The word “free” is rarely associated with education, especially in the United States. However, as surprising as it may be, it is possible to attend a top American university for little to no cost through free, accredited online courses.
The idea of free college might seem a little crazy, but some US higher education institutions were founded on the principle that education should be available to everyone. These free online learning courses are an excellent opportunity for anyone with big dreams and a small budget.
Explore some free, accredited online courses offered by major educational institutions below to learn more.
Why Enroll in Free Online Courses?
There are many reasons to enroll in free, accredited online programs. Maybe you want to gain new skills without pursuing a full degree program or explore new interests. Read on to learn more about why you might want to take an online course.
Gain New Skills
Online courses are an excellent opportunity to learn a new skill. Many top universities offer short courses on a wide range of subjects, from computer skills to medical skills and everything in between.
If you look around, you will undoubtedly find a class that interests you. Interest alone is certainly a good enough reason to register for a course, but you can also take a class that will directly further your career.
Additionally, you may find a class that will help you refresh an existing skill. If you got a certificate or degree a while ago and want to get updated, then an accredited, free online course might be right for you.
In Addition to a Degree Program
Even if you are already enrolled in a degree program, you might find that an online course can be beneficial. If a topic is especially appealing to you or if you are finding it hard to understand, then signing up for an extra course in that subject might be a good idea. Look through the available online courses to find a topic that matches your needs.
To Explore Interests
Many people want to learn more about a specific area of interest, but don’t want to pay a steep enrollment fee. That’s why free online courses are an invaluable opportunity.
Additionally, those who are retired or looking to switch careers and want to see what a topic may be like will find free online courses extremely beneficial. Retirees and others may take a course for non- career-related reasons. Free online classes can accommodate a variety of different people.
Sample a Program
Students who are on the fence about pursuing a certain degree or who are unsure if online learning is right for them may want to “test out” a program with an online course. This way, you can see if you will be able to succeed while studying on an online platform.
Additionally, if you already know what university you will be attending, you can get an idea of what the teachers in your program are like.
The Best Free Accredited Online Courses
Many colleges and universities offer free online courses. According to the Center for Online Courses, there are “more than 400 schools offering open online education with goals related to connecting students and faculty members globally.” Among these schools are MIT, Stanford, and Harvard.
These courses are all available online, so they are open to students worldwide. In the classes, you will get access to learning materials such as lectures, quizzes, readings, and assignments at no cost. Learn more about these university programs below.
Where: New York City/Online
Course Samples: Civil War and Reconstruction
Level: All levels
Columbia University offers courses for free online through Coursera, edX, and Kadenze. The school partnered with these platforms to provide higher education to students who may not be able to afford a traditional college degree program.
Columbia offers a wide variety of courses, including psychology, robotics, data science, and artificial intelligence. All of these remote classes have one thing in common: They are taught by prestigious Columbia professors.
The classes are free if you are attending as a one-off, but if you are looking to earn a certificate, there is a nominal fee.
Where: Cambridge, MA/Online
Course Samples: Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life
Massachusetts Information of Technology (MIT) was one of the first higher education institutions to offer free online courses. MIT has partnered with edX to offer courses to students around the world. Course materials include audio/video lectures and online textbooks.
MIT also regularly updates its course offerings. They are free, but if you wish to earn a certificate, you will need to pay a fee and pass assessments.
Where: Stanford University/Online
Course Samples: America’s Poverty and Inequality Course
Have you ever wanted to learn from top professors at Stanford? Well, you can for free through their online course catalog. Stanford offers free accredited online courses on a wide variety of topics, including public health, medicine, education, engineering, arts and humanities, and data science.
Where: Cambridge, MA/Online
Course Samples: Buddhism Through Its Scriptures
This is the oldest Ivy League School in the US and offers some of the most progressive online courses. Harvard has partnered with edX to bring free courses to thousands of students. Each course varies in length, difficulty, and subject matter. However, all of the courses are taught by Harvard professors.
The classes are free but certificate courses come with a small fee.
Where: Cambridge, England/Online
Course Samples: Building your Screenplay
If you ever wanted to study at an international school, then this is a great opportunity. The University of Cambridge works with edX to bring tuition-free courses to students online. Cambridge says this partnership gives “as many people as possible the chance to experience the quality of a Cambridge education.”
The university courses are taught in audio and video format. They consist of lectures, podcasts, and other educational videos.
The free online courses cover multiple topics, including the sciences and the arts. Additionally, the length and difficulty of the courses vary. For a small fee, you can receive a verified certificate upon completing a course.
Where: Berkeley, CA/Online
Course Samples: Data Science: Machine Learning and Predictions
The University of California Berkeley, ranked #22 by the US News and World Report Best Colleges, also offers free online courses through the learning platform edX. Topics range from computer science to business and journalism.
The University founded “The Center” in 2012 as a learning hub for online initiatives including free, accredited courses. At this “Public Ivy” school, as with those listed above, you can choose to receive a certification for a small fee.
Conclusion: Start Free Online Learning With an Accredited Course Today
As we have seen, there are many free online courses available at top-ranked US universities at a variety of lengths, topics, and education levels. Your possibilities for free, accredited online learning are almost endless.
Additionally, there are many reasons you may want to sign up for an online course today. Learning a new skill, exploring new interests, or sampling a program are all excellent reasons to enroll.
While all of the online colleges above are accredited, it’s important to note that many of these courses don’t count toward future college credit. It’s imperative to check with your college before taking a course if you want it to be counted toward a degree.
There are also free accredited master’s and bachelor’s degree programs out there. But be sure to do plenty of research on the validity of the program before signing up.