Bootcamp vs. CS Degree: Which Path Is Best?

One thing is clear: Opportunities are not slowing down.

At SwitchUp, we’re often asked if a coding bootcamp is a better fit than a four-year Computer Science (CS) degree. A CS degree might seem like an automatic leg-up in tech, but we have seen students take multiple paths to land dream roles.

One thing is clear: opportunities are not slowing down. Software Developer jobs are growing at a rate of 24%. And only about half of new developers entered the field with a B.S. in Computer Science. In fact, 90% of Stack Overflow respondents cited that as coders, they were at least partially self-taught. That is a huge sign of bootcamps’ potential.

Instead of immediately choosing one path over another, we suggest students compare bootcamps and CS degrees based on a few factors: time and investment, skills taught, accessibility, diversity, and career growth.

Time + Cost

Bootcamps have a clear advantage when it comes to cost. SwitchUp’s research shows the average bootcamp costs around $12,800 and lasts 11 weeks, whereas the average computer science degree costs $40,722/year.

Because bootcamps are not usually eligible for financial aid, many have found innovative ways to help students cover tuition. Deferred Tuition and Income Share Agreements (ISAs) have become especially popular. Students who take this path pay nothing upfront, and instead commit a percentage of their salary for a few years after they land a job.

For schools like App Academy, Deferred Tuition is a win-win: acceptance can be purely merit-based, and students can choose the best fit for them, without financial constraints.

Skills

Curriculum is where bootcamps and CS degrees can vary widely. Most CS degrees focus on theory, Computer Science fundamentals, and advanced mathematics. Some CS students find programming to be a bit limited: when you do start to program, you’ll likely focus on core languages such as C/ C++, and Java.

Bootcamps, on the other hand, focus on the hard skills of modern Software Development. This can include languages and technologies such as:

  • Object Oriented Programming
  • Javascript
  • Ruby
  • GitHub
  • APIs

Bootcamps are designed to help you land an entry-level role through hands-on, mentor-led projects. On the other hand, Computer Science programs tend to be more traditional and include lectures, exams, and other rote features.

The right path for you largely depends on your learning style, and whether a fast-paced, hands-on program will help you succeed.

Diversity & Accessibility

A diverse classroom can make all the difference, and this is where CS programs sometimes come up short. For example, the average percentage of women graduating from computer science programs is just 16%, while SwitchUp’s research shows 43% of bootcamp graduates were women. Some students, especially women and minority groups, find bootcamps to be more welcoming as a result.

Bootcamps can also be more accessible when it comes to admissions, especially for people switching careers. While it might be easier to get started with a bootcamp, we recommend choosing a program that is selective and well-reviewed. Switching to a  programming career is not easy. A selective bootcamp will give you a huge advantage. A bootcamp with strong admissions criteria and a robust pre-work curriculum prior to entering the program will better prepare you for the competitive industry you’ll be joining.

Career Outcomes

Many find it hard to believe bootcamps grads and CS grads can compete for junior developer roles. But in reality, the two groups are often comparable. The hiring resource Triplebyte has had roughly the same success placing both bootcamp grads and CS grads in jobs, and has found bootcamp grads as a group are better at web programming and writing clean, modular code.

Of course just as bootcamps vary, so do their job outcomes. When comparing bootcamps, be sure to ask for a third-party verified outcomes report. You’ll also want to read through reviews on a site like SwitchUp. Reviews for App Academy, for example, can tell you more about the program’s career services, and student experiences entering the job market.

Our Takeaway

The best path for you will depend on your learning style, ideal classroom environment, and factors like time and cost. Be sure to compare every option carefully: read reviews, learn more about job outcomes, and find alumni to talk to.

Ultimately, your drive, commitment, and passion for software development will matter most. As any software developer will tell you, a successful career is all about your passion for code and drive to keep learning!

To begin your bootcamp research, check out App Academy reviews on SwitchUp.

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Written by Mary Bergeron, SwitchUp.org

Mary Bergeron is the Director of Product Marketing at SwitchUp.org, the online platform that helps students find a technology, data science or coding bootcamp for their transition into a technology career.

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