The demand for innovative computer science professionals will only grow in the future. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates a 25% growth - or 411,400 new roles - for software engineers by 2031. Engineers and data scientists choose between coding bootcamps and computer science degrees from universities as they pursue these roles.
The question of whether a coding bootcamp or a masters in computer science is worth it depends on your career goals. Coding bootcamps and university programs differ in curriculum, cost, and institutional reputation. In short, bootcamps are tailor-made for specific skill shortages while university programs build foundations for long-term success.
The Coding Bootcamp Experience
The rapid acceleration of technology in the early 21st century led to high demand for software engineers. American universities graduated approximately 65,000 students with computer science degrees in 2019, falling behind industry demand. Coding bootcamps emerged as alternative paths for tech-savvy professionals interested in computer science careers.
Early leaders like General Assembly (2011), Hack Reactor (2012), and Code Fellows (2013) have been joined by hundreds of competitors. Career Karma’s 2020 report on the industry found $460 million in total revenues for coding bootcamps. There was significant growth over the past decade as shown by bootcamp graduate totals:
- 2012: 1,745
- 2014: 7,139
- 2016: 21,310
- 2018: 32,534
- 2020: 35,446
Early interest in coding bootcamps stemmed from their promise of affordable and expedited instruction on in-demand skills. Students considering coding bootcamps or computer science degrees might choose the former because of financial concerns but there is a better return on investment for the latter. Let’s look at what coding bootcamps offer for current and future software professionals.
Coding bootcamps live up to their name by training students in specific programming languages. While the bootcamp industry has grown more diverse, web development and software engineering remain the areas of the strongest student interest. Career Karma identified the most common programming languages held by bootcamp graduates in 2020:
A 2019 RTI research report found full-time bootcamps averaged 13 weeks of full-time study and 24 weeks of part-time study. There is a mixture of in-person, hybrid, and fully online bootcamps available to students.
Coding bootcamps deemphasize formal education in their admissions processes. Fifty-nine percent of coding bootcamps studied by RTI - including 43% of online programs - had competitive admission requirements. These requirements included aptitude testing, interviews, and previous programming experience. RTI also found that only 15% of programs had competitive application processes for individual courses.
The average cost of a coding bootcamp is $11,900 with a full-time program averaging $13,500. RTI found that 89% of bootcamps offered financial aid including Skills Fund (38%) or Climb Credit (35%) loans and scholarships (26%). Less than one percent of the more than 1,000 bootcamps studied by RTI offered income-based repayment programs.
What to Expect in a Computer Science Program
Computer science degrees trace their origins much further than the first coding camps. A post-World War II technological boom required experts to operate computers in university, government, and private sector labs. The first computer science department was created in 1962 and the first Ph.D. in the discipline was awarded in 1965.
Generations of university students helped computing move from laboratories to millions of American homes. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data found a 21x increase in computer science bachelor’s degrees from 1970 to 2010. Master’s degrees in computer science also grew over this period as shown by the number of graduates below:
- 1970: 1,588
- 1980: 4,218
- 1990: 9,324
- 2000: 16,911
- 2010: 19,446
University computer science programs remain popular because of student access to world-class faculty. A university’s connections to public and private sector employers create pipelines for future employment. Professionals with computer science degrees are ready for future challenges thanks to well-rounded curricula.
Bachelor’s degrees in computer science provide the baseline knowledge needed for entry-level software and data science roles. Experienced professionals prepare for leadership and advanced managerial roles with master’s degrees. Top university programs build knowledge in core areas defined by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) including:
- Algorithms and Complexity
- Discrete Structures
- Parallel and Distributed Computing
- Programming Languages
- Software Development Fundamentals
- Systems Fundamentals
Faculty members teach theoretical foundations and practical applications in each knowledge area. Computer science students accumulate samples of their work over years of coursework, making it easier to build impressive portfolios. University programs have expanded their fully online and hybrid learning options, especially with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Universities establish competitive admission requirements for their computer science programs due to high application volumes. Undergraduate students need to meet minimum GPA and coursework requirements before gaining admission into computer science majors. Master’s degree programs may require the following from applicants for consideration:
- Completion of a relevant undergraduate degree with a high GPA
- Proficiency in at least one programming language
- Letters of recommendation from professors and employers
- A resume demonstrating work in the field
A competitive admissions environment offers an important distinction between computer science degrees and coding bootcamps. Computer science students learn a lot from each other during collaborative projects. Highly qualified degree candidates boost the quality of learning in each course.
