TEDx – Can You Get an MIT Education for Less than $2000?

Last month I spoke at TEDxEastsidePrep about the MIT Challenge. Some highlights from the talk:

  • The technique I’ve used to watch a semester of classes in 2 days
  • How you can learn faster without going to school
  • The tool you can use to figure out where your time is going

I did the talk just over a month ago, so the official count of classes completed is now at 24 out of 33, which means there are only nine left to go (putting me roughly at the start of my “senior” year, were I an actual MIT student).

On a more personal note, this was my first public speaking event related to this blog, so I’d love to hear what you think of it!

  • sandy

    Congratulations on your presentation. I passed it on. And I think you’re going to inspire many. Now here’s the thing: will universities hear you and start to charge those who decide to pursue your plan?

  • slatedalteration

    Scott, it’s been a pleasure checking in on your work over the past few months.
    The allure of hearing an influential, radical idea–that once processed over time is still as stimulating as when it was first introduced–is fascinating.
    Your MIT Challenge is that kind of idea, and your simple, yet efficient implementation of the idea has been inspiring to witness.

    However, changing the societal expectation is no easy matter; you’ve addressed yourself how the ride of going to college, getting a degree, and continuing in the pursuit to the top of the education ladder is engrained in our minds. The linear and costly fashion in which the typical student is taught to learn is flawed to the point where I completely agree with your methods of learning, yet I still strongly feel the need to go to college in order to gain the “credentials” and meet the expectations of future employers.

    The point is that you’ve successfully identified and hit a major deficiency in the standard education system. You’ve made strides with your MIT Challenge to make the heresy a thing of the norm in my mind. But how should a high schooler like me approach all the school and costs ahead? I can’t finish HS only to skip the rigid structure of higher education because society won’t allow me to.

    To bring this all together, what would you do if you were in high school with all the knowledge you have presently? What would you do differently?

    Thanks a lot. And congrats on the progress you’ve made on the challenge! Have fun with the home stretch!


  • Gonz

    That was actually a pretty smooth talk.

    Well done Scott!

  • Adam T Pack

    Hey Scott,

    This is intriguing to see my favorite blogger at a TEDx talk.
    I think it’s unfortunate that it was so dark in that room. Maybe no one there actually noticed.

    I’m curious: this is your first *public* speaking event, but didn’t you use some of the same topics covered in your blog in Toastmasters speeches? (I found about Toastmasters through your blog, and attended a local one for awhile.) As an upbeat organization allied with personal development I’d be surprised if you hadn’t.

  • Bill Polm

    I liked your lecture, and I think you’re right.
    I think it went well. Your ideas were clear and easy to understand. And the occasion humor was enjoyable.
    I would suggest using a few less gesture. You were excited, I’m sure, but they became a little distracting. About 2/3rd of the way through the speech (the portion I saw on YouTube), you got some variety into your gestures which helped.
    But I think you did fine.

    (PS I have your “Learn More, Study Less” book and recommend it to peple needing to learn more efficiently and well.)

  • Max

    Congrats and great work presenting your ideas……

  • Joe

    In all honesty, I doubt you would be able to answer 75% of the questions given to you about the courses you you’ve practically just crammed for tests.

  • Nevada Skalla

    Breaking News: The most important man on Earth Tom Truong decided to grant the human race free online college education from Harvard University & Princeston University to billions of people world wide. A few of his fans are currently enjoying it now. Spread this to everyone. Enjoy his gift at coursera.org and edxonline.org and khanacademy.org

  • Fedon

    great talk! how did the people there respond to your premise of self education?

  • Olle Linge

    Knowing about your project before I watched the video, I was a bit surprised that you waited so long and put so little emphasis on the time. Is that because you want to avoid putting the focus on you being a genius that can complete an MIT course in just 12 months or are there other reasons? I realise it’s difficult to to include more things in the speech, but at least something about they way you learn would have been interesting (holistic learning, Feynman, etc.).

    All in all, I liked the speech very much. It was well prepared and contained some excellent and carefully thought-out pictures, such as the 5-star restaurant. I’m not sure what people who aren’t already familiar with you will think, but I liked it anyway.

  • Nitin

    Good one, Scott! You deserved the attention and acknowledgement of your intimidating MIT challenge. All the best for the remainder of the challenge and can’t wait to learn what your next feat is gonna be.

