Am I too young to learn more advanced math and get a teacher?

I am still 15 years old, but I am very interested in pure math. I have been teaching myself though books, from the internet and from others for the past year or so. I haven’t mastered all the topics that are covered in university, just the ones that happen to interest me (elements of differential and integral calculus, complex analysis, etc. You can see what I am interested in by looking at the questions I’ve asked and answered).

Now, a few months ago, back in school, I asked my math teacher for help on a differential calculus question whose solution I did not understand. I was told by this teacher that I should not be doing calculus and I should wait until I learn it in school. Other math teachers either did not understand what I was asking or shared the same view as my math teacher. For awhile this had distressed me very much, because some of my own math teachers were telling me to stop learning math and to wait three or four years to continue! Should I stop learning math by myself? I decided that I would keep going, because this is a hobby and interest of mine and I didn’t think teachers should have the right to stop me from learning.

I find it more and more difficult to proceed learning on my own without a mentor who can and will help me, and I don’t know what to do. I went to my school’s math club, but alas, no one there was that interested in doing math for fun like me, and no one was interested in answering or helping me with my questions. This website has proven very helpful to me, however, it is not like talking ans asking a person face-to-face.

What should I do? Am I learning math too early? Should I wait until university to continue learning calculus? If not, how should I get a teacher or continue to learn on my own?


I was recently in a similar situation. After finishing precalculus at my high school, when I was 15 I started taking calculus at my local university and studying higher mathematics on my own (out of the book “Modern Algebra: An Introduction” by John Durbin, which in retrospect seems laughably basic but at the time blew my mind). Three years later, I can say without a doubt that it is the best decision I’ve ever made. I ended up learning mathematics through a combination of taking classes at university, talking with students/professors, reading textbooks, and using this site. I did have one major advantage over you though, as my parents are both professors (although neither of them math professors) which made it easier for me to get into classes. However, I know of other people doing the same thing without any connection to the university. Here are some things I would recommend based on my experience:

  • Get an introductory textbook for some relatively advanced subject, such as Calculus, Linear Algebra, or Abstract Algebra. Read reviews online before choosing one to find one that is both rigorous and easy enough for beginners. I’d recommend Spivak for Calculus (take this with a grain of salt though, as I never read it but have heard good things about it) or Durbin for Abstract Algebra. Make sure it comes with plenty of exercises, and DO THEM. If you don’t know how to do a problem, or if you’ve done it correctly, ask here!

  • If you have a university nearby, take advantage of it. Email a professor teaching an upcoming introductory course and explain your situation to him/her, and ask if you can sit in on the class. You might even be able to enroll in classes as a non-degree-seeking student, if the university allows this (most do) and you can afford it (if it’s a state school, the tuition for a single course might not be too bad). Don’t be afraid to talk about math with professors. It can be intimidating, but remember, these people have dedicated their lives to math. Almost uniformly, they LOVE it. Half of the time I had to find a way to break off a conversation with a professor because they were so engrossed in the math at hand.

  • Find something specific you don’t understand. It may be a theorem, a proof, a concept, or even an unsolved problem, so long as it fascinates you. Figure out what you need to know in order to understand it, and start down the rabbit hole. The experience of coming to understand something like this can be very rewarding in addition to teaching you a great deal of mathematics. I’ve had several of these over the past few years, most recently an unsolved problem known as the Triangular Billiards Conjecture which I’m studying right now.

If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to ask. Good luck!

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Alex Becker

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