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Ask HN: High-Quality Online Degree for Mathematics?
398 points by sreeramvenkat on Jan 8, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 96 comments
Hello Hackers,

I am looking for suggestions on online mathematics degree options (something similar to OMSCS from Georgia Tech). I have background in CS but have always wanted a degree in Math. Cannot leave my job and study - have mouths to feed. I can self study but I find myself switching my topics of study too often. Following a strict regimen of syllabus will discipline me to complete what I start.

UK OpenU has a remote applied math/stats BSc and they've been around for 50 years (though recently plagued with financial problems) http://www.openuniversity.edu/courses/qualifications/q36

You'd pay the same tuition to go to a local school P/T though, total cost to complete is around $4k USD per year plus whatever you have to pay to a local testing center (here it was $60 per exam). Another way is just work through a rigorous introductory text like Concrete Math by Knuth and hire local math grad students to tutor you (or for them to come up with their own curriculum) but since it would be nice to spend all this time and gain actual credentials I'd be interested in distance math degrees too if anybody knows of others, University of London only has graduate level distance math degrees.

> UK Open University

As a person that has two math degrees and knows someone that received their PhD in a CS/Math/Logic area (i.e. PL) I couldn't +1 this recommendation enough. That person is now a professor at a college in the UK but studied while elsewhere in the EU.

The OP stated:

>I am looking for suggestions on online mathematics degree options

The Open University is a very valid choice for this.

I'd agree with that, mathematics has always been a high priority for the OU.

Another vote in favour; I took a masters in maths with the OU and it was a rigourous, solid mathematical experience throughout. Having done all the work and sat a number of quite hardcore exams, it's also nice to get a bit of paper at the end of it.

I'm doing a masters in Computing with them now. I'm enjoying it quite a lot, and it is definitely rigorous (though more on the management side rather than the technical side).

If I may ask, which master are you doing exactly?

I did my BSc in Mathematics with the OU. Overall it was a very good experience. Rather than teaching by lectures, the OU provides you with high quality and substantial written materials. As with any other university you are expected to keep up with the course schedule, and will be required to submit assessments and sit exams at certain times.

The reliance on written materials with much less face-to-face teaching (compared with a traditional university) was to me a distinct advantage as it gave me more control over the pace of the course.

If you don't mind me asking, how do you feel going to OU impacted your professional career compared to going to a more traditional university?

> You'd pay the same tuition to go to a local school P/T though, total cost to complete is around $4k USD per year plus whatever you have to pay to a local testing center (here it was $60 per exam).

How it will be for total degree? According this [0], it will be £17,568. That is 16lacs INR, quite expensive.

[0] - http://www.openuniversity.edu/courses/qualifications/q36#fee...

The rates change depending where you live, India could be cheaper. I also believe OU Uk has regional accreditation in the US, which makes them cheaper than my local alternatives that charge $29-40k for a BSc.

> The rates change depending where you live, India could be cheaper.

how do I find more info about this?

You change your country on their site and then look at tuition/programs or ask their admissions. For example Scotland residents pay much less or there's IGNOU which does online math degrees for 10k rupees a year (I actually tried to get in there, but my country refused, the materials are still pretty good/rigorous). No idea the accreditation for IGNOU but OU Uk with regional means can apply to US grad schools like that Georgia Tech online MSc for compsci.

Want to add to the weight of voices recommending the Open University. It's very well regarded in the UK. Used to be that they'd air their lectures in the (very) early morning on UK terrestrial TV.

I watched a movie once where a hostage had been left gagged and tied to the bed holding the tv remote. As he flicked through the channels it came to that channel and some weird looking guy in 70s attire was giving a really dry lecture. As the hostage tried to change the channel the remote fell to the floor.

He might not make it out alive, but he’ll know when a space is Hausdorff

4k per year? My masters at a US school cost 4k per class :(

My master did cost 500€ per semester, same as bachelor before. I do not comprehend why education is that expensive anymore. Information can basically travel for free and everyone could get access to the best teachers around the world...

But no...

Because accreditation. Vanderbuilt U claimed 5,000 hours annually, at a cost of about $2.92 million, to report to its regional accreditor every year.

I think the process of accreditation is highly questionable. While I think there should be some form of quality assurance for academic institutions, it didn't measurably improve the situation in my country.

I am located in Europe and there are quite some difference about who accredits institutions compared to the US.