  • Ankit

    It was a great presentation. Simple Ideas are the most powerful ones and what is commendable is that you are not just presenting them but you have practiced them as well. I have been pursuing a Masters in Computer Science myself and to add to your point, a lot of students IN the university also prefer going through the lectures on web rather than attending classes. So, self-education definitely is the way to go.

  • Kevin

    Excellent speech. I’m not sure how much classroom or Toastmasters experience you’ve had before, but your presentation skills are really good.

    I was on board and non-skeptical about your MIT challenge from the start, so I feel like the speech spent a little too much time trying to preempt criticisms, but I realize it was probably calibrated right for an audience that was totally new to it.

    Once word gets around that you’ve done this I have a feeling it’ll open a lot of doors for you.

  • Yld

    Thanks You scott for sharing !

  • Belinda

    Outstanding presentation, Scott. I think your MIT Challenge can inspire others–from pre-college level to retirement age–to think outside the box when it comes to learning. Your analogy comparing going back to college to eating at a 5-star restaurant everytime you get hungry was spot on! And…I’ve done a time log before. It was eye-opening to say the least.

    I shared your presentation…and hope to create some great dialogue about it.

  • Lorii Abela

    You did a great job, Scott and I believe you will do more. Great presentation and I agree with Sandy that surely you can inspire others. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Ana

    Hey, Scott,
    great presentation, congrats!
    I have a video-blog on learning methods in Portuguese, and I’d like to embed this video with Portuguese subtitles to my audience to appreciate it, but I couldn’t find a way to do this on youtube (it seems that I needed to be the owner of the video). Is it possible to get permission to do this from you or TEDx organization? Of course, I would do it for free and let the translation publicly available to anyone. If this solves the issue, I can send the translation for you to add it yourself.

  • Jonathan

    Great lecture, Scott! Wonderful to see TEDx take an interest in your self-education ideas. Very stimulating, and empowering- particularly for us interested in gaining an education without the resources to go the standard route. – Jonathan

  • Melanie Wilson

    Fantastic presentation! I have a PhD in psychology, but stay home to teach my children. I am fascinated by independent learning. My son will be a junior in high school, but because he has studied independently, has far more courses than he needs to graduate. You’ve motivated me to study programming on my own. Thank you!

  • Joyce

    Congrats!! I’ve found your blog inspiring over the years, and completing the MIT courses and speaking on TEDx is proof that (*almost all) opportunities are only limited by your own beliefs of what is possible!

  • Charles


    I have been a long time reader and I just have to say way to go on the talk. I am finding more and more that our current model of higher education is increasing flawed in terms of dealing with the challenges ahead in our world. Thank you for being one of the growing number of voices calling for a paridigm shift towards personal investment and responsibility in one’s own education.

  • Daniel

    Great talk, Scott. When you did your cost/benefit analysis when determining between choosing business or cs I could totally see my past self back in 2007.

    I started learning webdesign using codeacademy a couple of weeks ago and it is going pretty well. Thanks for the listings of all courses and assignments, I will have a look at it.

  • hp

    A very inspiring talk . . . and VERY well presented.

  • Amelia

    Hi Scott!

    That’s so awesome! You got to do a TED talk! I sent a message a few months back asking for some clarifications about the project.

    Overall, I think it’s a great idea, and I will say that most of my time spent in college was spent teaching myself anyway, more than anything, so I do love this project.

    The talk was great and I am sure you will only get better the more you do them. 🙂

  • Rashid

    Is the do it yourself degree legit? Can you elaborate on it a little bit?

  • Rashid

    Oh yeah, you did pretty well. You covered a lot in such a short time, by the end I was surprised that the video was only twelve minutes long.

  • Scott Young


    Jay Cross actually has a guest post coming up on this site, so you can learn more when that gets posted next week!


    You can contact them here, if you’d like, although I’m not sure how translation is supported on YouTube. It’s mostly the official TED videos that have open translations: http://www.tedxeastsideprep.co


    That’s a difference in audience. TED isn’t a Tony Robbins seminar, and they style of the talks is informative, but humble, so I chose to focus on the self-education angle for the talk and make the learning faster part a side-effect.


    That’s also why I’ve done programming projects, since it gives something more concrete to tie the skills down to other than just tests. If you suggest you can pass an MIT exam, implement the ideas in programs, and yet not know 75% of the information, that’s holding myself to a bar higher than most students.


    No, first related to this blog. I’ve done a lot of speaking before academically.


    Actually Jay Cross addresses some of those concerns in a guest post I have coming up, so maybe it will help fill the gaps on the practicality of self-education.


