Top 21 most popular free online courses from top universities like Harvard, MIT  and Stanford

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Top universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, and Stanford offer free online courses taught by their staff. 
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Whether you’re itching to attend a Yale lecture or sample a University of Michigan course before applying to grad school, online learning offers a convenient way to explore your interests or gain valuable new skills — often, completely for free.

On e-learning platforms like edXCoursera, and FutureLearn, you can take thousands of online courses led by accredited universities, from computer programming fundamentals to neuroscience. Most also offer optional paid certificates of completion you can add to your resume or LinkedIn, or are part of longer programs that can potentially be more affordable alternatives to on-campus learning.

To narrow down all the free options, we outlined the most popular online classes from the top 21 universities, as ranked by US News. We determined popularity by the highest number of current enrollments and included courses that are part of longer certificate programs (as you can still audit them for free).

(Note: We omitted the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of California, San Francisco from this list because don’t offer online classes through these platforms.)

The most popular online courses from 21 of the best colleges:

Harvard University — CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science

edX CS50 courses

edX

Enroll here

Length: 12 weeks

Related courses or programs: Computer Science for Game Development (Professional Certificate);, Computer Science and Mobile Apps (Professional Certificate)Computer Science for Web Programming (Professional Certificate)Computer Science for Artificial Intelligence (Professional Certificate)CS50’s AP® Computer Science Principles (XSeries)

With nearly 3 million enrollments, this intro computer science course covers the basics of problem solving and algorithmic thinking, including abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development.

You can learn more about Harvard’s free computer science classes here, or check out more free Harvard online courses here.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 9 weeks

Related courses or programs: Computational Thinking Using Python (XSeries)

Over 1 million students have enrolled in MIT’s entry-level computer science course, designed for people with no prior experience. Students learn the fundamentals of computer science and Python programming as well as some simple algorithms.

You can check out more free MIT online courses here.

Stanford University — Machine Learning

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Enroll here

Length: 11 weeks

At over 4 million enrollments, this introductory machine learning course provides a broad overview of the field, covering machine learning basics, datamining, and statistical pattern recognition.

You can check out more free Stanford online courses here.

University of California, Berkeley — The Science of Happiness

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Enroll here

Length: 11 weeks

Related courses or programs: The Science of Happiness at Work (Professional Certificate)

This positive psychology course not only unpacks what it actually means to be happy, but also provides students with readily applicable activities and tips for maintaining long-term happiness and wellbeing.

You can read our review of the course here, and can check out more free UC Berkeley online courses here.

University of Oxford — From Poverty to Prosperity: Understanding Economic Development

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Enroll here

Length: 6 weeks

This course examines how societies can financially prosper, looking into the political, social, and economical factors that affect how a country develops including national identity, scaling, and international trade.

Columbia University — Financial Engineering and Risk Management Part I

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Enroll here

Length: 8 weeks

Related courses or programs: Financial Engineers and Risk Management Part II

For those interested in financial engineering, a field that combines economics, math, statistics, and computer science, this course will introduce students to financial modeling while also providing ample context (such as the 2008 financial crisis).

You can check out more free Columbia online courses here.

University of Washington — Machine Learning Foundations: A Case Study Approach

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 6 weeks

Related courses or programs: Machine Learning (Specialization)

No matter what you aim to use machine learning for, this course helps students gain applicable knowledge by offering practical case studies and exercises to teach Python programming, data analysis, and more.

To audit this course for free, click “Enroll for free” and then hit “Audit this course.”

You can check out more free University of Washington online courses here.

University of Cambridge — Teaching English Online

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 4 weeks

Related courses or programs: Exploring the World of English Language Teaching

Led by Cambridge English Assessment (a part of the University of Cambridge), this course is designed for experienced English teachers who want to start their practice online, covering everything from virtual classroom communication to professional development.

You can check out more free University of Cambridge online courses here.

California Institute of Technology — The Evolving Universe

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Enroll here

Length: 10 weeks

Related courses or programs: The Science of the Solar System

Caltech’s introductory astronomy course goes over planetary systems, stars, galaxies, black holes, quasars, and larger structures to help broaden students’ understanding of the physical universe as a whole.

You can check out more free Caltech online courses here.

Johns Hopkins University — COVID-19 Contact Tracing

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Enroll here

Length: 1 week

Related courses or programs: Measuring and Maximizing Impact of COVID-19 Contact TracingFighting COVID-19 with Epidemiology: A Johns Hopkins Teach-Out

As contact tracing jobs become more available around the world, this short course — which comes with a free certificate of completion — covers the fundamentals of contact tracing (as well as the ethics behind it).

