What Are Some Free Online Colleges?


With the huge expense of US colleges and colleges worldwide, many people are on the lookout for free online colleges to attend from the comfort of home.

University of the People (UoPeople) is the largest, free online college of worldwide reputation. Other approaches to free online college include affordable colleges such as WGU or Excelsior with a limited scholarship and many online course options, or a more expensive online college with employer’s tuition reimbursement.

Many students have built a strong career with a degree from UoPeople. Though UoPeople is accredited by the DEAC (Distance Education Accrediting Commission), the college is still in the process of gaining regional accreditation which is alright for some students.

How To Get A Degree For Free

University of the People offers students worldwide a completely free, online, accredited US education.

The university is nationally accredited by the DEAC and the leadership team is made up of distinguished academic heads from NYU, Harvard, Princeton among others.

There are a handful of popular degrees offered at UoPeople in Business Administration, Health and Nursing, Information Technology and Teaching.

Here are the 5 approaches to a free, online college education:

  • For students who want an accredited online US degree with a complete course curriculum which will drive her/ his career forward, UoPeople is likely to be a great fit.

  • For others who require a regionally accredited degree for higher studies and career growth, the completely online college WGU with a full scholarship can still provide a free online college education. For financial aid eligibility, you need to be a US citizen or a US resident.

  • For US persons looking for more flexibility and credit options toward a free online US degree, signing up to a degree completion college might be a more suitable option. When combined with a scholarship, this too would provide a free online college degree.

  • For international students interested in an almost-free, online, regionally accredited college education, signing up to a degree completion college and subsequently taking many free Saylor courses, free UoPeople courses, and other low-cost Sophia/ Study.com courses could work out just fine.

  • Corporate students or employees with a generous tuition reimbursement plan will be able to attend most online colleges for free. However, there will likely be upfront tuition fees which will be subsequently reimbursed by the employer.

Are There Any Free Online Colleges?

University of the People is the only accredited online university that offers completely free tuition in the four primary areas of:

  • Business Administration

  • Information Technology

  • Health and Nursing

  • Teaching

Despite the free tuition, there are certain things that students need to pay for:

1) Assessment fee of $120 for every course which equates to about $40/ credit for a 120 credit bachelors degree. The per-credit fee might vary slightly for different degree majors.

2) A one-time application fee of $60

3) A credits transfer fee of $17 for each course. So a 3-credits course transfer would cost you about $5.67 per credit.

For students who are unable to afford the assessment and credits transfer fees, UoPeople scholarships and grants are available. This is made possible through generous contributions from many corporations, trusts and foundations, since UoPeople being tuition-free, it does not qualify for federal or state aid monies.

UoPeople: Student Experience

The curriculum and course schedules are rigorous at UoPeople. There are about 8 learning units per week along with written assignments and quizzes in an ongoing basis.

There is considerable student interaction via the course forums and peer-to-peer reviews of some of the assignments.

Every student is allotted a program advisor whom they can reach out to with any issues as they are working toward completing their degree program.

Students can also request an alumni or industry mentor to guide them in meeting their professional and academic goals.

Students receive feedback and guidance from their course instructors through the online learning platform where the lessons and assignments are graded.

For additional assistance from their instructors, students can reach out to them via email. The lessons are completely self-paced and so students can study at any time as per their convenient schedules.

UoPeople: Foundation Courses

Prior to meeting admission requirements, students are required to take two foundation courses at the UoPeople.

The UNIV 1001 course prepares students for online learning and familiarizes them with UoPeople learning resources and learning methodologies for ensuring success with a UoPeople online degree.

The other foundation course provides a choice of among a few courses specifically related to the student’s degree major.

What is the Cheapest Online College?

Western Governors University is the cheapest online US college for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. The college operates completely online and does not have any in-person classroom courses.

The college charges a fixed fee of about $3500 every 6 months.

This can be used for taking an unlimited number of courses in every 6-month duration. So students who are able to complete more courses in a shorter time save on the overall cost and time it takes to complete a bachelors degree at WGU.

Apart from taking the online courses and exams at WGU, the only other option for college credits at this college is by credits transfer. Between 60 to 90 credits can be transferred into a WGU degree program.

Free Online Courses: WGU Scholarships

WGU students are eligible for federal and state financial aid and can complete the FAFSA application to apply for financial aid. In addition to the regular financial aid, WGU receives additional funding from corporations and federal agencies that make it possible for WGU to offer even more scholarships and grants.

With the availability of all these financial aid options and the regularly low tuition fees, a WGU online degree can be completed absolutely free of cost!

Free/ Low-cost: Online Universities in USA

Technically, even the premier colleges such as Harvard or Stanford can be attended free of cost when combined with a full scholarship. But the main issue with most scholarships is that it does not cover the student’s living expenses.

But when the same college degree can be completed online and by distance, this issue of living expenses takes a backseat since the student simply lives with their family at home.

