Most college courses in the US are anything but free! But there are still a few accredited courses that are either tuition free or so inexpensive that they are almost free. Many of these can be directly transferred for college credits at many US colleges. For a few others, the process might be a little longer which I will explain in detail.
For college students, anything that can cut-down on the college expenses is a huge benefit!
Saylor Academy curates content from a variety of sources within its free online courses. Many of the Saylor courses carry some form of accreditation, either ACE accreditation (or NCCRS accreditation. ACE stands for American Council of Education and NCCRS stands for National College Credit Recommendation Service. Therefore, this is one among the top free college courses online for earning credits. Though Saylor courses are free to take, there is a small online proctoring fee of about $25 per exam. The Saylor transcripts are free of charge but if you want to transfer the credits to a college, the ACE transcript costs between $15-$20 per transcript.
Though not exactly among the free college courses online, CLEP and DSST are by far the least expensive ways to earn between 3 to 6 credits per exam. The exam itself costs about $80 for registration and it is possible to find low cost study guides and online resources for preparing well for the exams.
To get an overview of the CLEP exams, the first place to start is the CLEP Official Study Guide 2020. This provides general CLEP details along with model papers for each of the CLEP exams. Individual study guides are also available for each of the CLEP exams.
For even more practice with individual CLEP exams, the InstantCert CLEP flash cards are worth considering. Upon enrolling into an InstantCert membership, you will also be given member access to their online community of CLEP test takers. This community is helpful for answering your further questions and to stay motivated and confident before taking the CLEP exams.
Free CLEP Prep is another free study resource for CLEP which was created by an ex-marine who created the site for fellow members to prepare for the CLEP. Though I’ve not personally used the study guides, I know enough about the site to say that they are definitely worth looking into!
Study.com charges $99 per month for a maximum of two college-level courses per month. All their courses are ACE-approved for college credits. This is a standard way for students to earn college credits flexibly while studying at their own pace. Study.com is also highly recommended by a number of students studying at one of the affordable colleges we’ve listed on this site.
StraighterLine offers accredited courses that meet the general requirements for most US bachelors degrees. They charge a fixed fee of about $99 every month though. In my opinion, CLEP is a much better bet but there are some students who has benefited from StraighterLine. They have tutor support for the individual courses as well.
ALEKS is a highly affordable option for earning college credits especially for topics relating to Mathematics and Statistics. A number of Science and Business specific courses have also been added in the recent years. The fixed low monthly subscription provides one student account and one tutor account. There are additional discounts for a family with more than one student.
The Federal Emergency Management Institute provides online courses relating to disaster recovery and humanitarian assistance. Some of their courses carry an award of one college credit each. You can find a complete list of their courses here. These courses could easily fit some general credits or other electives for your college degree.
Here are some advantages of MOOC’s:
- They are more interactive and contain video lessons, have student and teacher interaction and more
- There are more tests, goals and deadlines and this oftentimes keeps students motivated with their studies
- The courses are usually affordable and there are some courses which offer free tuition with a small charge for the certificate.
When taking MOOC courses, students need to first determine if it meets their degree requirements and whether they carry college credits. However, with any MOOC courses, the following are always true:
- Some of these courses are ACE-approved. Therefore, they directly provide college credits for transfer.
- All other courses might still be translated into college credits via portfolio assessment or prior-learning assessment.
Community College Online courses
Students can benefit by enrolling in a few online courses at a community college and then transferring the credits to a 4 year college or university. This is another viable low cost option for earning college credits. There is no need to complete the entire online degree at the community college in this case. It should be sufficient to simply take any courses that are part of the degree requirements at the 4-year college you are looking to enroll in. Also, note that most courses at community colleges tend to be lower level credits. So for upper-level credits you might be better off choosing one of the other ways of earning college credits.
The University of the People is a free online institution located in California and it is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). Please note that this college does not have regional accreditation similar to most colleges across the US. Therefore, any courses taken here may not directly transfer to some colleges such as Excelsior. Also, there is $100 assessment fee charged for every course/exam though they are totally tuition-free.
However, UoPeople itself provides high quality of education and their degrees are recognized worldwide by leading corporations and universities in the US. Therefore, you can still benefit by taking some degree-level courses at the University of the People and then translate them to accredited college credits via portfolio assessment. The best way to know if perhaps the credits may directly transfer is to speak with the student advisor at your college regarding their policies concerning UoPeople courses.
Apart from those we’ve listed above, any other online courses that are ACE approved or NCCRS approved are directly eligible for college credits. As long as the credits are directly transferable, there should be zero to minimal cost for the credits transfer itself at one of the colleges such as Excelsior. But in case that is not possible, the portfolio or prior-learning assessment usually has a fixed charge for every credit that is awarded via this assessment. So this can indirectly increase the cost of the college degree. Also, portfolio assessment tends to take a few months to complete and is not always the fastest way of earning college credits.
So in general, it is best to stick with one of the accredited courses that are directly eligible for credits transfer. Of all the options listed above, seven of them fit the bill. The others which might require a portfolio assessment are the UoPeople courses and some non-ACE accredited MOOC courses. In any case, it is best to check with your college directly before undertaking any particular course for minimizing cost and maximizing credits!