In this MasterClass review, we take a look at MasterClass as a whole and examine whether it’s worth the investment.
I know why you’re here.
Like most of us, you probably were scrolling through YouTube when an ad pops up. The “skip ad” button isn’t ready to click so you watch the first 5 seconds, then the next 5 seconds. 2 minutes later, you can’t even remember what you originally wanted to watch.
Now you’re hooked.
MasterClass ads have filled our screens since its founding in 2014 (originally as Yanka Industries). Today, most people are aware of MasterClass’s addicting commercials, cast of celebrity experts, and promise to deliver a high-quality online learning platform that is leagues ahead of its competitors.
But to shell out $180 for its all-access pass begs the question: Is MasterClass worth it?
But a quick Google search leads to conflicting reviews.
Some say the production quality is suburb. Others say the topics are unrealistic (are you really going to become the next Steph Curry?).
As someone who’s had a MasterClass subscription for the past year and has watched dozens of courses on a variety of topics, I’m here to give you my full and honest opinion about the Netflix of online courses.
Better yet, I’ll give you all the information you need as a seasoned user of the platform so that you can make a better-informed decision on whether MasterClass is right for you.
And, just for being a reader, I’ve included some guest passes at the bottom of this article for you to try MasterClass risk-free for 7 days. (Although, I only have a limited number and it’s first come first serve.)
What is MasterClass?
Founded in 2014 (originally as Yanka Industries, Inc.) by Stanford student, David Rogier, MasterClass launched its website the following May with only three instructors. Twelve classes were later added in 2017 before the total drastically jumped to 50 by 2018.
MasterClass classes are taught by respected and renowned experts in a series of high-quality video lessons, typically with a supplemental workbook that can easily be downloaded and printed for further reference.
Every course contains between 2 to 4 hours of video divided into single class lessons that are approximately 10 to 15 minutes long.
If students are curious to expand their level of knowledge or want to ask questions, each class has its own individual online portal called “The Hub” where students can interact with other students and MasterClass moderators.
Is MasterClass for me?
The first question on everyone’s mind is: Is MasterClass for me?
The short answer is, probably. Whether you’re looking to grow your acting skills with an online class from Natalie Portman or better your creative writing skills from a Margaret Atwood lecture, there is bound to be at least one MasterClass of the 90+ classes that are bound to teach you something.
However, that’s not the main reason people sign up for MasterClass. Like most people, I don’t know what I don’t know. Therefore, I love the possibility of stumbling across a subject that I know little about and diving into 4 hours of video lessons that end up giving me a well-rounded understanding.
In other words, MasterClass is best for curious minds.
Nevertheless, a MasterClass subscription is a commitment and an investment. On one hand, you’ll need to commit at least 2 to 4 hours to cover just one of the many great courses offered on MasterClass. On the other, you’ll need to spend at least $180 a year to access the online education platform (more on pricing in the next section).
If you are someone who can spare a few hours a week and $15 a month to watch educational lectures on your Apple TV, Android TV, or an old-fashioned computer, then yes, MasterClass is probably for you.
If, however, you don’t have the extra cash for yet another subscription, nor the time (or focus) to learn consistently to make MasterClass worth it, then no, MasterClass is not for you.
But no need to take my word for it, MasterClass offers a 30-day money-back guarantee. You can easily sign up, test out a few classes, and judge whether MasterClass is right for you.
All it takes is a simple email to MasterClass letting them know you’d like to cancel your subscription to receive your refund.
How much does MasterClass cost?
In 2021, MasterClass began testing alternative subscription models besides their usual $180 annual membership.
- $25 per month subscription
- $60 per 3-month subscription (saves you 20%)
- $180 per year subscription (saves you 40%)
Personally, I go for the $180 per year option as I average about one MasterClass per month which means my cost per class is $15. I also like this option because I use MasterClass year-round and am curious enough to learn from a variety of teachers.
However, if you aren’t ready to shell out $180 and only have your eyes set on a few classes, I recommend the monthly or quarterly option. If, for example, you wanted to boost your creative writing skills and decided you only needed the Neil Gaiman, Malcolm Gladwell, James Patterson, and Margaret Atwood courses.