A bachelor’s degree in computer science can take four years to complete, while a master’s degree is achievable in two years. There is a wide range of tuition rates for university programs with U.S. News & World Report estimating a range of total costs from $15,000 to $80,000. In comparison to the average cost and length of a bootcamp, a computer science degree represents a good investment.
Universities present a broader spectrum of financial aid options than coding bootcamps. Financial aid advisers work with students to access state, federal, and private sources of educational assistance. These resources turn high upfront costs for education into more manageable expenses for career growth.
Are Coding Bootcamps Worth It?
Accelerated coursework and lower upfront costs make coding bootcamps attractive to first-time software professionals. Course Report found that the average bootcamp student had six years of professional experience but none in computer science fields. Career changers learn in-demand programming and design skills in a hurry through bootcamps.
Coding bootcamps produce lower in-field employment rates than universities for their graduates. A 2021 study by Optimal found a 66.9% employment rate for bootcamp graduates and a 68.06% rate for computer science graduates. These rates occur even as a growing trend toward employment guarantees ranging from partial tuition refunds to post-certificate work with camp partners.
Another consideration in determining if coding bootcamps are worth it is the importance of institutional reputation. The Council on Integrity in Resulting Reporting (CIRR) was founded in 2016 as a voluntary membership organization for bootcamps. CIRR establishes reporting requirements on graduation and employment rates for the benefit of students. Not every bootcamp participates in CIRR, however, and camps lack the track records of university programs.
Is a Masters in Computer Science Worth It?
The most obvious measure of return on investment in career training is salary. A software engineer with a bachelor’s degree in computer science earned an average of $98,300 in 2021. Course Report reports an average post-bootcamp salary of $69,079 and a second-job salary of approximately $80,000.
Graduates of university computer science programs are better positioned for additional education than bootcamp graduates. Optimal found that computer science degree holders pursued additional certifications or degrees at triple the rate of bootcamp certificate holders. A master’s in computer science can open doors to roles requiring a deeper knowledge of the discipline.
The decades-long stability of computer science programs translates into a valuable credential for graduates. Coding bootcamps burst onto the scene but the industry’s total graduates leveled off in recent years and job placement rates decreased due to COVID-19. Software and data science professionals can build lasting careers on strong foundations at Baylor University.
Advancing Your Computer Science Career at Baylor University
Baylor University integrates advanced technical skills and people-centered innovation into its Online Masters in Computer Science. The entirely online program can be completed in as little as 1.5 years by students with bachelor’s degrees in computer science. Candidates with undergraduate degrees in other STEM disciplines can complete the program in two years.
The 30-credit Computer Science curriculum model on ACM standards offers two tracks for student specialization - Data Science and Software Engineering. Students work with their enrollment advisors to select the best tracks for their careers. The following core courses provide practical lessons needed for career success:
- Advanced Algorithms
- Advanced Data Communications
- Advanced Databases
- Applied Artificial Intelligence
- Intro to Computation Theory
- Software Engineering
A major factor in determining if a masters in computer science is worth it stems from the university’s reputation. Baylor University was named one of Fortune’s Best Online Master’s in Computer Science Degrees for 2022-2023. U.S. News & World Report highlighted the university’s national reputation with the following rankings:
- No. 20 in Most Innovative Schools
- No. 77 in National Universities
- No. 113 in Best Value Schools
Learn more about Baylor University’s Online Masters in Computer Science by requesting a program guide today.