Local critics say that the process is expensive, bureaucratic, inefficient, a danger to academic autonomy and slow.

That said, regardless of the process, the distribution of knowledge is easier than any time before. That students in the US need to take huge loans has to be a testament of giant organizational failure.

The UK OpenU website, http://www.openuniversity.edu, is very slow and unusable right now. This is likely due to the HN effect

It's notable that it's insecure, http-only...

The Open University is https://www.open.ac.uk The .edu TLD is generally for US institutions.

I selected "Canada" in the initial overlay, which redirects to .edu.

Regardless, both are slow, both are http-only.

If you don't find any official degree online you can always stick to a bootcamp course that is similar to Harvard Math 55. It has had several forms. The most interesting ones being either Halmos + Rudin (plus many aids such as Gelbaum & Olmsted) or just Hubbard & Hubbard. Either way you will get a very solid introduction to mathematics that covers algebra and analysis, in a really rigorous way.

However, being a computer scientist I think a different approach to mathematics can be more enjoyable and also much more useful for many theoretical and practical developments that are yet to come. The downside is that materials are a lot less cohesive (any other references appreciated!). I'm talking about an approach with a focus on the foundations of mathematics, emphasizing logic, category theory and type theory.

Some links:






I've read parts of Halmos + Rudin, and I think that they would be a fast track to higher level pure math, but I've known people who've gone down such path and end up being able to prove Fubini's theorem using measure theory without understanding what it means.

The ideal approach for a self learner, which would simulate the university experience, would be doing as many problems in Schaum's outlines for math subjects and supplementing the info with textbooks/online resources.

Which of those links do you most recommend, if any?

the following assumes you are in the US.

If you already have a bachelor's degree, then I would do online lower div courses, often available via community college (Virginia has the whole lower div sequence online), then I would do the University of London graduate diploma, run by the London school of economics.[1] The courses are basically equivalent to upper div math / stats / early grad school classes.

If you don't have a bachelor's degree, UoL don't have a degree with just math. They used to just have just a "math and economics degree", but have recently launched a "data science and business analytics" bsc [2] which looks like it has very little non-mathematical content (certainly less than a US math degree that has gen ed requirements)

I did a non-mathematical undergrad a long time ago, then did the lower div math courses online via community college. Currently doing an MS in math and stats in person at my local state school, but also enrolled in the london graduate math diploma this year to go over some things in more detail, and to help me review things before comprehensive exams next year :)

Message me if you want more info, happy to help!

[1] https://london.ac.uk/courses/mathematics

[2] https://london.ac.uk/data-science-and-business-analytics

Forgot to say, University of London is super cheap, maybe around $2000 for the grad diploma, or around $7-8000 for the degree.

It's cheap for a reason. The books are riddled with errors, they offer no support at all aside from "here are books. test is on $DATE". There are forums but no instructors on them.

If you're already proficient at mathematics then it's good to get a diploma to state as much. But if you're looking to learn then it will be of little help.

I don’t do the Math degree but I’ve found the tutors for the Finance M.Sc. with SOAS reasonably responsive. It says they’ll respond within three business days and they do. I wouldn’t say the course readers are well edited or kept up to date but the textbooks are all good so far.

The UoL External Programme still has the BSc Maths and Econ option - https://london.ac.uk/courses/mathematics-and-economics

Having looked through the courses offered, I have to say that I am quite impressed. They are offering several interesting courses in Applied Math such as Game Theory, Optimization, and Statistical Inference. Overall it looks like a solid Applied Maths degree.

Would a data science and business analytics program include topics like analysis, topology, number theory, etc? That is what I seem to recall my math major friends spending their time on.

The link in OP leads onto the syllabus. It looks like the course covers algebra up to matrix diagonalisation, and calculus up to multivariate optimisation. These are about a first or second year level syllabus at UK universities. Can't see any topology or number theory.

Edit: Oops, I think I was only looking at the first year syllabus of that course. The second year does have an "abstract mathematics" topic although it's not very specific on what further areas of mathematics might be included.

The abstract math is basically an intro to proofs + number theory + a first analysis class.

The second year has more analysis, a second linear algebra class, optimisation etc. Overall, completion of this would get you to the level of someone who has completed a bachelor's in math, I've taken analysis, algebra, upper div linear algebra at a state school in the US, and the diploma level is similar. It is NOT an MS (and doesn't claim to be) - it's meant to be for people who want to study some of the core content of a bachelor's in math, either for personal interest, or as preparation for an MS in math, economics etc.

