Illustrations by Oliver Munday

Illustrations: Oliver Munday

Back-to-school season shouldn’t be just for kids—especially in a town crammed with fascinating classes tailored to adults who want to explore a passion, hone a hobby, amp up their résumés, or simply stretch their brains with some of the best teachers around. We’ve scoured schools and quizzed experts for the standout courses listed here, making sure to include choices for many skill levels. All classes start this month or next, but they’re sure to fill up fast. So get smart—and get moving.

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School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This beginners’ class takes an intriguing approach to the basics of drawing and composition: You’ll learn it from history’s best painters and sculptors. Touring the museum’s impressive collection of sketches will serve as inspiration for your own work in charcoal, watercolor, and ink.
WHERE: 280 S. Columbus Dr., 312-629-6170,
WHEN: Saturdays, 9 a.m. to noon, October 5 to December 7
COST: $560


Chicago Printmakers Collaborative

Whether you’re a rank novice or a semipro looking for a structured workshop, this affordable 10-week printmaking overview is a great way to get some ink on your hands. CPC assistant director Megan Sterling, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute, covers the latest techniques in lithography, etching, and relief printmaking—and saves time for one-on-one instruction.
WHERE: 4642 N. Western Ave., 773-293-2070,
WHEN: Sundays, 4 to 7 p.m., September 8 to November 10
COST: $350


Chicago Botanic Garden

There are few better ways to master fundamentals such as proportion, line, and tone than drawing objects from nature. Under the tutelage of Marlene Hill Donnelly, a scientific illustrator at the Field Museum, you’ll render fruits, vegetables, flowers, seedpods, and cones in pencil—learning to “see new things in familiar subjects,” Donnelly says.
WHERE: 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, 847-835-5440,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 6 to 9 p.m., September 10 to October 29
COST: $349 ($279 for members)


LillStreet Art Center

In this course for novice jewelry makers, Lillstreet’s experienced metalworkers will lead you through the design, creation, and finishing of a pendant, a ring, and a bracelet. You’ll learn professional techniques such as sawing, piercing, texturing, and soldering. Stick with the materials in the basic kit, or get fancy with silver and other metals available for purchase from the instructor.
WHERE: 4401 N. Ravenswood Ave., 773-769-4226,
WHEN: Fridays, 2 to 5 p.m., September 13 to October 11; Sundays, 2 to 5 p.m., September 15 to October 13
COST: $175 (plus $15 materials fee)


Harrington College of Design

Surprise: Nondegree students are welcome to enroll in a handful of classes at this interior design school, including this superpractical (but pricey) 15-week overview. You’ll learn the principles of space planning and how to choose materials and finishes for upholstery, window treatments, wall coverings, and flooring.
WHERE: 200 W. Madison St., 866-590-4423,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m., September 3 to December 10
COST: $1,648


School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This class is the same one that’s required for students in SAIC’s respected certificate program in interior design, so expect to cover some serious ground. Held in the Sullivan Center, an ornate masterpiece built in 1904 by modernist precursor Louis Sullivan, sessions cover the history and aesthetic evolution of major Chicago landmarks, as well as the design of a building from an architect’s point of view. The best part? Your instructor will serve as tour guide on field trips around the city.
WHERE: 36 S. Wabash Ave., 312-629-6170,
WHEN: Thursdays, 6 to 9 p.m., October 3 to December 5
COST: $560 (10 percent discount for Art Institute members)


Chicago Photography Center

A smartphone can deliver amazing images (see “Shooting from the Hip: Scott Strazzante Photographs Chicago”)—if you know what to do. In this two-hour class, professional photographer Angela Garbot demystifies the settings on your iPhone or Android. You’ll learn how to change the exposure, improve contrast, compose a good shot, and decide when to use flash. (One tip for sharper pictures: Hold your phone close to your body, not at arm’s length.) Finally, you’ll go out and shoot with Garbot and get feedback and corrections.
WHERE: 3301 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-549-1631,
WHEN: Sunday, September 15, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
COST: $99


Rebuilding Exchange

Lust after those gorgeous reclaimed-wood tables you see in shelter magazines? Make one yourself in this beginner-friendly class at Bucktown’s salvaged-materials mecca. You’ll take pine boards from demolished buildings around Chicago, glue them into a single panel, and create an even surface using a planer. Once your tabletop is finished, have legs made in the metal shop—or sign up for the second part of the series and learn to build a table base.
WHERE: 1740 W. Webster Ave., 773-252-2234,
WHEN: Thursdays, 6 to 9 p.m., September 5 to 26; Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., September 7 to 28
COST: $245

