Take FREE online courses from the TOP 40 colleges in the US


Online education is ubiquitous, it seems, and has a lot to recommend it, such as the convenience of learning when and where you want, and the fact that there are so many free courses out there.

However, many online schools seem like they suddenly came out of nowhere, as if created yesterday by a committee of MBA types. The good news is that most brick and mortar schools now have online programs, including most of the best universities in America, and many offer online courses that are 100% free to take.

This post will list the top 40 US universities and present you with the free-for-all online education resources that each college (and/or members of it’s faculty) has on offer. This article aims to be the most comprehensive list of online education resources for the top colleges in America.

college logo grid

Note: scroll down for the list of 40 universities, and for an explanation of types of free online resources included in this article.

And the best colleges (in terms of free online education resources) are …

This is my own ranking of colleges based on the extent and quality of free online education resources they offer (as opposed to the big list underneath, which lists all of the top 40 schools as per the US News & World report college rankings).

  1. Stanford: unquestionably, the most active and the most involved in providing quality free online education resources. Stanford professors, moreover, seem to be everywhere, active in some of the best non-university affiliated free online education sites on the internet.
  2. MIT: not so much second best as tied with Stanford, really. But if you had to rank them, MIT is a close second.
  3. UC Berkeley: the free online education resources it offers are impressive. (All UC branches mentioned in this article had excellent resources).
  4. Yale: a wealth of resources, including it’s OpenYale initiative.
  5. Harvard: excellent resources in general.

Honorable mentions: Carnegie Mellon, University of Michigan, Rice, and Princeton.

Note on credits and degrees. although you can get a world class education for free if you (a) are willing, and (b) invest the time and energy; free online learning is different from being accredited or getting a degree. For that, you will have to go through an admissions process and (more importantly) pay tuition and fees in each and every case.

We found no free courses that can be taken for credit. None, sorry.

Note on rankings:

  • The rankings below are taken from the 2012 “US News and World Report College Rankings” of the best colleges in America.
  • The brief college descriptions below have been ‘influenced’ somewhat by the USN&WR descriptions, although we also looked into Wikipedia and other sources on the web.
  • Why top 40? It had a nice ring to it, like the music charts 😉

There are SEVEN kinds of online education resources mentioned in this post

  1. Free online courses offered internallyon the university website, or by sites that are created by or affiliated with the university.
  2. Free online courses offered on external sites,that may have some relationship with the university or it’s professors and/or faculty.
  3. OpenCourseWare resources: which denotes the sharing of “free, open, high quality education materials organized as courses, including lecture notes, assignments, exams, multimedia content such as videos, etc.”
  4. Internal university podcasts, feeds, videos, and live streaming events.
  5. External sites featuring videos, feeds, etc. from professors or courses affiliated with the university.
  6. The university channel on YouTube
  7. Courses offered on iTunesU (a free iTunes and iOS app which can distribute courses through multiple mediums; audio, video, and text).

Note: we list resources that are FREE TO THE PUBLIC. We do not list any resources, including courses and seminars, that are free for registered students or faculty.

The list of colleges and universities is as follows:

[tabla th=”0″ caption=”” width=”645″ colwidth=”322|322″ colalign=”left|left”]
1. Harvard University (*),21. UC Berkeley University
2. Princeton University (*),22. Georgetown University
3. Yale University (*),23. Carnegie Mellon University
4. Columbia University (*),24. University of Southern California
5. California Institute Of Technology,25. UCLA University of California; Los Angeles
6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology,26. University of Virginia
7. Stanford University,27. Wake Forest University
8. The University Of Chicago,28. University of Michigan
9. University Of Pennsylvania (*),29. Tufts University
10. Duke University,30. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
11. Dartmouth University (*),31. Boston College
12. Northwestern University,32. Brandeis University
13. Johns Hopkins University,33. College of William & Mary
14. Washington University IN St.Louis,34. New York University
15. Brown University (*),35. University of Rochester
16. Cornell University (*),36. Georgia Institute of Technology
17. Rice University,37. University of California San Diego
18. Vanderbilt University,38. Case Western Reserve University
19. University Of North Dame,39. Lehigh University
20. Emory University,40. University of California at Davis [/tabla]  
(*) Denotes so-called  Ivy-league Universities.

Harvard University logo1. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

The oldest institute of higher learning in America, and probably the best in the world. In the heart of Cambridge, MA.

