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free online college courses for adults

Free Online College Courses for Adults

Continuous learning and education are essential for personal and professional growth. However, many adults face challenges when it comes to pursuing higher education due to their responsibilities and current conditions.

Online education has emerged as a viable solution to this problem, allowing adults to learn at their own pace and convenience. These courses allow adults to dive back into the world of education and learning through digital media.

Many defer from opting for them, thinking of the cost they may have to endure and the quality they might sacrifice.

But that is where free online college courses for adults come in.

There are free online courses offered by universities and scholars that are equivalent and certified, like a college program. From real-world skills to advanced-level studies, all are available to you if you know how and where to look for them.

And in this guide, I will provide you with all the necessary details and suggestions you need to know to get yourself started.

10 Best Free Online Courses for Adults

With so many online courses and resources available, it can be difficult to find which ones are the best for you. When looking for courses, you should consider the way the course is structured and how effective it will be for you.

Here, I have listed 10 of the best free online courses for college credit ranging from statistics to psychology. All of these courses will add value to your portfolio and will help you to progress towards higher studies in specific fields.

1. Introduction to Computer Science – Harvard University (edX)

This course is an entry-level course taught by David J. Malan, which teaches students how to think algorithmically and solve problems efficiently.

My topics include abstraction, algorithms, data structures, encapsulation, resource management, security, software engineering, and web development.

Who’s This Course For

This course is targeted towards students who would like to pursue a career in computer science and technology. It is a base course that will help students understand the basics of computer science, what it is, a general hint of problem-solving, and other introductory topics.

Students who have no prior knowledge regarding computer systems, programming, and smart devices should take this course. Those who have a basic understanding of computer systems may exclude this and go for advanced-level courses instead.

The primary goal of this course is to prepare students for advanced-level topics by building up their basic knowledge through this course. So, if you are planning to take advanced courses like data structure, web development, or programming, then you can consider taking this course.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • A basic introduction to computer science for beginners
  • Covers beginner-friendly topics
  • Easy to learn & requires less time
  • A must-be if you want to excel at advanced courses

2. Introduction to Marketing – Wharton School (Coursera)

As the name suggests, this course covers three core topics in marketing and customer loyalty: branding, customer centricity, and practical, go-to-market strategies.

Enrolled students will learn about the key principles in branding, customer focus and need-gathering, and drivers that influence customers.

Who’s This Course For

Business students who want to get a basic understanding of the core concepts of marketing should take this course. This course will allow students to understand how branding works, what is necessary to obtain customer satisfaction, and how to build a product that can influence your customers.

Taking this course will set you up nicely if you are hoping for a career as a businessman, marketer, or influencer. This course builds up your fundamental knowledge and can become the resource that earns your spot in your workplace.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • An in-depth introduction to the core concepts of marketing
  • Builds your fundamental knowledge, which is necessary to tackle advanced topics
  • Provides practical examples instead of a theory-based approach

3. Introduction to Psychology – Yale University (Coursera)

This certified course provides a comprehensive overview of the scientific study of thought and behavior. It explores topics such as perception, communication, learning, memory, decision-making, persuasion, emotions, and social behavior.

Who’s This Course For

Whether it is workplace, social, or personal life, psychology plays a pivotal role that shapes our every day. This course aims to provide students with the knowledge to understand the fundamental topics of psychology.

Students will also be able to improve their communication and social skills, which is a plus for anyone who wants to be more charismatic and approachable in both life & workplace.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • Serves as a base introduction to the world of psychology
  • Students will improve their perception, communication & behavior
  • A good course that’ll not only build your base knowledge of psychology but also improve your social skills

4. Introduction to Artificial Intelligence – IBM (edX)

Those who have a basic understanding of Python and programming should take this course as a basic guide to AI.

You will get an introduction to artificial intelligence by understanding its applications and key concepts, including machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks.

Who’s This Course For

Students who have completed courses like Introduction to Computer Science and Basic Fundamentals of Problem Solving may take this course. This course is targeted towards advanced life long learners who want to get into the nitty gritty details of artificial intelligence.

This course will talk about what AI is, how it functions, and how you can create it. You will also get a basic idea of how different algorithms are run and how they affect an AI.