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StoryStudio Chicago

Worried that poor writing skills are holding back your career? Move up the ladder with this class. Business writing consultant Beth Nyland teaches how to write not only clearly and concisely but also persuasively. Proposals, marketing materials, fundraising appeals, and even simple e-mails—you’ll practice and nail them all.
WHERE: 4043 N. Ravenswood Ave., Ste. 222, 773-477-7710,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 6:30 to 9 p.m., September 17 to October 22
COST: $595


DePaul University

It’s one thing to dream up the next million-dollar idea. It’s another to bring that idea to market. Offered as part of DePaul’s program for continuing and professional education, the class shows budding innovators how to get from A to B. Over 15 weeks, you’ll generate concepts, develop feasibility studies, and strategize on pricing and marketing before pitching to prospective investors (a panel of professors, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists) and getting their valuable feedback.
WHERE: 14 E. Jackson Blvd., Ste. 1010, 312-362-5295,
WHEN: Wednesdays, 6 to 9 p.m., October 9 to February 5
COST: $2,995


University of Chicago

This four-course certificate program at the U. of C.’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies teaches aspiring tycoons and midcareer professionals to speak the language of accounting and business strategy. You’ll gain a firm grasp of concepts necessary for making major financial decisions, such as risk assessment, securities analysis, and valuation. Perks include access to the university’s thriving alumni network, a faculty drawn from the city’s corporate elite, and affiliation with the school that wrote the book on the free market. Granted, it’s not cheap, but it’s far more affordable than a full-blown MBA.
WHERE: Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr., 773-702-1685,
WHEN: The fall term starts September 18.
COST: $5,300


University of Chicago

Successful leaders recognize that there’s a science to getting things done. This practical two-day seminar—another Graham School offering—is a high-speed 101 on how to align projects with your organization’s strategic goals, execute them with panache, and deliver them on time. Management consulting guru Joe D’Mello brings decades of real-world experience and a mix of lecture and discussion to a wide range of topics (risk, cost, scale, quality control, closure). This class is a prerequisite for either of the Graham School’s certificate programs in project management.
WHERE: Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr., 773-834-3310,
WHEN: Thursday, September 19, and Friday, September 20, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
COST: $1,350

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Baker & Nosh

Bill Millholland, owner of this cheerful Uptown bakery and café, taught for years at the Chicago branch of the world-famous Le Cordon Bleu. Unlike instructors who simply guide you through a bread recipe, Millholland schools students in the science of flour, yeast, and gluten. After taking his three-hour class, you’ll know how to make a classic French baguette, a multigrain loaf, a flatbread for pizza, and a sourdough starter.
WHERE: 1303 W. Wilson Ave., 773-989-7393,
WHEN: Mondays or Tuesdays, 6 to 9 p.m., during the first three weeks of every month
COST: $75


Brew Camp

Earlier this year, Illinois passed a law that cleared the way for students to brew their own beer in classes (previously they could only watch a demonstration). That glorious development led to this daylong seminar. You’ll use Brew Camp’s equipment, spices, and flavorings to create a personal craft beer in any of 50 styles, such as IPA or witbier. Take your bottles home or leave them at Brew Camp for a few weeks to ferment. You can spend the extra time designing a label.
WHERE: 4639 N. Damen Ave., 773-784-2400,
WHEN: E-mail for dates and times.
COST: $100 (plus $50 for bottles)


The Chopping Block

If you’re a pretty good cook who wants to get better, sign up for this intensive program, which crams the essentials of culinary school into five days. Modeled on Auguste Escoffier’s brigade system for organizing the modern restaurant assembly line, the curriculum tackles a big topic each day: knife skills and butchering; cooking meat; sauces and soups; vegetables and grains; and, finally, the interplay of flavors and how to compose a meal. You’ll come away with countless useful techniques (including how to dice an onion uniformly, make a fast and tasty pan sauce, and cut a whole chicken into parts).
WHERE: Merchandise Mart Plaza, Ste. 107, 312-644-6360,
WHEN: Monday, September 16, to Friday, September 20, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; see website for more sessions, including a five-Sunday series.
COST: $1,750


Kendall College

Considering going pro? The city’s top-rated culinary school recently developed a yearlong certificate program that condenses a classical education into eight noncredit courses, all held in the evening: knife skills; sauces, stocks, and soups; cold appetizers; hot preparations; breads and pastries; international cuisines; classic French cooking; and advanced skills. This program is intense: You’ll be timed on knife drills and food prep, and to collect the certificate, you’ll be required to pass the city’s food service sanitation exam.
WHERE: 900 N. North Branch St., 888-905-3632,
WHEN: Classes begin Thursday, October 3, and meet two nights a week; see website for details.
COST: $12,950


