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Higher Education

Improve Your College Prospects: Free Online Courses for Teens

By Cait Etherington
June 26, 2018

If you’ve just survived another year of high school and even written a few AP exams, like most teens, the last thing you likely want to do this summer is take a course. While this is understandable, these free online courses for teens may not only change your mind but also change your chances of getting into a dream college. From core high school courses that can be completed over the summer months to give you a head start on next year’s curriculum to free SAT prep to college-level courses on any subject you can imagine, the web is home to a lot of great resources. Best of all, teens can access all these resources for free.

Four Sources of Free Online Courses for Teens

Complete a High School Course via Khan Academy

No one wants to go to summer school, but what if you could master Algebra II or another core subject, such as AP Biology or AP U.S. History, without getting out of bed? Okay, but why take a course when you could be watching Netflix or hanging out with friends? First, if you do complete a core course over the summer, there is no question that you’ll be able to ace the course next year with little work. In some states, however, you may even have the option of testing out of the course. For example, in New York State, it may be possible to take a course online and then write the corresponding exam (e.g., for Algebra II, you would write the Algebra II Regents Exam in mid August). While it is still advisable to consult with your school’s guidance department first, the reality is that for no money at all, you may be able to get a head start on next year’s courses over the summer months. Khan Academy courses are generally well respected by teachers and students tend to find the academy’s videos to be clear, engaging and even funny, so brace yourself for a lot of bad math jokes!

Leverage Free SAT Tutoring Resources

If you’re in high school and haven’t already taken the SAT, it is likely at the top of your mind. Depending on where you live, hiring a SAT tutor can be expensive. In New York and other major metropolitan areas, private tutoring typically starts at $125 per hour and can go as high as $300. Courses with companies like Kaplan and the Princeton Review tend to cost $1000 or more. Fortunately, if you’re disciplined and can study on your own, there are a lot of great online resources available to support your quest to master the SAT. First, start by exploring the SAT tips and practice tests on the College Board website. Again, a great option is the Khan Academy, which offers free practice tests, study guides, and study tips.  For flash cards visit Union Test Prep’s site (notably, if you want to turn off Union Test Prep’s advertisements, you’ll need to pay a small fee but if you can bear the advertisements, you can access the flashcards without spending a penny).

Study at the College Level by Enrolling in a MOOC

Maybe you’ve already written the SAT and are looking for another way to impress prospective college recruiters? If you are, you’re in luck, since you live in the age of MOOCs. MOOCs, or massive open online courses, emerged about a decade ago and offer students of all ages free or nearly free access to college-level courses. One of the best things about MOOCs is that many are offered by well-known faculty at the world’s top-ranked universities. Whether you want to learn about the history of architecture from a team of Harvard architecture professors or you want to learn about machine learning from a Stanford University professor, there is a MOOC for you. Most MOOCs are completed out of interest and not for credit, but in some cases, you can earn a certificate to prove you completed the course. This means that most colleges and universities won’t give you credit for completing a MOOC, but it is still a great way to get a head start on your college career. You’ll not only discover what an average college course entails but also have a chance to explore potential majors before you even begin to submit applications.

Learn a New Language

There is no question that whether you are hoping to become a machine learning expert, classical studies professor, or family physician, knowing more than one language is extremely important. Learning a new language will not only make you more employable. When you learn a new language, you also activate parts of your brain that they may otherwise remain dormant. In other words, learning a second language makes you smarter. While there are many options, two free language learning options that continue to get rave reviews from users and language specialists alike are BBC Languages, which offers courses in more than 40 tongues, and Duolingo, which offers courses in about 30 languages, including languages often not included on language apps such as Swahili and Welsh. Of course, it is important to remember that dye-parth gooeyth ew eye thechrye (that’s Welsh, for “starting the work is two thirds of it”)!

While diving into more studying may not be at the top of your agenda this summer, just one hour a day can have a huge impact. To begin, assess your priorities (e.g., Is it getting ahead, preparing for the SAT, or exploring college majors?). Second, set your goal for the summer. Third, select a course or program and come up with a realistic study plan. Don’t be overly ambitious! Commit to working on your course or program just one to two hours a day.