in Coding

Earning a BSc in Computer Science (in the United States) for Less Than the Cost of a Bootcamp?

Several years ago, while I was already a working software developer, I had the idea of formally studying computer science. Part of the reason was for my own edification, the other is that it may potentially boost my career down the road (a computer science degree is not necessary when it comes to employment, though it may be a nice to have).

Because I have the benefit of working remotely, physically taking classes at a university is possible. There were several factors in deciding which universities I would target: the ability to be admitted, cost, and time it would take to travel to campus. I live in Los Angeles, and private schools are out of the question because of the high cost of tuition, that and I vowed never to take out student loans ever again, so tuition will be paid for out of my own pocket. The public universities that award a Bachelors in Computer Science in the area are UCLA, UCI (where I studied Philosophy), Cal State Northridge, Cal State Long Beach, and Cal State LA.

After some research, the UCs are out of the question. UCLA does not admit students seeking a second baccalaureate degree (not that I would have necessarily been admitted by merit anyway), and driving 50 miles each way for classes at Irvine is an impracticality; this also strikes out Long Beach.

UC Tuition

Assuming the cost of tuition will not rise (it actually will), at best, it will cost me $54,000 for four years of study to earn the degree at a UC.

Between CSUN and CSULA, it was a toss up. At the time, I lived equal distant from both campuses, but I had the suspicion that driving deep into San Fernando Valley or East LA would still be more commute time than I would like – up to an hour by car each way because of traffic.

The tuition was much better, however. The cost of tuition for four years of study is $25,392 at a Cal State. Still a hefty chunk of change.

Doing it Online

More research led me to the option of perhaps enrolling online. Two programs I found to note were, the Georgia Tech Online Masters in Computer Science, and the B.S Post-baccalaureate option at Oregon State’s e-campus. I’ve heard of the Georgia Tech program from their collaboration with Udacity. Both programs do require a bachelors’ degree: GT seemingly is willing to offer admission on a case-by-case basis for those who didn’t study math, engineering or computer science, and Oregon State uses the credits from the first degree to offset the requirements of the second.

The GT program may cost a little over $6,000 if completed in time. The Oregon State program will cost $28,000 based on $470/unit, and the 60 units required to graduate. I really had no business in attempting to complete a masters’ degree in computer science, given it’s the fundamentals I wanted to learn. The Oregon State program does allow students to take up to four years to complete the degree, but I wasn’t thrilled to be paying so much money to study. I then shelved the idea of getting the degree and decided I would continue to learn on my own.

The Oregon State program does allow students to take up to four years to complete the degree, but I wasn’t thrilled to be paying so much money to study. I then shelved the idea of getting a degree at all and decided I would continue to learn on my own.


Oregon State Computer Science Program

Another Program?

Yesterday, I found a post in HackerNews that led to Teach Yourself Computer Science, which lists nine subjects to study with high-quality links to books and videos on the topic. The sentiment expressed on the site about learning the fundamentals resonated with me. I was excited it was not a page with dozens of links to different video courses, and I planned to work through the subjects. I went back to HackerNews to read the comments, and I found this.

The commenter stated that he was completing a BSc through the University of London’s International program in computer science, all for a cost of no more than about $7,000 USD.

I was surprised and did a bit more digging through the program. Seemingly the international program has been around for a very long time. Exams are given once a year, and from what I gather, the program is primarily based on self-study. A student would have up to eight years to complete the degree.

My brief term in the UK back in undergrad was a bit like this, hardly any lecturing, and just one exam at the end. There are testing sites around the world, so there is no need to take the exams in London. Interestingly the program is willing to take students who do want to study on site their final year.


Comparison to Bootcamp

Given what it costs to earn a BSc at the University of London, I thought of how it compared to coding bootcamps, which is currently a big business.

Coding bootcamps are not cheap. Some may offer a tuition discount by taking a percentage of your salary after being employed, but many cost 10-20K for merely three months of instruction.

Cost for the General Assembly Web Dev course

Cost for Flatiron’s iOS developer course

Coding bootcamps, though they may attempt to teach you to also do well interview tests, are not in the business of teaching computer science fundamentals as a core part of the curriculum. Because of how long the instruction is, many if not most are geared toward a framework and a language in preparation for you to be an ‘X’ developer: iOS, Rails, Javascript, Node, Web developer. As such, a student going through bootcamp will likely have gaps in their knowledge that will benefit from further study, and/or on the job learning.

If a student will have to learn more after going to a bootcamp anyway, it would seem more beneficial to do a program like the one offered by the University of London.

A Potential Plan of Action

Suppose someone in their early to mid-career wants to make the shift to technology but has no programming experience, and they have the mathematics levels fulfilled for entrance, they can apply and start the program while working full-time at their current job, or work into an entry level position in technology doing something like QA.

Though this is debatable, I believe a year of quality guided university level study of programming would be equivalent to the language/framework agnostic programming education received at a coding bootcamp. So, it’s within reason that a person undergoing this route would be able to land an entry level developer position similar to what a typical coding bootcamp graduate gets after if they happen to target a specific role with some effort spent learning it on their own. The added benefit is that they will continue to fill their gaps in knowledge, and they’ll be awarded a university degree after completing their studies.

Further Thought

Why does the premium of attending a bootcamp exist? Much of it is fueled by the prospect that may be entitled to six-figure jobs upon graduation. It’s also the fact that the bootcamp promises the program/transition will occur in three months. Lastly, I believe it’s also the prohibitive cost of studying at universities in the United States. This is an unfortunate fact, and many young students are urged to take on debt which they do not understand the magnitude of.

Other routes do exist. There are a plethora of free study materials online which with dedicated study can lead to employment. Meetups are also a great way to meet others who are willing to teach others to code. Lastly, a great sleeper in higher education in the United States is the community college. At $46 a unit in California, a full 12 unit course load per semester can be had for $552, which comparatively speaking is a steal. Several years ago, I took a C++ course at a community college and was still surprised it only costs $200 to do so.

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