That sounds like the math gen ed requirements built into other majors, not a math major.

Agreed, I wouldn't really call this a "high-quality mathematics degree".

Do you recommend their MSc program?

so expensive :( Any affordable solutions somebody could recommend? <$5k maybe

The University of South Africa is one of the largest correspondence universities in the world. Also, the course material is quite good but the support not so much (teachers and profs might take some time to respond, YMMV).

Also about 5x cheaper than the equivalent in the UK.

My missus does her Master's degree through UNISA and it seems to be quite good in terms of quality and course material. As you say, the only issue is the support but so be a bit patient on that. I believe Nelson Mandela also studied at UNISA when he was imprisoned at Robben Eiland.

I went to look at their curriculum and fees and their website and programs are so hard to make sense of. You pay by module and the module consists of 12 credits to take to complete the module.

For an example the calculated UNISA fees for COS3711 Advanced Programming (Part of the Math & Comp Science program), when you include the 'Foreign Country Levy' is total 4110rand, which is $300usd. There's prob other smaller fees, like exam fees.

UNISA accreditation, seems they let their DETC (US National) accreditation lapse in 2004 but they're still accredited under commonwealth/UN IHU https://iaci-canada.com/accreditation which they claim qualifies as recognized by the US Dept. of Education though I have no idea how accreditation in the US works, so I would look into this more.

It’s actually simpler because the modules each grant you a number of credits, that’s it. Passing means you get the credits.

Yeah the main website sucks but they use Moodle to manage courses and it’s okay.

math bsc here. In my opinion there is no reason to want such a thing. why? because mathematics is the most academic of degrees. you will want to build relationships with professors so you have a chance for a career in academia. it is also extremely difficult and you will want to team up with other students for assignments and the like. the study load is very high and without any community to support you, you are very likely to quit (which happens to one-third of first year students even on-campus at my alma mater).

if you just want to learn a bit on your free time, buying books is much cheaper. studying math for a degree is more than 40 hours a week. i can give a few suggestions if you like.

Sure - Please suggest. I have been buying books (the likes of Apostol, Spivak, Artin) and doing self study. The typical pattern is start solving the problems and I get stuck with tough ones. And I hardly go past the third chapter of all the books that I had bought because of this.

Being unable to solve some tough problems is entirely normal - there is only a handful of people gifted enough to go though a mathematics curriculum, getting 100% on all their assignments, working in isolation. I certainly didn't! Having been a TA in upper-level math courses, many/most of the students averaged 80% on homeworks which were certainly NOT made up of entirely tough problems - and they probably worked together quite a bit, and had teachers to ask for help if they want. So don't get frustrated if you get stuck regularly, just move on, then come back later in a couple of weeks when you're reviewing and try again. If you're still stuck, go to an online forum to ask for a hint, or you don't have to feel guilty about skipping some of the hardest problems entirely.

Two book suggestions:

Strichartz - The way of analysis. MUCH more user friendly than the standard analysis texts. The book is filled with long paragraphs if english sentences explaining what your are doing, and why you are doing it (if you can imagine a mathematics book committing that sin!).

Pressley - Elementary Differential Geometry. The appeal of this book is that it teaches only the more concrete classical formulation of the theory, so you don't have to confront tensors and n-dimensional abstractions at first, and also that it provides outlined solutions to every problem in the text!

Armstrong - Groups and Symmetry is accessible. Munkres - Topology also doable. Vector Calculus by Marsden/Tromba was my intro calculus book however im not sure if calculus is ever going to be very interesting. not a bad book though.

What areas of mathematics are you interested in learning about? I would also pick up Principles of Mathematical Analysis by Rudin.

UW has an Online Masters in Applied Mathematics


It requires an average of ~$40k to complete though.

Is the degree earned identical to the on-campus one? I couldn't find that spelled out on their site.

Why do they ask for 3 LoRs if it is 1) online an 2) coursework only?

I was looking for something similar 6 years ago or so. “High quality” is difficult... but regionally accredited and a real degree does exist.

I went to Southern New Hampshire University and got my BA in Math w/ concentration in Applied Math. I started grad school at GA Tech for an MS in Operations Research via their distance learning program. I also got into USC and Kansas State.

I learned about this other degree after I was done though so you have at least two accredited options. It is slim pickings though: https://www.tesu.edu/heavin/ba/mathematics

Why do you care about accreditation? Do people ask you if a degree is accredited? Nobody’s ever asked me.

