Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?
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- Bootcamps offer cost-effective training for professionals in the tech industry.
- Coding bootcamps provide a shortcut to tech careers, with starting salaries of $70,000.
- Employers increasingly see bootcamp graduates with skills comparable to bachelor's degree holders.
- Graduates from coding bootcamps have a high employment rate in the field, of over 70%.
Coding bootcamps can help you start your career in tech in less than one year. Bootcamps, as the name implies, are highly intensive. But for graduates, the hard work can lead to gaining the skills for a new career or faster promotion.
Compared to traditional degrees, bootcamps' lower cost and targeted scholarships could more effectively close the opportunity gap for low-income students. While not all bootcamps offer scholarships or funding options, access to financial aid options is increasing. Read on to learn the pros and cons of coding bootcamps and find out if a coding bootcamp is worth it for you.
What Is a Coding Bootcamp?
Coding bootcamps emerged over the last decade to fill a talent vacuum. Tech companies had more jobs than qualified applicants, and the number of college graduates with four-year degrees couldn't satisfy the industry's growing needs.
The premise of coding bootcamps is implicit in the name: learning to code in a condensed, rigorous format. Pioneers like Dev Bootcamp in San Francisco and The Iron Yard in Greenville, South Carolina, designed these programs to make students job-ready in a matter of months rather than years.
The format's combination of speed and accessibility continues to attract a growing population of professionals looking to upskill and compete for high-paying tech jobs.
Related Coding Bootcamps
What Are the Benefits of Coding Bootcamps?
So what is driving students to enroll in coding bootcamps? "There's an access issue for computer science at all levels of high school and throughout higher education," said Sheree Speakman, the CEO of the Council for Integrity in Results Reporting (CIRR). "While this is changing, implementation is not happening fast enough."
CIRR is a membership organization comprising coding bootcamps that voluntarily report student outcomes. Speaking to BestColleges about the value of coding bootcamps, Speakman explained, "The success of code schools is that a student can learn to code from code schools, regardless of whether or not they've been able to learn coding and computer science in traditional education systems."
The Pros and Cons of Coding Bootcamps
Accessibility: Bootcamps do not have general education classes or stringent admission requirements. They can also be more affordable than a four-year education.
Flexibility: Compared to earning a traditional degree, code schools may come with fewer opportunity costs. Whereas a bootcamp might require around 12 weeks of full-time immersion, a full-time bachelor's degree requires four years.
Innovative repayment options: Some bootcamps offer innovative repayment options, such as deferred tuition, income share agreements, or employer sponsorships.
Practical skills: Coding bootcamps focus on practical skills needed in the workplace, while computer science degrees also emphasize theory.
Minimal accreditation: Very few bootcamps are nationally or regionally accredited in the same way as colleges and universities. Accreditation is a way of measuring the quality of instruction.
Less depth: The short and condensed formats may come at the expense of depth and focus, whereas a four-year degree provides the time to explore different areas of computer science.
Less financial aid: Some bootcamps are more expensive than others, and private code schools do not currently qualify for federal financial aid.
Less versatile: Bootcamps tend to teach you one area of computer science, such as web development, whereas a computer science degree can prepare you for a variety of jobs in the field.
For most students, the issue of access comes down to cost. A four-year computer science degree can be obscenely expensive, and many students — not just low-income ones — face a variety of obstacles when it comes to completing a college education.
Over the last three decades, public university tuition costs have more than tripled while middle-class wages have stagnated.Student loan debt has reached $1.6 trillion with no signs of slowing down. Given these economic realities, it's understandable why many students want alternatives to higher education that won't land them in serious debt.
Traditionally, however, students earning college degrees can rely on one thing that bootcamp students lack: access to federal financial aid. Coding bootcamps are not nationally or regionally accredited and therefore do not qualify for federal financial aid. Currently, the only way to receive federal financial aid for bootcamp-style classes is to apply for EQUIP, which covers only eight college-based programs.
While code school students lack access to the same financial aid options as traditional college students, Speakman pointed to initiatives that attempt to leverage the coding bootcamp model to increase access, such as code schools with income-sharing agreements (ISAs) and workforce development partnerships.
Instead of requiring students to pay for tuition upfront, a typical ISA requires graduates to pay a percentage of their income to a code school only when it exceeds a certain minimum threshold. According to a Christensen Institute report, an increasing number of coding bootcamps use this model, which is intended to minimize risk and guarantee job placement.
