Top 4 Low-cost Online College Courses For Credit

Not everyone is aware that credit-worthy college courses can be completed online for an affordable cost. This includes both the general education courses and courses for specific college majors.

The 4 S’s namely Study.com, Saylor, StraighterLine and Sophia offer the top 4, most affordable, online college courses for credit. Saylor Academy courses are free whereas, among the paid ones, StraighterLine and Sophia specialize in general ed courses, and Study.com specializes in upper level courses for different majors.

Many US colleges accept general ed courses by credits transfer. So you can take these courses online and transfer the credits to the college of your choice. However, some colleges have a limit on the number of course credits they are able to transfer from external sources.


Saylor, Study.com (SDC), Sophia and StraighterLine have transformed the cost of higher education by providing their low-cost online college courses for credit. Most of their college-level courses are ACE-accredited and Saylor has some courses that are NCCRS-accredited.

Due to the ACE/ NCCRS course accreditation, these credits are highly likely to transfer to most US colleges.

Among the four, Saylor offers the best value by offering free courses. Next is Sophia.org which offers unlimited courses for a price of $79 per month. Study.com offers unlimited courses for $99 per month.

StraighterLine is the more expensive of these four providers since it charges at fixed price of $59 per course in addition to a monthly membership fee of $99. However, StraighterLine offers individualized tutor support which is not available with the other three.

Study.com (SDC) has two important advantages that are not found elsewhere:

1. SDC has not only lower-level (LL) courses but also many upper-level (UL) college-level courses. These will help meet the UL credit requirements of individual college degree programs.

2. In addition to credit-eligible college courses, SDC has training courses for many credit-eligible exams such as CLEP and AP tests.

Sophia courses are made of quizzes and open-book tests and many students have found Sophia courses to be easy and fast to complete for college credits. There are also no written assignments to complete for the courses at Sophia.

Overall, here are the key reasons for choosing among these course providers:

1) For lowest cost, choose Saylor courses since they are free. But do be aware that a smaller percentage of Saylor material or test questions have been found to have some errors.

2) If you are looking for the easiest courses for a low cost, there is nothing better than Sophia. Sophia courses have no proctored tests which makes them much easier to complete.

3) If you specifically require upper-level (UL) courses, Study.com is an excellent option.

4) StraighterLine shines with its vast course list and easy-to-learn course material. StraighterLine also has partnership agreements with a huge list of colleges.

5) The main drawback with StraighterLine as per student feedback is the online test proctor they use namely ProctorU.

6) ProctorU is used for the online test proctoring by both Saylor and StraighterLine. ProctorU proctoring is considered somewhat rigid and could make some students nervous when taking the tests.

7) Study.com uses RPNow for test proctoring which is simply a recorded test session for later review and it’s not live proctoring at the time of the actual tests.


All of these external course providers namely Study.com, Saylor, StraighterLine or Sophia are suitable for credits transfer. Each of them offers accredited college-level courses which are eligible for college credits transfer.

For online external courses to transfer, the course curriculum needs to meet the degree requirements for the degree program the student is enrolled in.


Each college has its own credits transfer policies on whether a course will transfer, and the transfer credits/ scores awarded is solely at the discretion of the college.

However, partnership agreements that colleges have with these providers makes the process of credits transfer more streamlined with a far greater probability of credits transfer.

But since the courses themselves are ACE-accredited or NCCRS-accredited, their credits can also transfer to colleges that have no partnership agreements with the college the student is enrolled in.

So for guaranteed credits transfer, it’s helpful to look at the partnership agreements these providers of online courses have with the colleges. This will help students to choose the right college to meet their credits transfer needs. Obviously students with more prior credits will want to transfer more credits.


Many colleges do a complete credits transfer evaluation only once at the time of the initial student enrollment into their degree program. Some colleges may agree to do a credits transfer midway through the degree if the student has taken online courses from these external providers after say an year or more after enrolling into the college.

So it’s extremely important for you to understand your college’s credits transfer policies. Ask the college these questions during the admissions stage and also contact the student alumni for further feedback if needed.

If you are interested in multiple credits transfer throughout your college degree for little to no additional charges, degree completion programs/ colleges provide this service extensively.


To meet more of the degree requirements by credits transfer, look specifically for course providers who have a larger offering of the required courses. StraighterLine has a large set of courses for multiple majors. Study.com also provides many advanced courses for popular majors such as business or computer science.

