Are MIT courses much different from MIT OpenCourseWare? I am curious, because as a high schooler, I have some intent to study from MIT OpenCourseWare.

Will this allow me to be more comfortable if I am admitted to MIT?

Also, how are MIT courses so different from those at other places? I heard that these courses are hard..

  • it is a watered down version. also answers are not available and you can't get support. – teenage mutant ninja turtle Sep 23 '12 at 9:54
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    I agree that answers are not available and you can't get support, but what is your basis for saying it is a watered down version? My understanding is that OCW is a record of how the course was actually taught (copies of problem sets and other handouts such as notes, sometimes recordings of lectures). It may be an inferior format compared to taking the class in person at MIT, but the actual substance is the same. Am I wrong about this? – Anonymous Mathematician Sep 23 '12 at 13:09
  • yes it is wrong actual course has more. recitations problem sessions etc. also if u are doing a self study questions without answers are useless u can't learn well or see if you are really learning. – teenage mutant ninja turtle Sep 23 '12 at 16:59
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    I am voting to close. While I think there is a useful question here, the current one about how to use on-line resources to prep for undergraduate study does not seem to be on topic. – StrongBad Sep 24 '12 at 7:48
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    @anonymousmathematician I think TMNT could be confusing a "watered-down course" with a course that happens to have an excellent professor who can teach the material in a highly understandable way, without sacrificing appropriate rigor. The quality of teaching is hard to find at most places, so students watching the OCW videos might say, "wow, that's so easy to follow, the course must be simple. These MIT kids aren't all that." – User001 May 10 '16 at 16:23

MIT OCW doesn't offer "courses". It offers "courseware" — basically textbooks with videos.

Real MIT courses have live instructional staff who answer questions, run recitation sections, and offer feedback (in particular, grades) on your solutions to the homework and exam problems. Real MIT courses have deadlines that force (well, encourage) you to actually work on the course material regularly. Real MIT courses also have a community of other students, all following the same lock-step schedule, that can work together to develop ideas, internal feedback, social outlets, and later professional contacts. Real MIT courses give you an official record from MIT of your performance in the class.

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In counterpoint to JeffE's answer, let me also indicate that the materials used in OpenCourseWare have actually been used in the indicated courses. The assignments and exams do correspond to actual materials used at MIT. So OCW courses can give you a sense of the difficulty and workload of MIT courses, but, as JeffE indicates, the experience overall cannot be the same.

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As an addendum to other useful information in answers and comments: it's not that MIT or other elite places have some sort of monopoly on information, even if one means bleeding-edge stuff. It may be true that the high-end instructors at elite places are in personal possession of bleeding-edge information, so can put other things in that context. And, indeed, those seemingly subtle aspects can matter enormously.

The genuine action-point is that, by merely "looking at" or having a "participant certificate" in regard to any discussion, one does not certify that one is quasi-effective in use of the ideas... and so on. That is, having paid admission to watch any sort of professional sport, and managing to understand the scoring, one has really no certification that one oneself can play that sport at a professional level.

Sure, if one hasn't ever seen experts play the sport, one is bereft. But, still, just having seen the Kentucky Derby many times doesn't mean that one can run a 3-minute mile.

The positive recommendation from me is that one probably does want significant contact with people who have made/done significant, genuine mathematics. Otherwise, if one is hoping to make research contributions, unless one is The Chosen One, one is stuck in a position exactly analogous to trying to make money on the stock market with just the same info that everyone else has (i.e., no insider info, unlike members of Congress are allowed to use...).

That is, it's not that MIT has better info about entry-level things, it's that the faculty there have access to, and are creators of, high-end, bleeding-edge stuff. As are certain people around the world.

Perhaps surprisingly, then, the point is not the "program", but the people. Their notes can certainly be useful, perhaps incredibly so, but it's still not the live thing.

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