Coding Bootcamps vs College: What’s the Right Choice?

What’s worth more? Graduating from a coding bootcamp or a computer programming degree?

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College is no longer the de facto choice for a career in tech. Sure, you can still go to college and get your computer science degree (and there’s nothing wrong with that, of course), but coding bootcamps have emerged as a compelling alternative to get the skills and training you need to land a job in tech. If you’re debating which path to take, we’re here to help.

Coding bootcamps vs college

Let’s take a moment to discuss two viable options available to everyone interested in tech. 

Coding bootcamps offer a range of courses where students can learn the skills they need through a comprehensive curriculum in a shortened period of time.

Coding bootcamps usually run for several weeks, although there are bootcamps that can run for a year. Flatiron School bootcamps, for example, run for 15 weeks. During that time, students enrolled in a data science course or a front-end web development course will learn all the skills they need in their field of choice through a rigorous curriculum and dedicated support from teachers and career services.

Coding bootcamps can be an alternative to a computer science degree, especially in emerging fields like data science.

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College is, well, college. You can earn a degree based on a selected major and completing its requirements.

For tech, most individuals will get a computer science degree. Some universities let you choose a specialized track to study a single subject as part of your major. If you’re interested in a tech career, you are likely earning a computer science degree. From there, you can earn a Master of Science or a Ph.D. in computer science.

However, a CS degree is not a requirement for a tech career. Employers are looking for both hard skills and soft skills and you can gain those skills in many ways.

Hard skills are specific technical skills that you acquire through education or experience. How to code using JavaScript or proficiency in Python are two examples of hard skills. Soft skills are personality traits that affect coworkers and your job performance. Teamwork, time management, and public speaking are just a few soft skills that directly impact your job on a daily basis.

College will teach you hard skills and you’ll learn about the principles of coding languages, operating systems, and web development to name a few. You’re also learning about multiple topics and fields each semester. That can lead to familiarity, but not necessarily mastery.

Specialization comes later as you hone in on a specific field or interest.

Coding bootcamps are practical, specialized courses that train students in a specific field or set of skills. A front-end web development bootcamp will train you in HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other languages using a rigorous curriculum and through real-world scenarios. Front-end web development and its surrounding principles are the sole focus of this bootcamp. They’ll teach you how to become a web developer. If you want to learn Python or a back-end language, there’s a different bootcamp for that.

Coding bootcamps are a great way to gain soft skills because of smaller class sizes and the diversity of students. You’re working with other students who have different experiences, goals, and technical backgrounds through a rigorous curriculum. There will be challenges and you’ll need to ask for help, communicate with other students or teachers, and you’ll learn how to work within a team.

Key Takeaways:

  • Colleges deliver a well-rounded education in a traditional environment

  • Coding bootcamps provide practical training in a specific field or topic

  • College undergraduate programs range from two years to four years

  • Most coding bootcamps run for weeks

Cost of college vs coding bootcamps

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College and coding bootcamps both make sense and were created to serve different purposes.

In college, you’re exploring options and learning about yourself and your next steps in life. You want a well-rounded curriculum where you learn a lot of things and find subjects you’re interested in and others that don’t interest you at all.

The goal of college is to turn you into a capable adult who can handle life and a career. Through that process, you’re investing a lot of money and years of your life. It’s traditionally been a worthwhile trade as a college degree typically served as a barrier to entry for most careers.

However, that outlook has shifted over time as student loans and tuition costs have soared. In 30 years, average college tuition fees for four-year public institutions have increased from $3,190 (adjusted to 2017 dollars) in 1987-88 to $9,970 in 2017-18, according to College Board’s “Trends in College Pricing 2017” report.

Tuition for four-year private institutions have increased from $15,160 in 1987-88 to $34,740 in 2017-18. With rising tuition fees, it’s no surprise student loan debt has dramatically increased. Americans owe over $1.48 trillion in student loan debt across 44 million borrowers with an average monthly loan payment of $351, according to Student Loan Hero (though that might change soon ?).

The average student loan debt for 2017 graduates was $39,400. Coding bootcamps emerged in 2011 to meet the growing demand for software engineers and developers. Bootcamps train students to become developers through a rigorous curriculum in a shortened period of time. Students are learning through hands-on experience with the goal of getting a job in weeks instead of years.

There are free coding bootcamps, but most bootcamps require tuition. The average coding bootcamp tuition is around $11,450, according to Course Report. While this is higher than the average annual tuition fee for a four-year public university, bootcamp students have the potential to get a high-paying salary in a matter of weeks.

Some bootcamps, like Flatiron School, have a dedicated career services team that works with students to get them a job after graduation. 

Coding bootcamps are designed to be agile and evolve alongside tech itself. The demand for data scientists that emerged around 2012 led to the creation of data science courses. In turn, students could enroll in a data science bootcamp and land a job much faster than if they went to school.