Nonprofit workforce development programs also highlight some of the advantages of a coding bootcamp model and its potential to increase access for underserved populations. For example, the San Diego Workforce Partnership recently launched a front-end development program through its Workforce ISA Fund. In partnership with Google and other donors, the initiative aims to attract financially strapped students to high-demand tech jobs.
"In essence, code schools provide true equity and access for students seeking to learn and be employed upon graduation," Speakman said.
Measuring access is difficult, however. Members of CIRR do not currently report on the economic or educational backgrounds of their students, so it remains unclear whether bootcamps solve some of the more intractable problems of education in the United States, such as opportunity gaps for low-income students.
How Much Do Coding Bootcamps Cost?
While bootcamps might increase access for many students who would otherwise not get a computer science education, it's also true that some code schools are more expensive than others.
The cost of a bootcamp can range from as low as $1,300 to as high as $30,000.
Average Bootcamp Tuition in 2020
Some nonprofit programs, such as Ada Development Academy, offer a tuition-free model based on donations and corporate partnerships. Several others may defer tuition payment based on income-sharing agreements, or they may receive payment based on referral fees from job placement.
Of course, whether any price point is worth it depends on the quality of instruction and measurable student outcomes. But considering the average cost of a four-year degree can range from $20,000 a year at a public institution to $43,000 a year at a private college, coding bootcamps may be a worthwhile bargain for students who want to break into the tech industry.
Will a Coding Bootcamp Get You a Job?
In short, yes, a coding bootcamp can help you get a job. According to the CIRR, over 70% of coding bootcamp graduates find employment in the tech industry within 180 days. Exact graduation and employment rates vary by bootcamp and cohort.
For example, graduates of the Hacktiv8 July to December 2021 cohort had a 90% employment rate in the industry after 180 days. The Tech Elevator Cleveland 2021 cohort had a 94.5% employment rate in the same period.
Graduates of the Codeup Dallas 2021 cohort had an employment rate of 82.4% in the field after 180 days. This data does not include other factors that may contribute to employment, such as previous education or experience.
In terms of salary, bootcamp graduates can expect comparable salaries to degree holders with similar experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for common tech careers include:
- Web developers: $78,300
- Computer programmers: $93,000
- Computer systems analysts: $99,270
- Software developers: $109,200
- Computer network architects: $120,520
Both a computer science degree graduate and a coding bootcamp graduate can have similar career outcomes. There isn't specific comparative data on bootcamps versus computer science degrees for starting salaries. However, CIRR does provide average salaries for coding bootcamps graduates.
Median annual base salaries for bootcamp graduates reported to CIRR range from:
- $53,500 for 2021 Codeup Dallas graduates for full-stack web development
- $70,000 for 2021 Tech Elevator graduates in Wilmington and Philadelphia for full-stack software development
- $70,000 for 2021 Launch Academy in Boston for web development
Many tech careers are projected to grow from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS, including:
Are Bootcamps a Good Alternative to a Traditional College Degree?
Our 2021 Bootcamps Trends Report found that "almost half (48%) of all business leaders surveyed, and 56% of those from tech companies and organizations that hire for tech roles, said that bootcamps will play a pivotal role in meeting future workforce training needs."
Bootcamps can be a good alternative to a traditional college degree for those interested in a fast-growing tech career. For professionals looking to make a quick career change, bootcamps offer technical skills along with robust career search services. These can make it easier for graduates to land a job.
The pros of bootcamps go beyond skills training. With a lower total cost and shorter training time, bootcamp graduates have the chance to enter the workforce faster, and with less debt. Bootcamps offer comparable salary-earning potential to graduates.
While college degrees may open more senior positions, bootcamp graduates gain a competitive skill set for entry-level positions. Bootcamps are known for top-level hiring partners. Top tech companies hiring bootcamp grads include:
- Amazon Web Services
- Capital One Labs
How Are Coding Bootcamps Perceived by Employers?
Beyond the numbers, perception by employers is also a huge factor in assessing the value of coding bootcamps. Companies like Microsoft, for example, are seeing increasing numbers of applicants with code school credentials.
"As the availability of bootcamps and other nontraditional reskilling resources has increased, we're seeing more and more applicants note these experiences on their applications," said Dan Ayoub, general manager for Microsoft Education.