> Why do you care about accreditation? Do people ask you if a degree is accredited?

If people care about a degree and don't care about accreditation, you might as well just purchase one from a degree mill; but, yes, lots of people do care about accreditation. (And those that don't seem to care about accreditation as such often only don't because they are more selective, and disregard every degree not from a sufficiently elite subset of accredited schools, and treat other accredited schools as well as all unaccredited schools as worthless.)

> Nobody’s ever asked me.

Did they ever ask you where the degree was from?

I've never been asked either but some companies care where you went to school.

However, it still matters outside the context of trying to get a job. If for some reason you want to transfer to a different school, if you don't have a regionally accredited degree many universities won't accept any of your credits.

Accreditation is kind of a mess in the US. Regional is the golden standard. National is kind of a joke and if your school is nationally accredited it might not be good enough to transfer to a better school (really depends on the school some of them will take your credits).

The worst part is that many networks of universities create their own accreditation organizations with names that sound similar to the real ones.

From my experience, regional accredited schools can still be absolute shit, but for some reason its the most respected credential a school can have.

Anyone can hang a shingle and sell “college.” Accreditation is the bare minimum indication that they’re speaking the same language as everyone else using the term.

A very tangible reason to care if a degree is regionally accredited is that your degree will transfer to just about any other school. If my bachelors wasn’t regionally accredited I wouldn’t have gotten into my current masters program for example.

Like the other comments say as well... it’s basically what qualifies a “real” degree.

In that case, consider this a degree. I mean, right now on HN, I have granted you my own HNC degree (HN comment).

You are hereby granted a PhD in biomedical engineering.

You are also granted a Master's in Accounting.

And a Bachelor's in Love Studies.

Done and done. Please type out and print your own Diplomas.

People don't care about 'accreditation' - they care about the reputation of the individual institution you got the degree from.

This is both false and not relevant.

This is false because many fields do care very much. E.g. medicine (and not just mds), law, the patent bar, and many engineering fields care about accreditation. Even degrees from highly acclaimed universities aren't enough if the degree isn't accredted by the right body (eg ABET for the patent bar).

This is also not relevant because, in practice, places with good reputations are typically accredited.

I would agree with this. Many fields care a lot about accreditation.

I do think there are people that don't care, but I suspect they also don't care about the degree as well. They are more concerned about the real world performance of the individual. I think you'd be hard pressed to find someone in the above mentioned fields like that.

I also think that a Math degree falls into both of those "ideals", but more so on the side of accreditation is important.

For example Stanford CS is not ABET accredited, or nationally accredited at all. Do people get turned away for having a Stanford degree because ABET haven't rubber stamped it?

Probably not often because software companies don't care about PEs and because Stanford CS graduates are unlikely to apply for positions in non-CS fields (unless they also have an education in those fields).

But yes, there are a lot of jobs out there that even Stanford CS graduates aren't qualified for.

Note: the patent bar's eligibility rules have special exemptions for CS degrees that are not ABET accredited but do satisfy other criteria, so many Stanford CS graduates will automatically qualify for the patent bar based upon those alternative standards. But that doesn't mean the patent bar doesn't care about accreditation.

And it's worth noting that any institution with a half-decent reputation has some form of accreditation. Again, this was the second point of my post -- accreditation is actually does do a very good job at over-approximating the set of educational institutions whose degrees mean something.

California has extensive support for online college. I'm not personally familiar with their math programs, but they have some handy search functions.

California Virtual Campus:




You can consider learning German and enrolling at Hagen. https://www.fernuni-hagen.de/mi/studium/bsc_mathematik/

Sure, but you need eligibility for University studies in Germany, which isn't "just sign up here", and you have to travel to Germany for all exams.

As long as he has a CS degree, it's probably not a problem in terms of admission. About the exams, it says otherwise on their website. https://www.fernuni-hagen.de/english/international/abroad/ex...

This is actually a quite good idea. Also it is a model similar to the MOOCS that actually works. I wish there were more universities allowing part-time/remote studies ending up in regular degrees.

It's funny this isn't more common, at least in Germany during diploma studies it was very normal and accepted to only go occasionally to the courses. The exercise review sessions were really important though.

I think he exams can be taken world wide. They may also be flexible with acceptance.

