Back to School for Grown Ups: The Best Adult Classes and Continuing Education in NYC

An exterior view of Low Memorial Library on the campus of Columbia University

No matter what sort of memories you have about your high school/college days (and mine are decidedly mixed), when September comes around it's hard not to get a little nostalgic for that fresh-start, new-school-year feeling. That warm-fuzzy feeling is especially magnified if you have kids, and especially, especially if they're changing schools or–yikes–heading off to college. Here's the thing, though: NYC has an amazing array of classes for adults, on every conceivable subject, requiring varying degrees of rigor and commitment (and money), all just waiting for you to sign up and learn. Last year we discussed some fun, educational back-to-school tips for kids, and for year we explored NYC's best and most popular adult education classes and programs. 

A view of The New School's University Center, the focal point of the campus and neighborhood at 14th Street and Fifth Avenue.

College Classes – for Grown Ups!

The first place to look are the city's big institutions. I remember when the New School was the go-to spot for adult classes. Even though the emphasis these days seems to be on their many degree programs, there are still lots of noncredit courses to be had at their increasingly shiny and new campus in the Union Square area. The History of Poverty, Using Your Digital SLR, Growing a Small Business, Window Display Design, Urban Agricultural and Food Activism, Digital Imaging With Photoshop… there are literally hundreds of classes from which to choose –the quirkier the better! 

Students and pedestrians walking by the entrance of NYU's School of Continuing and Professional Studies

Every university in town offers a wealth of continuing education classes, certificates, and, yes, degrees. NYUColumbiaFordhamPacePratt, and the CUNY schools (which tend to be much less expensive and include Hunter on the Upper East, Baruch in the Flatiron, and BMCC in Tribeca), all have extensive programs for adults. Trying for your real estate license? Thinking about opening a small business? Writing a novel? Long for dynamic discussions with link-minded folks about politics, literature, art, religion? Want to learn any language you can think of? It's all here, at some of the finest institutions in the country. If the concept of "night school" ever had a stigma attached to it, those days are long gone.

 Adult students working on colorful canvases inside the independent art school, Art Students League of New York

Adult Learning Beyond the Classroom

There are also tons of smaller, more specialized institutions, both venerable and upstart. The Arts Students League, for example, has been around since 1875, and they recently spruced up their landmarked, French Renaissance building on West 57th Street. Fiercely independent and proudly informal, the Arts Students League has classes in painting, sculpture, printmaking, drawing and more, for all skill levels and degrees of passion. The Bruce High Quality Foundation University just released the fall schedule for art criticism classes in their East Village storefront school. As you'd expect from this renegade, good-humored artist collective, there will be unexpected, enlightening twists and turns in such BHQFU ruminations on "Collage and the Grammar of Images", "Show and Tell: A Sculpture Forum", and "Drawing, Drawing, Drawing!'  A few other, somewhat random ideas for NYC classes: Improv 101 at Upright Citizen's Brigade; Creative Nonfiction at the Sackett Street Writer's Workshop (below); Pizza Making at Pizza a Casa Pizza School; Political and Advocacy Advertising at The School of Visual Arts; New York in the 1950s: The Lighter Side, a film-and-lecture series at the 92Y (which, of course, is home to a thousand other interesting classes as well); or a Swing/Lindy lesson at Dance Manhattan.   

Students working together on a project at the Sackett Street Writers workshop.

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