32 Free Online Courses from the Best Colleges and Universities
Not all college-level education has to cost you an arm and a leg! Websites like Coursera and edX offer college courses in a wide variety of subjects, free of charge. And taking college courses for free, period, is exciting enough, but these sites both offer courses from well-known, big-name schools—check out a sampling!
Learning How to Learn from McMaster University and the University of California San Diego, offered on Coursera.
Not sure where to start? Start by learning how to learn! Before you take the plunge into free online courses, ease yourself into academia with this 12-hour course. Its coursework offers “powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects.” Brush up on your test-taking skills and explore the learning process as a whole. “Learning How to Learn…actually helps students learn how the brain works and learns and processes information,” explains Yolanda Newton, Director of Education Revolution. “It’s a great course for anyone because in about 12 hours of coursework you can improve your own methodology to learn anything else.” You can also take our quiz to find out what your personal learning style is.
Computers and technology
Intro to Computer Science from Harvard University, offered on edX
Launching Perfect Technologies from Harvard University, offered on edX
Computational Thinking for Problem Solving from University of Pennsylvania, offered on Coursera
Artificial Intelligence from Columbia University, offered on edX
With computer literacy an increasingly marketable skill, it’s nice to know that free online courses can help supply you with some of those skills. And courses from Harvard, no less! Louis Wood, Owner of DefendItYourself.com, says that the Harvard Intro course is “amazing—people online have mentioned they learned more taking that one class than they did in two years of classes at other schools.” Thanks to these free online courses, you can learn the helpful skills while also staying current in the ever-evolving world of technology. LaNysha Adams, Ph.D., Principal Consultant at Edlinguist Solutions, also praises Columbia’s Artificial Intelligence course. “I want to stay on the up-and-up with what is happening in that field, and the fact that I can just take a one-hitter course is really cool,” she says. Check out some more wacky but real college courses you can actually take.
Introduction to Psychology from Yale University, offered on Coursera
The Science of Happiness from Berkeley University, offered on edX
Psychology of Popularity from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offered on Coursera
The Science of Well-Being from Yale University, offered on Coursera
Even if you don’t plan on going into the field of psychology, you’ll still absolutely benefit from courses examining things like happiness and well-being! Take it from Adams, who took Berkeley’s Science of Happiness course and has this to say. “The Science of Happiness was a really cool course to dive into…I have a certification to teach positive psychology, and this course discussed how to apply the science part to everyday life.” Likewise, Jenny Grant Rankin, Ph.D., an education writer and Psychology Today contributor, enjoyed Yale’s Science of Well-Being course. “The class helped me better understand my mind and ways to enhance my life with even more joy,” she tells RD.com.
Literature and writing
Introduction to Theory of Literature from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses
Modern Poetry from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses
Writing for Social Justice from Berkeley University, offered on edX
Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot from Wesleyan University, offered on Coursera
Can words change the world? Explore that question in these courses that delve into the history, impact, and construction of the written word. Ian Curtis, co-founder of H&C Education education consultancy and PhD candidate at Yale University, completed Introduction to Theory of Literature and Modern Poetry. His experience proves that even experts in a certain field can always learn something new. The courses “helped me solidify my background in the fields of literature, literary theory, and history,” he explains. Educate yourself about education by learning the real difference between a college and a university.
Science and math
Introduction to Mathematical Thinking from Stanford University, offered on Coursera
Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life from MIT, offered on edX
AstroTech: The Science and Technology Behind Astronomical Discovery from University of Edinburgh, offered on Coursera
Data Science: Probability from Harvard University, offered on edX
Whether you’re interested in mysteries of the cosmos or the laws of probability that impact our everyday lives, you’ll find free online courses for that! Can one math class make a difference in your academic standing? Curtis sure thinks so, and he has the story to prove it! “I worked with a student who took an online math class over the summer,” he explains to RD.com. “The student could have paid for a certificate, but I told him to save his money. As an added bonus, the student was able to skip ahead a whole year in his high school math curriculum. These achievements count a great deal in the college application process.” Not bad for a single free class!
History and social science
European Civilization, 1648-1945 from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses
France Since 1871 from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses
Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction from University of Virginia, offered on Coursera
Global Diplomacy – Diplomacy in the Modern World from University of London, offered on Coursera
The European Civilization and France Since 1871 courses come highly recommended from Curtis, who now actively studies post-World War II French cultural history. And, well, studying historical fiction through the lens of witches and war sounds just plain cool. And the good news continues—to take these courses, you don’t have to stress about an application or worry about whether you’re writing a hilariously bad college admissions essay like these.
Miracles of Human Language: An Introduction to Linguistics from Meertens Instituut, offered on Coursera
Chinese for Beginners from Peking University, offered on Coursera
Italian Language and Culture: Beginner from Wellesley College, offered on edX
Basic Spanish 1: Getting Started from Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, offered on edX
One feature of free online courses that Newton especially loves is the fact that you can take language courses from anywhere in the world. Miracles of Human Language comes from Meertens Instituut in the Netherlands; the beginner Chinese course comes from Peking University in China; you can learn Spanish from Spain’s Polytechnic University of Valencia. What better way to dive into a new language?
Art, music, and miscellaneous
Critical Thinking and Art from the National Gallery of Art, offered by edX
Fundamentals of Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts, offered by Coursera
Introduction to Music Theory from Berklee College of Music, offered by edX
Songwriting: Writing the Lyrics from Berklee College of Music, offered by Coursera
Child Nutrition and Cooking from Stanford University, offered by Coursera
Power and Responsibility: Doing Philosophy with Superheroes from Smithsonian and Harvard Division of Continuing Education, offered by edX
How much fun do these courses sound?! These six alone showcase the variety and exciting topics that you can explore through free online courses.
Even though anyone can take free online courses, Adams does advise that they require you to “be highly motivated and good at self-learning.” But if you put in the effort, the reward will surely be worth it. “[Taking online courses] shows that you have the discipline and motivation to self-teach and go through a sequence and finish. If you have a curiosity and love of learning, try it out and see what piques your interest. It’s better to go the quicker, less expensive route and then apply that experience…in a real-world setting.”
And, of course, these are only scratching the surface of the free college courses available to eager learners. You’re sure to find something that interests you! And these 32 college courses are far from the only beneficial freebies you can find online—check out these 13 other free things online everyone should take advantage of.