Ranjana’s Indian Cooking Classes

“The first thing I do is open my spice box,” says Ranjana Bhargava, referring to the popular four-class series she runs out of her South Shore home. Her three-hour workshops introduce the spices, processes, and dishes native to northern and southern India. You’ll learn to prepare a complete menu—samosas, pakoras, breads, saag paneer, masalas, even mango lassi—and you’ll go home pleasantly stuffed after each class.
WHERE: 6730 S. Euclid Ave., 773-355-9559,
WHEN: Saturdays, 9:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., starting September 7; see website for more dates.
COST: $270

Dance header

Lou Conte Dance Studio

This ever-evolving dance form can be a bit of an instructional free-for-all, with novices lagging behind students able to quickly absorb complicated moves. Which is why Lou Conte Dance Studio, teaching from Hubbard Street Dance’s facility in the West Loop, is the perfect place for beginners to start. In this class, you’ll learn the basics and gain the rhythmic confidence to tackle more advanced classes.
WHERE: 1147 W. Jackson Blvd., 312-850-9766,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 7:45 to 9:15 p.m.; Saturdays, 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. The fall term starts September 3.
COST: $15 a class


Visceral Dance Center

Modern dance emphasizes body-driven movement, flowing from the feet to the torso. That may sound complicated, but the instructors at Visceral have created this class—one of three in its adult beginners’ series—to help inexperienced dancers ease into the style. Over six weeks, an experienced instructor will help you work through the fundamentals of softening the body and embracing energetic efficiency. You’ll improve coordination, flexibility, and spatial awareness.
WHERE: 2820 N. Elston Ave., 773-772-1771,
WHEN: Wednesdays, 6:30 to 7:45 p.m.; see website for dates.
COST: $90


Dance SPA

You could spend six weeks trying to master a dance style that you’ll be able to bust out only on occasion. Or you could take Dance Spa’s crash course on the basics of six popular ones: waltz, rumba, foxtrot, swing, salsa, and tango. Sign up with a partner or without (if you’re willing to make a new friend).
WHERE: 1890 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-904-7892,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 7 to 8 p.m., September 10 to October 15
COST: $72 a person ($135 a couple)


Big City Swing

Chicago wouldn’t be complete without jazz, and jazz wouldn’t be complete without swing dancing. In this four-week session, you’ll learn the fundamentals at a reasonable pace. (It’s fine to sign up solo.) Once you’ve mastered the essentials, advance to one of the classes that focuses on a particular style, such as the Charleston or the lindy hop. Before long you’ll be searching for opportunities to show off your moves. (Try Big Band Tuesdays at the Green Mill.)
WHERE: 1012 W. Randolph St., 312-243-0700,
WHEN: Wednesdays, September 11 to October 2. Call for times.
COST: $65 a person

Health and Wellness header

Be By Baby

Difficulties with the age-old practice of breastfeeding can come as a surprise to many new parents, who often assume that babies know what to do. In this informative one-evening seminar, certified lactation consultant Sheila Zagone covers the mechanics of latching on and what to do when your baby refuses and what to expect during the mildly terrifying week after leaving the hospital. The discussion among parents, says Zagone, can be as helpful as the class itself.
WHERE: 1654 W. Roscoe St., 773-404-2229,
WHEN: Thursday, September 19, from 6:30 to 9 p.m.; see website for more dates.
COST: $55


Moksha Yoga Center

Two hundred hours of training is the only thing standing between you and being a certified yoga instructor. Moksha’s yearlong program—classes meet one day a week, with seminars and workshops sprinkled throughout—is one of the best. The first of its three parts covers the history of yoga and the theory and practice of asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control). In the next, you’ll learn how to instruct others, identify their skill level, and correct their form. The final part is a self-guided study in which you research a niche, such as yoga for athletes or those with osteoporosis. At program’s end, you’ll be qualified to teach.
WHERE: 2528 W. Armitage Ave., 312-942-9642,
WHEN: The next term starts September 5.
COST: $3,600


American CPR & Safety Training

Why wouldn’t you want to learn to save a life? This three-hour class covers how to assess and treat choking, administer CPR, and use an automated external defibrillator; adult, child, and infant emergencies are all covered. While designed for anyone, it’s especially useful for fitness instructors, teachers, and childcare workers. Completion confers a two-year certification with the American Heart Association.
WHERE: Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St., 888-277-5166,
WHEN: September 5, 12, or 26 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.; see website for more dates.
COST: $40


