8 Ivy League Schools That Offer Free Online Courses to Anyone

Learn from the best with free online courses from top-tier universities.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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You don’t have to pay for an Ivy League education to take advantage of the incredible courses offered by these institutions.

Currently, eight Ivy League schools offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are completely free online — and anyone with an internet connection can take part in them.

Here are some popular online courses at each institution that will help you get an education and keep more money in your bank account at the same time

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Brown University

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Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, uses the edX system to offer BrownX, which distributes its free online courses. If you prefer, you can pay a small fee to receive a verified certificate.

The courses range from engineering to ethics and patient-focused medical classes. They are three weeks long. Paying students will also get graded assignments along with their certificate of completion.

Recommended course: “Ethics of Memory” takes a fascinating look into the history of studying memory, psychoanalysis, how memories are represented in art, and more.

Columbia University

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Columbia University in New York City has a vast range of online courses available, and these classes can be found on Coursera or with the school’s edX system, ColumbiaX.

The courses run the gamut from business and managing money to teaching and nursing classes.

Recommended course: “Indian & Tibetan River of Buddhism” is a 12-week course that looks into the history of Buddhism throughout India, Tibet, South and Southeast Asia, and Central Asia.

Cornell University

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Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, also uses edX to offer its MOOCs free of charge through CornellX.

The university offers a wide-ranging list of free courses — from STEM-focused classes to education and teaching methodology. You will even find a class devoted entirely to sharks. The courses range in length from four to 10 weeks.

Recommended course: “The Computing Technology Inside Your Smartphone” is a computer science course that breaks down the advanced techniques that make our phones so fast.

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Dartmouth College

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Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, also uses edX to offer a stacked list of courses through its DartmouthX service.

The school offers several programming courses. You'll also find a range of classic literature and art courses, including one devoted to John Milton’s classic epic poem “Paradise Lost” and others devoted entirely to Italian or German opera.

Recommended course: “Question Reality! Science, Philosophy, and the Search for Meaning” looks into how physics and philosophy have shifted the human perspective on the universe and all it entails.

Harvard University

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Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the oldest higher education institute in the country. It has a huge range of free online courses — well over 100 — available through HarvardX.

The university has MOOCs covering almost every hot topic, from literature and public health to the “remote work revolution.”

Recommended course: “Lessons from Ebola: Preventing the Next Pandemic” is a timely four-week course that looks into what went right and wrong during the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Princeton University

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Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey, has courses available through several services — Class Central (with PrincetonX).

The university’s online courses cover topics ranging from structural engineering to writing case studies and global government.

Recommended course: “Global History Lab” is a hands-on 12-week course that encourages problem-solving while exploring world history from 1300 A.D. through the 20th century.

University of Pennsylvania

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The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia offers a wide range of free courses through Coursera and edX. The school offers many fascinating history courses, several robotics courses (each with a different focus), courses on online education, and much more.

The university also offers boot camps in subjects such as coding and data science.

Recommended course: “Hollywood: History, Industry, Art” is a four-week course that covers Hollywood’s fascinating history, from the early days of film to the contemporary era.

Yale University

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Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, offers the Open Yale Courses system, where students can enroll in a large range of introductory courses with the university. Yale also has several courses listed on Coursera.

Open Yale Courses cover an array of popular topics, from classic literature to organic chemistry and psychology courses.

Recommended course: “Capitalism: Success, Crisis, and Reform” explores the history of capitalism, its consequences — both positive and negative — and how it might be reshaped for a better future.

Bottom line

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Ivy League university MOOCs offer an incredible opportunity for the lifelong learners among us.

The free courses offered by these universities also can help students gain skills that will give them a leg up in their careers, possibly helping them get ahead financially.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.