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Try out the Ivy Leagues with these free college courses

Think an Ivy League education is out of reach? Many elite schools offer free college courses online. Learn more with our guide to Ivy League MOOCs.
Written by Education Editors, Contributor

Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale are renowned for offering some of the most elite academic programs in the world. These universities are infamously challenging to get into, making them inaccessible to most. Additionally, tuition is expensive, even with significant scholarship opportunities.

Students looking for free online college courses may be surprised to discover options from Ivy League institutions. More and more universities are offering free college courses online, often in the form of massive open online courses (MOOCs). These classes cover a wide array of subjects in the arts, social sciences, STEM, and other fields. 

While they typically don't count towards a degree, MOOCs can provide learners with valuable, career-relevant knowledge. They also allow students to explore new interests and hobbies.

Ivy Leagues and online courses 

MOOCs allow anyone to enroll and can serve hundreds of learners simultaneously. These courses combine traditional learning materials, such as lectures, with innovative elements, such as social media threads. Students typically take online quizzes and interact in discussion boards. 

Ivy League schools were among the first to offer MOOCs. Stanford hosted its first MOOCs in 2011. The following year, Stanford professors founded Coursera and Udacity, now two of the most popular MOOC platforms. Around the same time, Harvard and MIT partnered to create edX, another popular eLearning platform. 

Ivy League schools offer MOOCs for a variety of reasons, including expanding public access to education, building their reputation, and conducting research on teaching and learning. MOOCs can also supplement classroom instruction.

Benefits of enrolling in free online courses from Ivy League schools

Free online college courses allow unprecedented access to high-quality Ivy League education. These classes also allow learners to explore interesting topics without the high expense and pressure of a traditional college course. Students who dislike a MOOC can simply quit without worrying about their GPA or enrollment record. 

Sometimes, these classes open new career paths to students. Other times, learners take these classes for fun or to learn about a passion outside their chosen career.

Learners who commit to a series of MOOCs can gain in-depth, focused knowledge from the best schools in the world. Sometimes they may receive a certificate of completion, often for a small fee. 

However, most of the time, MOOCs do not lead to course credit, a degree, or formal credentials. For learners who need formal credentials, online degree or certificate programs are typically a better fit. 

Some students have difficulty completing courses without the structure and accountability of formal education. Others strongly prefer in-person interaction and relationship-building offered by brick-and-mortar institutions. 

Free online courses from Ivy League schools

No matter their level of education or area of interest, learners can find a MOOC that suits their needs. These free online courses range from broad introductions to highly specialized, niche courses. A few examples include: 

Understanding medical research: Your Facebook friend is wrong

Yale University via Coursera


This course teaches students how to analyze social media posts to tell fact from fiction -- a valuable skill in the era of misinformation. Learners explore how to verify claims and differentiate between good and bad research. 

Entrepreneurship in emerging economies

Harvard University via edX

Group of students standing together in classroom and smiling. Portrait of startup entrepreneurs with arms crossed
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many aspiring entrepreneurs are turning to rapidly developing markets like India, China, and Latin America. Offered by the world-renowned Harvard Business School, this class explores how businesses can both turn a profit and solve social problems. 

Programming for the web with JavaScript

University of Pennsylvania via edX

(Image: Shutterstock)

Part of UPenn's professional computer science essentials for software development certificate, this class introduces students to web development. Learners explore the essentials of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, page layout, and responsive design tools. 

Introduction to negotiation: A strategic playbook for becoming a principled and persuasive negotiator

Yale University via Coursera


Persuasion and negotiation are key skills for professionals in any industry, not only business. Students learn how to negotiate over email, bargain when they have no power, examine power dynamics, and have discussions with people with differing perspectives. 

Buddhism and modern psychology

Princeton University via Coursera


The Dalai Lama has encouraged scientists and scholars to examine meditation and Buddhist ideas about the human mind. This class does exactly that, exploring Buddhist principles through the lenses of psychology, neuroscience, philosophy, evolution, and religion. 

Can I get my diploma online for free?

It is typically not possible to earn a diploma online for free. Some MOOCs offer a completion certificate for a small fee. In some circumstances, you might be able to apply these certificate credits towards a degree program.

Which online certification is best?

The best online certification varies for everyone based on their individual interests and goals. However, any Ivy League school is an excellent choice for high-quality learning material.

Which Ivy League schools offer free classes?

There are eight Ivy League schools: Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Yale University. All offer free online classes via Coursera and edX. 

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