Coding Bootcamp or College Degree?

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Ready to start your journey?

By Nalea Ko

Published on May 14, 2021

Share on Social

Coding bootcamps offer a fast track to individuals wanting to begin a career in the lucrative tech industry. While earning a bachelor's in computer science takes years, coding bootcamps can be completed within just a few months. Some bootcamps even provide tuition refunds if graduates cannot find tech positions within a set period of time after graduating.

Short-term career training makes sense for working professionals looking for a speedy career shift, or for professionals already working in tech who want to learn a specific new skill. But what about a traditional computer science degree? How do you choose between a coding bootcamp vs. college?

That decision depends in part upon your target tech career. While coding bootcamps generally have good track records when it comes to helping graduates find positions in the tech field, a bootcamp education may limit a person's career options.

Is a computer science (CS) degree worth it? Or will graduating from a bootcamp help you meet your goals? In this guide we weigh the pros and the cons of attending a coding bootcamp vs. college.

Coding Bootcamp vs. Computer Science Degree

There are multiple pathways you can follow to break into the tech industry and increase your earning potential. But how do you decide between a coding bootcamp vs. college? Start by weighing the pros and cons of attending a bootcamp over a degree program.

Cost

Pros

Coding bootcamps can cost thousands of dollars less than a traditional college degree. Bootcamp tuition often ranges from $10,000-$15,000, with the average cost falling at around $13,500 (based on data collected by BestColleges in 2020). In contrast, tuition for a computer science program often costs upwards of $65,000 according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, which reported an average yearly undergraduate tuition of around $16,300 at four-year schools in 2018-19.

Coding bootcamps sometimes offer tuition deferral plans that allow students to postpone tuition payment until after they complete the program and find a job. Students may put down a small deposit, or they may be able to start with no money down. As mentioned previously, bootcamps sometimes offer a tuition reimbursement program in conjunction with this option: If a graduate is not able to find a qualifying job within an allotted time frame, they won't need to pay back their tuition.

Many bootcamps offer a similar payment option called an income share agreement. Like tuition deferral, students pay nothing or a small fee upfront, and then repay their tuition once they find a job. However, instead of paying a fixed tuition amount, graduates pay a fixed percentage of their salary over a set amount of time. Payment options such as these may appeal to students who don't have the funds to finance their education up front.

Cons

Despite costing less than many degree programs, attending a coding bootcamp can still be expensive. While college students at many institutions can access federal financial aid, such as grants and loans with favorable repayment terms, bootcamp students cannot receive this type of aid since bootcamps do not hold educational accreditation.

Bootcamp payment options such as tuition deferral plans and income share agreements may seem like convenient alternatives to a financial aid package, but they come with strings attached. For instance, you may be required to take the first job offer that comes your way. And if the income share agreement lacks a repayment cap, then the total cost of your bootcamp tuition can end up being just as high or higher than a college degree in the long run. Since these payment options are unregulated, read the fine print carefully before enrolling.

Salary Potential

Pro

Bootcamps usually provide robust career search services and skills training, which can make it easier for graduates to land a well-paying tech job. And according to a 2017 survey by Indeed, employers don't seem any less willing to hire bootcamp graduates than college graduates -- 89% of employers surveyed thought coding bootcamp graduates were just as or more prepared for jobs than computer science degree-holders.

Con

While bootcamp graduates may be able to get an entry-level tech position without much trouble, traditional degrees may matter more when rising higher on the corporate ladder. Consider your aspirations when it comes to your career trajectory and explore whether a college degree is necessary for management positions in the technical discipline you want to specialize in.

Curriculum and Length

Pros

While a computer science degree typically takes about four years to complete, and a master's degree in a related discipline takes around two years, coding bootcamps often last just 2-6 months. Many bootcamps also offer part-time scheduling options.

Students enrolled in a coding bootcamp can learn the technical skills necessary for their desired career without having to complete the general education courses that most college degrees require.

Con

Without the luxury of an extended timeline, bootcamp curricula have a limited scope compared to what you might learn while pursuing a computer science degree. Bootcamps cannot explore foundational computer science concepts and advanced computing topics as deeply as a degree program can.

Career Opportunities

When it comes to comparing a bootcamp vs. college, both can lead to ample career opportunities for graduates. Both equip students with marketable tech skills and offer career preparation services. Most bootcamps include career coaching, resume help, mock interviews, and portfolio reviews, along with opportunities to network with alumni, employers, and other industry professionals. Career centers at most colleges offer similar services, though they may not be as focused as a bootcamp on providing specialized career support for tech disciplines.

Bootcamps do generally have a strong track record for job placement. According to the Council on Integrity in Results Reporting -- a nonprofit organization that provides reporting standards for bootcamps and audits bootcamp member outcome data -- the average percentage of graduates employed in the field within 180 days of graduation was around 79%. This is based on data collected from 46 coding bootcamps between January and June 2019.

Coding bootcamp graduates commonly find jobs as web developers, software developers, or junior developers. Individuals who want upper-level executive positions may need to pursue a bachelor's and/or master's degree. With a bachelor's degree in computer science, graduates often secure jobs as web developers, software engineers, and computer systems analysts.

The Best of Both Worlds

Who says you must choose between a coding bootcamp vs. college? Coding bootcamps and bachelor's degrees in computer science both serve as viable pathways to tech careers.

Many degree-holders attend coding bootcamps to brush up on their skills or learn a new specialty. Coding bootcamps can complement a college education since bootcamps quickly alter their curricula to reflect industry standards and changes in technology.

Frequently Asked Questions About Coding Bootcamps vs. a College Degree

Do employers like coding bootcamps?

Many employers maintain relationships with bootcamps and hire recent graduates. A 2017 survey by Indeed found that 89% of employers surveyed thought coding bootcamp graduates were just as or more prepared for jobs than computer science degree-holders.

Is it worth doing a coding bootcamp?

It depends. Since coding bootcamps do not hold accreditation, students must assess the quality of the programs they are interested in. If you want to learn specific technical skills and get a tech job quickly, then a coding bootcamp can provide a worthwhile education.

Do I need a degree for coding?

No. Students arrive at coding bootcamps from a variety of different backgrounds and a college degree is not typically required.

Additional Resources

The Ultimate Guide to Coding Bootcamps How to Get Into a Coding Bootcamp Why Aren't Bootcamps Accredited?