Udacity Over University: Why I Chose Online Education
June 10, 2016
First day as a computer science student at the University of Toronto, one of the best computer science programs in the world. Packed lecture hall. Rock hard yellow seats, almost identical to the ones above. Class starts and the professor begins to speak, virtually uninterrupted for the entire hour. Class ends. I think to myself: this doesn’t feel right.
The Big Three massive open online course (MOOC) providers.
I discovered massive open online courses (MOOCs) while visiting a friend in San Francisco for my birthday. Already out in Western Canada for an internship for my chemical engineering major, I could justify the flight cost. Plus, my favourite comedian was performing that weekend.
When I arrived, my friend happened to tell me that Coursera recruited him as a software engineer. We chatted about how I wasn’t enthralled with chemical engineering as a career, how much he enjoys his job, and how many people our age weren’t exposed to computer science in school. He convinced me to try it. Give it a go on Coursera.
After doing some research, I ended up trying Udacity’s CS101 (an intro to programming and computer science course) when I got home. Something clicked: I’ve found what I want to do. And it makes so much sense too. I’ve always loved math, stats, and problem solving. Now how do I do it?
My first plan was to do a second bachelor’s degree, this time in computer science. I applied to and was accepted into the program at the University of Toronto. Tuition was ~$10,000 a year. It would take me three years to graduate because second-degree students can receive up to one year’s worth of transfer credits. Thirty courses total, ten of which were mandatory general electives.
I dropped out after two weeks of classes to create my own computer science program, which later morphed into a data science one.
Here’s why I chose online education over university, and why you should consider it too if you plan on investing in your education:
The traditional 60-minute lecture does not work for many, including myself. I usually have to relearn all the content back at home. With short videos, the pause button, frequent concept reinforcement via quiz, and Google search at your disposal, you only have to learn the material for the first time once. My two weeks’ worth of classes seemed so inefficient compared to my Udacity experience.
You can fast-track your studies. No strict timelines that every student must follow. No four-month summer break.
Lots of courses are free. I’m estimating ~$1,000 for my personalized program. That’s tens of thousands of dollars saved, not including the opportunity cost of getting into the workplace faster. Going back to school seemed irresponsible.
You can handpick your courses from a larger selection of topics and providers. No mandatory courses for subjects you’ve already learned or don’t require. No forced extra electives. Both of these cost time and money.
If you pick well, the content is world-class. State-of-the-art courses from top institutions are accessible. I’ll be a Harvard, Stanford, Google, and Facebook alumnus next year.
You can learn where and when you want to. You can make your own schedule and choose your study spots. All you need is a laptop and headphones.
State-of-the-art courses from top institutions are accessible. These are a few of the creators of the courses in my curriculum.
This path won’t work for everyone. It made sense for me because I already had a university degree and, perhaps more importantly, the university experience. I already had good work experience, which I definitely wouldn’t have gotten without my degree. Though EdTech companies are working hard to change this, a traditional degree is probably still necessary for most people in today’s world.
But for folks that have already established themselves credibility-wise and are looking to change directions or upskill?
I chose online education as a university replacement because I liked the delivery, the autonomy, the content, and the cost. It may be the choice for you as well.