Should I Get a Computer Science Degree or Go to a Coding Bootcamp?

by Meg Embry
• 4 min read
TheBestSchools.org

The technology talent gap is about to explode. Now is the time to start upskilling if you want to get in on the hiring frenzy. But what's the best way to do that?

Computer and information technology jobs are projected to grow by 11% from 2019-2029. According to a recent APEC report, 7 out of 10 job postings in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Canada are in digital occupations.

As emerging technologies amplify the need for specialized training, 87% of executives say they are already experiencing or expect to experience skills gaps in their workforces. The demand for talented tech workers is outpacing supply, and demand will continue to increase as the digital skills gap widens.

If you want a high-paying career with an upward trajectory, now is the time to get into tech — whether you're fresh out of high school and deciding on a college major or you're an experienced employee looking to make a smart career switch.

But what is the best way to do that? Going to a coding bootcamp or getting a computer science degree?

We broke down the major differences between the two options to help you decide.

Computer Science Degrees vs. Coding Bootcamps

Length of Schooling

Bootcamp

  • Immersive bootcamps typically take between 2-6 months.
  • The average length of a bootcamp is 17.3 weeks.

Best for:

Disciplined career-changers who want to fast-track their path into a new job. Bootcamp students must be able to set aside 20-40+ hours per week for intensive, self-directed study.

Computer Science Degree

  • A bachelor's degree in computer science typically takes four years.
  • A master's degree typically takes an additional two years.

Best for:

New high school graduates looking to explore career opportunities, make connections, and build broad foundational knowledge of computation.

Learning Experience

Bootcamp

Bootcamps have a straight-forward goal: to turn you into a job-ready developer or software engineer.

Curricula vary, but most bootcamps will teach you:

  • Algorithms and data structures
  • The fundamentals of a programming language like JavaScript or Java
  • Libraries and frameworks like React and Express

Bootcamps take a hands-on, project-based approach to learning.

A TripleByte analysis found that bootcamp grads match or beat college grads on practical skills.

Best For:

Self-directed learners who can handle short-term, intensive, immersive learning.

Computer Science Degree

Computer science programs provide broad exposure to computer theory, systems, and applications.

Students will graduate with deep, foundational understanding of:

  • Algorithms
  • Advanced mathematics
  • Data structures
  • Data management
  • Hardware

Computer science programs tend to focus on the interplay between theory and practice.

A TripleByte analysis found that computer science grads match or beat bootcamp grads on deep knowledge.

Best For:

Traditional learners who want a college experience.

Cost

Bootcamp

  • Coding bootcamp tuition ranges from $3,500-$30,000.
  • The average cost of a bootcamp is $14,142.
  • In 2020, 33% of bootcampers were self-financed, and 23% used external loans to pay for their training.
  • Some bootcamps let you pay back loans with a portion of your salary once you get a job. Many don't require payment until you get a job.

Best for:

People who want to save money in the long run and have a very clear idea of what they want to do.

People with access to income share agreements or deferred tuition options through their chosen program.

Computer Science Degree

Best for:

Students who want a college degree and plan to get a job in tech.

Note: While the price of college tuition has soared in recent years, high tech salaries can make up for the expense of schooling. The average US tech worker salary hit $97,859 in 2020.

Career Opportunities

Bootcamp

Outcomes for bootcamp graduates are strong: 79% of bootcamp grads land a job, usually within 6 months.

The average salary for bootcamp graduates is $69,079.

Average salary for bootcamp graduates is around $120,000 within five years of bootcamp.

Best For:

People who want to target specific careers in specific fields. The top roles for bootcamp graduates are:

  • Software developer
  • Jr. web developer
  • Front-end web developer
  • Back-end web developer
  • Full-stack web developer
  • Software engineer
  • Data analyst
  • UX/UI designer

Computer Science Degree

The value of a computer science degree is very high in the current market. In fact, 48.9% of employers who responded to a 2021 NACE survey said they plan to hire new computer science graduates.

The average salary for computer science graduates jumped by 7.1% between 2021, to $72,173.

Median mid-career salary is $123,400 and projected to rise.

Best For:

People who want access to careers in a various exciting fields, including but not limited to:

  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Data science
  • Network system administration
  • Computer programming
  • Software development and engineering
  • Video game programming
  • Information security

Reputation

Bootcamp

Since they hit the scene in the mid 2000s, bootcamps have fought an upward battle to establish their graduates as strong candidates for junior developer positions.

But these days, you simply don't need a four-year degree for many tech jobs. Bootcamp graduates are rapidly filling the growing need for software developers.

According to an Indeed Survey,

  • 72% of employers think bootcamp graduates are just as prepared for their jobs as candidates with computer science degrees.
  • 99% of employers who have hired a bootcamp graduate say they would do so again.
  • At the same time, 98% of employers would like to see more regulation of coding bootcamps.

Best For:

Someone who already has a resume and is changing careers.

Computer Science Degree

Even with the shifting trends toward bootcamps and programming certificates, a four-year degree in computer science continues to be highly valued and, in many cases, preferred.

But that preference will definitely favor computer science graduates who have solid coding skills, soft skills, and practical experience over those who don't.

  • 98% of HR leaders say soft skills are important in tech hires.
  • 79% of employers want graduates to have a portfolio project that demonstrates acquired knowledge and skills.

Best For:

Someone who wants to do hard algorithmic or low-level programming (as in, closer to machine language) and pursue senior leadership positions.

At the end of the day, you can't go wrong with either option.

If you are short on time and need to reinvent your career, a bootcamp is probably the way to go.

If you are just starting out, a computer science degree can yield a serious return on your investment and open you up to a greater variety of interesting, fulfilling careers. A master's degree in computer science can make you even more competitive for highly-paid senior and leadership positions.

Meg Embry is a Colorado-based writer for TheBestSchools.org covering higher education. She is an award-winning journalist who has lived and worked in Canada, the Netherlands, and the United States.

Header Image Credit: Maskot, Degui Adil / EyeEm | Getty Images

Learn more, do more.

More topic-relevant resources to expand your knowledge.

Popular with our students.

Highly informative resources to keep your education journey on track.

Take the next step toward your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

woman in an office