8 Top Schools That Offer Free Online College

8 Top Schools That Offer Free Online CollegeHave you ever wondered how much of a difference there is between your average college and an Ivy League school? Now you can know for sure — for free! Schools are beginning to offer free online college classes, and anyone is eligible to take them.

With the cost of college increasing with every passing year according to CollegeBoard, it has become harder to attend classes at an affordable price. Even scholarships can fail to cover massive fees.

In order to find the money to attend regular classes, 14 million of the nation’s 20 million college students work at least a part-time job, according to a report by Georgetown University.

Thankfully, some schools have sought ways to ease the financial burden on the public. Many are beginning to offer online courses at little to no cost. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 6 million students had taken advantage of online learning, according to Bay View Analytics, and that number is only increasing now.

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The Benefits of Free Online College Classes

Though some professors are currently struggling to make the transition from in-person to online learning, according to a 2020 study by Bay View Analytics, having the opportunity to take online courses for free can help ease the burden on students.

Classes taken after graduation offer the opportunity to build new skills that could help secure a side hustle, which can help pay for student loans and other expenses. These classes can be used as an incredible resource for anyone seeking to improve their résumés. “Consider taking online certificate courses to bolster or fill gaps in skill sets,” says career coach and author Terry B. McDougall.

“For example, courses in digital marketing, project management, Excel, or programming languages can help candidates meet the requirements for jobs they apply for. Being able to include courses (and their related keywords) on their résumés may be the difference between getting through the applicant tracking system or being screened out,” McDougall adds.

However, résumé improvement is not the only benefit to these free online college classes. “For employees looking to make a career pivot, non-credit courses can provide an opportunity to explore an area of interest to see if they’d like to change careers or pursue more education,” she adds.

With 60 percent of students reporting that their online classes helped them improve skills that are necessary in the workforce, according to a recent Learning House survey, it seems like now may be the perfect time to explore online courses — especially when those courses are free!

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Here are eight top universities offering free online college classes:

1. Stanford University: The School of Doctors, Mothers, and IT Professionals

Stanford offers a wide array of classes ranging from artificial intelligence to engineering to arts and humanities. Specific classes include “Computer Science 101,” “Disaster Medical Training,” and “America’s Poverty and Inequality.” There is even a short course designed to help new moms learn how to properly breastfeed. Best of all — it’s all free!

While Stanford is currently offering only online classes due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the school has in the past offered classes both in the workplace and even at Stanford itself. The university could not be reached for comment about whether these in-person classes will return.

Most classes are not for credit right now, but there are three separate classes that can count toward a graduate certificate and more than 25 continuing medical education classes for physicians. These courses have been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education and are accepted by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Certificate of Completion: No

2. Harvard University: Best for Beethoven and Public Health

Do you want to study game design, build on your public speaking skills, or simply listen to Beethoven? Harvard offers free non-credit classes that might just pique your interests. Classes range in length from as little as an hour to as long as a month. While these courses are not for credit, they allow students to take classes at Ivy League education level.

As at Stanford, classes are online-only. Topics range from data science to mathematics to social sciences. Harvard even offers a course to help nurses learn to use the ventilator equipment needed to fight the coronavirus.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $0–$149

3. Columbia University: Where Corporate Finance Meets Computer-Generated Images

Have you ever wanted to learn how to animate computer-generated images? Are you interested in learning more about corporate finances? Are you a veteran trying to figure out how to best transition back into academia? Columbia offers all this and more!

There are non-credit courses offered in both English and French. While most classes are not for credit, any course marked with the tag “Micromasters Program” can work toward a certificate that offers 7.5 credits toward a master’s in science. Classes are completely free, but students who pay a fee can receive a certificate declaring their completion of the course.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $45–$225 

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4. The University of Michigan: The School for Library Lovers

Between finances, data science, and social work practice courses, the University of Michigan offers many different courses for all types of students. The institution even offers a course for students interested in strategic planning for public libraries.

If you wanted to take a class at one of the top public schools in the world, this could be the perfect chance.

Michigan offers non-credit classes both in English and Spanish. Most are self-paced and vary in length, but they are all run by verified University of Michigan professors and directors. Like Columbia, students can choose to receive a certificate to add to their LinkedIn or résumé.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $49–$249 

5. University of Illinois: A School in Every Language

The University of Illinois offers a variety of classes, including “Financial Planning for Young Adults,” “The 3D Printing Revolution,” and “Genomics for Law.” Illinois’ free online college classes even provide optional subtitles for students who prefer Arabic, Serbian, Simplified Chinese, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Turkish, and Spanish.

While Illinois offers many free online non-credit courses, the school has plans to add more to its roster of classes to ensure a complete learning experience for online students. So keep an eye out for new offerings in the coming months.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $0 

6. Georgia Institute of Technology: Best for the Socially Awkward

Interested in taking a free online college class at a premier technology institution? This is the opportunity for you. There are classes that prepare students for interviews and business writing — and to more easily communicate over the phone and on video calls. In the world of pandemic-induced social distancing, that’s a skill we could all use.

For STEM students, there are even more course options available.

Georgia Tech also offers non-credit classes in machine design, engineering mechanics, linear circuits, and more. Many classes include a written syllabus, which can help students progress more easily through the course.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $0

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7. Berklee College of Music: The True Schoolhouse Rock!

Not interested in technical courses? Thankfully, there are alternatives, like the Berklee College of Music. Berklee offers non-credit classes in electronic music production, jazz improvisation, and different types of musical specialization.

Berklee conducts courses in Spanish and English with subtitles in Portuguese, German, Lithuanian, Catalan, and Ukrainian. The courses are split into different specializations, each requiring different classes and prerequisites among Berklee’s offerings. If you want, you could take the entire catalog for an instrument and become a master within a few short months! This could be a great choice for a side hustle or even a new career.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $0

8. Duke University: Best for Aspiring Doggy Psychologists

Do you want to know more about sports, dogs, or finances? We certainly hope so — especially for the last (and for the dogs). Thankfully, Duke University offers non-credit classes in all of the above. Students can take courses called “Sports and Society,” “Dog Emotion and Cognition,” and “Behavioral Finance.” It also has a course designed to help students better understand Excel, Tableau, and MySQL, which are a great help to anyone in the business world.

Duke offers courses in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, and English with subtitles in Korean and German as well. Deadlines are flexible, given that classes are entirely online. The university also provides a shareable certificate upon completion of each course, which can be linked to social media and résumés.

Certificate of Completion: Yes

Certificate Cost: $0

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The Bottom Line

There are many excellent opportunities for people to take online classes from top colleges and universities completely free of charge. With course offerings in a variety of topics and languages, there is something for every learner. All it takes is the click of a button, and you can have a certificate from an excellent school at little to no cost.