  • Free Online Courses: Harvard offers these through the Harvard ‘Extension School’s ‘open learning initiative’. Not for credit.
  • Academic Earth / Harvard: contains a slew of Harvard courses. Academic Earth offers “online courses from the world’s top scholars”.
  • edXOnlineis a joint venture between Harvard and MIT, offering many Harvard and MIT courses online for free.
  • Harvard at Udemy: a few courses by Harvard professors
  • Harvard on the Virtual Professors site: a site featuring videos of leading professors (taken from Harvard’s YouTube channel).
  • FreeVideoLectures: Harvard Online Courses
  • Harvard’s YouTube Channel: featuring Harvard-related videos, playlists, and lectures, as well as entire courses.
  • Harvard on iTunesU: quite the selection of courses available here, for free, for both Harvard and Harvard Extension school.

Princeton University logo2. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ

The first to institute a ‘no loans’ policy, offering grants instead to students who cannot afford tuition.

Note: for a list of the 70+ colleges with no loans policies, see this article (scroll down).

Yale Universitylogo3. Yale University, New Haven, CT

Combines small college life with the resources and reputation of a world class research institution.

  • Open Yale: is a rather impressive website. It provides “free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University”.
  • Academic Earth / Yale: offers Yale online courses for free.
  • Yale at Udemy:  a few courses by Yale professor on Udemy, a site which, among other things, lets users design their own online courses.
  • Virtual Professors’ Yale Channel: featuring videos of talks and lectures by leading Yale professors (taken from Yale’s YouTube channel).
  • The faculty project: some Yale professors offer free courses here; unfortunately, there is not a specific link or page that filters them out.
  • FreeVideoLectures: Yale videos
  • Yale at Futurity: research news.
  • Yale’s YouTube Channel
  • Yale on iTunesU: a good selection of courses and lectures, including Open Yale courses.

columbia logo4. Columbia University, New York, NY

Columbia University is the fifth oldest institution of higher learning in the US, and the oldest in New York. Columbia administers the Pulitzer prize and, according to Wikipedia, is “affiliated with more Nobel prize laureates” than any other college.

  • Columbia Video Network’s (CVN) Free course previews: from Columbia’s Graduate Engineering Distance Learning program.
  • Academic Earth / Columbia: slim pickings. One one (Pol-Sci) course offered at the time of this writing. Free to take by anyone, no credit.
  • Columbia at Udemy: free courses and lectures by Columbia professors.
  • Columbia at Fathom: a handful of online courses. Note that the Fathom site is no longer being developed and no new content added.
  • University events video gallery: an archive of free talks and events held at Columbia
  • YouTube Channel: featuring commencement speaker for 2012 for Barnard College, Columbia’s sister school — Barack Obama!
  • Columbia on iTunesU: contains public and private sections. The public, free-for-all section is not as rich as, say, most of the schools mentioned in this article.

California Institute Of Technology logo5. California Institute Of Technology, Pasadena, CA

Actively involved in research projects with NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and others, while simultaneously keeping the student-to-faculty ratio an impressive 3:1.

  • Telecourse:featuring a real Caltech course broadcast live, free to take (but there are academic prerequisites). At the time of this writing the course is “Introductory Machine Learning”, although that may have changed to something else at the time you read this. Not for credit.
  • Caltech at Futurity: research news.
  • YouTube Channel: includes the lectures from the free course above, as well as various videos and lectures, including a TEDxCaltechplaylist.
  • Caltech on iTunes: free lectures and podcasts.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology University logo6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

MIT may be the best college for math, science, and engineering education, but it also offers architecture, humanities, management, and social science programs.

  • MITx: an online learning initiative, offering a “portfolio of MIT courses for free to a virtual community of learners around the world”.
  • edXOnlineis a joint venture between Harvard and MIT, offering many Harvard and MIT courses online for free.
  • Academic Earth / MIT: offering an impressive range of courses. Free to take by anyone, no credit.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare provides education materials for courses (lecture notes, assignments, exams, multimedia content, etc.), but not structured courses to take. Also check out the MIT page on the OpenCourseWare site.
  • Alison: interactive learning website, featuring courses published by MIT as well as courses published by MIT Labs(not many, but noteworthy).
  • MIT at Udemy: a good number of courses and lectures by MIT professors.
  • MIT channel on the Virtual Professors site: featuring videos of leading MIT professors doing what they do best (taken from MIT’s YouTube channel).
  • MIT Video site: why MIT has it’s own video site alongside it’s YouTube channel is a mystery, but my guess is that it probably this 10,000+ video archive pre-dated YouTube by a couple of decades 😉
  • FreeVideoLectures: MIT videos
  • YouTube Channel: everything from MIT news to full course lectures.
  • MIT on iTunes U: podcasts, courses, etc., piped straight to your ears via stylish headphones. Add a pair of shades and a cool T-shirt, and people may not even know you’re a geek

Stanford University logo7. Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Stanford stresses the combination of teaching, learning, and research, and has a strong connection with Silicon Valley and California’s tech industry.

