University Courses Versus Bootcamps — Who Wins?

Universities certainly have their purpose in life. Many students discover themselves, find academic and extracurricular interests that ultimately affect their life trajectories, and make lifelong friends. But, when it comes to acquiring the latest hands-on, practical and technical skills, universities are often not the ideal place to learn them. Bootcamps might be though.

Why is that?

Let’s deep dive!

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Lack of Information Retention

According to German Researcher, Hermann Ebbinghaus, who identified the “forgetting curve”, one loses up to 77% of newly learned information six days later. University courses are often more than ten weeks long and held one to two times per week. If this statistic is correct, how much are students really retaining by the end of a typical university course? Not much! We all remember exam preparation that had to start from ground zero as a result of forgetting concepts. The root cause of this issue is not so much the timing but the lack of opportunities to apply the learnings.

Bootcamps, on the other hand, are like fire hydrants of knowledge. They are intense periods of learning that result in headaches and immense amounts of coffee consumption. This sacrifice can reward one with the establishment of immediate foundations so that the real learning can happen. These benefits manifest themselves when one is able to apply these learnings to real life problems on the job or through personal projects. Bootcamps are enablers for students and professionals who want to acquire practical, in-demand skills.

Too Much Theory

Universities are often criticized for not preparing their students for the real world. What we have found is that lectures provide theoretical foundations that they can build on. But, to learn how to solve really challenging problems in efficient ways, students need to have a chance to apply their theoretical knowledge to projects.

Bootcamps focus on all meat and no bones. While a solid understanding of algorithms can be useful, bootcamps tend to quickly equip participants with practical and job-specific skills through small classroom projects.

Outdated Techniques & Practices

Think back to your college days. In the first class of new courses, you receive the course syllabus and the professor gives his/her background to the class. These biographies are usually very impressive. Professors often have degrees from top universities and published ground-breaking research. But, when was the last time he/she was in industry? In some cases never, and in other cases, years ago!

The problem is that when students take classes in fields such as computer programming, they want to learn what is most relevant now. They want to learn what is used in industry and what is actually done by practitioners. Because university professors often do not have such perspectives, what students are learning is many times not applicable to the real world. So, when students enter internships or full-time jobs, they often are not sure what to do because their university classes did not adequately prepare them for the real world.

Bootcamps, on the contrary, are focused on providing attendees with information about what is done in industry. Attendees will be exposed to best practices, software packages, and relevant software libraries to be able to hit the ground running in their roles at work.

Too Much Time

Which option sounds like a better use of time: several weeks for a university course or one to three days for a bootcamp?

The one to three day option sounds better for so many reasons. First, as we mentioned before, information retention is improved because all information is provided to students more rapidly. Second, the ability to market this course on resumes for job recruiting purposes is quicker because students do not need to wait an entire semester to complete bootcamps. Instead of saying “currently taking x course”, students can write “completed x bootcamp with y provider.” Third, for those students with a full-time job and a family at home, it is often not possible to spend several weeks on a course. They want the most relevant skills distilled into one- or two-day course options.

Having conversed with many HR professionals and senior managers of corporations about internal training, Cognitir has learned that they highly value “completed” vs. “completing” on resumes. One exhibits knowledge already obtained while the other is still a question mark as it is ongoing. It is very easy to say one is learning something or taking a new course. On the other hand, successfully completing something is a much more meaningful and difficult milestone to achieve.

One of the arguments that we often hear against bootcamps is that they are too fast-paced. People cannot obtain knowledge that quickly. That might be true, but people do not need to develop deep levels of understanding to work on corporate projects. Instead, they need to be armed with a foundation of skills and knowledge to get started on their projects. If they know the basics, they can quickly fill in the gaps without formal coursework given the ubiquity of helpful resources such as, YouTube, and programming language documentation.


The average cost per credit hour for a university course is $594. If the average university course is three credit hours then the total cost of a course is a little less than $1,800. This is not even factoring in opportunity costs of lost part-time work — meaning if a student picks up these skills sooner than later — perhaps he/she can obtain paid part-time work that allows he/she to apply his/her new skills.

We know for a fact that bootcamps are a fraction of the costs of university courses.

You tell us, what is the more economical option?


To summarize, university courses are excellent mediums to learn about theories behind practical applications. To learn in classrooms with renowned professors is an incredible experience that we would recommend to everyone. If, however, your goal is to quickly obtain practical skills for your job, learn from industry practitioners, and network with like-minded professionals — bootcamps are a much better option for you.

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We help business and financial professionals acquire in-demand tech skills.

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