Continuing-education classes are called noncredit, but don't let that fool you. You get credit where it counts: in learning those things your alma mater didn't offer or that you didn't have time to take in college. Beyond reading, writing and arithmetic, you can learn about real estate from choosing to closing, tuning your transmission, remodeling your house from the bathroom tiles to the kitchen sink. Continuing education is cheap ($35 to $80 for individual courses) and easy (evenings or weekend starting mid-September) through noncredit classes at many area schools.

It's not all hard-core academic fare. Recreation and leisure courses include sailing, a class at American and Open universities that fills up fast with would-be Ted Turners; yoga and aerobic dancing are popular, too. There's more to be gotten than exercise: Catholic offers Temperaments and Types of People ("a study of the four temperaments: the choleric, sanguine, melancholic and phlematic") and Dermatologist Discusses Skin Care. Along with Wok Cookery by Open University are the lessons on dieting offered at many schools; "How to Stop Worrying" courses, uding biofeedback and other methods of dealing with stress; instruction on how to use your emotions. Or a course made entirely of field trips: Mount Vernon's Art and Architecture (weekly informal gallery tours in Washington) or Catholic's Saturday with the Diplomats (not the hockey team but the double-parking kind). And there's Wine Appreciation for the unschooled palate at Mount Vernon and American, and lessons in birdwatching and stamp-collecting.

This is probably not the education you remember plowing through for four years.

Ah, but remember those classes that did occupy your time, ones you slept through at the drop of a beer-can tab: conversational French, Shakespeare, the Greek tragedians, the three Rs. You can get those, too. Writing courses, say all the schools, are among the first to fill up: not just the technical-writing skills but the poetry and creative-writing classes, and workshops concentrating on professional writing skills.

Georgetown's Politics and International Affairs program is matched by similar political science noncredit courses offered at all the schools: American, Georgetown and community colleges offer "Survival Spanish," and other languages: Kierkegaard's there for the learning as well as Legislative Process. Calligraphy and photography, psychology and Milton: with selections like "Math Without Fear" and "French for Fun" it's obvious the classes you sweated through then aren't now just for the guys who always sat in the front row and got straight As.

Then there are the things college forgot to teach you, like useful, practical working skills.Basic auto is offered at most schools, so you can nod knowledgeably while writing out the check to the mechanic. Or if experience has been your only finance teacher and not a vry good one at that, a personal finances planning course (Mount Vernon, American and Catholic) might teach you something about getting the bank balance off of the seesaw. Of rind out how to reupholster the sofa that the cat has used as a nailfile. Or how to remodel the house. Or, finally, the ins and outs of real estate if you'd rather just sell the whole thing.

Professional development classes range from the informal -- to seminars taught by professionals trained to instruct in specific skills for specific fields. Paralegal training and legal assistance can be expensive at Maryland, Georgetown, and George Washington (anywhere from $180 to $350) where they earn Continuing Education Units, credits accepted by many employers.

Classes begin starting mid-September; registration continues through to the first day of class, first-come, first-served.