You can check out more free Johns Hopkins online courses here.

Yale University — The Science of Well-Being

Yale Popular Happiness Course Science of Well Being

Alyssa Powell/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 10 weeks

Related courses or programs: Introduction to PsychologyManaging Emotions in Times of Uncertainty or Stress

Adapted from Yale’s most popular on-campus course ever, The Science of Well-Being provides an overview of what truly makes us happy, along with quick check-ins and activities to help track your emotions as you complete the course.

You can read our review of the course here, and check out more free Yale online courses here.

University of Pennsylvania — English for Career Development

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Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

Enroll here

Length: 5 weeks

Related courses or programs: English for Business and Entrepreneurship

A collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania and the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this course walks students through learning English for work-related situations, from writing a cover letter to nailing a job interview.

You can check out more free University of Pennsylvania online courses here.

University of Chicago — Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life

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Alyssa Powell/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 10 weeks

Gain a thorough overview of how the human brain works in this introductory course, which covers how the nervous system creates behavior, how we use our brain, and how neuroscience can explain our problems.

You can check out more free University of Chicago online courses here.

Princeton University — Algorithms, Part 1

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 6 weeks

Related courses or programs: Algorithms, Part 2Computer Science: Algorithms, Theory, and Machines

For anyone considering a programming career, this course covers all the basic knowledge about algorithms and data structures you’ll need to know, including elementary data structures, sorting, and searching algorithms.

You can check out more free Princeton online courses here.

University College London — The Many Faces of Dementia

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Enroll here

Length: 4 weeks

Related courses or programs: Dementia and the Arts: Sharing Practice, Developing Understanding and Enhancing Lives

Dementia impacts roughly 44 million people worldwide, and this course aims to demystify dementia care, examining four lesser-known forms of dementia and their symptoms, as well as the experience of getting a dementia diagnosis.

University of Toronto — Introduction to Psychology

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 12 weeks

Related courses or programs: The Social Context of Mental Health and IllnessMind Control: Managing Your Mental Health During COVID-19The Arts and Science of Relationships: Understanding Human Needs

Beyond learning about the fundamentals of human psychology and development — like memory, learning, attention, perception, and consciousness — students also gain exposure to some of the most fascinating experiments in the field of psychology today.

You can check out more free University of Toronto online courses here.

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor — Programming for Everybody (Getting Started with Python)

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 7 weeks

Related courses or programs: Python for Everybody (Specialization)

Perfect for students with basic computer and math skills, this course breaks down the basics of Python 3 programming, teaching students how to use tools like functions and loops to eventually write their first Python program.

To audit this course for free, click “Enroll for free” and then hit “Audit this course.”

You can check out more free University of Michigan online courses here.

Imperial College London — Mathematics for Machine Learning: Linear Algebra

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Enroll here

Length: 5 weeks

Related courses or programs: Mathematics for Machine Learning (Specialization)

To help plump up students’ math skills in preparation for their machine learning studies, this course covers how linear algebra relates to vectors and matrices, and how they can be used to solve problems.

To audit this course for free, click “Enroll for free” and then hit “Audit this course.”

You can check out more free Imperial College London online courses here.

University of California, San Diego — Algorithmic Toolbox

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 6 weeks

Related courses or programs: Data Structures and Algorithms (Specialization)

The first course in the Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization, this course covers the basics of algorithms, focusing a lot on theory and relating it to core tasks like sorting data and problem-solving.

You can learn more about UC San Diego’s free online classes here.

Duke University — Programming Foundations with JavaScript, HTML and CSS

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 4 weeks

Related courses or programs: Java Programming and Software Engineering Fundamentals (Specialization)

For anyone interested in a computer programming career, this intro course covers core concepts like functions, loops, and conditional statements, as well as basic web development as students build their own web pages using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

You can learn more about Duke University’s free online courses here.

Cornell University — A Hands-on Introduction to Engineering Simulations

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Crystal Cox/Insider

Enroll here

Length: 6 weeks

Designed for students who know differential and integral calculus as well as basic matrix algebra, this course goes over the steps to creating seamless simulations using Ansys software — a valuable, in-demand skill that can be applied to a number of real-world problems.

You can learn more about Cornell University’s free online courses here.

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