Certificate vs. Degree vs. Bootcamp – Forbes Advisor

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If you decide it’s time to level up your education, you’ve got plenty of options for doing so. Should you attend a bootcamp or a degree program? What’s the difference between a certificate vs. a degree? Which is right for you?

With so many programs available, especially in the tech sector, it can be difficult to choose. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between a bootcamp vs. a degree vs. a certificate so you can decide which path is right for you.

What Is a Degree?

A degree is a credential conferred by a college or university. Traditional degree paths include associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Each has its own requirements for completion and takes a different amount of time (and money) to complete. Compared to certificate programs and bootcamps, degrees are the more traditional option for higher education. Below is an outline of the different levels of degrees.

  • Associate degree. This option takes two years to complete and is typically offered by community colleges. An associate degree can comprise general education courses, or it can be specialized toward a major. This is the least expensive degree option.
  • Bachelor’s degree. Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete. Colleges and universities offer this degree. Most programs comprise roughly half general education requirements and half major course requirements.
  • Master’s degree. This degree takes an additional one to three years after earning a bachelor’s degree. Colleges and universities confer master’s degrees. Master’s degrees are typically more advanced and specialized than bachelor’s degrees.
  • Doctoral degree. A doctorate takes two to five years to complete after a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Students can earn this degree at a college or university. Doctoral students work with appointed professors to complete their doctoral programs. Coursework includes a research component. This is often the most expensive degree option.

Pros and Cons of Earning a Degree

The educational landscape has shifted in recent years, but many employers still prefer candidates to hold traditional college degrees. Degree programs remain popular for good reason: A degree from a properly accredited university is reputable and can help individuals start or progress in a career.

On the other hand, degrees are the most expensive educational path compared to certificates and bootcamps. They typically cost tens of thousands of dollars and take several years to complete.

Typical Cost

As stated above, traditional degrees are often costly. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition and fees for undergraduate degrees cost the following per academic year:

  • Four-Year University (Public, In State): $9,375
  • Four-Year University (Public, Out of State): $27,091
  • Four-Year University (Private): $32,825
  • Two-Year University (Public, In State): $3,501
  • Two-Year University (Public, Out of state): $8,256

Also according to the NCES, these are the average tuition and fees per academic year for graduate degrees:

  • Public University: $12,410
  • Private University: $26,597

What Is a Certificate?

A certificate is an educational credential, often offered by a college or university. A certificate program is much shorter and more focused than an associate or a bachelor’s degree program.

Certificates typically focus on specific topics and career paths. Certificate programs help students learn the skills they need to succeed in their desired trades. You can earn an undergraduate certificate or a graduate certificate. A bachelor’s degree is not required for an undergraduate certificate, but most graduate certificates require a bachelor’s.

Certificates and certifications are different. Certifications are usually offered by professional organizations, requiring self-study and an exam.

Pros and Cons of Earning a Certificate

A certificate takes significantly less time to complete than a traditional degree program, and it is less expensive as well. That said, a certificate program alone may not be enough to qualify for employment, depending on your chosen career. In these cases, a certificate can still supplement a degree to verify your skills in a particular subject area. A certificate also makes a great option for those looking to change careers or deepen their professional knowledge.

Typical Cost

The cost of earning a certificate varies. Most colleges and universities price their certificates per credit, similarly to degree courses. This can add up to as much as $10,000 per semester, though prices differ by program and school.

The upfront cost of a certificate program might seem steep, but certificates still cost less than traditional degrees since they run much shorter.

How Long Does it Take?

Most certificate programs take between four and 12 months to complete, requiring 15 to 30 credits of coursework. You can often complete a certificate in tandem with a bachelor’s degree.

What Is a Bootcamp?

A bootcamp is an accelerated education program that prepares students for employment, usually in tech. A bootcamp is a crash course in whatever material is being presented, such as a specific coding language or facet of computer science. Bootcamps have risen in popularity in recent years due to a talent shortage in the tech sector.

Pros and Cons of Completing a Bootcamp

There are many advantages to attending a bootcamp, especially if you’re seeking employment in the technology sector. Many notable employers like Google, Facebook and Amazon now endorse bootcamps as a great way for employees to learn specific skills in an intensive, accelerated format. Some bootcamps even guarantee employment, or you can receive a refund on your tuition. Bootcamps cost less than traditional degrees as well.

A major drawback of attending a bootcamp is that given the intensive schedule, most students do not have time to work while completing their program. If you can free up your schedule for a bootcamp, however, this can be a quick and effective path to employment in tech.

Typical Cost

Most bootcamps cost between $10,000 and $20,000. On the lower end, some bootcamps are free or cost $5,000 or less. More expensive options can cost more than $20,000.

How Long Does it Take?

The average length of a bootcamp is 16 weeks, or four months. Some are as short as six weeks, and others run for six months or longer. In general, bootcamps are short and intensive.

Which One Is Right for You?

Degrees, certificates and bootcamps all help students build knowledge and experience that can apply to future careers. When deciding among the three, consider the following:

Career goals

When it comes to building your career from the ground up, a college degree may offer the most flexibility. You can work on your degrees over time, pursuing a master’s or even a doctorate while also expanding your professional experience. Widely recognized as the gold standard for education, a college degree is often a worthwhile investment.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to learn a specific professional skill or enter the workforce quickly, a bootcamp or certificate may better suit your career goals.


A college degree is the most expensive option, and it takes the longest to complete. For a four-year bachelor’s degree, you can expect to pay at least $37,000 in tuition and fees. A bootcamp might cost you half that (or less) and usually takes under a year to finish. A certificate program can equip you with specific professional skills at the lowest price point and in the shortest amount of time.

When determining your budget, consider factors like lost wages during your studies and your future earning potential.


If you want to work while pursuing your education, a bootcamp may not be the best choice for you. However, degrees and certificates are often available as part-time enrollment.

If you want to build a new skill set in an accelerated time frame, completing a bootcamp during a leave of absence or between jobs might suit you.

FAQ About Certificates vs. Degrees vs. Bootcamps

Is it better to get a certificate or a degree?

This depends on your goals. If you are pursuing a career for which employers prefer or require degrees, consider a traditional degree program. Otherwise, a certificate or bootcamp may suffice.

Is a coding bootcamp worth it?

Yes, coding bootcamps are often worthwhile. A bootcamp allows you to learn career-ready tech skills in an accelerated time frame, and some programs even guarantee employment to graduates.

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