Preparing for College

“Free Ivy Education”: A Deceptive Headline?

I receive a regular roundup of Web-published stories from LinkedIn every week. The other day, I got one that featured this headline link: How I Attend/Attended Yale & Princeton for Free. My first reaction to seeing that was something along the lines of, “Oh, here's a student from a family whose household income is below the magic 'free-ride' level." Then I clicked the link and saw the details.

After doing a quick scan of the content, I immediately thought of an old Steve Martin standup routine where he effects the loud voice of a TV pitchman and blurts out, “How to be a millionaire and not pay any taxes!" Then, after our curiosity is aroused, he puts his hand over his mouth to obscure his next statement, spoken almost imperceptibly: “First, get a million dollars …" This is what I call a “give 'em a leg then take it away" approach by the LinkedIn headline. (For the benefit of those of you who never heard of the famous old pro football player, Elroy “Crazy Legs" Hirsch, that's what they used to say about his illusive running style. He would “give you a leg" (fake one way) and then “take it away" (change direction untouched).) You might call this headline a bait and switch, but, the article is worth your time to investigate.

The author, Tamra Simmons, President of Corporate/Entertainment Affairs, opens her article with this, in reference to her Elroy Hirsch-like headline:

NOOO your eyes did not play tricks on you with the title of this post. I attended /attend Yale and Princeton for free and now [sic] enrolled in taking classes online at Duke university, for free! Not because I was the first one to discover the cure to some unknown ailment, not because I put together a plan that even NASA scientists couldn't believe, but all because I diligently search for opportunities at lower cost and found how I could continue learning and evolving at no or little cost.

Now there's a introductory paragraph to grab your interest. Let's take a closer look to see what's really going on here.

Ms. Simmons is talking about free online courses offered by the Ivies and other top schools. So, I guess that fact may deflate your hopes of being accepted to and attending an elite college without fear of having to pay for it.

Okay, so what are these free online courses? Well, the fastest way to learn about them is to go to Coursera. There, at the very top of the home page, you'll see a search box just waiting for you answer the question, “What would you like to learn about?"

My first instinct was be to type in “Ending sentences in prepositions," but that's just me. So, I typed in “Beethoven," one of my favorite composers. Even before I had finished typing in the great man's name, a drop-down window appeared with a link to “Exploring Beethoven's Piano Sonatas." Voila! Great topic!

I clicked on the link and here's what I found:

The course is offered by Curtis Institute of Music, one of the most prestigious music schools in America, if not the world. Here's an excerpt from the course description:

A series of lectures on one of the greatest bodies of music ever composed, from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will explore a different facet of the music; all will attempt to locate the source of the tremendous psychological power of Beethoven's music.

About the Course

Our relationship to Beethoven is a deep and paradoxical one. For many musicians, he represents a kind of holy grail: His music has an intensity, rigor, and profundity which keep us in its thrall, and it is perhaps unequalled in the interpretive, technical, and even spiritual challenges it poses to performers. At the same time, Beethoven's music is casually familiar to millions of people who do not attend concerts or consider themselves musically inclined. Two hundred years after his death, he is everywhere in the culture, yet still represents its summit.

This course takes an inside-out look at the 32 piano sonatas from the point of view of a performer. Each lecture will focus on one sonata and an aspect of Beethoven's music exemplified by it. (These might include: the relationship between Beethoven the pianist and Beethoven the composer; the critical role improvisation plays in his highly structured music; his mixing of extremely refined music with rougher elements; and the often surprising ways in which the events of his life influenced his compositional process and the character of the music he was writing.) The course will feature some analysis and historical background, but its perspective is that of a player, not a musicologist. Its main aim is to explore and demystify the work of the performer, even while embracing the eternal mystery of Beethoven's music itself.

Wow. Majorly cool.

There's also a course syllabus, notes on the recommended musical background you should have, suggested readings, an FAQ page, and even an overview video. What more could you want? I encourage you to check out Coursera.

Here, in part, is what Ms. Simmons writes about her experience:

So I went to their website at On the site it listed several courses that you could take virtually for free. This was too good to be true so I wiped my eyes to make sure I was reading correctly. On the site I read the “About" section and there it was in black and white stating, “Coursera is an education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free." I read nothing else in that sentence except the two words “education" and “free". It wasn't until I glanced at the roster of top institutions that participated in this program. It was then I screamed “I have to tell somebody, can somebody please call me, tweet me or something."

After I told myself, “self calm down." I began to read even more. I'm not going to spoil it for you because I want us to jump up and down together but let's just say I have enrolled in classes at Yale that are 6-12 week courses where you attend virtually online. This is amazing, you get to save gas, increase your brain flow and earn a certificate at the end of every course you choose to take! How about that? Imagine yourself going into a job interview with these colleges on your resume'. That employer will probably more than likely hire you just for being a walking dictionary! So these are some of the courses that are offered and some of the universities you can attend. Like I said I can't spoil it all for you…you have to go read for yourself and see what I mean!! … [TWO exclamation points!!]

… Kudos to Yale, Princeton, Duke, Emory University, University of London, University of San Diego and more for joining such a wonderful program. For all of those who haven't been able to be accepted into an institution to further their education or maybe you did not graduate from high school, whatever the reason is, you have no more excuses after reading this.

Granted you will not earn a degree from these courses but it can and will enhance your level of thinking and overall knowledge. I hope this encourages someone that wants to go to school, go back to school or just learn a different trade. The resources are out there. Knowledge is power. …


So, a happy ending to my Elroy Hirsch (he's the old football player pictured above, if you haven't already guessed) “deceptive headlines" article.

I have often wondered what it would be like to go back to college, knowing what I know now, all these many years post-graduation. Well, these free online courses can facilitate that. The only things that are missing include the professor's voice, your fellow classmates, a beautiful campus, and –lest we forget — those horrific tuition bills that arrive twice per year, always at the worst possible time.

I wouldn't be the corny writer that I am without closing my article with this admonition: Don't fumble your chance for free college education!


Be sure to check out all my admissions-related articles on College Confidential.