9 Best Ways to Find Free Online College Courses

Enhance your resume and your knowledge base with free online courses

The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
The Ultimate Guide to Online Learning at Home
Young man writing in notebook while using computer at home

Geber86 / iStock

The benefit to an online college is that it offers online college courses. But did you know that there are several websites that offer these college courses free?

Skip the driving, tuition, and other fees and take free online college courses. Classes are available in a huge variety of subjects, designed by real professors and other experts, and often offered by prestige universities that would otherwise charge you a fortune.

Below are the best websites to find free online college courses. There are lectures, tutorials, tests, audio, video, and more, all 100 percent freely available from an online college or other educational website. You can even pair these college classes with a free college textbook.

If you like taking college classes from home, you might also enjoy working out of your house. See the best online jobs for college students, or use a job search engine to find a work-from-home job.

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MIT OpenCourseWare

Online college courses at MIT OpenCourseWare
What We Like
  • It's like auditing MIT courses for free.

  • Comprehensive catalog taught by industry-leading academics.

  • No registration required. 

What We Don't Like
  • Somewhat cumbersome user interface.

  • Historical only, no interactivity.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology maintains its MIT OpenCourseWare presence on the web. OCW contains information and materials from more than 2400 courses that have been taught at the school. MIT's goal is to publish all its course materials online and make them available to everyone at no charge. More than 300 million visitors have taken advantage of these free courses.

Classes are available on a wide range of topics, including engineering, fine arts, business, mathematics, health and medicine, humanities, and society. The materials may differ from class to class but usually include video lectures, lecture notes, problems, and assignments. 

These free classes are historical, meaning you can't interact live with an instructor, receive feedback on assignments, or get answers to questions like you can with a true online college. Still, however, you're receiving the same high-value class information that MIT-enrolled students received.

If you're not sure where to start, see MIT's most visited online courses, or browse by topic to find related courses.

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Johns Hopkins OpenCourseWare

Online college courses at Johns Hopkins OpenCourseWare
What We Like
  • Free, historical insights into courses offered at JHSPH.

  • Focus on public health and epidemiology.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks interactivity.

  • Not much use beyond public health.

  • Some topics contain zero courses.

Johns Hopkins, one of the world's premier medical learning institutions, offers free materials and images from more than 100 courses developed by the faculty at JH. For anyone looking to advance their health care career without sacrificing quality, this is the first place to look.

The college courses that are part of the school's OpenCourseWare program focus on public health, with browsable topics such as health policy, malaria, cancer, aging, refugee health, HIV/AIDS, global health, and genetics.

There are several ways these free college courses are presented, including with audio and case studies, and as core courses for the Hopkins Masters of Public Health.

Since these online college courses are archives, you can't interactive with Johns Hopkins faculty members.

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Stanford Online

Online college courses at Stanford University
What We Like
  • Offers one-off courses, professional and graduate certificates, and graduate degrees.

  • Based on a modified version of the robust Coursera program.

  • Taught by skilled instructors on the Stanford faculty.

What We Don't Like
  • Lots of material blends; difficult to differentiate course types.

Stanford University offers an ongoing selection of free college courses on many topics. Some selections include law, education, biosciences, statistics and data science, human rights, and economics. Courses usually include videos, problem sets, knowledge assessments, and other learning tools.

If you’re looking for a basic introduction to computer science, you’ll want to check out SEE (Stanford Engineering Everywhere), which is ostensibly for students interested in engineering, but there are quite a few free technology-related class offerings there. Most consist of recorded lectures, handouts, assignments, and other resources.

Unlike other open courseware sites, some of the free college classes here are monitored for feedback, and some offer a printable Statement of Accomplishment if you receive a sufficiently high enough score in the class.

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Free college courses online at edX
What We Like
  • Free courses offered by leading universities and corporations.

  • Rich catalog of content.

  • MicroMaster's program is an innovation in higher education.

  • Lots of search filters to refine the results.

What We Don't Like
  • More advanced program-type offerings (like masters programs) are paid, which is inconsistent with branding.

  • Robust catalog, but a clear emphasis on STEM fields.

The edX website offers free online college classes from its partners, which include MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley, Boston University, and a huge list of other colleges and universities.

Over two-dozen subjects are available, so you can pick up free college classes on everything from design and architecture to ethics, language, finance, food and nutrition, medicine, music, physics, electronics, and more.

One of the filtering options let you find online college courses by availability, such as current, starting soon, upcoming, or self-paced. There are also archived college classes to pick from, a school filter, three levels of courses (intro, intermediate, and advanced), and language-specific courses.

