The path to becoming a programmer or tech industry worker used to be fairly straightforward. A four-year undergraduate degree in computer science or a similar field was a prerequisite to a high-powered professional position. However, today, students are faced with additional educational opportunities, such as coding bootcamps.
While it’s great to have several compelling alternatives to the traditional college path, you might struggle with deciding which one makes the most sense for your career goals. In this article, we’ve broken down some of the primary factors you should consider when choosing between a college degree or a bootcamp program.
Cost of Bootcamp vs. College
The first reason to attend a bootcamp over college you might think of is the cost. From a purely financial standpoint, bootcamps will always come out on top in this arena. According to Course Report, the average cost of a full-time coding bootcamp is $14,142. This is ultimately going to be thousands of dollars less than a traditional college degree, which has increased over the years. A private institution on average will cost you up to $35,087, with public schools costing anywhere from around $9,000-$21,000 according to USNews.com.
Since education can be one of the largest investments a person will make, you’ll want to consider the long-term debt load you’re willing to carry. According to NerdWallet, the average student debt loan ranges from $26,820-$54,880, which does not take into account housing and other living costs. Bootcamps offer a variety of repayment options including various types of Income-Share Agreements, which see students begin payments once they’re on the job.
Ultimately, the financial choice will come down to the desired experiential element you wish to receive from either going to college or attending a bootcamp. If you lean more towards a traditional on-campus experience, the cost might be worth it. But if you’re looking to fast-track your way to the workforce and acquire job-critical skills, a bootcamp might be more your speed.
From start to finish, a bootcamp will almost always take less time than a degree program, but might require more hours per day of work, as well as an increased amount of independent coursework. On average, students will complete a bootcamp in anywhere from 8 weeks to six months. Depending on the provider, courses can be taken in-person or online, in either a full or part-time capacity. The fast-paced programs might mean spending just a few days or hours on any given topic. Degree programs, on the other hand, typically last four years, and have the luxury of diving deeper into multiple areas of study. A bootcamp might be the best option for a student looking to fit education into an already packed schedule. The ability to take classes part-time from the comfort of your own home, as well as the self-paced element of many programs, make these types of courses a great match for those balancing other family or work obligations.
In bootcamps, the predominant focus is going to be on skills you’ll need on the job. This means a majority of instruction will be on industry-standard tools used by developers, like HTML/CSS, Python, R, Tableau and more. The general education requirements found on college campuses are not present at bootcamps, replaced by a rigorous curriculum that often includes real-world case studies and expertise on a narrow yet deep breadth of topics.
A computer science degree program will simply have more time to explore theoretical and advanced topics in a more comprehensive manner than a bootcamp program. While you might not use this knowledge on a daily basis per se, it can be advantageous to possess the “how” and “why” behind these foundational concepts. The longer timeframe also allows students to explore multiple interests or tack on additional coursework in areas like computer science theory or advanced mathematics.
In both cases, potential students should look at the type of learning modules and instructional support offered by their program of choice. Colleges are typically going to stick to a lecture format, but bootcamps might pursue a more hands-on, project-based model, better for self-paced learners. Both universities and many bootcamps offer 1:1 instruction and tutoring opportunities as well.
Bootcamps and full degree programs are both going to vary in the career support they provide. Since bootcamps are geared toward their participants entering the tech workforce, they often offer a wide spectrum of professional services like career coaching, resume review, mock technical interviews and networking events. University career centers may or may not offer similar services, depending on the size of their program, although the coursework is less career-oriented than bootcamps.
The question you might be left wondering is if employers value bootcamps to the same level as a college degree. The answer is increasingly yes! A survey from Indeed found that 72% of employers think “bootcamp graduates are just as prepared and likely to be high performers as candidates with computer science degrees.” The caveat here is that many large corporations will still require at least a bachelor’s for those interested in executive level or non-technical positions. On the other hand, in the startup space, a bootcamp grad might be valued more for the initiative they’ve taken in driving their own education and completing self-taught projects.
Other Career Growth Paths in Tech
Although they might be the most popular, universities and bootcamp programs are not the only way to gain a foothold within the tech industry. Especially ambitious students might consider embarking on a self-taught path using the large variety of free resources available online. Full semester-long courses from world-class institutions like Harvard and MIT can be found for free on EdX. Other resources, like freeCodeCamp or the Odin Project are less time-intensive “learn-to-code” sites, great for those looking to dip their toes in the tech world.
As more and more students realize the benefits of online learning, providers outside of the traditional university system are starting to take notice. Google has begun to offer its own professional-level training courses through its Career Certificate Program. These credentials, offered in IT Support, Data Analytics, Project Management, UX Design and Android Development are designed to be completed in six months or less with under 10 hours of flexible study per week. With no background experience needed, these career certificates serve as yet another path to an in-demand job with access to services like coaching, mock interviews, resume builder tools and the Google Employer Consortium.
Is College or a Bootcamp Right for Me?
As you can see, the answer to this question is highly circumstantial. Both a college degree and a bootcamp program can serve as excellent ways to kickstart your career in the tech industry.
A bootcamp might be the right fit for you if you’re looking to upskill in a specific area, learn real-world technical skills and are a strong self-taught learner. The efficient and cost-effective nature of these programs, combined with tailored mentoring and career services make them a great choice for a multitude of students. Despite this, a six-month bootcamp will not be able to match the curriculum depth found at Universities.
An undergraduate degree still serves as a basic prerequisite for many career opportunities. With thousands of public and private colleges in the United States, you’re sure to find a program that matches your interests and abilities, with the ability to explore multiple sub-fields over a four year period. However, the financial cost for this type of education is high, and some legacy institutions might struggle to incorporate the latest tech trends into their curriculum, like artificial intelligence.
Of course, there might be no need to choose between these two types of education, at all. You could take a bootcamp either before or after completing a degree. In the former case, as a means to determine your interest level in a given subject before committing to four years and in the latter case, as a way to scale up your ability in a specific topic or pivot to a new career field. Ultimately, there are any number of paths you can take to enter the tech industry, and it’s never too late to change your mind, or take on additional educational opportunities.
If you remain undecided, be sure to check out some of our additional resources including:
- Comprehensive bootcamp listings pages, for programs in subject areas like Coding, Cybersecurity, Data Analytics, Data Science, Digital Marketing, Fintech and UX/UI.
- A list of some of the most in-demand tech roles for 2022, trends we’re seeing within the industry and job search resources.
- A comprehensive guide to bootcamp scholarships
- A look at free online coding resources for those just starting out their educational journey.