Keep in mind that this course won’t teach you how you can build your self-sustaining AI or won’t push extremely complex codes & programs. Rather, this is just the first that you should take if you want to delve into the world of artificial intelligence.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • A prerequisite for advanced AI courses
  • Simply explains the difficult base concepts of AI
  • Uses real-life examples & references to help understand course topics

5. Introduction to Philosophy – University of Edinburgh (Coursera)

The contents of this course introduce students to some of the main areas of research in contemporary philosophy.

Topics include epistemology, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysics.

Who’s This Course For

This course focuses on a multitude of fronts of philosophy. From ethical & moral choices and decision-making to contemplating the universe and beyond – all are part of this course.

You can state that this is a jack of all trades for philosophy for beginners. Students who aim to take leadership roles in the future should definitely pick this course up.

Not only does it introduce new ways to think for a student, but it is also effective for building a good portfolio for your future.

This is most effective for those who are planning to join HR departments or wish to take on managerial roles that will require them to make tough decisions.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • Provides the necessary details to get started with philosophy
  • Great choice for students who wish to be in a leadership position in the future
  • A good reflection on your portfolio for managerial hiring

6. Introduction to Web Development – University of California Berkeley (edX)

For those who want to follow the path of web development, this course provides an introduction to web development with HTML5 and CSS3.

Students will learn primarily about front-end development but explore some basics regarding back end as well.

Who’s This Course For

Unlike most other advanced-level courses in Computer Science, this course doesn’t require you to know the basic terms of computer science and problem-solving. That being said, knowledge of the mentioned area will help you along the way significantly in this course.

Students will be able to learn about web development, front-end development, to be exact. This course focuses on building the basics of HTML & CSS in students. You will have access to a lot of resources & real-time examples with sample codes in this course.

Understanding this course will take time and effort, so if you are not ready to commit to it, then this course will become a drag very soon. Also, keep in mind that this course doesn’t involve coding from Java Script.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • Introduces the base concept of front-end web development
  • Teaches students effective examples
  • Provides simple solutions to complicated problems

7. Foundations of Data Structure and Algorithms – University of Colorado (Coursera)

The specialization consists of three courses—

  1. Algorithms for Searching, Sorting and Indexing
  2. Trees and Graphs
  3. Dynamic Programming and Greedy Algorithms

The course aims to teach the fundamentals of data structures and algorithms with a focus on data science applications.

Who’s This Course For

This is an advanced course in Computer Science and requires students to have an understanding of Data Structure, Problem Solving, and matrixes. If you don’t meet the prerequisites, then it is better to avoid this course, as you will dive right into various algorithms and how they function and are used for searching.

You will also encounter algorithm representations through different graphs, the inclusion of dynamic programming, the base concepts of how to build prediction models, and more.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • Teaches core concepts of algorithms & data mining
  • Useful in multiple fields starting from research & development to investment banking
  • A must-be for students who want to get into deep learning & data science

8. Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Python – Massachusetts Institute of Technology (edX)

This course is an introduction to computer science as a tool for solving real-world analytical problems using Python 3.5.

Who’s This Course For

Python is the most used programming language in the world. From web development to problem-solving to data mining, everything can be done through Python, and this course aims to teach you the ropes of this tool.

Students will be able to work on various problem-solving codes and build necessary projects that showcase their understanding of the topic. This course will explain how to use critical thinking and analysis to solve any issue with Python programming.

Those of you who want to work with tech giants like Google and Microsoft should aim for this course. Keep in mind that this is an advanced course, so previous knowledge of problem-solving will help you drastically.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • Solves & explains various Python-related coding problems
  • Short & effective explanations
  • Teaches how to tackle big projects through Python

9. Introduction to Data Science in Python – University of Michigan (Coursera)

This course introduces students to the basics of data analysis using Python 3 and the pandas library.

Who’s This Course For

Students who have a basic knowledge of Data Structure and algorithms should take this course. This course will dive into the practical implementations of various data structure algorithms and models.

You will have to use the Panda’s library on this one. From installing the necessary tools to building prediction models, this course introduces every major concept that you may have to tackle with data analysis through Python.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • One of the best ways to learn how to use Python for data analysis
  • The entire course is a practical course that brings theory to reality
  • It is best for students who are hoping to be researchers in their field, regardless of their major

10. Introduction to Statistics – University of California Berkeley (edX)

This course provides an introduction to statistics with a focus on probability theory.

Who’s This Course For

When it comes to diversity, this course is one of the most diverse ones out there. Not only is this course for business students, but it also serves equally well for any other major as well. Especially students who want to discover data science in depth. The course focuses on the utilization of probability and basic concepts of statistics.