    Universities like MIT aren’t really in the business of offering education, but in offering prestige, so offering their courses online for free doesn’t really hurt their value proposition. They already turn down 99% of students who wish to attend, all MITOCW and MITx do is spread their brand, further increasing the value of the school. If anything, I expect open-education platforms to expand in the next 10 years as the elite schools compete to showcase themselves as being leaders in the field.

    Thanks for all the comments everyone!

  • Dan

    Great talk! Why not wear some leisure clothes and walk around now and then like other TED presenter 🙂

  • Scott Young


    Unfortunately the stage was a bit cramped, so I couldn’t walk around without having my shadow cut off the slides!


  • Anonymous

    There are so many glaring omissions in this talk, both about the advantages you had and the extent of your success.

    I wish you would at least list the genuine benefits of attending an institution like MIT instead of backhandedly glossing over them and then putting them down as irrelevant or luxurious.

    You say multiple times in your talk and throughout your blog that you *aren’t* actually getting a full MIT education– so why do you keep branding it as one?

    I do agree with some of the ideas you present in your talk, but your approach this entire time has been frustrating.

  • Dan

    We will wait for your TED talk, after you have finished the MIT challenge

  • Amber

    I thought the talk and what you are proposing was brilliant. I’ve heard this approach before, and was a big follower of the PMBA movement early on, but haven’t seen anyone try to replicate an actual degree program from a university – different from self-styled curriculum.

    The biggest take-away I got is that with all of the resources today AVAILABLE at our fingertips, there’s no reason we shouldn’t all be kicking ass everyday. Anyone complaining that they can’t afford a conventional education should be diving into the opportunity to follow an unconventional path. What we are living in is an unprecedented time. Sit at the sidelines and complain at your own peril.

    Looking forward to digging into the rest of your blog!

  • ad

    Hey Scott,

    Somehow in the future, you will need to hire employees for your company.
    If you have two candidates who both have strong portfolio, but one was professionally trained and the other one just learn by him/herself. Just like you. Which one will you pick?

  • Angel_eyes

    Hi Dan,

    The criticism you are getting, is well…. expected. I hope you are taking this well.

    I feel a time log is important to operate at higher efficient levels. When I did this in my first semester (lots of classes –> I even attended only 5 hours of a class because I had a part-time job that conflicted and still did awesome!) I excelled that term, though I do not keep it going on consistently. Leading to near failure by the end of the 4 year program. (and, I’ve done two 4 year programs! So I know this trend) Guess I poop out! Any pointers on are enduring the schedule ?

    I often peek at your site to see if I can pick up any pointers on how to use less time studying ! I don’t just want to pass the test, I really want to be able to apply the knowledge in real world.

    The talk is okay, just short. Maybe 1 hour is better.

    Best regards.

  • Angel_eyes

    Sorry for leaving the wrong name, was talking to someone named Dan when typing! oops

  • Angel_eyes

    sorry for the wrong name, was talking to someone named Dan !! ha

  • Jake Jenkins

    Hey Scott,

    Great job with this talk.

    As for your presentation skills, I think you did really well. You obviously had the content down cold and you constructed a great “story” with your words and slides.

    You could have moved around a bit more and either reduced the number of gestures or maybe just used a larger variety of gestures.

    Really just nitpicking though. I think it was really succesful.

    I was inspired to write a response to your video on my own blog if you want to check it out:


    Good luck finishing this project. I am looking forward to see what you do next.


  • Michelle

    Love your learning hacks! Makes me want to go back to university just to try them out!!

  • Armen Shirvanian

    Hi Scott.

    You’re a beast man. I hadn’t checked your articles in a couple weeks so this was action-packed to see. This is exactly where your MIT challenge should be, spoken about on stage to an audience of many, and then posted online.

    You’ve had a common running theme for some time now, and only people with consistent themes get their message heard.


  • Steve – Improve Your Speaking


    You should be very proud of this talk. You did so many things well in it.

    You looked extremely confident up there. Your gestures were natural and congruent. You had a little bit of humor in there (the gender slide).

    But most of all, you did what is probably most important – you told your story in an engaging way that kept me curious the whole way through.

    Excellent job. And that isn’t even to really mention the fascinating content which I think is extremely important.

  • Shreen

    Great talk. I thought you spoke with clarity and paced it well. I would’ve liked to seen a little more detail in the content however.

  • Adam

    What happened to your posting rate? Your consistency has been one of the distinguishing factors of your blogger-ship.

    … This doesn’t mean you plan on moving on from blogging…. does it?