University of Chicago8. The University Of Chicago, Chicago, IL

Although the University of Chicago is a leading center of scientific research, it is better known for advances in humanities, such as sociology, political science, and economics.

Not much in the way of online education resources, compared to some of the others.

Penn logo9. University Of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Founded by Benjamin Franklin, ‘Penn’ is a private institution in Philadelphia that offers Arts and Sciences, Nursing, Engineering, Applied Sciences degrees, and Business degrees through the Wharton School of Business.

DukeUniversity10. Duke University, Durham, NC

A private research university founded by Quakers, Duke, in Durham, NC, has some of the best undergraduate and graduate programs in the US. In 2011 it was ranked as being one of he top 20 universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings.

  • YouTube Channel: a rather modest selection of videos
  • The faculty project: some Duke professors offer free courses here; unfortunately, there is not a specific link or page that filters them out.
  • Duke at Futurity: research news.
  • Duke on iTunes U: not a lot of material, at least in the free public section, but the podcasts by Dan Ariely are very cool  (yes we actually listened to some of them).

Dartmouth logo11. Dartmouth University, Hanover, NH

The smallest school in the Ivy League, Dartmouth College is a private institution in Hanover, N.H. that comprises Liberal Arts, Medicine,  Engineering, and Business colleges, and offers 19 graduate programs in the arts and sciences.

  • Dartmouth at Academic Earth: while Dartmouth is listed at the Academic Earth website, there was not a single course available when we wrote this. Try the link, though; it may have changed since.
  • YouTube Channel
  • The faculty project: some Dartmouth professors offer free courses here; unfortunately, there is not a specific link or page that filters them out.
  • Podcasts and media: the Tuck Business School offers a Media Library that contains videos and audio broadcasts which they call RadioTuck (also get it on iTunes here)

nwlogo12. Northwestern University, Evanston, IL

A private school in Evanston, Ill., that offers undergraduates more than 70 majors, with the option to design their own degree program.

Johns Hopkins University logo13. Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD

A private research university in Baltimore, Md. that offers a wide array of academic programs in the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences, and engineering. The National Science Foundation ranked it #1 in science, medical and engineering R&D spending for 31 consecutive weeks (from Wikipedia).

Washington University IN St.Louis logo14. Washington University in St.Louis, St. Louis, MO

Named after George Washington, WUSTL is a private research university that offers programs in architecture, art, arts and sciences, business, engineering and law. According to Wikipedia, “more than 90% of incoming freshmen were ranked in the top 10% of their high school classes”.

Brown University logo15. Brown University, Providence, RI

A private university in Providence, R.I., with the distinction having been the first American institution of higher learning to accept students regardless of religious affiliation, Brown is an Ivy League college that offers undergraduates more than 70 concentration programs to choose from, and holds them responsible for designing their own academic study plan.

Not much in the way of FREE online resources, unfortunately.

Cornell University logo16. Cornell University, Ithaca, NY

A private research university in Ithaca, N.Y., which was co-educational and non-sectarian since its founding in 1865, and is consistently ranked among the world’s 20 best universities across many different rankings.

Rice University logo17. Rice University, Houston, TX

A private research university located in Houston, TX. Rice adopts a “need-blind” admissions policy whereby it will meet “the full demonstrated need of any accepted student who requires help paying tuition”. (from Wikipedia, USN&WR).

Vanderbilt University logo18. Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN

A private research university established in 1873. Vanderbilt University consists of four undergraduate and six graduate and professional schools, and it’s admission policy is extremely selective.

University Of North Dame logo19. University Of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN

A private, independent, Catholic research university in South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame is not just competitive in the football field, it is also one of the best universities in America.

Emory Logo20. Emory University, Atlanta, GA

A private research university that operates in metropolitan Atlanta as Emory college and at a smaller campus 40 miles away as Oxford College. It offers about 70 majors in the arts, sciences, nursing, and business administration.

