These Online Courses Will Teach You Real Skills

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I miss school. Like, a lot. And while I don't plan on attending graduate school until I know exactly what I'm studying and why, I still love taking online courses that make me feel like I'm back in class, if only for a few hours. You can study pretty much anything; here are seven online courses that will actually improve your life. They're all free. And helpful. I promise.

College was great for me, but in classic liberal arts fashion, a good proportion of the majors didn't come with a built-in career. We had English, but not Journalism; we had American Studies, but not Education. They taught us how to think, how to write, and how to question, but not necessarily how to create an online writing portfolio, or, like, you know, manage our finances. The good news: You can learn a lot of that through the wide and wonderful world of the Internet. And oftentimes, you can do it for free!

The courses I've highlighted today each focus on teaching a specific skill — Photoshop basics, HTML coding, and so on — but if none of them seem like a good fit for your life, I highly encourage browsing online education hubs like Coursera, Skillshare, and edX, all of whom provide free courses from top universities and professionals. Additionally, university resources like MIT's Open Courseware host huge databases of past syllabi and reading lists; and there's also The Muse, a career-advancing resource you should all check out which routinely compiles online courses arranged by job field.

In the meantime, though, let's check out seven of the many, many options out there. Learning is both fun and useful, so why not give it a shot?

1. Duolingo

Ugh, Duolingo is my jam. I tell everybody about it. This free app helps you learn another language, regardless of whether you are a super beginner or need a refresher after four years of high school French. Duolingo is also constantly updating their language offerings; Turkish, Vietnamese, Hebrew, and Klingon (yes, really) are just a few of their current options.

2. HTML and CSS (Code Academy)

I've talked before about my fantasy in which I'm a hardcore hacker chick who only wears black leather and rides a motorcycle. Code Academy, which teaches you to code from the bottom up (for free!) at a pace that won't make you feel like you're drowning in backslashes, is the first step in making my dream a reality. Next time you see me, I'll have a mohawk and a nose ring. Just you wait.

3. The Basics of Photoshop: Fundamentals for Beginners (Skillshare)

Photoshop is kind of the gateway to other graphic design platforms like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. Learn the super basics of the program through Skillshare's The Basics of Photoshop, taught by graphic designer Meg Lewis and her very, very cute glasses. The lessons are divided into 16 very succinct little videos, so you can learn at your own pace.

4. Personal Finance, Part 1: Investing in Yourself (edX)

This course, which walks you through the process of financial planning, evaluating cost and benefits of, say, a grad program and ultimately investing all those dollar bills you've saved (I'm saying "you" because this will never be me), is incredibly helpful and important. Yes, you be your best self!

5. High School Math and Beyond (Khan Academy)

OK, look: For those of us studying for the GRE, and especially those of us who haven't taken a math class since high school (hi, hello, what's up), Khan Academy is a life-saver. Do I remember how to solve quadratic equations? Uh, I do now, thanks to Khan Academy's refresher course in High School math subjects.

6. Creating a Website to Build Your Online Brand (Skillshare)

This 90-ish minute course will walk you through the basics of creating your own website (which is a thing I have put off doing forever, even though I am a digital media lady and should very much have a cohesive online presence), from organizing content to working within basic templates. This particular tutorial uses Squarespace as a platform, but the skills you'll learn can be used pretty much anywhere.

7. Cracking the Creativity Code: Discovering Ideas (Coursera)

Finding yourself in a creative rut is the worst, whether you're a writer or a computer programmer. Coursera's Cracking the Creativity Code provides you with concrete tools and frameworks to get that imagination flowing, and those ideas a-brewin', and holy cow, look at all the things you just came up with! Wowowow look at you go!

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