West Point cadet --> Stanford undergrad transfer student


Independent Learning

From Fall 2019 to Fall 2020 I took a gap year after deciding to leave West Point. My main priority for the year was submitting my transfer applications. I also worked 35-45 hrs a week as a private tutor during the academic year. I still had a lot of free time to fill and I decided to use some of my newfound freedom and time to pursue my academic interests. Even though I was not actively enrolled in college, I felt it was important to maintain some level of intellectual activity. I also had complete freedom to direct my own course of study. I could let my curiousity run free. I want to share some of my favorite resources for independent sudy. This is a super short selection of the tools that I just happened to enjoy the most.

Table of Contents

MIT OpenCourseWare

MIT OpenCourseWare is a collection of course materials from MIT. It is 100% free, and many courses have video of lectures, online textbooks, notesheets, etc. I worked through 18.05 Introduction to Probability and Statistics because I wanted to solidify and expand my understanding of the topic. Some of the courses include video of revowned professors such as 6.034 Artifical Intelligence taught by Prof. Patrick Henry Winston. Unlike many other online learning options, MIT OCW is completely self-directed and there is no enrolling process or deadlines. This appealed to me because I did not follow a particular schedule; however, this freedom means there is also no way to get any certification that you learned the material–it is entirely for your own edification.


CodeChef is a competitive programming platform. I have only just started dabbling in the competitive programming world, but CodeChef has a very straightforward interface. Compared to a few other sites I checked out, it was much easier to dive right in and start programming. For reference, I decided to try competitive programming to 1.) keep up my critical thinking skills 2.) refresh my understanding of data structures/foundational computer science topics and 3.) to gain fluency in C++. I taught myself the basics of C++ using a quick course from Codecademy, but wanted to actually practice using it in a more complicated environment. CodeChef offers several competitions every month and you move up and down the rankings depending on how many problems you can correctly solve. For me, the competitive aspect of it helps keep me excited about learning new techniques and exposes me to different kinds of problems.


OverTheWire is a collection of "wargames" designed to introduce cybersecurity concepts. Similar to Capture the Flag style hacking competitions, the games involve finding a password you need to access the next level. The games are like puzzles that teach you cybersecurity tools and concepts.


Before everything went remote, I spent a lot of time in the car while commuting to my tutoring job. I started listening to audiobooks and after a few months of overpaying for an Audible subscription I switched to a much cheaper alternative: Scribd. Whereas Audible costs about $15/month for 1 audio book credit, Scribd costs about $9/month and gives you unlimitated access to its library of audiobooks, ebooks, pdfs, academic papers, etc. The biggest disadvantage is that you lose access to the materials if you stop your subscription, but if you're like me and usually only read things once then it is a bargain. Their selection is extensive and it was rare I couldn't find the materials I wanted.

That said, I am a sucker for non-ebooks. Something about physical books is much more satisfying to me. I order a few books a month from my other favorite book-related website: Thriftbooks.com. Their selection is great, cheap, and they give free shipping for any order over $10. Cannot recommend them highly enough.

More Resources

Other resources that I've stumbled upon (I have not used all of these extensively, but I think they at least look promising and most of them are completely free.):

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