Get a Liberal Arts Education for Free on the Internet

Illustration for article titled Get a Liberal Arts Education for Free on the Internet

Just getting a job in this economy is difficult enough. Getting one with a liberal arts degree is simply masochistic. Don't spend half a decade and thousands of dollars only to join the rest of the English majors busking in a subway. Instead, educate yourself with these valuable, respectable, and totally free online resources.*


MIT Opencourseware

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is among the most most elite and exclusive universities in the US and has produced some of the finest technical minds of the past century—from Buzz Aldrin to Wesley A. Clark. But MIT isn't all just Aerospace, Materials Science, and Electrical Engineering, mind you. Its Humanities programs have given the world the likes of Noam Chomsky, Steve Altes, and James Woods. And thanks to MIT Opencourseware, you can receive the same top-flight education as these mental giants for free without having to endure a Massachusetts winter.

Opencourseware offers more than 2100 actual MIT classes in virtually every field offered by the university. Sure you've got the standard "hard science" offerings like Civil and Environmental Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Materials Science and Engineering but that involves lots and lots of math. Instead, you can brush up on some "soft science" like History, Women's and Gender Studies, or Political Science—even Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation. These courses typically include the necessary instructional materials, assignments, and exams, though it does vary by course.


Sitting in traffic during morning rush hour gives a man time to think. It also gives a man time to listen to audio podcasts from the world's top academic institutions on nearly any subject imaginable. Listen to Yale professor Shelly Kagan lecture on the Philosophy of Death, hear NASA boffin Nicholas Johnson lecture on Orbital Debris Management and Risk Mitigation, or sit in on Daniel Stokols from UC Irvine discussing the impacts of overcrowding during an Environmental Psychology course. These lectures are available in the iTunesU department at the iTunes Store, and many also include lecture notes.

Academic Earth

The best part about an Internet-based education? Not having to drag your ass out of bed to get to morning lectures. Instead, Academic Earth has teamed up with Yale, Carnegie Mellon, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, and Dartmouth to provide these Universities' lectures online. Listen to some of the nation's best instructors speak on Humanistic subjects like Anthropology, Communications, and Environmental Studies. Try physical sciences like Biomedical Engineering, Systems Architecture, Astronomy, and Negotiations. Though not as complete in terms of coursework accessories as Opencourseware, Academic Earth's offerings provide a quick, on-demand education—like TED Talks but not as self-serving.


Khan Academy

As with any BA, before you can begin focused study on your major, you must first complete your general education—introductory maths, modern civics, and some general sciences. The Khan Academy offers these fundamental courses—Algebra, Macroeconomics, Chemistry—as well as more advanced fare, like Cryptography, Cosmology, and Finance. The site even features educational resources that will get you into a real degree program with lessons on how to ace the SAT, GMAT, and California Standards Test.


National Repository of Online Courses

The NROC is an online database of coursework, contributed by leading US academic institutions, with a strong focus on the most fundamental building blocks of a higher education—that is, all the stuff you forgot from high school. Algebra 1, College Prep Physics, and a litany of AP courses are all available for free, as well as general education subjects like Non-Majors Biology, Introductory Calculus I, and Statistics for Social Sciences. While you won't find video lectures here, NROC offers complete and extensive courses including notes and homework.


Open Culture

Opencourseware and the Khan Academy may provide essential course instruction, but Open Culture provides the tangential cultural experience to transform you into a well-rounded academic. Links here lead you to 500 free courses in Literature and Philosophy, alongside Hitchcock movies and film noir.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Can't tell your Cassirer from your Confuscius? Not a problem with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The SEP features expansive, up-to-date, and accurate entries maintained by experts in the field and vetted by the Stanford Editorial Board before being published on all things Philosophic.


Internet Public Library

The site formatting might be rough, but the resources that the Internet Public Library can uncover are unparalleled. The IPL is a combination of the Internet Public Library (IPL) and the Librarians' Internet Index (LII) websites, hosted by Drexel University's College of Information Science & Technology. From Gender and Sexuality to Python Programming—not to mention the exhaustive collection of newspapers and magazines from around the world—the IPL can direct you to the information you need like a digital librarian.



Math may get all the glory for being the "universal language," but its melodious derivative is a close second. Music theory, a staple of the liberal arts education, explores the mechanical underpinnings of music itself. Teoria offers a bevy of online tutorials, exercises, and analysis of both modern and classical composition for anyone willing to listen.


*None of this work will get you an actual college degree, which, in some job interviews, is still valued as a genuine credential.

Image: carroteater / Shutterstock



A liberal arts education is less about the content learned and more about the skills acquired through reading, discussion, and critical thinking. It's not learning information as much as it is learning how to learn. Listening to lectures is not nearly enough to attain these skills, and so while these sources are vital to learning information and educating one's self in a field of information, it is not necessarily the key to educating the entire person — which is what liberal arts is all about.

These free sources are a spectacular development in that they equal the playing field, but do not mistake them for a replacement of what happens in liberal arts colleges across the country.

Edit: I'm referring to the more 'elite' liberal arts institutions in the US.