New School for Massage, Bodywork & Healing

This program prepares you for the exam to become a licensed massage therapist. Be prepared for a slog: 600 hours over 7 or 11 months. You’ll learn bodywork theory, receive hands-on training in Eastern and Western styles, study anatomy and physiology, and get practical knowledge such as where to look for jobs and what to charge. Small classes—they top out at 14 students—ensure that you won’t be a nameless face in a crowd.
WHERE: 747 N. LaSalle St., Ste. 300, 888-461-0114,
WHEN: The next term starts September 4, and meets three nights a week for 11 months or three full days a week for 7 months.
COST: $7,440

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University of Chicago

The U. of C., which has been teaching Arabic since the 19th century, has developed a pedagogic framework that doesn’t require an intensive graduate-level commitment. The Graham School’s 10-week class covers Modern Standard Arabic, the base necessary to understand the structure of the language. You’ll learn to read, write, and pronounce Arabic characters, memorize simple conversations, and gain enough fluency to get by while traveling in Arabic-speaking countries.
WHERE: Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr., 773-702-1722,
WHEN: Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., September 28 to November 30
COST: $560


Goethe Institut

Enter the land of bratwurst without leaving Chicago by taking this 11-week beginners’ class. From the moment you walk into the school, which is affiliated with the German government, you’ll hear nothing but German: The staff speaks it exclusively (you’ll get a glossary to ease the way). Even its library is a haven of Deutsche kultur: The stacks brim with German newspapers, and the televisions play native shows.
WHERE: 150 N. Michigan Ave., Ste. 200, 312-263-0472,
WHEN: Thursdays, 5:30 to 8 p.m., September 26 to December 12; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., September 28 to December 14
COST: $400


Chicago Mandarin Chinese Center

This introductory class is ideal for adults who want to learn the basics of Mandarin—China’s dominant language—for business or travel. Over eight weeks, you’ll start the long journey of learning to read and understand Chinese, through exercises in memorization, phonetics, and dialogue. You’ll also learn about Chinese culture and business etiquette.
WHERE: 17 N. State St., Ste. 1700, 312-316-6038,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 6 to 7:45 p.m., September 11 to November 3
COST: $295


Casa Italia

The first class in a multilevel series, this 16-week course for beginners covers the basics of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. A local organization that promotes Italian-American culture, Casa Italia believes that you can’t learn the language without understanding the culture from which it comes. All instructors are native speakers: They’ll teach you not only what to say but how to speak through body language and role-playing.
WHERE: The Shrine of Our Lady Pompeii School Hall, 1220 W. Lexington St., 708-345-5933,
WHEN: Saturdays, 1 to 3 p.m., September 21 to January 4
COST: $220


Instituto Cervantes of Chicago

If you have a basic knowledge of Spanish—say, you took it in high school or aced a college class or two—this advanced-level course is a great way to refresh your knowledge of the language while exploring Spanish cultures. Over 10 weeks, you’ll discuss en español Spanish-language short stories and excerpts from novels. You’ll also investigate the authors’ countries of origin, delving into cultural differences of Spanish-speaking nations such as Peru, Colombia, Spain, and Mexico.
WHERE: 31 W. Ohio St., 312-335-1996,
WHEN: Tuesdays, 5:30 to 7 p.m., September 17 to November 19
COST: $250


Alliance Française de Chicago

Dream of visiting France and blending in with the natives? This 16-session course will help you master the most common situations you’ll confront. Designed for beginners, it covers how to order in a restaurant, make purchases, understand directions, chat with the hotel receptionist, and avoid embarrassing faux pas (for example, using the familiar tu when speaking with people you don’t know well). You’ll also get practical tips—such as when to punch your train ticket to avoid a fine.
WHERE: 810 N. Dearborn St., 312-337-1070,
WHEN: Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:45 to 9:45 p.m., September 16 to November 6
COST: $590

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Second City Training Center

Neither experience nor script is necessary for this eight-week course at Chicago’s renowned comedy school. Based on the work of the improv legend Viola Spolin, it uses theatre games to propel improvised scenes around a general framework. Take it alone or as part of a yearlong program.
WHERE: 1608 N. Wells St., 312-337-3992,
WHEN: Sundays, noon to 2:30 p.m., 3 to 5:30 p.m, or 6 to 8:30 p.m., September 1 to October 20
COST: $320