UC Berkeley University logo21. UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA

A public research university that overlooks the San Francisco Bay in Berkeley, Calif. UC Berkeley has a long list of notable alumni, faculty, and staffs, and is one of the best institutions of higher learning in the world.

georgetown-university-logo22. Georgetown University, Washington, DC

Located in one of the most vibrant areas in the nation’s capital, Georgetown University is a private research university that is the oldest Catholic university in the country.

Carnegie Mellon University logo23. Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA

A private research university in Pittsburgh, PA. It specializes in academic areas including engineering, business, computer science, and fine arts, and according to Wikipedia “consistently ranks among the top 25 universities in the United States”.

University of Southern California logo24. University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

California’s oldest private university, USC is a not-for-profit research university based in Los Angeles.

UCLA University of California, Los Angeles University logo25. University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

The University of California—Los Angeles is a public research university that, next to UC Berkeley above, is one of the ‘flagship’ institutions of the University of California system. It offers over 300 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in a wide range of disciplines.

University of Virginia logo26. University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

A public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia and established by Thomas Jefferson in 1819. “UVA is the only university in the United States to be designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO”, according to Wikipedia.

Wake Forest University logo27. Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC

A private, coeducational university in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, founded in 1834. The university was originally located in Wake Forest, NC, where it got it’s name, but it moved to Winston-Salem in 1956.

University of Michigan logo28. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI

A public research university. The Ann Arbor branch is considered the ‘flagship’, but there are other branches in Flint and Dearborn. UM admissions are considered most selective.

tufts_logo29. Tufts University, Medford, MA

“Tufts University is a private institution that was founded in 1852. The school has 69.1 percent of its classes with fewer than 20 students, and the student-faculty ratio at Tufts University is 9:1”. Source: USN&WR.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill logo30. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC

One of the oldest public universities in the US and one of the 16 public state Universities in that state. Its admissions policy is considered very selective.

Boston College logo31. Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA

A private Jesuit research university with just over 9000 students (most of whom are graduate students), and a an acceptance rate of just over 30% (which is quite selective).

  • Boston College Front Row: freely available lectures (audio or video) in almost 30 different subjects. Almost 1000 programs at the time of this writing, sorted chronologically.
  • C21 Online: online learning for “spiritual enrichment and faith renewal”, offers free courses in such topics and the birth and death of Jesus, etc.
  • Boston College YouTube Channel
  • Boston College on iTunes U: link will open in iTunes; you will need to have iTunes installed.

Brandeis University logo32. Brandeis University, Waltham, MA

A private research university founded in 1948, with a liberal arts focus, a student to faculty ratio of 9:1, and a selective admissions policy.

Not too much in the way of free online education resources though.

College of William & Mary logo33. College of William & Mary, Williamsburg, VA

A public research university founded in 1693. The school has a the student-faculty ratio of 12:1 and a selective admissions policy.

Not too much in the way of free online education resources though.

  • YouTube Channel
  • College of William & Mary does not seem to have an iTunes U presence, although we did find this page which claims differently (we checked iTunes itself and found no listing). Coming soon, perhaps?.

New York University logo34. New York University, New York, NY

A private research university located in the the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Lower Manhattan, with a selective admissions ratio of around 38%

University of Rochester logo35. University of Rochester, Rochester, NY

A a private, nonsectarian, research university in Rochester, New York, with about 10000 students split approximately evenly between undergraduates and graduate students.

Georgia Institute of Technology logo36. Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

A public research university in Atlanta, Georgia. Established in 1865 during the reconstruction period in the wake of the America civil war, it has grown to become one of the best institutes of higher learning in the United States.

University of California San Diego37. University of California San Diego, La Jolla, CA

A public research university located in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego. UC San Diego has very a selective admissions policy, with an acceptance rate of around 36%.

Case Western Reserve University logo38. Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH

A private research university in Cleveland, Ohio that has a student to faculty ratio of 9:1 and almost two thirds of classes having less than 20 students.

Lehigh University  logo39. Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA

A private university in Bethlehem, PA, with admissions that are considered very selective. Lehigh was ranked as 12th in the nation in terms of “return on investment” by the Wall St. Journal.

University of California Davis logo40. University of California Davis, Davis, CA

A public teaching and research university, with the largest campus of the University of California system and very high research activity.

Thanks go to Alaa K. for doing considerable research for this article.

That’s it. If you know of any related free online education resources that I missed, please let me know in the comments section above.