Undergrad Alternative

Posted on Jul 22, 2020

As universities are switching to 100% remote teaching in the coming semester, many undergraduate students should strongly consider getting a “DIY” CS degree: take the same courses you would at your own school, but on any one of the online Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) platforms, like Coursera or edX.


Cost: this one is a no-brainer. According to US News one year of college tuition costs $10,116 on average for in-state students at a public school, and $36,801 on average at private schools.

Compare this with just a few hundred dollars for taking the equivalent MOOCs.

If you don’t have the money - you just saved yourself a decade of paying off student debt. If you do have the money - congrats! Put it in an investment account and use it as seed money for your first startup company!

Better teaching: MOOCs are now freely available from the very best schools and world class professors, even if you didn’t get into Stanford or Harvard.


No face time: you will be getting little to no live, personal time with the professors and TAs. This is somewhat mitigated by the TAs actively participating in the online forums the most MOOC platforms have, but still - not the same.

No community: this one is the biggest one IMO. You don’t have the experience of learning together with your peers. MOOC platforms do have forums and group projects and it’s likely those features will continue to evolve and improve.

No college life: you will be missing on the college experience. This one is a big one. However, with the current uncertainty around COVID19 - there’s no telling how many semesters you’ll be missing out on anyway, so you might end up not missing as much.

No structure: you will have to be very disciplined. There will be no structure of “being at school”. You’ll need to get your butt out of bed and do the work, by yourself, at home.

Existing investment: if you’re a junior or senior, you’ve already invested time, effort and money into your degree. Switching to self-directed online learning will nullify that.

No degree: at the end of it all you’re not getting a degree. Those still matter to many but I believe it matters less over time. If you invest effort into creating a viable curriculum, doing all the work and getting the certificates, and documenting everything - you’ll end up with a very impressive “DIY degree”.

As a hiring manager, if I saw this on a resume (I haven’t yet) - I would be very impressed.


There is lots of room and value in creating an online learning “community” where students will be able to engage with peers and teachers in a live, face-to-face manner. This functionality will continue to improve on the existing MOOC platforms, but can also exist as a third party product.

Another missing feature that should exist is pre-built degree curriculums for different majors, linking out to all the available (and recommended or “best”) MOOCs for each subject.