I am looking to go back to school for a Mathematics degree (Bachelor). I want to do it for pure knowledge, and not a degree (but I do want to kill 2 birds with one stone) - many areas I'm interested in require a thorough understanding of math. I have very basic calculus/linear algebra (from 1st year Engineering) understanding which is often not enough.

My questions are as follows:

  • Are there severe limitations for doing distance education in mathematics? I have access to people with thorough understanding of higher mathematics who can readily help me if I'm completely stuck.

  • Have you or anyone you know completed distance education degree in mathematics (level of the degree does not matter)? Could you describe some of the experience?

  • Do you know of any universities (especially in Europe, but not necessarily) that offer distance education in mathematics (Bachelor)?


  • I do not need to be actively taught. Just a way to submit work is fine. Another point to mention is that I would prefer cheaper education alternative. As much as I would like the freedom of not being tied down to a city, it stops making sense to pay $6000 for online education when I can just go to a local university and not attend all lectures.
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of distance education would you like? The possibility to take exams or otherwise complete courses over long distance may be more common than the possibility to get instruction over long distance. That is, would it be enough to have the course material and a method for turning in exercises (or similar) or do you want to be actively taught as well? $\endgroup$ – Joonas Ilmavirta Oct 12 '14 at 18:12
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Only, if you repost a question math.stackexchange.com/questions/970344/… it can be helpful to mention this. But it is not a big deal, just for future occasions. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 12 '14 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ @JoonasIlmavirta please see edits. @ quid sorry about that. Didn't know about this site when I was posting on math.stackexchange $\endgroup$ – Anton Oct 12 '14 at 19:28
  • $\begingroup$ No problem! And, that you reposted it here is fine. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 12 '14 at 19:36

A few years back I followed a distance master degree in maths at UPMC (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, in Paris). At the time the university sent course documents and exercices by post every week, solutions to exercices had to be sent back, and students had to be physically present for the final exams. Subscription was cheap (a few hundreds euros I think). I don't know to what extent all this has changed since then; see here for the Bachelor degree: http://www.telesciences6.upmc.fr/fr/licencemath.html

I did not get my master degree in the end. Reasons are:

  • I was already in the process of getting a master degree in engineering, so pressure was low to get another master degree. And I think a bit of self-pressure is required with any distance solution, because no one but you is there to push you on a daily basis.

  • Not only pressure but also emulation. Being part of the same boat with other students is important to discuss ideas, problems, wrong solutions, etc. and sometimes to do something else. I was lacking interactions with peers.

  • Some courses such as stochastic processes were entirely new and strange to me, and I had much difficulties to understand them without a teacher. At the same time the temptation was high to spend more time on courses I liked such as groups and representation theory. It means that a lot of self-discipline is required, more than for regular courses where the agenda "forces" you to tackle with all topics.

  • For maths you need to do exercises to make progress, and you need to experience it to know how much it is true. The few exercises that were asked were maybe not enough, and I did not have the motivation to make additional exercise sessions by myself. The danger is that reading maths (i.e. reading the printed document courses) is something very pleasant I think, but this is not very rewarding if not completed with taking notes, doing exercises, asking questions, etc.

I guess the development of MOOCs nowadays can moderate several of the points mentioned above; I have followed a few MOOC math courses recently and I have been quite enthusiastic about them - but this is certainly another topic by itself.

Some years later I started a PhD in parallel to my regular professional activity. I worked on my PhD during evenings, week-ends, and vacations. I did it for me, not for carrier purposes. Concretely I was rarely in the lab, I used to see and email my advisor and a few other researchers from time to time, I attended a few conferences only, so this can probably be called a distance PhD degree. I succeeded in this enterprise, but I think the context was fundamentally different from that of the master degree:

  • this was research, not education, so I did not really need to learn things by heart or to force myself to work on topics I disliked; I naturally followed the path of maths I felt comfortable with, and this is where I found results: magic!

  • research is not a linear process, so I think your discoveries depend more on a maturing process than on the total time you spend working on it.

Hope this can help.


The Open University offers distance learning and has undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in mathematics. Unfortunately, I do not know anything beyond this about it, but the linked to pages should lead to all kind of information.

For your first question of severe limitations, I would say, no, mathematics is rather well-suited for this, as there is no lab-work or anything like this needed. Especially since you have access to people that can help you, you should be fine.

It might be hard for some people to learn in relative isolation and independence, but this is a general issue not specific to mathematics.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer. Unfortunately it seems as if they have no programs that I can take being a resident of Canada. I wonder why. $\endgroup$ – Anton Oct 12 '14 at 19:46
  • $\begingroup$ You are welcome. Sorry it is of no direct help. What you say seems indeed surprising; unfortunately I do not know why either. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 12 '14 at 19:48

Have you looked at http://www.snhu.edu/ (Southern New Hampshire University), which offers online eduction at the undergraduate and graduate level. It's not in Europe, though.

  • $\begingroup$ For this answer to receive any votes, it would need to be higher quality. I recommend at least adding a link and a description of your experiences with the school. $\endgroup$ – Chris Cunningham Oct 13 '14 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site. I added a link. From a quick look it appears to me (but I might have missed it) there is no programme in mathematics. Yet there are related sujts so it might still be useful. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 13 '14 at 6:12
  • $\begingroup$ Here is a link to the site: snhu.edu/online-degrees/undergraduate-degrees/… I have NO experience with the school, but I too was looking for an online degree in math a while back. That was one of the very few I found. I ended up taking night courses at a local state school instead. The B.A. in math is listed on their online education page. $\endgroup$ – user2337529 Oct 14 '14 at 1:27

I think what you seek is (a) not yet available, but (b) will likely be available eventually. I base the latter on the existence of the X-series, a sequence of edX courses that leads to an XSeries Certificate ("EdX introduces new ID verification service"). You can earn a certificate in Aerodynamics, Astrophysics, Foundations of Computer Science, and other topics. But not (yet) Mathematics.

Here is one of the Astrophysics courses, in progress just this month: ANU-ASTRO3x The Violent Universe, taught by Brian Schmidt & Paul Francis.



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