How to Get an Ivy League Education for Free

Yale University Old CampusTaking a course taught by a world-class professor at an elite school can really make a difference in what you get out of it. Many Ivy League scholars are gifted communicators and experts in their field, who have an impressive knowledge while radiating a contagious enthusiasm for their subject. Wish you could attend an Ivy League college but don’t have the monetary resources or SAT scores to get in? Here’s how to do it!

You don’t officially have to be a student at the school to access their recorded lectures and published works, which are a great resource for lifelong learning. Look up the profiles of professors affiliated with these colleges and universities, and see what books or articles they’ve written. Search for them on the Internet. Maybe you can even find one of their textbooks on Type the name of a professor in YouTube. You’ll be surprised at how many give talks that are frequently uploaded.

In addition, most of the Ivy League universities now offer open-source classes to the general public at no charge. These MOOCs (massively open online classes) include lectures, syllabi, notes, presentations, tests, activities, projects, worksheets, etc. – everything you need to learn outside of the traditional classroom – and the platforms sometimes even enable interaction with other learners online. You usually don’t have to buy textbooks, either, because the readings are typically online as well.

Some MOOCs offer the opportunity to earn a certificate upon successful completion of a course. Taking a certificate course often entitles those students to assessments and instructor interaction (or at least automated feedback and virtual tutors), but it usually involves a fee. It’s still a lot cheaper than paying the full tuition, though. The certificates won’t apply toward a degree, but they can be listed on a resume or used as evidence of higher education and ongoing learning.

Not just Ivy League, but universities everywhere, are opening their virtual campuses to anyone with an internet connection and the motivation to learn. Some MOOCs are free online versions of classes in the university catalog; others are new versions made especially for online use. Some lectures are provided as downloadable or streamed videos; others have audio-only options; and they may or may not include lecture transcripts. Some courses operate on an academic schedule and have specific start times; others are self-paced, meaning you can start and complete them anytime.

Yale University posted its first free online courses in 2007 as part of its Open Yale initiative, and the selection is extensive. However, the site retains a mix of older and newer courses, so you might want to check the date of the first offering if you’re looking at a current events course. Since these courses are not led by an instructor, students may access the material at any time. But no discussion boards or opportunities for student interaction are provided.

Harvard and MIT teamed up in 2012 to provide free online courses though a program called edX for learners everywhere regardless of age, income, or ability to get through the grueling admissions process at either school. As an online learning destination, edX offers high-quality courses from the world’s best universities. In addition to the two founding universities, contributors include Berkeley, Caltech, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Wellesley, Boston University, University of Texas, Kyoto University, Australian National University, University of Edinburgh, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, University of Hong Kong, and many others.

Also in 2012, Stanford and Princeton in cooperation with the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan founded Coursera to “provide universal access to the world’s best education” by offering courses online. Other collaborating colleges include the California Institute of Technology, University of Washington, Brown University, Columbia University, Duke University, John Hopkins University, Vanderbilt University, Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology, Tel Aviv University, University of London, National University of Singapore, and many more.

Some individual institutions provide access to online courses on their own sites. As an example, Carnegie Mellon University’s Open learning Initiative (OLI) offers self-paced courses online. The learning platform gives you targeted feedback as you go, which helps you know if you are mastering a topic or if you need more practice. However, the Open Learning Initiative does not grant credit, nor does it provide any verification or certification of completion.

Harvard’s website provides a searchable database of their online courses, both current and archived. Also, through their Open Learning Initiative, Harvard offers dozens of video lectures in Quicktime, Flash, and mp3 formats. These recorded lectures were created from actual Harvard courses. Although the recordings are not complete courses with assignments, many of the lecture series provide a semester’s worth of instruction.

Keep in mind that these free MOOCs are not the same as registering as a student at a university. But if you are an independent learner, you can create your own course of study and schedule classes to suit your own pace. Just think of a subject you’d like to major in, and find an equivalent degree program at a college or university website. Check the prerequisite and credit requirements, then look for similar classes that are offered online for free. If your interests are more varied, you don’t have to follow a standard degree path but can take an eclectic combination of interdisciplinary courses tailored to your own needs.

Another benefit of learning in this way is that you are not limited to one school. Through Coursera, for example, you might enroll in Machine Learning with Andrew Ng, the Stanford University professor who founded the consortium, then take a geography course from a Princeton University professor, a poetry course from a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and so on. Imagine listing on your resume and Linkedin page, “Autodidact in cross-disciplinary subjects including geography, literature, and computer science from Stanford, Princeton, and three other universities.”

The main downside is that you won’t be able to get an official degree this way, so if a degree is important to you, you will have to enroll in an actual college program. Also, by studying on your own you won’t receive the full Ivy League university experience – which revolves around the relationships and valuable connections you meet while at school. But if you desire the education without the expense, online courses may be the way to go. A majority of students taking the free classes are working professionals hoping to improve their skills for their current job, or to obtain a better one.

While these mentally stimulating courses are mainly targeted to adults and lifelong learners, some of the sites do publish courses taught by outstanding teachers on subjects traditionally covered in high school. Just think how neat it would be to attend a history class taught by a Harvard professor in the comfort and convenience of your own home – not to mention that it would look impressive on a high school transcript!

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