College Courses for Free: The Massive Open Online Courses Trend
In addition to traditional online degree programs, several colleges and universities have started to offer something called Massive Open Online Courses (aka MOOCs). Only about 12 percent of colleges and universities have or plan to have at least one MOOC, according to a 2013 Babson Survey Research Group report. But what are college-level MOOCs and how could you benefit from them in high school?
What are MOOCs?
If you’ve ever dreamed of taking a class at Princeton, Harvard or other elite schools, you can, without having to be accepted to the school. MOOCs essentially are free online courses open to the public. The catch? College credit is not typically offered for these courses (except in a few cases).
Courses typically are delivered through video lectures, interactive quizzes and online interaction with professors and classmates. Even though the class is free, some homework and participation is required.
Why take a MOOC?
Taking a MOOC can help you get ahead and experience what a college-level class is like before you enroll at college.
A MOOC might be a good option if you’re exploring a possible college major. The main providers of MOOCs—Udacity, edX and Coursera—all offer free introductory-level courses in a variety of topics. For example, Coursera offers Introduction to Astronomy from Duke University, edX offers Introduction to Public Speaking from the University of Washington and Udacity offers Introduction to Computer Science from the University of Virginia, among other intro courses.
Additionally, a MOOC may impress a college admission counselor. It shows your commitment to education and initiative to learn something new on a topic you’re passionate about.
What to know before you sign up
Before you sign up for a MOOC, talk to your high school guidance counselor or college admission counselor to see if a MOOC makes sense for you and your academic goals.
Next, check to see what background or previous study is recommended. As a high school student, you’ll want to find courses with “introduction” or “introductory” in the title, since those would be the first level of college courses you could take without getting in over your head.
Also consider the time commitment the online course will require. Many of the MOOC websites list anticipated hours per week you should expect to spend on a course. If you don’t plan to set aside that amount of time or if participating in an online course will take too much time away from your high school courses, it may be best not to sign up.
While most MOOCs don’t offer college credit, some programs are starting to offer credit for certain classes, so take advantage of this if you can. Usually if you take a MOOC for credit, you’ll be charged a small fee. For example, Udacity offers several courses by San Jose State University for college credit for $150 per course. Before you sign up, contact the college or university you want to attend to see if the course will transfer.
To earn your bachelor’s degree, you’ll still need to participate in a traditional online or on-campus degree program, so check out our college search tool to find a university for you.