How to Go to College for Free

How to Go to College for FreePhotographed by Sheri Manson

One of the unsung benefits of our wired world is that for years, the most prestigious universities have been posting complete courses on the Web, tuition free. We have access to lectures, syllabuses, exams, charts, diagrams, whole textbooks even—all in the name of the OpenCourseWare movement that took off in the United States when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology began uploading classroom materials without charge in 2002. Now you practically need a full-time course adviser to navigate all the choices. That’s where we come in. Our writer, David Hochman, spent thirty days learning all he could through on-line lectures. Here are a few of his favorite teachers and his picks from the courses they teach.

Marian C. Diamond, UC Berkeley, General Human Anatomy: The Human Brain and Muscular System. Says Hochman, “I stayed up past midnight riveted by Diamond’s simple yet wondrous descriptions of what body parts do. ‘This mass weighs only three pounds,’ she says, holding a human brain, ‘yet it has the capacity to conceive of a universe a billion light-years across. Now isn’t that phenomenal?’ My brain certainly thought so.”

Paul Bloom, Yale University, Introduction to Psychology: Evolution, Emotion, and Reason: Emotions, Part I. What do your dreams mean? Do men and women differ in the nature and intensity of their sexual desires? Can apes learn sign language? Why can’t we tickle ourselves? According to Open Yale Courses, this course tries to answer these questions and many others, providing a comprehensive overview of the scientific study of thought and behavior.  Hochman’s take? “Phenomenal.”

Michael Sandel, Harvard University, The Morality of Murder: (Part 1) The Moral Side of Murder, (Part 2) The Case For Cannibalism. A thousand students regularly pack themselves into a lecture Hall at Harvard to hear Sandel’s course on justice, one of the most popular in the school’s history. In this lecture, Sandel looks at difficult moral dilemmas involving choices we might one day make about life and death.

Richard Feynman, Cornell University, Law of Gravitation. Says Hochman,“Maybe its his buoyant New York accent, but the physicist makes the great principles of motion, energy, and, indeed, quantum mechanics seem down-to-earth. ‘Even the artists appreciate the sunsets and the ocean waves and the march of the stars across the heavens,’ he says before explaining the law of gravitation.”

Salman Khan, Khan Academy, The Kidney and Nephron. Once a highly paid hedge fund analyst with multiple degrees from Harvard and MIT, Khan, 34, started teaching math for free on the Internet in 2006 and three years later quit his job to teach full-time. With an electric blackboard and a soothing, stress-free voice, Khan makes short videos on everything from basic addition to polynomial approximation in advanced calculus.

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