How to prepare for your first college semester.

After celebrating my acceptance (click here for part 1) I glanced at the course list for my upcoming semester.

  • Introduction to CS
  • Calculus 1
  • Linear Algebra 1
  • Digital Systems
  • Physics

Owing to some non-standard life decisions it had been 8+ years since I had graced the inner side of a classroom. I was not at all confident(understatement) that I was ready for these courses.

It was 5 months to the start of the semester. With the help of a student adviser  I identified 4 areas of Math that if I could master in time I would be ready for Calc, Linear Algebra, and Physics.

  1. Algebra
  2. Geometry
  3. Trigonometry
  4. Precalculus

This was great news because basic Algebra is built on first principles (I didn’t need previous mathematical knowledge) and would be the first domino that would knock down the rest.

This was the timeline I gave myself:

algebra:   2 months
geometry: 1 month
trig:             1 month
precalc:      1 month

When the semester started it was gratifying to see that my focused hard work paid off. I may have even had an easier time with the courses than the fresh HS graduates!

Here are the steps I took.

Algebra(AC): I recommend this free online textbook. It starts from the very basics. It is split into 8 chapters. I did 1 per week but you can easily finish the book in under two weeks if you have more than 2 hours per day. Do the exercises at the end of each chapter. You can check your answers (to the odd questions) here.

I also found it helpful to change things up when I got bored of reading by watching the excellent “Khan Academy” Algebra tutorials.

Geometry(AC):  Once again Khan Academy is a great help. You can start with High School Geometry and if you find that too advanced you can take a step back to Basic Geometry.

bonus (very worthwhile): Watch this video about Euclid


Then play this game.

Trigonometry(AC): I found this book to be really good. You can find it used at Amazon for around 2$. As usual Khan Academy has a great trig course.

Precalculus(AC): This isn’t really a course (actually, according to WordPress spellcheck  it’s not even a real word). It’s more like all these random bits of Math from different subjects that you are likely to need to really get calculus. A lot of what you’ll see in Precalc Textbooks will be stuff you’ve already learnt in Algebra, Geometry, and trig.

I used this book that I found used for around 10$. It’s really clear and has tons of really interesting examples. I never finished the whole book but it did serve me as an excellent reference book throughout my first year in college. Here is the link to the KA Precalc course.

P.S. Even though you don’t need to login to watch the Khan Academy videos I recommend creating an account. The reason is that every time you login you will be able to continue from where you left off.

That’s all folks!

Join me in the next post for a complete walk-through of a first semester in CS. 

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abbreviation key:

  • AC – Academic. Only necessary if you want a college education equivalent. 95% of programming jobs will not require this skill set.
  • BC – Boot-camp. This topic is a must if you want to work in software development.
  • ES – Essential. The bare minimum required so that that you can participate in tech meetings and seem knowledgeable.

Also published on Medium.

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