Ayoub spoke to BestColleges about how hiring managers perceive bootcamps compared to a traditional computer science education. "For people who think they may be interested in a field like coding, a bootcamp is a great way to explore it without investing the time and resources a traditional four-year degree requires," he said.
When asked how to assess the quality or reputation of coding bootcamps, Ayoub offered some practical advice: "I recommend reaching out to the bootcamps in your area and seeing if you can sit in on one before you sign up, talk[ing] to people who have completed the bootcamp, and research[ing] ratings and reviews online."
Many employers share Ayoub's positive impression of coding bootcamps. A 2017 survey by Indeed assessed the value of coding bootcamps by asking employers whether graduates are "just as prepared and likely to be high performers" as professionals with computer science degrees. A total of 72% said yes, compared to 17% who said these candidates are "not as prepared or likely to be higher performers."
According to the same Indeed survey, while most employers have a favorable opinion of coding bootcamps, 98% want more oversight. Though organizations like CIRR have stepped in to provide more transparency and standardized reporting, bootcamps not affiliated with universities are not accredited or regulated in the same way as traditional schools.
However, the success of the coding bootcamp model is remarkable enough that universities are beginning to take notice. An increasing number of four-year schools — among them the University of Washington; Northwestern University; University of California, Berkeley; and the University of Minnesota — now offer bootcamps of their own.
How To Choose a Coding Bootcamp
When choosing a coding bootcamp, students should consider course format, program cost, financial aid or scholarships available, graduation rates, and job placement opportunities. Prospective students will want to weigh the pros and cons of each in their situation.
- Course format: Consider full-time or part-time programs. Part-time programs allow students to continue working but can take eight months to a year to complete. Students can also choose between in-person, hybrid, or online course options.
- Cost: According to our 2021 survey of 624 bootcamps, the average bootcamp tuition price was $13,580. The least expensive bootcamp surveyed cost just $1,480. The most expensive was $30,000. Choose a bootcamp that meets other requirements and is affordable.
- Financial aid: In addition to an upfront payment, some coding bootcamps have scholarships, tuition payment plans, income share agreements, or accept GI Bill®. Unfortunately, many coding bootcamps still require upfront payments.
- Graduation rates: If the bootcamp reports to the CIRR, prospective students can see the graduation rates of each cohort and choose a bootcamp. Be wary of bootcamps' self-reported graduation rates.
- Job placement: Some bootcamps offer job placement or a full refund if the graduate doesn't get a job within a year. Other coding bootcamps have a large network of hiring partners to facilitate graduates' job search.
So Is a Coding Bootcamp Worth It?
The short answer? It depends. When asked about the future of computer science education, Ayoub shared a thought that is instructive for assessing the value of coding bootcamps: "I think the future is about a few things: It's about expanding access for students, but also new learners at different stages in their careers."
Colleges and universities are not ideal for everyone, particularly for nontraditional learners who don't have the time or money to earn a four-year degree. Coding bootcamps are for professionals who may want to switch careers, retrain, or upskill. The quick but immersive nature of these programs allows them to get started in the industry or propel their careers in a new direction.
However, bootcamps do not replicate the depth and scope of a four-year computer science degree, and many employers think the industry needs more accountability. For this reason, comparing a coding bootcamp to a four-year education is like comparing apples and oranges. Ultimately, they serve different purposes and different student populations while also catering to the diverse needs of a growing industry.
If you're interested in learning more about the best coding bootcamps available or if a coding bootcamp is right for you, check out our complete guide to coding bootcamps.
Frequently Asked Questions About Coding Bootcamps
What is the success rate of coding bootcamps?
According to CIRR data, over 70% of coding bootcamp graduates across all reported programs find employment in the tech industry within 180 days. Success rates vary from one bootcamp to another. CIRR-verified programs report their employment rate after graduation for each cohort. These bootcamps also report median salaries.
Is a coding bootcamp enough to get a job?
Yes, a coding bootcamp can be enough to get a job. According to CIRR data, the coding bootcamp graduate employment rate is 79% after 180 days. For graduates with a computer science degree, the employment rate after one year is 68%.
Some coding bootcamps report employment within the field 180 days after graduation of up to 91%.
Are coding bootcamps difficult?
Coding bootcamps are intensive but not necessarily difficult. Full-time programs can take 40 to 80 hours of coursework and study per week. Whether a bootcamp seems difficult will depend on students' familiarity with coding concepts, aptitude for math concepts, and the instruction format.
With continued study and support, most students can gain proficiency in bootcamps.