Although the classes themselves are free, edX offers an optional certificate for a fee to students who complete certain courses on a higher level. The fee varies from a few dollars to a few hundred.

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iTunes U App

iTunes U iPad app Creative Writing free course
What We Like
  • Free content.

  • Great for teachers.

What We Don't Like
  • For iOS only.

  • Huge, not-well-curated content library.

The iTunes U mobile app for iPhone and iPad is filled with free online courses from universities, colleges, and other sources. Everything on the app is free, some in the form of podcasts with downloadable resource material, and others as slides or videos.

The free college courses catalog is enormous, although you can narrow the options to college-level and topics such as business, communications, engineering, languages, health, and many more. 

These free online college courses used to be located in iTunes as iTunes University. However, all the educational content is still available through the iTunes U mobile app.

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Online college courses at Coursera
What We Like
  • Mix of courses ranging from free one-off classes to full-fledged master's degrees.

  • Robust platform and broad industry exposure, with many top-notch partner universities.

What We Don't Like
  • Tends to skew more heavily toward tech fields.

  • Sometimes confusing to browse the catalog.

  • Watch for free vs. paid courses in search results.

Coursera is an online collaboration of several of the top-tiered universities in the world, with offerings from a wide variety of programs that range from humanities and biology to computer science.

Classes include recorded online lectures, multimedia, and links to other free resources. Registration is free, and when you complete the class, you're eligible to receive a printable certificate for a small fee.

Online courses include classes from Duke University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, the University of Edinburgh, University of Virginia, Vanderbilt, and others.

Not all the classes are free; the degree and certificates paths are all fee-based, but you can audit some of those classes via video lectures and see some course content for free. Free classes mingle with fee-based classes, so you have to do some searching to find just what you want.

The college course directory is a good place to start so that you can explore various topics and skills and find trending courses.

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Free online Python college courses at Udemy
What We Like
  • Instructors tend to be industry pros, not necessarily university faculty.

  • Broad reach of content.

  • Finding only the free college courses is easy.

What We Don't Like
  • Content is instructor driven, so there are some odd gaps in the catalog.

  • Pricing models vary wildly, and pricing for the same course can change.

Udemy differs from some of the other sites in that not all of the classes are free and some of the classes are taught not by professors but by people who have excelled in their particular fields, such as Mark Zuckerberg or Marissa Mayer.

Enter a topic in the search field and then open the filter menu to mark Free so that you're only viewing the free online college courses. You can also filter by topic, feature (quizzes, captions, tests), rating, duration, language, and skill level.

There are plenty of learn-to-code classes here, but there are also course offerings like Digital Marketing Basics and Network Security Essentials.

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Free online college courses at Udacity
What We Like
  • Emphasis on free courses in technology fields.

  • Support for job searchers.

  • Can filter by free courses only.

What We Don't Like
  • Focus of some courses is, at times, too technically narrow.

  • Site strongly encourages signups before revealing important context info.

Udacity offers a limited selection of courses, all computer science-related, with instruction from distinctive leaders in their fields. For example, if you’ve ever wanted to create a search engine in seven weeks and you’d like to learn directly from one of the co-founders of Google, then Udacity is for you.

Classes are organized into three separate tracks: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. All classes are taught in a video format with quizzes and homework assignments. Final grades and certificates are awarded to students who finish the coursework successfully.

Some of the free college course topics include UX designer, robotics, Android basics, C++, cloud developer, data streaming, deep learning, artificial intelligence, and machine learning.

As you're working your way through the online college courses, your progress and list of classes are stored in your Udacity Classroom.

Students can opt into Udacity’s job program to sign up for free classes, where they can choose to share their resume with the Udacity team and potential employers.

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Online college courses at P2PU
What We Like
  • Free courses, often with in-person components.

  • Great networking opportunity.

What We Don't Like
  • Democratization has its limits; you're at the mercy of your peers.

  • No certifications offered.

  • Some links lead to dead websites.

Peer to Peer University (P2PU) is a collaborative experience where you’re meant to learn in community with others. Registration and courses are completely free.

Scroll the selections, view by topic or language, or enter a search term to locate a class. You can also sort the free online college courses by popularity, date added, and rating.

Courses include classes in several programming languages, business topics, music theory, and a wide range of other subjects.

As you complete a college course, you can display badges on your website or social profiles. No certifications are offered here, but the courses are well executed and worth taking a look at.