Apart from WGU and UoPeople, there are other regionally-accredited colleges that have numerous options for affordable online courses, and federal scholarships. There are also several scholarships specifically for international students.

Even for those students who do not have a full scholarship, these colleges such as Excelsior college and Granite State college provide the cheapest online bachelor’s degree.

Free Online College Courses (for credit)

Here are some free online college courses for credit:

  • Saylor Academy provides free tuition-based online courses that are ACE or NCCRS accredited for awarding college credits. There is a fee of $25 for the exam online proctoring per exam, and a transcript fee of about $20.

  • OnlineDegree.com provides free college courses for credit. Students only need to pay a small fee of about $9 for the proctored test.

  • UoPeople’s free online courses are nationally accredited and colleges such as Excelsior (which is regionally accredited) still accepts UoPeople courses for credit transfer.

  • MOOC certificate courses from edX are eligible for college credits for a small fee of $100/credit through their collaboration with Charter Oak State college.

  • There are several online credit-based course providers such as Sophia, Study.com and StraighterLine who allow students to take an unlimited number of their accredited courses for a small monthly fee.

For other low-cost online college courses, please refer to the post on Low-cost Online College Courses For Credit.

Most degree completion colleges and many other accredited US colleges accept the above course credits since the courses are either ACE or NCCRS accredited, or are part of an accredited degree program.

In any case, please do a final check with your college before proceeding with these free or low-cost online courses.

Free Online Degree Courses For International Students

Saylor Academy and all the above free and low-cost courses are available to students worldwide. So international students can benefit from all of these courses just as much as US-based students.

National vs. Regional Accreditation

Accreditation is a must for all US colleges and universities. Accreditation not only attests to the high quality of education but it also makes the degree recognized for higher education and for employment.

Regional accreditation is the gold standard that is universally accepted for US universities.

As long as the college you’re enrolled in is regionally accredited, the credits will transfer to any regionally accredited or nationally accredited college.

Regionally accredited bachelors degrees make it possible for students to gain admission for their masters degree at both regionally and nationally accredited colleges.

But how about when a high quality degree from UoPeople is available with free tuition though UoPeople is not regionally accredited but is instead nationally accredited?

National accreditation is widely accepted by employers for most job positions but its likely that such degree courses may not be eligible for tuition reimbursement plans.

Nationally-accredited bachelors degrees will however not be accepted for admission to a masters degree program at a regionally accredited college.

Corporate Tuition Reimbursement

If you have a job with an employer that provides a tuition reimbursement plan, please find out the how much of the college expenses it could cover (or) any dollar limit of the tuition reimbursement.

Depending on the maximum dollar amount of this reimbursement plan, you can choose a college that:

  1. Matches your interests for your degree major and academics

  2. Has a fee structure that can be comfortably paid within the employer’s tuition reimbursement plan

The employer can deduct up to $5250 of their income every year as a qualified expense when it is paid out as tuition reimbursement and it helps the company to have a better educated and skilled employee force. Therefore, many US employers offer a tuition reimbursement plan.

As for the employees, any tuition reimbursement is not reported as income for tax purposes. So this is a win-win for both US employers and their employees.

Companies That Pay Tuition Reimbursement

Most large to mid-sized companies in the US have a tuition reimbursement plan. When in doubt, simply ask the HR department of your current or prospective employer about this.

Here are some companies that offer 95% to 100% in tuition reimbursement:

  • Intel

  • Starbucks

  • Chipotle

  • Novaritis

  • Deloitte

  • Disney

Here are companies that offer about $10,000 or more per year in tuition reimbursement:

  • Amazon

  • Verizon

  • Google

  • Adobe

  • Genentech

  • Raytheon

Here are companies that offer about $5,000 or more per year in tuition reimbursement:

  • Apple

  • Facebook

  • Anthem

  • Bank of America

  • Ford Motors

  • Gap Inc.

  • Home Depot

  • Intuit

  • Oracle

  • UPS

  • Wells Fargo

How To Get A Degree For Free

In this day and age, getting an accredited, free online degree or a highly affordable degree is definitely possible, thanks to the initiative and people-focused mission of colleges such as the UoPeople, WGU, Excelsior and more.

Even among the free colleges or course options, there are usually some costs such as an assessment fee, exam proctoring fee or a credits transfer fee. Though these costs tend to be little compared to the cost of most US colleges, as a student, you still need to be prepared for such incidental college costs.

Also, free or low-cost does in no way translate to easy! So you will still have to make that extra effort and maintain focus and concentration on college studies to successfully complete an accredited US college degree.

But you are not alone in this journey for free or affordable US education.

Simply reach out to the colleges, the federal or state scholarships, the online course providers, your mentors, instructors, peer students or your employer’s tuition reimbursement for that initial push forward in meeting your college goals.

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