Act One at Theatre Momentum Studios

This nine-week introductory class teaches aspiring thespians the fundamentals: body awareness, conversational flexibility, and attention to other people’s emotions. Along the way, you’ll learn how to warm up your body and voice, how to tap your imagination for character development, and how to explore a script’s subtext through improvisation. You’ll end the course with a toolbox of basic skills—and a strong desire to continue with Act One’s advanced courses. Fans say getting hooked is easy.
WHERE: Cornelia Arts Building, 1800 W. Cornelia Ave., 847-471-4551,
WHEN: Wednesdays, 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., September 11 to November 6
COST: $325 ($292.50 before August 28)


University of Chicago

“Most people have some idea for a screenplay lurking inside of them,” says Susan Hubbard, who teaches this eight-week introductory course offered at the Graham School. A screenwriter with a produced script to her name (2006’s Realization), Hubbard will help you turn your idea into words on the page, find the emotional throughline in the story, and develop a plot. You’ll also deconstruct successful screenplays (including Bridesmaids and Little Miss Sunshine), parse the current market, and learn how to pitch producers.
WHERE: Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Dr., 773-702-1722,
WHEN: Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., October 5 to November 23
COST: $575



Many of Saturday Night Live’s top writers got started in Chicago. And many—including Tina Fey—learned the ropes from Michael McCarthy, who wrote for SNL in the early ’80s and launched Second City’s writing program in 1992. This fall he’s running a workshop at comedy club iO that’s modeled on the show’s various formats. Over eight weeks, you’ll learn to craft monologues, parodies of commercials and newscasts, digital shorts, and skits with at least five people. The class culminates with a live performance, and you’ll take home a portfolio of sketches to show producers and agents. All for $305? This may be the best bargain in town.
WHERE: 3541 N. Clark St., 773-880-0199,
WHEN: Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m., October 18 to December 13
COST: $305

Tech header

The Starter League

Although it has been offering classes for only two years, the Starter League is fast becoming the city’s top destination for aspiring coders. That’s because students are taught by industry experts who are up on the latest trends and because classes are held at 1871, a thriving hub for digital professionals. At the end of this 11-week program, you’ll be proficient in HTML and CSS, the basic language of all websites. “If we see someone enrolled in Starter League, we can usually place them before they even graduate,” says Rose Walker, a recruiter at the staffing agency Creative Circle.
WHERE: 222 W. Merchandise Mart Plaza,
WHEN: Mondays and Wednesdays, 6 to 9 p.m., September 30 to December 13
COST: $4,000


Northwestern University

Consider these two eye-popping stats: There are about 116 million smartphone users in the United States, and the average number of apps per phone is 41. That’s not a trend—it’s an economy. But how do you tap in? Take this intensive series of courses at Northwestern’s School of Continuing Studies. It’s for people with programming chops who need help transforming app ideas into prototypes. The costly six-month five-course curriculum will be offered for the first time this fall, but what it lacks in road testing it makes up for with academic bona fides, ample resources, and significant networking opportunities.
WHERE: 210 S. Clark St., 312-503-0714,
WHEN: The fall term starts September 24.
COST: $4,975


DePaul University

When discussions turn to Facebook, everyone’s a critic. But not everyone’s an expert. Steve Koernig, a DePaul marketing professor, brings an opinion that’s grounded in social science research and real-world experience. His one-day seminar at DePaul University Continuing and Professional Education explains why companies are investing significant resources in social networking—and how to keep from falling behind.
WHERE: 1 E. Jackson Blvd., 312-362-5913,
WHEN: Friday, September 27, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; see website for more dates.
COST: $349


School of the Art Institute of Chicago

As the Internet continues its disruptive march across traditional industries, an increasing number of small-business owners and creative types need Web skills to stay in the game. This 10-course curriculum lets students finish six semesters’ worth of instruction at night and on weekends. That’s a lot of screen time, but the program covers everything from back-end coding to front-end design and wisely folds in content management and strategy. You’ll leave with a portfolio that demonstrates your new competencies—which, as digital professionals will tell you, is the business card of tomorrow.
WHERE: 36 S. Wabash Ave., 312-629-6170,
WHEN: The fall term starts October 2.
COST: $5,600


Computer Training Source

If you’ve been dabbling in blogging and HTML but sense that you could be doing better, this intensive one-day course for beginners will elevate your Web publishing skills. The pros at Computer Training Source, which provides hands-on tutorials for a wide range of computer applications, will help you harness WordPress, the Web-based blogging software, to create and configure a platform for your daily rants or fledging e-business. Complete this class and increase the chances that your site will grow as large as your ambition demands.
WHERE: 420 N. Wabash Ave., 312-923-2100,
WHEN: Wednesday, September 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; see website for more dates.
COST: $329