You could easily watch all five courses over a two-month time (paying two $25 payments) and average a $10 cost per class. A steal in my opinion.
You can always upgrade or downgrade your subscription at a later date. Start with a realistic plan and go from there. The best part is, no matter which subscription plan you choose, MasterClass gives you unlimited access to all their courses. If you recently finished binging Game of Thrones, sign up for MasterClass and binge some Martin Scorsese or Jodie Foster filmmaking courses instead.
An honest MasterClass review
Now that we’ve got the pricing and general formalities out of the way, let’s pick apart the MasterClass experience and answer some FAQs.
Navigation and Course Discovery
As I’ve mentioned, MasterClass offers a plethora of classes—over 90 at the time of writing—with new classes added every month. However, humans aren’t the best at making choices when too many are on the table (learned that in Dan Pink’s MasterClass on sales).
Nevertheless, finding what course you want to take first is pretty straightforward. When you first join, you’ll be asked to complete an optional questionnaire that’ll help narrow down your search. You can skip this step if you want and go directly to the Library Search page where you can look up topics or select from over eleven categories to browse.
As you take more classes, MasterClass will continue to recommend classes that fit your interests.
The Netflix of online courses
There’s a reason why MasterClass is often compared to Netflix: production quality and binge-ability.
MasterClass videos aren’t a bunch of grainy Zoom recordings. MasterClass uses real filmmaking experts who know how to light, film, and edit high-quality video lessons.
MasterClass’s secret sauce is finding the dopest backgrounds for their instructors. Sometimes MasterClass films directly within the homes of their instructors (example: Alice Waters). Other times, MasterClass places its instructors within a setting to help set the learning mood. It certainly makes the viewing experience much more enjoyable (would you want to watch 4 hours of someone talking in front of a blank wall?).
Besides the video quality, each MasterClass comes with a beautifully crafted workbook that can be downloaded for personal use. Each workbook is unique and employs its own cohesive style that fits the instructor. (Again, would you prefer 60 pages of boring PowerPoint slides?)
Finally, if an instructor requires concepts that are easier to explain visually, MasterClass provides informative and interesting graphics that are simple and easy to follow.
It’s hard to find any other online learning platform that comes close to beating MasterClass in terms of quality.
The MasterClass App
MasterClass is available for both iOS and Android users through their MasterClass app. Unlike the web browser version, the MasterClass app comes with the functionality to listen to just the audio portion of each lesson. This is especially helpful for commuters who’d rather consume their learning a la podcast-style.
The MasterClass app also comes with the ability to cast each video lesson to a smart television such as Apple TV or Chromecast enabled TV.
I don’t particularly use the MasterClass App as I prefer to take hand-typed notes on my computer while I watch. However, for passive learners, this is an incredibly helpful feature.
MasterClass vs Skillshare vs Udemy
So, what makes MasterClass different from other online learning platforms such as Skillshare and Udemy?
The obvious difference is quality which is reflected in the pricing for both online course platforms. Let take a look at each one individually to better understand.
MasterClass vs Skillshare
Skillshare, unlike MasterClass, is geared toward beginners. If you are looking to get into programming, for example, there are thousands of courses available on Skillshare to dive in and begin learning from scratch.
Unlike MasterClass, Skillshare does offer some functionality where students can interact with instructors. However, at $90 per year for a subscription, Skillshare still doesn’t feel like they are offering enough to cost half of MasterClass (in other words, I’d rather pay twice as much for 10x the value).
MasterClass vs Udemy
Udemy is, how do I say this nicely, your bargain outlet for online learning. While MasterClass offers over 90 high-quality online courses from high-caliber instructors, Udemy offers thousands of cheap online classes from thousands of… instructors.
Nevertheless, Udemy touts a much more niche topic approach where students can learn specific technical skills from less-famous but still highly-qualified specialists. Course discovery is a bit tricky since some topics have hundreds of video courses alone. Take writing classes, for example, MasterClass has a dozen or so taught by successful people like Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman, and Margaret Atwood. Udemy offers hundreds of much cheaper writing classes but from less-known authors.
If you have time to look for a gem on Udemy, they don’t sell monthly or yearly subscriptions. Rather you pay per class access.
