment within months.

What is a university degree in CS?

A degree in computer science is an educational program at a university that teaches you comprehensive knowledge and applications of computing in the field of computer science. Graduates of the degree program are awarded a diploma. Degree programs include Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral. It takes several years to complete a university degree in computer science.

Women Taking Photos Wearing their Academic Dress after finishing their computer science degree
Photo by Karolina Grabowska @ Pexels

What are the key differences between a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree?

Duration

One of the biggest distinctions between a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree is the duration. Coding bootcamp usually takes 3-6 months to complete, while a university degree will take 1-5 years, on average, depending on the degree. Associate’s degree takes 2 years, Bachelor’s takes 4, Master’s takes 1-2 years, while Doctoral degree takes 4+ years to finish.

The reason for the apparent difference in duration is that coding bootcamps aim to prepare their candidates for employment in the shortest amount of time possible. They do so by intensifying the curriculum, as well as cutting out materials that are not absolutely necessary for the students to survive in the industry. University degrees, in turn, focus on all-round in-depth education that takes longer to complete.

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Coursework

Coding bootcamps usually teach individuals web development, as well as the tools for installing and sustaining their work on the web. The usual curriculum of a coding bootcamp includes HTML, CSS, JavaScript, as well as web development frameworks, such as Ruby on Rails and Django. Technologies such as React, Express, jQuery, version control tools like Git and GitHub, database tools like MySQL and MongoDB, as well as hosting services including Heroku and AWS are taught at coding bootcamps.

In turn, university degree programs in computer science teach broader range of theory and practical skills, including Object-Oriented Programming, Data Structures and Algorithms, Computer Architecture, Operating Systems, as well as elective courses based on student’s interests. Languages like Java, Python, C/C++ are usually taught at universities.

Both programs usually involve some kind of collaborative work, such as team projects, and both require students to complete homework assignments as part of the educational program.

Career Outcomes

Career outcomes differ between a coding bootcamp vs. CS degree. Upon completion of a coding bootcamp, students are usually able to create complex interactive websites as well as web applications from scratch. They are able to set up hosting, update their code, and collaborate with others. Bootcamp grads are ready to be employed as web developers, usually front-end, back-end, or full-stack developers.

Graduates of degree programs at accredited universities are usually ready to take on multiple roles within the field of computer science. Some of such positions include software engineer, front-end, back-end, or full-stack developer, mobile developer, cybersecurity specialist, game developer, and machine learning engineer.

Costs

It is also important to consider the costs of a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree. Average cost of a coding bootcamp is around $13,500 for the total of 3-6 months of training. The cost of attending a university degree is usually significantly higher and depends on several factors.

According to US News, the average yearly tuition at a state college is $10,388 for in-state students and $22,698 for out-of-state students. In contrast, average tuition at a private university is $38,185. In order to calculate the total cost of tuition (excluding living costs), you should multiply the amount by the number of years studied (i.e. multiply yearly tuition by 4 for a Bachelor’s degree).

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Thus, the cost of attending a degree program is much higher, although it costs a significant amount to attend a shorter-term coding bootcamp as well.

However, it is noteworthy that just as university degree programs, coding bootcamps have financial aid options available!

Salary Expectations

In Course Report’s study of 3043 coding bootcamp graduates, the mean salary of the news bootcamp grads was revealed to be $69,079. The salary of their second and third jobs was $80,943 and $99,229, respectively, in the United States. In contrast, Payscale’s 2021 College Salary Report listed that Bachelor’s degree graduates in computer science earned an average early career salary of $75,100 and a mid-career salary of $123,400.

As such, you can expect to earn a good amount of money being either a bootcamp or a university degree graduate, while getting a degree will likely result in a higher salary, especially later in your career.

Which option is best for me?

Pensive female student with hands on cheeks looking down while sitting in light room on blurred background while deciding whether to attend a computer science degree or coding bootcamp
Photo by Monstera @ Pexels

For some, the choice may be apparent, as the two routes have clear distinctions in cost and duration, while for others, especially those for whom these two factors are not hard criteria, may find it difficult to choose one option over the other.

A university degree provides a better guarantee of finding a job. However, a degree is not the only thing that matters when considering hiring potential of a candidate. Other things that matter just as much are:

On the other hard, a university degree will almost always look better on your resume, and some companies even have a strict eligibility requirement for having a university degree on a job application.

If your priority is to transition to computer science as quickly as possible and be market-ready within months (or up to a year if attending a part-time bootcamp), a coding bootcamp may be the right choice for you. However, if you want to build a comprehensive knowledge base and have better perspectives in relation to employment, all while sacrificing more time and money for your education, you may wish to consider getting a university degree.

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What are the best coding bootcamp vs. degree programs to attend?

Coding Bootcamps

Many coding bootcamp programs exist across the United States. Some of the most popular ones are:

  • Hack Reactor
  • Flatiron School
  • Fullstack Academy
  • Tech Elevator
  • The Software Guild
  • Thinkful
  • Turing

Degree Programs

With university programs, there are several things to consider. You first need to pick an appropriate degree for your background and goals. If you do not possess a university degree, your best choice is to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at a college. For this, we recommend you to view US News’ Top Colleges for Computer Science.

On the other hand, if you already have a Bachelor’s degree in another discipline and are transitioning to a career in computer science, your most favorable options include getting a post-baccalaureate degree or certificate or a Master’s degree in computer science.

If you wish to pursue a Master’s degree in computer science while having no CS background, it is absolutely possible! In fact, you have a choice of attending a Bridge to CS program that leads to a Master’s degree or enrolling in a Master’s degree for career changers.

Whether you choose to attend a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree, we wish you a seamless path to your new career and success in your future professional life. Let us know if you have any questions in the comment section below.