As of 2021, Saylor Academy has a totally updated course offering that includes an extensive list of college courses.

Saylor has also recently added many professional development courses which can double-up for college credits.


Colleges will also have restrictions on the number of credits they will allow to be earned by credits transfer. So take this into consideration before choosing the right college for you.

For ample to unlimited credits transfer, choose one of the degree completion colleges. Some of them have a maximum of 90 credits that can be earned by credits transfer.

Excelsior college is one college which provides unlimited credits transfer. The only restriction with Excelsior degree is that one Cornerstone course and one Capstone course need to be directly taken with the college. The cornerstone course is to be taken in the beginning of the degree enrollment and the capstone is taken toward the end when most of the core courses, major-specific courses and electives have been completed.


If you took multiple courses which have overlapping course curriculum, you can most likely transfer one of the courses and not the others. So please pay careful attention to the course/ test content before signing up for any online courses.


#1 Mix AND MATCH per your course requirements

Since each online course providers has pros and cons, its best to use a combination of them as per your course requirements. Also do a thorough cost-benefit analysis before paying for the provider’s monthly subscription.

Here is an example of how this mix-n-match could work especially at a flexible degree completion college:

i) Choose a particular affordable college and enroll into your degree program by paying the relevant enrollment fees. Also submit the transcripts and certificates of your prior learning for an initial evaluation.

Since you’ve already spent money for the college admissions and enrollment, start taking a few simple and free courses at Saylor.org for a few months.

ii) Next, plan your other lower level easy courses with a Sophia.org subscription and quickly gather up your LL general ed credits.

iii) After 2 or more months, cancel Sophia and signup to Study.com (SDC) and start rigorously working on completing the UL credit courses. SDC is also good for meeting the course requirements for many majors such as Math or Computer Science.

If you are focusing in a degree in Health Sciences, instead of Study.com, go with a StraighterLine subscription for a few months to complete your Health Sciences courses.

#2 Do a trial run before taking more courses.

Not all online providers will be right for everyone, so always start with a single course to determine if the platform/ provider is convenient for you to study with.

Also there are no significant delays in course signups, learning the material, the platform’s nuances and in receiving the course transcripts upon completion.

#3 Balance cost with ease-of-use

It is sometimes ok to spend a little extra if it means you can quickly knock off the required courses or exams. So don’t ignore the difficulty levels of different courses.

If a course or platform is easy to work with, you will be able to more rapidly earn the required credits, and graduate college early to start earning a good salaried income.


Advantages of external/online college courses

1) These external courses from Saylor, Study.com, Sophia or StraighterLine can be taken for very low cost and you can take unlimited courses for a fixed monthly subscription fee.

2) The courses here can be done at your own pace and you can increase or decrease your study time as per your other work/ family priorities.

If you had to take the same course at your college, the tuition cost would to at least 5 to 10 times higher. Also, there would be a fixed schedule of classes and assignments which would mean having to neglect your other work/ family tasks.

Disadvantages of online, external college-level courses

1) PASS/ FAIL: In my experience and that of other students, the course/test scores are reflected in the transcript as a Pass/fail. So if you earned an A in say a Sophia course, this would have no bearing on your final degree scores/ GPA.

So for a better final GPA, you need to score well in the more expensive college courses you directly sign up for at your college. You need not take classroom courses, even online courses at your college will suffice.

2) ACE TRANSCRIPTS: At most US colleges, for any credits evaluation, you need to request the colleges or course providers to directly send the course transcripts to the college.

In the US, it is unacceptable for students to submit the student’s copy of the course transcripts directly with the college.

For ACE-accredited courses, in addition to the providers’ certificates, you need to have ACE directly send the ACE transcripts to the college. Ordering ACE transcripts is currently done through the Acclaim/ Credly site and the process is known to be somewhat time-consuming and complex.


Among the 4 S’s, choose Sophia for the fastest and easiest courses to complete for college credits. If you can manage with ProctorU for your online test proctoring, StraighterLine also provides great online courses for credit.

Upper level credits are generally hard to find but with Study.com, your UL courses can also be taken care of. Note that Study.com courses are much longer and thorough, so completing an SDC course will usually take a few weeks when compared to a Sophia course which will take just a few days.

If you are comfortable with the Saylor course format and with referring to multiple external textbooks as is usually required in the Saylor courses, there is nothing better than their price of free!

Similar Posts