Coding Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree

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  • Coding bootcamps and computer science degrees both offer paths to well-paying tech careers.
  • Median salaries in common tech careers range from $78,300 to $109,020.
  • Computer science degrees take about four years to complete and provide a more well-rounded education.
  • Coding bootcamps offer career-focused training that can help you start working in tech in less than a year.

While a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field used to be the only way to start a tech career, employers are increasingly looking to coding bootcamps to fill hiring gaps.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developer jobs are projected to increase by 25% between 2021 and 2031, adding 411,400 new jobs. Web developer jobs are projected to grow by 23% in the same period.

Coding bootcamps and computer science degrees offer complimentary paths to high-paying tech careers. According to research from Switchup, the average percentage of coding bootcamps alumni and four-year college alumni hired by the five largest tech companies was similar: 6.03% and 6.60%, respectively.

Many professionals decide to pursue a bootcamp because of the lower total cost and shorter time to enter the workforce. On the other hand, some employers still prefer professionals with bachelor's degrees.

This page offers a comprehensive list of factors to consider to help you decide between these two paths.

Coding Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree

Cost

Bootcamps often cost less than even one year of tuition at a four-year college. The average costs of one year of college tuition and fees ranged from $9,380 at a four-year public college to $35,850 at a four-year private college for the 2020-2021 academic year.

In contrast, coding bootcamps can open a new career in as little as a few months. Many top coding bootcamps cost between $10,000 and $15,000. According to data collected by BestColleges from 620 bootcamp programs, the average cost of coding bootcamps was just $13,580 in 2020.

With lower costs, bootcamps can help students to minimize or avoid student debt. However, when considering a coding bootcamp vs. a degree, not all coding bootcamps offer scholarships, payment plans, or other funding options for students who can't pay upfront.

Coding Bootcamp Computer Science Degree

Pros

Coding bootcamps cost an average of $13,580 (as of 2020).

Some bootcamps offer a job guarantee with hiring partners.

A bachelor's degree in computer science gives a broad educational foundation, including coding skills.

Employers often prefer graduates with bachelor's degrees.

Cons

Not all coding bootcamps offer payment methods or scholarships. The average annual cost of tuition at a four-year college was $35,550 per year as of 2020-2021, or $142,000 total.

Return on Investment (ROI)

Return on investment (ROI) measures an investment's profitability. This approximation gives a sense of the total financial return for an expense. A coding bootcamps and a computer science degree are both investments toward your future earnings. Calculating ROI can help guide you to make important decisions.

To calculate ROI, there are three steps:

  1. Subtract the initial cost (initial investment) from the final value.
  2. Divide this number by the cost of investment.
  3. Multiply the total by 100%. This is expressed as a percentage.

Calculating the ROI on a lifetime career can have many additional variables, so it's difficult to compare the ROI for coding bootcamp vs. college over a lifetime.

However, here's an example of how to calculate the one-year ROI for a coding bootcamp:

  • The coding bootcamp costs $15,000.
  • After completing the coding bootcamp, you get a job as a software developer, where the median salary was $109,020 in 2021, according to the BLS.
  • The ROI on the coding bootcamp after one year of work = ($109,020-$15,000) /$15,000 *100 = 626.8% ROI
Coding Bootcamp Computer Science Degree

Pros

Coding bootcamps require a lower initial investment to start a career.

Bootcamps offer a higher short-term ROI.

Computer science degrees are highly respected. They can lead to higher compensation throughout a professional's career (higher possible lifetime ROI).

Cons

Some employers may still require professionals to have a bachelor's degree.

Some bootcamp graduates may have difficulty finding a job, leading to lower ROI.

It takes four years to start earning a salary and requires a higher initial investment.

Students may graduate with significant student debt, which can cut into ROI.

Curriculum & Length

During a four-year bachelor's degree in computer science, students take general education credits in English, math, science, business, and history, plus computer science courses. Some employers prefer professionals to have a broad general education and degree to demonstrate proficiency.

College students also have time to master advanced concepts. Computer science curriculums usually include courses on data structures, programming languages, and software engineering, as well as electives.

Coding bootcamps usually last a few months, allowing students to start working sooner. Coding bootcamps provide a highly intensive environment to learn key coding skills professionals use as developers, data analysts, or programmers.

With a short, concentrated time to build coding skills, students can pick up skills more quickly. For students looking for an accelerated career path in tech, coding bootcamps offer a solution.

Coding Bootcamp Computer Science Degree

Pros

Coding bootcamps teach the skills that professionals need to start working.

Many coding bootcamps take 3-4 months full-time to complete.

Computer science degrees offer a general education foundation.

A bachelor's in computer science is highly respected by employers.

Cons

Professionals may need additional time to master all the skills from a bootcamp or may require additional training.

Graduates don't gain the non-technical knowledge that four-year degrees offer.

Many of the courses in a computer science degree don't directly apply to programming.

Traditional bachelor’s degrees take four years to complete.

Salary Potential

Professionals who earn either a bachelor's degree in computer science or graduate from a coding bootcamp can have a similar earning potential. According to the BLS, as of 2021, median salaries for tech careers were:

Traditionally, these careers require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. A study from Switchup showed that computer science graduates and bootcamp alumni had similar average employment at major tech companies.

Coding bootcamp graduates have an employment rate of about 79%. Bootcamp graduates can also start working in less than a year, potentially qualifying for more senior positions — and higher salaries — sooner.

Coding Bootcamp Computer Science Degree

Pros

Graduates can start earning a salary in a year or less.

Bootcamp graduates can earn similar salaries to college graduates.

Computer science graduates have high earning potential, with several career paths that have median salaries over $100,000.

Cons

Bootcamp graduates without a degree may earn less than colleagues with a degree at some companies.

A computer science degree takes four years before graduates can start earning a salary.

Average student loan debt for four-year colleges ranges from $18,340 to $39,930.

The Best of Both Worlds

Still unsure about which path to choose? The good news is that you don't have to!

You can enroll in both a coding bootcamp and a computer science degree program within your lifetime. Coding bootcamps and bachelor's degrees provide complementary skill sets and networking opportunities that can help advance a professional's career.

A college graduate who has been in the tech industry for years may want to boost their skills and may enroll in a coding bootcamp. Or, a bootcamp graduate might want to enroll in college after building skills in a bootcamp.

The disadvantages of bootcamps can be evened out by earning a college degree. To complete a degree faster, professionals can get credit for work experience or even earn a degree part-time while working in tech. Rather than asking about a coding bootcamp vs. computer science degree, many professionals choose both.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bootcamp vs. College

What employers hire coding bootcamp graduates?

Major tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple, and Microsoft hire coding bootcamp graduates, as well as top graduates from computer science degree programs. Coding bootcamps also partner with companies to help graduates land jobs. For example, Ironhack has over 600 hiring partners, including major companies around the world, including Carnival, Deloitte, TransUnion, BBC, Visa, and Office Depot.

Another top coding bootcamp, Treehouse, has hiring partners that include Nike, Mailchimp, Adobe, Verizon, Chegg, and Airbnb.

What degree should I get for coding?

For coding or programming careers, professionals can consider a bachelor's or master's degree in computer science, information technology, or computer programming. Some computer programmers also get bachelor's degrees in mathematics or engineering.

How fast can you earn a computer science degree?

A bachelor's degree in computer science typically requires four years of full-time study. Students can complete accelerated computer science degree programs in as little as two to three years. Part-time students may need 5-6 years to complete a bachelor's degree in computer science.

Some students may also be able to earn credit for AP high school courses or work experience. Accelerated master's degrees in computer science usually take one to two years.

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