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Thread: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

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    econ scholar dogbones's Avatar
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    Online extension courses & PhD admissions

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    Would it be beneficial or detrimental to my overall application to have online extension courses from say Harvard Extension School in addition to the master's degree and RA experience? I've heard that online courses are a waste of time and money, but I think doing well in an actual Harvard course (albeit online extension) can be seen as a positive indicator?

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    Quote Originally Posted by dogbones View Post
    Would it be beneficial or detrimental to my overall application to have online extension courses from say Harvard Extension School in addition to the master's degree and RA experience? I've heard that online courses are a waste of time and money, but I think doing well in an actual Harvard course (albeit online extension) can be seen as a positive indicator?
    I took an online extension real analysis class through University of Maryland University College. I'd say the following about it, but take my advice with a grain of salt because these are just my personal experiences and they are less and less valid the more different your profile is from mine.

    1. The classes were extremely expensive. I paid something like $1500-$2000 for one course. At the time though I was working so I had more money and less schedule flexibility, so it was worth it.
    2. The class was actually really helpful. I forced myself to do my homeworks in LaTex to learn the language. The proofs helped me get in the mindset of first year micro, and the assignments were structured similar to my first year homework. I learned a lot about formal math.
    3. The class required discipline. You could pass without learning a ton since homework and the test was all open book. There was not a ton of accountability which I guess is good practice for grad school.

    Overall I think I had to take the class because my math profile was weak, but I also came from a high ranked undergrad program and had a few great letters so it's hard to say if the class hurt or helped in applications. My gut tells me that as long as the sponsoring uni is well known like Harvard or UMaryland it's probably not discounted. That's probably why they can get away with charging so much.

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    I've taken the Harvard Extension Math 23A (Linear Algebra and Real Analysis).

    My understanding is that admissions committees like this course. The professor seemed pretty convinced of this, and it worked well enough for me. It also was clear when I took the course that a number of folks looking to boost their math background before PhD apps enroll in that class consistently.

    I'd also say I learned a good deal. If you're looking specifically at Math 23A through Harvard Extension, be aware that it is a challenging course, and you cover a lot of material (for example, the first ~1/3 of the course covered all of the linear algebra I had done in a semester at a top 5 liberal arts college; then we did multivariate calc and real analysis). If you can handle it and do well, it is very worthwhile.

    And beyond signaling, a ton of the material in Math 23A has proven relevant/useful to my first year in PhD.

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    And it looked like they make you memorize 26 proofs in just 23A and another 20 or so in 23B? How hard was that? That was the major detractor for me because I donít want to pay a lot to earn a blemish on my transcripts... that and the online format has some inherent risks like if you canít get online or if you need clarification there are no resources...

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    That's right - if it's the same professor I had, he likes to make proofs very central to the course. And exams (if I remember correctly) are largely based on memorizing a number of proofs. Like I said, it is not an easy course: it covers a lot of material at a pretty high level. You can judge best for yourself whether you would be able to perform well int hat environment.

    You can find a bunch of the course materials and lecture videos online. For example, the main assistant for the course (initials KP) has many review section videos posted on YouTube that are easy to find. I recommend checking these resources over for a better sense of what to expect.

    Regarding the online format, I would say resources are not a big concern. Harvard Extension does a solid job of recruiting a handful of TA's for the course who hold office hours and review sessions regularly via online video chats. They also make it easy to connect online with other students in the class. If you have internet problems, sure that would be a concern. But I would say otherwise the online factor likely does not detract much if at all from the course, and it is pretty easy to be in touch with TA's or other students.

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    This was really helpful, thank you. I'm working for 1 or 2 years before grad school and have been trying to figure out best options as far as taking classes; I had kind of discounted the idea of online courses (thinking AdComs would not take them so seriously) but this class looks helpful and challenging so if AdComs view it positively I might just do it.

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    Re: Online extension courses & PhD admissions

    I did find the course review materials by KP on YouTube and I have yet to look through them! I know the course would be very challenging for me, but I do plan on learning the material, and the YouTube content, at my own pace and terms. Thank you jjrousseau for sharing what you had done with the course!

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