The names are familiar - Harvard, Yale, MIT, and so on.  They represent some of the most famous and well-respected colleges on the planet.  Wouldn't it be nice to take a course at one of these premier institutions?  It would be especially nice for high school students seeking to complement or enrich their academic load, or simply wanting to take a course unavailable to them in their own schools.

But any willing learner might relish an opportunity like this, no?

Guess what - it is possible.

These days it is easier than ever to take a course from some of the most prestigious universities in the world - and attendance is not even required.  But wait, there's more - the course is free.

A course such as this is called a MOOC.

What's a MOOC?  The term stands for "Massive Open Online Course".  Major universities offer these courses online and they are open to all.  Participants may find traditional and non-traditional courses in virtually every discipline, including science, math, technology, business, arts and humanities.

Stanford, Yale, Harvard, MIT and numerous other institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America provide lectures, videos, feedback, and more at the university level and high school level.

Generally, the courses are free, but there may be a fee if participants seek certificates or degree credit. Those interested should check with the institutions about their fees, if any, and their requirements for specific courses.

A list of courses offered may be found at the following sites:

Coursera - 

MOOC List – 


Congratulations - your teenagers made it through another year of high school.  That was quick.  Before you know it, they will be applying to college.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  It’s summer.  Time for fun and relaxation and a whole lot of doing nothing – right? 


If college is in the future, the one thing teenagers should not be planning for the summer is doing nothing.  And this applies to all high schoolers, not just rising seniors.  Ninth graders, tenth graders, and eleventh graders should also be doing something productive this summer.

College admissions offices will look favorably at applications from students who spent their summers engaged in a meaningful activity.  And, in this context, sleeping until noon every day, going to the beach, playing video games, and watching cartoons would not be considered “meaningful”.

That is not to say that fun and relaxation should not be included in summer plans, but only that they should not be the primary focus. 

At this point, however, as summer is upon us, latching on to a meaningful activity – like a great job in a field related to a potential career – might be improbable, if not impossible.  Most or all of the great jobs are taken – filled by the teenagers who thought about this many months ago.  Then where does that leave others?

In addressing the teens directly, here are several activities that may be considered:

  1. Volunteer.  Choose an area that interests you and volunteer to help people or institutions in the field.  For example, hospitals and senior citizens homes are always appreciative of help.  Not only will you be contributing to a good cause, but you will be establishing an impressive entry for your resume.

  1. Research.  Choose a field that interests you, a field that may end up on your career path, and map out a plan to explore that field thoroughly during the summer.  Your goals might include finding out exactly what people in that field do on a day to day basis.  If, for example, you think you might like to be a lawyer, make it your business to find out what being a lawyer really means.  There are many kinds of law, and countless types of positions in the field.  Narrow it down for yourself.  What is required to be a lawyer?  How does one apply to law school?  What is required to be admitted?  How long does it take to get a degree?  What is law school like?  What is the bar exam like?  Build a list of contacts who might be willing to help you in your project – friends, relatives, friends of friends – anyone connected to the field itself or connected to someone else with pertinent information.  Call them and set up appointments to speak with them.  If possible, arrange to spend time with them on the job.  You might be surprised at how willing people are to share their experiences and their thoughts.  Be thorough.  Research online, visit the library, conduct interviews.  At summer’s end, you want to have all your questions answered and establish yourself as an “expert”.  The benefits of this summer activity are practical: it will look good on your resume and you will be well prepared when it’s actually time to step on to your career path.

  1. Profit.  So, you can’t find a job that makes sense.  Okay, start your own business.  This summer, be an entrepreneur.  Think big or small – just make it the best business it can possibly be.  Again, this will make a good entry on your resume and it will impress college admissions officers.  At the same time, it can put some money in your pocket.

  1. Work.  All the “top” jobs may be taken by now, but that doesn’t mean there are no jobs at all.  If you search, you may well find a minimum wage position locally.  Try the grocery store, the schools, the shops at the mall.  Ask around and look at all the bulletin boards in town.  You may have to “piecemeal” here and there – like mowing lawns one day and delivering pizza the next – but, at this point, that’s okay.  Even if the job does not fit into your career plans, it will provide some “spending money” and will show colleges that you worked hard during the summer.

  1. Create.  Write an article or a story, compose a song or piece of music, create a piece of software, invent something.  Put your creative, inventive talent to work, and then, when you have produced something, try to get it before the public.  For example, publish the article or story, if possible.  Send it to a magazine or newspaper or journal.  This certainly would be viewed favorably by an admissions committee.

  1. Give.  Organize an event or start an activity or charity.  Select a cause that you believe in and plan a one-time event or a long-term activity that will advance the cause or raise funds for it.       For example, organize a fundraiser like a walk-a-thon or a music concert with local talent. Start now, but consider scheduling it for the opening month of school in order to gather as much support as possible and to give yourself the time needed to make it a smashing success.  Colleges will take note of an effort and achievement like this.

Any single, productive activity during the summer would be a big plus on the resume.  More than one would make quite an impression on college admissions officers.