A Little Scared About Those AP Classes? How to Prepare for the College-Level Work for Free

Libraries are offering classes to allow high school students experience college-level classes to help prepare them for the rigorous honors or AP classes for the next year.

If you’re going to be a senior in high school and you’re freaking out a little bit about those AP classes you’re taking for the next school year, fret not! Take some free classes at your local public library to get a taste for what you can expect.

A few public libraries are doing what is normally reserved for higher education: They’re offering college level courses to anyone who is willing to sign up and attend. These are bona fide college-style courses and most are free.

Student in drawing studio

Image courtesy of Vancouver Film School

This is a great opportunity to get your feet wet in college-style courses to better prepare you for those AP classes you signed up for. You’ll gain high-level knowledge on subjects you love without the commitment to rigorous coursework that comes with college classes.

We found seven public libraries that offer college-level classes. Read on for our top picks.

1. The New York Public Library — New York, NY

The Jefferson Market Branch of the New York Public Library offers free college courses taught by professors and experts in their field of study. Besides learning about interesting topics, students learn the valuable skill of tackling difficult and challenging books. “This class really gave us a great basis to start from. For instance, the Hegel book we read. I can't wait to read it even more closely,” said Shaan, a Jefferson Market University graduate.

Tip: The summer session began with The Cultural Life of Numbers, a three session course. If you can’t make it to the actual library, join the online Reader’s Den for stimulating discussion about interesting topics.

2. Louisville Free Public Library — Louisville, KY

In addition to free online classes, The Louisville Free Public Library offers short courses in college-level subjects. Students can hone their knowledge of Astronomy, Physics, and Film History — all taught by experts in their field. In addition to the library’s brick and mortar classroom offerings, they also offer online courses as well.

Tip: They also offer “At the Library” downloadable podcasts featuring author talks and interviews.

3. The Newark Public Library — Newark, NJ

The Newark Public library offers free college preparatory classes during the academic school year. The program is reserved for high school seniors and they offer workshops in college writing techniques in addition to ACT and SAT test prep. Take advantage of their college application workshops to improve your writing and vocabulary to generate ideas for the college admissions essay.

Tip: All the classes are on Wednesdays and Saturday evenings, and it’s a cost-effective way to make that college essay pop.

4. Drew University Mini-Courses at the Madison Public Library — Madison, NJ

Mini-Courses are taught by Drew University professors at the Madison Public Library. Each class is five sessions long and there is a nominal tuition fee. This program is innovative because the classes try to answer challenging questions to help students think like college students, like “Why are there so few great women artists?” or “How do Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) influence international politics?”

Tip: Pair a mini-course with a class you’re already taking. For example, if you’re taking AP U.S. Government as a senior, supplement it with International Politics. This summer, a course on Great Film Scores discusses music history in the context of great movies.

5. BRIC and the Brooklyn Public Library — Brooklyn, NY

The library is not just a place to learn how to type anymore. BRIC, an arts media collective, has partnered with the Brooklyn Public Library so students can absorb blogging, photography, and social storytelling tools. Want to learn video editing abilities to craft and polish an admissions video? How about improving your digital vocabulary and marketing savvy, all available on site at the library? If you want to improve your typing skills, they have that too. It’s pretty amazing that you can learn how to make beautiful digital photographs with your smartphone while at the same time learn some sophisticated information literacy.

Tip: Sign up for summer classes with Eventbrite.

6. The Clemente Course in the Humanities

The Clemente Course is offered in multiple locations all over the world. It started in 1995 as a way to provide Humanities education for people in financial need. Each Clemente Course is site specific. The latest one in New York is accredited by Bard College and housed at the Kingston Public Library and Harlem Children’s Village. Not every Clemente Course is the same, but books and tuition are free. Upon completion of the year-long program, you can gain transferable college credit.

Tip: Check the Clemente Course and Faculty Directory to find a program in your neck of the world.

7. College Now at Hunter College — New York, NY

College Now courses are taught by Hunter College faculty, and they offer free classes for public high school junior and seniors. Students receive college credit and access to the libraries at Hunter. You get the feel of being on a college campus and students can earn up to 16 college credits.

Tip: For high schoolers interested in math, check out the NYU Summer Math Circle.

Although not all libraries offer cool courses like the ones mentioned above, you can still take advantage of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) and the plethora of free online courses available.

The advantage of going to a real classroom is that you have the opportunity to engage with a verified expert in his/her field, ask questions, and learn something valuable — all in a college classroom environment without the exorbitant fees and cost of tuition. All you need is a library card.

Even if your library or geographical area is not listed here, it’s a great idea to contact your area public library or public university to find out what free educational programs they have available. Learning to read a challenging book, forming the ability to ask and answer critical thinking questions, and expanding one’s breath of knowledge are all essential to nailing the AP class you once dreaded — making the transition to college a lot easier.

You never know — you might just join the ranks of: Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Virginia Woolf, and Jack London! (Hint: They all educated themselves by using the public library.)

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