7 Reasons to invest in a MasterClass subscription
If you’ve skimmed through this article so far (I don’t blame you, who has time for 4,000+ word essays?), then let me give you seven quick reasons why investing in a MasterClass subscription is in your best interest.
- Learn from the best instructors in a variety of fields
- Content is enjoyable to watch
- Discover new subjects worth exploring
- You can’t beat the cost
- Courses are split up into easily digestible video lessons
- Knowledge improves your well-being
- More classes are added every month
3 Considerations before buying MasterClass
The first consideration before purchasing MasterClass is accurately judging your level of proficiency in certain topics.
For example, if you were looking to get into photography, the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass is probably not for you as it requires a basic understanding of photography. Because of this, many students complain that the entry point for some topics is too high.
The second consideration is your breadth of curiosity. Are you only interested in filmmaking? Or do you want to round out your knowledge with some complementary courses like Helen Mirren teaches acting or Aaron Sorkin teaches screenwriting? Not only that but are you willing to learn something completely different like the culinary arts by Thomas Keller or unravel space exploration with Neil DeGrasse Tyson? MasterClass is suited for those interested in many subjects, not those who are siloed into one specific area.
The third and final consideration is whether or not e-learning is the best way for you to learn. Some people are visual learners and thus are better equipped to succeed with MasterClass. However, there are folks who learn better from books or at a much slower pace. MasterClass is designed to pass along the most amount of information in the shortest amount of time (and make the process enjoyable).
- Are you looking to improve existing skills or learn new skills as a beginner?
- Are you willing to explore multiple learning subjects or are you siloed into one or two?
- Are you able to learn well from video lessons or do you need a more traditional approach?
If you give MasterClass a try and find out it’s not for you, you can simply email their support team firstname.lastname@example.org. If you made your purchase less than 30 days ago MasterClass will refund you the full amount, no questions asked. I’ve interacted with the MasterClass support team multiple times and they are always extremely helpful.
Yes, you can! Actually, that’s how my journey into MasterClass began. A relative of mine gifted me a year’s membership for my birthday. I’ve renewed every year since. Also, when you sign up for MasterClass you also have the ability to share a membership with someone for free. That’s right, each membership comes with the ability to invite one person to try MasterClass for however long your subscription is. In other words, if you purchase (or receive as a gift) a MasterClass subscription for a year, you can gift one other person a year-long membership as well.
Yup, MasterClass offers new students a 30-day free trial.
Quick List of the Best MasterClass Courses
I’ve been a MasterClass user for over a year now and have watched many courses. Below are some of my favorites I’ve taken in no particular order. (It’s hard to rank them because my interests are obviously not the same as your interests.)
Gordon Ramsay Teaches Cooking
Gordon Ramsay, yes the seven-star Michelin chef and TV personality, actually has two courses on MasterClass: One on homecooking and another on restaurant recipes at home. For anyone looking to boost their cooking skills, Ramsay’s first course is a great place to begin.
Ramsay’s MasterClass is geared more for folks who have some cooking experience and are not learning for the first time. This becomes quite obvious when Ramsay teaches you how to make the perfect scrambled eggs, a recipe that requires sea urchin tongues and grated white truffle…
While some of the recipes Ramsay shares seem a bit out of reach for average home cooks, the techniques he employs are skill applicable. But don’t let this discourage you. I did learn a lot from this MasterClass, even as someone who’s already a decent cook himself. I learned that I’ve been gripping my chef knife all wrong for years, I learned the perfect (and simple) pasta dough recipe, and I learned what to look for in common fresh ingredients.
If you are new to cooking, I’d say this class is probably too advanced. You’ll learn a lot and will have a benchmark to aspire towards, however, you might find the recipes unattainable at this stage of your cooking level.
Nevertheless, Ramsay is an inspiring chef so even if you don’t learn the basic necessary skills, you will certainly be inspired to get into the kitchen and learn more.
Neil Gaiman Teaches the Art of Storytelling
I consider myself a writer by trade and have a special affinity towards the writing classes offered on MasterClass. None more so than Neil Gaiman’s class on the art of storytelling. Even if you aren’t a writer but consider yourself a creative, Gaiman’s MasterClass is a… masterclass… on the power of storytelling and the role one must play to achieve it.
