Udacity Over University: Why I Chose Online Education

A strong argument for creating your own online curriculum instead of going doing an on-campus degree.

Guest post by David Venturi.

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. 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.

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.

Two weeks later, I dropped out of the program and started creating my own curriculum using online resources like Udacity, edX, and Coursera. The decision was not difficult.1-rFzWgaxkbfVAYfHIQUHl3Q

I discovered Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) while visiting a friend in San Francisco for my birthday. Given I was already out in western Canada for an internship for my chemical engineering major, I could justify the flight cost. Plus, my favorite comedian was performing that weekend.

When I arrived, my friend happened to tell me that Coursera had 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; to 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 felt 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. There were thirty courses in 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.

 

Efficiency

The traditional 60 minute lecture does not work for many people, including myself. I usually have to relearn all the content back at home. With short videos, the pause button, and frequent concept reinforcement via quizzes, you only have to learn the material for the first time once in a MOOC. My two weeks’ worth of classes seemed so inefficient compared to my Udacity experience.

 

Speed

You can fast-track your studies. There are no strict timelines that every student must follow, and there is no four month summer break.

Cost

Lots of courses are free. I’m estimating a cost of ~$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.

Choice

You can handpick your courses from a larger selection of topics and providers. There are no mandatory courses for subjects you’ve already learned or don’t require, and there are no forced extra electives. Both of these would cost time and money.

Content

If you pick well, the content is world class. State-of-the-art courses from top institutions are accessible. Next year I’ll be an alumnus of Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

Freedom

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.

 

Though EdTech companies are working hard to change this, a traditional degree is probably still necessary for most people in today’s world.

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.

And it was only possible because of a last-minute trip to California.

David Venturi is creating his own data science master’s degree. Learn more about it on davidventuri.com

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