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What is a boot camp? A guide to boot camp pros and cons

Are you in need of specialized training, but don’t want to spend years completing a full degree program. Boot camps are one option that can help you build the professional skills you need in an accelerated timeline.  

What are boot camps?

Boot camps are topic- or field-focused training programs that teach in-demand skills through project-based learning. They typically last roughly three to six months. Many are tech-focused, covering topics such as coding, data analytics, UX/UI, fintech, project management, digital marketing, and product management. Learners who sign up for boot camps are often hoping to either gain new skills in order to transition into a tech field or enhance their existing skill set to pursue career advancement within their current field. 

How do boot camps differ from other online options?

There are a variety of options to address skill set gaps as you prepare to make a career change or endeavor to advance in your current career. It’s important that learners carefully consider which educational path is right for them, taking into account factors such as cost, time commitment, and certification. 

For example, traditional degrees provide extensive curricula that cover a wide variety of subjects. Learners are taught the theory and methodology associated with their major, as well as those in related subjects. However, the financial resources required to complete a degree may not be possible for all learners.

Independent study can encompass free or low-cost online courses, but these can lack personalized interaction and accreditation. They may also vary in quality.

Boot camps, meanwhile, offer university-backed curricula focused on learning in-demand skills on an accelerated timeline with a significantly lower financial commitment. The project-based, team-centric environment allows learners to gain both hard and soft skills that are easily demonstrated to employers through their certificates and portfolios.

Before you decide on a specific learning path, compare the benefits of each. 

Boot camps versus degrees

Online degree programs have progressed significantly since their inception. Once thought of as “lesser degrees,” fully online bachelor's degree programs as well as online master’s degree programs are available from prestigious institutions such as Harvard, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and George Washington University. Here are some factors to consider regarding this educational pathway.

How are boot camps different from online degrees?

Online degrees

Boot camps

Typically multiple years for an undergraduate or master’s degree.

Usually several weeks to several months long.

Comprehensive coverage, theoretical understanding, broad knowledge, and specialization of a broad field of study.

Focused, intensive training on practical, job-oriented skills.

Costs can be high, and vary by institution and program.

Costs are generally lower.

Fully online, often with asynchronous and synchronous components.

Primarily online, some with live or recorded sessions.

Often require prior academic qualifications, including high school diploma or equivalent.

More accessible, varying prerequisites, often no prior degree required.

Academic qualification (e.g., degree certificate).

Skill-focused, often with a project portfolio or certificate of completion.

Boot camps versus certifications

Certifications are a great way to demonstrate skill sets to prospective employers. Common certifications in tech include CompTIA (A+, Cloud+, Security+), Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Data Privacy Solutions Engineer (CDPSE), and Amazon Web Services (AWS) Certified Solutions Architect.

How are boot camps different from certifications?


Boot camps

Demonstrate specialized skills to employers.

Provide proof of skills through a portfolio and a certificate of completion.

Validate existing skills through testing, but don't provide the instruction to initially acquire those skills.

Teach in-demand skills needed for employment.

May have additional fees for study/prep classes and exams.

Fees typically include pre-camp prep, post-camp enhancement, and career services.

Focused on assessing and certifying existing skills.

Hands-on learning and practical skill development.

Generally do not include career services.

Usually include career support and job placement assistance.

Boot camps versus executive education courses

Executive education courses are a great way to build your expertise and expand your professional impact in the workplace. These courses may cover a range of topics such as digital transformation, business strategy, talent management, leadership, project management, and sustainability. 

How are boot camps different from executive education courses?

Executive education courses

Boot camps

Aimed at working professionals, managers, and executives for advanced industry knowledge.

Targeted at individuals seeking practical, hands-on skills in specific areas, often at an entry or mid-level.

Industry-specific topics as well as leadership, strategic thinking, and communication courses.

Technical, practical skills in specific fields like coding, data science, or digital marketing.

Short term, ranging from six to 12 weeks.

Usually several weeks to a few months

Often includes videos, case studies, and group discussions led by university faculty or industry experts.

Emphasizes practical, hands-on learning, often with real-world projects.

Often affiliated with prestigious universities and institutions and offers a certificate of completion.

Typically offer a certificate of completion, some affiliated with educational institutions.

Boot camps versus independent study

Independent study allows learners to focus on specific areas of interest while learning at their own pace. 

How are boot camps different from independent study?

Independent study

Boot camps

Self-directed and self-paced.

Structured program with set timelines and often a cohort-based approach.

Relies on self-motivation and discipline.

Structured guidance from instructors and mentors, along with peer support.

Self-curated or selected from various resources; flexible and tailored to individual interests.

Predefined curriculum designed to cover specific skills and knowledge in a focused area.

Can be free if utilizing open resources.

Generally has a set fee, which varies by program and length.

Primarily solitary, without peer interaction unless sought out.

Includes collaborative learning, peer interactions, and networking opportunities.

Self-determined goals, often without formal recognition or certification.

Culminates in a certificate of completion and a portfolio of work.

Boot camps: Pros and cons

Just as there are advantages and disadvantages with the educational options discussed above, boot camps have their own set of pros and cons.


  • Offers an employer-driven curriculum to teach in-demand skills.

  • Provides a certificate to demonstrate proficiency, along with a portfolio of work.

  • Requires a lower financial commitment than traditional degree programs.

  • Requires a reduced time commitment that allows for full- or part-time study.

  • Networking opportunities with instructors, industry professionals, and fellow students.

  • Career support services like interview preparation, résumé building, and job placement assistance.


  • Doesn’t allow learners to dictate the topics covered.

  • Does not provide specific certification, such as CompTIA or PMP, which must be taken separately from boot camp.

  • Requires a higher financial commitment than independent study.

  • Requires an intense learning schedule due to the compressed time frame.

Is a boot camp right for you?

After considering all the options available, their pros and cons, and the costs associated with boot camps, do you think a boot camp is worth it? If so, your next step is to select a high-quality boot camp in your field of interest. Take your time, do your research, and you’ll be rewarded with a learning experience to fuel your career goals and future success.

Last updated December 2023