Gaiman’s MasterClass is chock-full of poetic gems like, “Writing a novel is like driving through the fog with one headlight out. You can’t see very far ahead of yourself, but every now and again the mists will clear.”
With his soothing voice, Gaiman shares practical advice for aspiring writers (like carrying a “compost heap” notebook for random ideas) and quirky tips (like adding Figgins and Sherbet Lemon to one’s stories). He also breaks down how to operate within a genre and how to overcome writer’s block (“chop some wood, explore some kittens.”)
All in all, Nail Gaiman’s MasterClass is a personal favorite of mine. It’s also one I highly recommend to my creative and writer friends who need a boost of motivation and ideas.
Emily Morse Teaches Sex and Communication
Curiosity got the best of me. A MasterClass on sex? What is there to teach? As it turns out, quite a lot actually.
Emily Morse—the sex therapist and host of the popular, long-running podcast, Sex with Emily—thinks we should all feel as comfortable talking about sex as if we were talking about the weather. “I really don’t want sex to be this thing where you’re giggling in the corner,” she says in the introduction of her MasterClass on sex. “It’s a really important part of our overall health and well-being.”
To be honest, I did feel a bit uncomfortable watching and reviewing a video course on sex. But it’s exactly that uncomfortableness around sex that Morse has set out to destigmatize with her work and specifically, this MasterClass.
Emily Morse’s MasterClass won’t transform you into a sex goddess or discover hidden secrets so often titilated on the covers of gossip magazines. Instead, Morse simply wants you to treat sex as if it’s a normal part of your life. Because she believes communication is at the heart of any satisfying sexual experience and relationship.
“We actually think that we want sex, but what we actually crave is intimacy. And intimacy is when we are truly our open, vulnerable, authentic selves with somebody else.”
With a runtime of 1 hour and 53 minutes, this short MasterClass is definitely worth the investment if you are looking to learn better ways to talk about sex with your partner.
Aaron Sorkin Teaches Screenwriting
At just under 8 hours of video lessons, Aaron Sorkin’s MasterClass on screenwriting is by far the longest course I’ve taken on masterclass.com. For any aspiring filmmaker and/or screenwriter, there’s no better place to receive a grounded understanding of the rules of storytelling, dialogue, and character development as well as discovering what makes a script actually sell.
Sorkin, the Acadamy Award-winning writer of prestigious films and television such as The West Wing and A Few Good Men, delivers a doozy of a MasterClass (I created my own 90-minute fast-track lesson plan here).
This MasterClass comes not only with lessons but also table reads with other writers and scene breakdowns from Sorkin’s previous works. In addition to the standard class workbook, students can also download two screenplays written by Sorkin and a continuity and spotting list.
This is a robust MasterClass complete with case studies, group workshops, writer’s rooms, and plenty of teaching from Sorkin. By the end of this MasterClass, you will possess the necessary skills, tools, and structures needed to begin writing a screenplay, as well as, the know-how to receive feedback and potentially sell a script.
Garry Kasparov Teaches Chess
Like many people inspired by the success of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit, my love of chess was rekindled late last year. So much so, that I began taking chess lessons online to improve my game.
Then I noticed MasterClass offered its own chess course, taught by the legendary Garry Kasparov. 30 lessons over the span of 7 hours and 20 minutes are enough, in my opinion, to take an average player and give them the fundamentals to play better chess.
“Tactics is knowing what to do when there is something to do, while strategy is knowing what to do when there’s nothing to do,” says Kasparov. This MasterClass promises to, “inspire you to learn not just about the game of chess, but about other things.” Kasparov’s goal isn’t to give you a cheat sheet of what to do during a game of chess, but rather to help you recognize patterns and specific stages of gameplay where you can then feel inspired to learn more on your own.
The first half of Kasparov’s Masterclass covers double attacks, skewers, discovered attacks, and a considerable amount of time on endgames and openings. The second half is geared more toward intermediate players who benefit more from analyzing historic games.
And in case you were wondering, I was able to boost my chess rating by 200 points after watching Kasparov’s MasterClass on chess.