If you'd like to see what students are saying about attending a bootcamp, check out our reviews on Career Karma.

Key takeaways:

  • College requires a time and monetary investment

  • Rising tuition and soaring student loan debt has led students to seek alternatives

  • Coding bootcamps have emerged to offer a comprehensive, but flexible, education

  • Lower tuition with the goal of landing a high-paying job has spurred the growth of bootcamps

College and coding bootcamps have their own advantages and disadvantages. When weighing your options between a computer science degree or enrolling in a coding bootcamp, remember there’s no right answer. It’s a personal choice that only you can make.

Go to college if…

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You want to earn a degree and are a recent high school graduate. Going to college is never a bad idea. Most tech jobs require at least a Bachelor’s degree, especially more technical occupations like a data scientist. So, it makes sense to go to college and earn a computer science degree.

You can gain a lot of skills, learn what tech is all about, and get the skills you need for a career. College will give you a strong computer science foundation and you’ll learn about operating systems, algorithms, and math you’ll actually use. You’ll enter the marketplace with a degree and be a viable candidate for junior and entry-level positions.

Going to college makes sense for a lot of people and we’re not here to discourage people from attending a university.

However, there are some drawbacks to college. 

Tuition can be expensive and paying back your student loans can be a drag…just ask any 30-year-old to get the full picture. There’s another drawback to college that helped lead to the creation of coding bootcamps.

In the fast-moving world of tech, institutions have failed to keep up with current trends. Great computer science programs, like at Stanford University or MIT, have added new courses or entire tracks to address these new fields. Stanford offers tracks in Artificial Intelligence and Biocomputation, but other universities may not be so ahead of the curve.

Key Takeaways:

  • College gives you the hard skills needed for a tech career and a well-round education

  • A computer science degree is a standard many employers look for in a potential employee

  • You’ll learn underlying tech principles that are useful as you start your career

  • College tuition fees have increased dramatically over the last 30 years

Student loan debt has also risen over that time What do you do if you want to gain the skills in a new field, but don’t have an opportunity to do so? The answer can be found in coding bootcamps.

Go to a coding bootcamp if…

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You’ve already started your tech career, want to add some new skills, or want to enter a cutting edge field. Or even if you’re just out of high school, too!

Coding bootcamps have emerged to fill the gap between traditional education and demand from tech industries.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in data science. Data science was barely a consideration a decade ago. The rise of big data, with more companies able to obtain and process large amounts of data, led to a need for individuals who could analyze that information to unlock stories and new insights.

Data scientists developed models and algorithms to not only answer questions but predict behaviors and trends based on billions, or trillions, of data points. A college can’t keep up with the evolutionary speed of tech, and that’s why coding bootcamps came into existence.

A bootcamp or tailored course can react to this change and provide the skills for a changing world. An experienced software engineer who wants to become a data scientist may not be able to return to college to learn those skills even if a course was available.

A bootcamp offers a flexible, but rigorous, alternative. In just weeks, that software engineer can get the skills necessary to be a viable data scientist.

Coding bootcamps also work as a way to continue your education and advance your career. But most importantly, a coding bootcamp is not a shortcut. It’s definitely not easy and curriculums are rigorous.

You’ll learn a lot in a short time and you’ll be challenged to help you retain everything you’ve learned during that time. A good bootcamp will not only educate you, but it will also support you. Students are supported by their classmates, teachers, and career services to ensure their success.

Key Takeaways:

  • Coding bootcamps train students and give them practical skills

  • Bootcamps can adapt to changes in the industry faster than a college

  • Bootcamps are rigorous and courses typically last around 12 to 15 weeks

  • Bootcamps can be more expensive than the average tuition fee of a public college

So, what's the right choice, coding bootcamps or college?

The answer to this question remains a personal choice. Going to college gives you a lot of traditional advantages that remain beneficial to getting a job. Many employers still look for a college degree and some jobs require an advanced degree. However, a great coding bootcamp can train you in practical coding skills for today’s tech careers.

If you’re interested in enrolling in a coding bootcamp, Flatiron School offers several free courses to get you started.

Our Coding Bootcamp Prep offers over 75 hours of lessons. You’ll learn fundamental coding skills and build code using the same tools and curriculum found in our Immersive courses. We also offer Intro to JavaScript and Intro to Ruby courses if you want to learn the fundamentals of a specific language.

Our flagship courses which are specifically designed to teach you the skills you need to get a job — and to help you get a job — are offered in software engineering, data science, and cybersecurity.

They’re also offered online as our Online Software Engineering bootcamp, Online Data Science bootcamp, and Online Cybersecurity bootcamp.

If you’re unsure what course is right for you, take our quick course quiz to find out. And don’t worry, we won’t require your email.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of January 30, 2021. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

About Charles Poladian

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