Free Online Courses to Keep Your Brain in Shape This Summer

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By Gianna Jirak

Lazy summer days are a great way to unwind from the constant stress of school, work and just life in general, but too much relaxation doesn’t give our brains a chance to grow. While sunbathing, vacationing and playing in the pool are all fun activities, they are not intellectually stimulating and can leave us dragging our feet when we have to go back to the hustle and bustle of our regular lives. But there is something you can do to turn summer into a brain-boosting season, whether you’re a student or a working professional.

The internet is brimming with free online classes that allow you to learn new and useful skills that could improve your career or academic focus. Both local and top universities in the world offer free classes, with subjects ranging from computer science to sociology. Here are some of our favorites.

This website offers courses from big-name universities — think Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, Sorbonne Université and more. They offer more than 2,500 online courses from 140 institutions and have guides to teach you how to learn online. All their classes are free, but the professional certificates offered cost a fee. Don’t miss their extensive offering of computer science classes that can teach you programming and web development, as well as their unique catalog of humanities classes. Learn more about their course offerings at

MIT OpenCourseWare

This platform, while it may seem otherwise, offers more than science and technology-oriented classes; it offers actual archived classes that were taught at MIT over the years and online textbooks to supplement those classes. The classes are at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with some of their most popular offerings being Introduction to Computer Science and Programming in Python and Linear Algebra. While there is no option to receive a certificate from the classes, as they are all archived, it is still a great learning
experience. Check out all of their courses at

Open Culture

Was learning a new language your New Year’s Resolution? This site is perfect for anyone interested in learning new and unique languages and improving language competency, for those who already have an intermediate understanding. They offer standard languages such as French and Spanish as well as more unique ones such like Ancient Greek, Amharic, Luxembourgish and many more. There are specific lessons geared to your interests.

Do you need to learn just enough of the language to have an easy, enjoyable vacation and be able to locate those much-needed restrooms? Open Culture has you covered. There are also lessons specifically for students going on a global exchange. Visit to see all they have to offer.

Class Central

Who says you can’t learn how to play an instrument online? This site, while it does offer other types of classes, has a wide array of arts and design lessons suited to your skill level. Classes are provided by the University of Pennsylvania, Berkley, Yale and many more top global schools. You can learn how to play an instrument with classes like Guitar for Beginners and Fundamentals of Music Theory, or learn about acting and filmmaking with classes like Screenwriting 101: Writing for Film & Television and Theatre and Globalization. Some of their classes offer a certificate at the end of them that cost a small fee. See all the courses at

All of these classes are designed for you to go at your own pace, so if you exhaust them or get bored, take a break! You can always go back to the lessons later when you feel more focused on them. Keeping a healthy balance of fun and intellectual focus is good for you and will hopefully bring less dread when it is time to head back to school or work.

Having a hard time deciding or not seeing what you want for free? Websites like Udemy, Skillshare and Coursera offer a bit of everything with affordable fees — some under $10. Maybe you want to take a short photography class to perfect those shots of your grandchildren, or perhaps your Microsoft Word or Excel skills are a bit lacking. Peruse these sites for inexpensive courses on nearly every topic imaginable, and get your creative juices flowing, productivity boosted and brain cells growing.

Gianna Jirak is an intern at Prince William Living with aspirations of becoming an international and political reporter. She is currently a junior at Hylton High School and the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper.


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