Coding Bootcamp or College: Which Will Pay You a Bigger Salary?

For many of those just entering the tech industry, deciding whether to pursue a four-year degree is often a difficult one. A college education is expensive and time-consuming, and you can only hope that you’ll land a good job on the other side of it. Is it worth considering a coding bootcamp instead?

For those who aren’t fully aware of them, coding bootcamps are multi-week courses where students focus on specific disciplines such as data science, front-end web development, or cybersecurity. As the name implies, they’re very intense, and geared toward leaving graduates with practical skills they can use to land an actual job in tech. 

Ultimately, anyone trying to make that decision should consider multiple factors, including their time investment and whether they want to focus more on the fundamentals of software development. But a new survey by Arc suggests that developers with bootcamp experience can earn more than those with a bachelor’s degree.

There are some caveats, of course. Arc’s survey analyzed responses from 2,504 remote developers around the world, including the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. Based on that data, coding bootcamp graduates with less than one year of experience earned a median annual salary of $16,400 globally, some 12 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree ($14,590). After two to three years, the salary gap between bootcamp and college graduates grew to 37 percent ($19,883 versus $27,334). 

“Bootcamps have a more practical focus, while degrees contain more theory. Developers who attend bootcamps are usually able to start working right away due to the practical experience they gained during the intensive training. Developers with degrees—especially without internship experience—may have more trouble landing a job after graduation, as they need time to build hands-on experience,” Jeff Lam, Senior Recruiting Manager at Arc, wrote in a statement accompanying the data. 

In the context of the U.S., Course Report (which analyzes the bootcamp market) reported in 2021 that the average bootcamp graduate earns a starting salary of $69,000. That number varies wildly from state to state; in California, for instance, graduates earn an average of $100,482. (For comparison’s sake, the latest Dice Tech Salary Report placed the average technologist salary at $104,566, up 6.9 percent between 2020 and 2021.)

According to Emsi Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country, a software developer/engineer with a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn a median salary of $98,300; based on other factors (such as experience and skill), the salary for those with a BA can veer anywhere from $81,900 to $113,000 and up. 

This data suggests that, from a pure salary perspective, a coding bootcamp can prove a good decision. But don’t discount a traditional four-year degree as a path to a solid salary, either—especially when you consider how many colleges teach tech fundamentals and theory applicable to many different kinds of jobs. 

4 Responses to “Coding Bootcamp or College: Which Will Pay You a Bigger Salary?”

  1. Jake_Leone

    I have always resented people with 4 and 6 year degrees, getting better paying positions at companies that I have worked for, simply because they have degrees. But were unable to produce work at the level at which I can can. That degree is an important candidate selling point, at many companies (include most that I have worked for).
    And this points to managerial weakness in the computer science field. They simply can’t even evaluate the work of people who they have already hired (or don’t want to try). Further, they would rather hire friends, college acquaintances, or otherwise connected people, to hedge their future employment prospects. Not everyone has the passion for software dev, and many people with advanced degrees simply rise to their level of incompetence and take management positions. Hardcore software dev people are often poor at most other tasks (example Networking), we might have significant Aspergers or other Autism spectrum issues. We like to concentrate, and we hate our concentration being broken, and we will stick to the same subject for hours (how boring that is?).
    Computer Science is one of those fields that takes constant study. After 1-3 years in the field, you can be (if you work diligently) as good as any graduate at software development.
    What do we need people with Master’s degree in Computer Science for? The big sale, the dog-and-pony show, that’s where they have value. In short, we need the one-liner so that others who know nothing about software development can have a false/fake trust in the person they are talking to.
    Otherwise, what we really need are people who have had significant development experience, That could come in the form of open source development, volunteer programming, internship, and a willingness to work long hours (as needed) to get the job done.

  2. Jennie_Bayless

    Has anyone done a salary comparison of people who have a bachelor’s degree but in a non-technical field that want to break into tech? I have a BS (and an MBA) but my degree is in Psychology – would I be better off attending a bootcamp just to get the technical knowledge or spend another year and a half in school to get a comp sci or information technology degree?

    • Jonathan

      Jennie, you are better of attending a Bootcamp since you already have first and second degrees. It does not really matter if the degrees are in other fields. A Bootcamp training will give you the necessary skills that would complement your degrees and make you a better developer.

  3. Jonathan

    I will advise any one joining the profession to get a degree. Although, getting a degree initially does not not make you a good developer if you don’t update your skills regularly. Nonetheless, it will open up a flood gate of opportunities for you than someone without a degree. Most fortune 500 companies in the USA require a first degree as a minimum qualification. If you prefer starting a company (startup) of your own, attending a Bootcamp might be better for you.