A college education is one of the most expensive investments you’ll ever make. Yet it’s not always easy to get a feel for just what the actual course work is like before you send in that first tuition check. And with the price of each unit skyrocketing every year and deeper state higher education cuts all but certain, now may be the perfect time to take advantage of free courses online.

That’s right. I said free. As in gratis. Costless. NO MONEY.

The Chronicle of Higher Education on Wednesday interviewed Taylor Walsh, the author of a book about higher education online, in an article called “Why Some Elite Colleges Give Away Courses Online.” One commenter wrote:

“I wish these online courses had been available when I was choosing a college more than 50 years ago. They would have been valuable as an aid in determining the degree of difficulty I could expect in a course at an elite university.” Indeed. If you’re hankering to sample the educational wares at two of our top local institutions, you’re in luck: Here’s one list that pegs Stanford and UC Berkeley as top sources for online courses.

UC Berkeley’s list of available webcasts includes everything from Introduction to Astrophysics to Wildlife Ecology to Global Sociology.

Stanford puts its diverse online offerings on iTunes. Courses include String Theory and M-Theory; Jefferson, Madison, and the Problem of Slavery; Food Ethics; Heresy and Apocalypse in Medieval Europe; Presidential Politics; Dynamics of Human Health; Historical Jesus; and pretty much anything else you can think of exclusive of fencing and gymnastics.

So whether you’re doing a little advance recon on the quality of lecturers or just really into Dynamics of Romantic Core Values in East Asian Premodern Literature, check it out.

And the best thing about the whole deal?

You can attend class in your pajamas.


Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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