Brandon McMillan Teaches Dog Training
Just before adopting a puppy, I happened to see that MasterClass released a new class on dog training, taught by none other than Brandon McMillan, the animal trainer turned TV personality. I cannot stress enough how helpful this MasterClass was for me as a new dog owner.
“I believe that my training system is the most simplified form of training out there,” claims McMillan, and after taking this MasterClass I have to agree.
McMillan’s MasterClass on dog training focuses on three specific areas:
- House training
And covers seven “core” commands:
I highly recommend this MasterClass for any new dog owners or soon-to-be dog owners. Your new best friend will thank you! (And it’s a lot cheaper than signing up for a dog training class or hiring a personal dog trainer.)
Margaret Atwood Teaches Creative Writing
Why is it Margaret Atwood can say something so obvious like, “If you’re a writer, you have a very limited repertoire of tools. Your repertoire is a blank page and some words that you put on it,” and yet make it sound so profound?
Because she’s Margaret Atwood, that’s why.
I’m a huge fan of Atwood’s writing (#Blessedbethefruit) and eagerly dove into her MasterClass on creative writing hoping to glean some helpful information. And boy did she deliver. In her first (and what I can tell, only) online course, Atwood teaches her students how to write a compelling story, create a structure for their novel, develop nuanced characters, keep their readers interested, and stay motivated to keep writing.
Even if you don’t consider yourself a fictional writer, Atwood’s MasterClass is in my opinion an essential course worth taking based on her timeless advice such as: “Unless you’re writing something on the page, you’re not writing.”
Before diving into other writing classes such as Dan Brown or Shonda Rhimes, invest 4 hours of your time into taking the Margaret Atwood MasterClass on Creative Writing to set the tone and inspire you to keep writing.
Paul Krugman Teaches Economics
To be honest, I clicked on Paul Krugman’s MasterClass by mistake. But I couldn’t stop watching. The New York Time’s Op-ed columnist and Nobel-winning economist is perfect for curious learners like me. In his MasterClass on economics and society, Krugman does more than give students basic headline comments (“The market is up”) and instead teaches students how to start thinking deeper about how the world works.
I’m not an economist, nor did I study economics in school, however, I found this MasterClass so addicting as I kept learning new things. For example, I didn’t know that history shows us countries who borrow in their own currency and are stable can carry really high levels of debt or that the standardization of freight containers was a major technological advancement that helped lubricate the flow of goods around the world.
Krugman’s MasterClass on economics is a tad shy of 4 hours, however, be prepared to take lots of notes and re-watch certain sections. It’s tempting to binge your way through but do yourself a favor and take your time. This MasterClass has helped me see and understand the world in a new light.
So, does MasterClass work?
I get emails asking me this one question: does MasterClass work? And my answer is always the same: MasterClass works if you let it works.
For MasterClass to work for you, you must first be open to learning and exploring new ideas, topics, and skills. For some MasterClass courses, it’s helpful for you to have some prior experience. Take the Annie Leibovitz MasterClass on photography, for example, her course is not geared towards folks who have never picked up a camera. Instead, she dives deep into the little things that make photography better.
If you want MasterClass to work, you need to be prepared to put in the time watching the video courses, but also reading through the class workbooks and furthering your understanding on your own.
Don’t get me wrong, the high-quality lessons are Netflix-level binge-worthy. However, if all you want is something edutaining to watch, TEDx has hundreds of videos on YouTube you can watch for free.
MasterClass works if you are willing to put in the effort and enjoy doing so.
Is MasterClass worth it?
Yes, I believe MasterClass is worth it for the majority of people who are eager to learn more and enjoy bettering themselves through knowledge. The $180 per year price point may seem steep at first, but the cost can easily be diluted by making the most of your subscription and watching more courses related to your areas of interest.
If you aren’t an avid learner or are looking for more technical-based video courses, MasterClass might not be worth it for you. However, MasterClass offers a 30-day money-back guarantee so you can always take a course or two and decide if MasterClass is worth it for yourself.
Bonus: MasterClass has given me three 7-day guest passes to share with our readers. Claim yours here before they run out.