Not sure they online technology is up to date.

this is the best (and maybe the only) one that i know of. it isn't cheap though.

indeed. Just checked the fee, it will be about $35000+? [0]

[0] - https://www.appliedmathonline.uw.edu/costs-financial-aid/

You might be interested in Harvard's online program if you have an undergraduate degree already: https://www.extension.harvard.edu/academics/graduate-degrees... . I believe you would get an MA in Mathematics for Teaching. Not quite an "MS in Math" but probably close enough (especially if you don't already have the usual prereqs).

With the exception of 2 teaching classes, you'd be mostly taking "real math" classes, so it's an intriguing alternative.

This doesn't require what I would expect from an undergraduate degree in math, let alone a master's. It's not a reasonable option for what the OP is looking for.

I believe the course list has plenty that do match what the OP is looking for. For example there are several on real analysis, graduate-level optimization and other subjects like that. As well as much easier subjects.

Don't know the OP's exact level or prereqs (he mentioned in another post he had a rough go with both apostol & spivak) but there seem to be several classes that would match his needs/curiousities. The classes might not be at your particular level, but since mixing/matching seems possible I think it would cover a lot of ground.

University of Illinois, Springfield has one: https://www.uis.edu/math/curriculum/undergraduate/online/

This is interesting (along with https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18854170).

I have a Math BS, but I really wish I'd learned the material more comprehensively (I learned enough to get through problem sets and exams, but I don't feel that I really 'got it'). Paying for another degree is silly at this stage in life, but I'd happily pay a tutor to help me understand the material that 20-yr old me didn't grok the first time.

TL;DR - you tried YouTube?

Tangentially related... I've been having really good luck lately via teaching myself via YouTube videos. By observing an example, I learn 10x faster than trying to follow a written exercise that gives me a bunch of material I'm not (yet) interested in.

This past weekend, I wanted to understand the basics of how one inserts data into a 2-3 tree. This video, along with the audio, taught me everything I wanted to know...


In India, we got IGNOU which provides BA/BSc in Mathematics.

I'm very interested in this. I wanted to get an online degree with 100% online delivery (like OMSCS), but every school I checked required in-person proctoring (as opposed to something like ProctorTrack or ProctorU). So is there anything that's 100% truly online (like OMSCS)?

Only school I know of that uses ProctorU is University of the People but they do not have a regional US accreditation, so likely won't be valid for applying to OMSCS afterwards. Every town though will have some kind of invigilating/proctoring service you can rent. All the local colleges, libraries and universities in my city do this for a fee.

I don't need to apply to OMSCS...I was just saying it offers 100% online, including proctored tests. No need to go to get a proctor or go to a testing center, which is inconvenient for me. They used to use ProctorU, but switched to ProctorTrack. I don't know what they use right now.

Edit: Just checked and UOP doesn't seem to offer a math degree at all, so that doesn't help me.

Is the primary (or necessary) end goal specifically a degree or would "just" the learning suffice (meaning you want the structure and progress points, but don't need an actual degree in the end)?

Just the learning would suffice.

Assuming you are talking German well, Fernuni Hagen offers excellent math studies.

Tangential question: What career options do you expect a degree in mathematics to open up for you? (Or is this entirely personal?)

As a follow up questions, as a Indian, what online course offers degree that are valid in USA or Canada ?

Most everything mentioned here that's administered through a university is "valid" in the usa and canada. Many Indian universities are also recognized by USA and Canadian firms/universities (eg certainly the IITs).

Note, however, that you won't get e.g. OPT from an online degree.

If you want the degree, check with Coursera. Some universities offer degree programs through Coursera that don’t carry a “online” label on the degree certificate.

I know this bc my gf works there. I don’t care about a certificate so “audit » (i.e. no grading of exams,no certificate) for free. If you don’t need the degree or college credit you can do that.

They only offer Master’s and a B.Sc. in Computer Science. No Math degrees of any kind.


Stanford hcp statistics or the computational mathematics one

If you can read French, there is more than 10 remote bachelor/master degrees you can register in French universities: https://www.fied.fr/fr/index.html

Out of curiosity, how are these degrees perceived by French employers? Also does entrance into these universities require a BAC?

These are the same diploma as the non-remote ones. Typically you have to take an on-site exam once a year. I’m not sure if it is indicated anywhere that classes was provided online, so it should be totally the same. And yes it requires the bac.

Also I forgot to mention that the government annonced a raise for foreign student fees, so I would not stay as cheap as it is (400-600€).

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