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45 Free Online College Courses from the Best Colleges and Universities

Updated: Dec. 09, 2022

Not all college-level education has to cost you an arm and a leg!

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Knowledge is power

It’s always great to learn a new skill or brush up on a subject you’ve long since forgotten. And if you’ve considered it but aren’t sure where you’ll find the time, now might be your chance! While people clamor for things to do during this period of social isolation, free online college courses are an amazing resource. 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! Most of these courses are self-paced and you can start whenever you want; others have an “other dates” button where you can choose an upcoming date on which to start the course.

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Learning techniques

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 college 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.”

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Computers and technology

Intro to Computer Science from Harvard University, offered on edX

Introduction to Corporate Finance from Columbia University, offered on edX

Programming for the Web with JavaScript from University of Pennsylvania, 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 college 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 college courses, you can learn 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.

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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 Reader’s Digest.

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Introduction to Theory of Literature from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses

Modern Poetry from Yale University, offered on Open Yale Courses

Masterpieces of World Literature from Harvard University, offered on edX

Shakespeare’s Hamlet: The Ghost from Harvard University, offered on edX

Fairy Tales: Meanings, Messages, and Morals from The University of Newcastle, offered on edX

Whether you want to explore the eminent works throughout all of world literature or focus on a single Shakespeare play, there’s a free online literature course for you! 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.

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Close up of pencil on top of a notebook. Concept of education.


Writing for Social Justice from Berkeley University, offered on edX

Creative Writing: The Craft of Plot from Wesleyan University, offered on Coursera

Memoir and Personal Essay: Write About Yourself from Wesleyan University, offered on Coursera

Write a Feature Length Screenplay for Film and Television from Michigan State University, offered on Coursera

Can words change the world? Explore that question in these free online college courses that delve into the craft, impact, and construction of the written word. For the Memoir course, you’ll take “write what you know” to a whole new level by learning, from four published authors, how to write about your own life so that others will find it interesting! You can also take entire courses about a single element of creative writing, like plot, or learn how your words can empower others with Berkeley’s Writing for Social Justice course.

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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

The Science of Parenting from UC San Diego, offered on edX

Introduction to Chemistry: Reactions and Ratios from Duke University, offered on Coursera

Introduction to Forensic Science from Nanyang Technological University, offered on Coursera

Whether you’re interested in mysteries of the cosmos or the basic building blocks of life, you’ll find free online college courses for that! We even found this UC San Diego course on the Science of Parenting, its mission to cut through the waves of contrasting opinions and trendy parenting tips and get right to the science of what’s best for raising mini humans.

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Introduction to Mathematical Thinking from Stanford University, offered on Coursera

Data Science: Probability from Harvard University, offered on edX

Linear Algebra – Foundations to Frontiers from the UT Austin, offered on edX

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 Reader’s Digest. “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! Before you dive into these free online college courses, see how you fare in this elementary school math test.

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Elif Demiroz/Shutterstock

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.

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headphones and flag on a wooden background concept course language


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 college 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?

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Art and music

Introduction to Music Theory from Berklee College of Music, offered on edX

Songwriting: Writing the Lyrics from Berklee College of Music, offered on Coursera

Critical Thinking and Art from the National Gallery of Art, offered on edX

Fundamentals of Graphic Design from the California Institute of the Arts, offered on Coursera

What Is Contemporary Art? from the Museum of Modern Art, offered on Coursera

Fashion as Design from the Museum of Modern Art, offered on Coursera

What better way to spend a period of social isolation than taking classes that will fuel and improve your hobbies (old or new)? Sure, you might think it can be tricky to learn things like art and music online, but it’s probably not as challenging as you think—not to mention, it’s free, so what’s the harm?! Hone your songwriting skills or learn about contemporary art from experts at the MOMA itself.

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Child Nutrition and Cooking from Stanford University, offered on Coursera

The Rise of Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture from the Smithsonian, offered on edX

Game Design: Art and Concepts Specialization from California Institute of the Arts, offered on Coursera

Nutrition, Exercise, and Sports from Wageningen University, offered on edX

How much fun do these courses sound?! These four courses alone showcase the variety and exciting topics that you can explore through free online courses.

Even though anyone can take free online college 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 online college courses available to eager learners. You’re sure to find something that interests you! And these 45 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.