Why You Should Take This Course

  • A base introduction to statistics is desired in any successful work field
  • Ensures students learn how to be calculative and predict certain changes
  • The topic is explained with short sessions, which cuts off the option of the course getting boring.

Understanding Online College Courses

Online education has seen a significant rise in recent years, with more and more people opting for online courses.

Online college courses are designed to provide students with the same quality of education as traditional courses but with added flexibility and convenience.

These courses are taught by university professors, certified scholars, and icons in the field that major institutions have supported.

So, no, you won’t be getting some series of explanation videos from YouTube. Rather, you’ll get digitized resources and lessons that are similar to and even better (at times) than traditional college courses.

The Difference between Traditional and Online Learning

For adult students, making time to attend traditional courses in a college can be highly difficult, to say the least. There are a lot of factors to consider, from taking care of their regular job to any responsibilities that may have come over age lets have deep analysis on online vs brick and morter school.

To them, online courses can become a saving grace as they involve attending classes when they want and learning at their own pace and convenience.

While it may not be as convenient as for adults, free online courses can be extremely beneficial and less time-consuming, to say the least.

Traditional LearningOnline Learning
Requires physical attendance in a classroomThis can be done from anywhere with an internet connection.
Limited flexibility in terms of schedulingOffers greater flexibility in terms of scheduling
Pre-deterred course options based on locationProvides a wide range of course options from top universities around the world
Limited access to instructors outside of class timeOffers greater access to instructors through email, chat, and discussion forums
Handful interactions with peers outside of class timePromotes a greater interaction with peers through discussion forums and group projects
Higher costs due to tuition fees, textbooks, and commutingLower cost due to no commuting and free or low-cost tuition fees

The Flexibility and Convenience of Online Learning

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, back in the year 2016, 6.3 million students opted for an online course at least once. This showcases the flexibility that online courses offer for students.

So, if you are an adult struggling to get back to college studies due to time constraints and responsibilities, then shifting to online courses can help you get back on track.

The Benefits of Free Online College Courses for Adults

While there are a lot of ways online college courses, especially the free ones, can help a student, they are extremely effective for adults. Here’s why—


As the name suggests, if you are opting for a free college course, then you aren’t paying for the courses in any way. This will save you a lot of money when considering the financial cost of college degrees.

Also, you can sign up for different courses at the same time, try them out, and find which one suits you best without having to worry about the financial burden of tuition fees.

This is showcased in a study done by Forbes, where they reported that free online courses can save up to 50,000 USD in tuition fees for students.

Wide Range of Course Options

Unlike the traditional college scene, where there are a limited number of courses and enrollment capacity, if you opt for free online college courses, then you will have the opportunity to roam pick from a wide range of course options.

This allows adults to choose courses that align with their personal interests or career goals. And you are not missing out on quality education at all as, according to a report from, there are over 10,000 free online courses available from the top universities of the world.

So, why limit yourself by looking for professional physical college courses when you can start learning from the best teachers and universities across the globe for free?

Self Paced Learning

An adult student might not be able to match the study schedule of an average college student. This can make studying the course materials difficult as he/she might not be able to match the learning pace of others.

But that isn’t the case for free online college courses. This is due to the fact that they offer self-paced learning, allowing adults to learn at their own pace and convenience.

Studies have shown that the majority of students are more comfortable learning at their own pace than a set course. A report by eLearning Industry states that almost 67% of students prefer self-paced learning over traditional classroom learning.

Accessibility and Convenience

One of the main reasons for online courses being popular is the fact that you can access it from anywhere as long as you have internet and a digital device that can connect to the internet.

As online college courses are accessible from anywhere in the world, they provide adults with the opportunity to learn from top universities without having to travel.

That’s why a recent study showed that almost 90% of students believe that online learning is more flexible than traditional classroom learning.

Popular Platforms Offering Free Online College Courses

There are several platforms that offer free online college courses for adults. Some of these platforms include—


One of the most popular certified online learning out there, Coursera, offers free courses from top universities around the world. You will get a wide range of course options, including business, computer science, data science, and more.


If you want to dive into advanced-level courses from top universities around the globe, then edX is one of the best choices you will have. edX offers a multitude of courses from various fields like computer science, engineering, humanities, and more.

Khan Academy

For those who want to start with beginner-friendly online courses with simplified explanations, Khan Academy is the one you are looking for. This is a non-profit organization that offers free educational resources for students of all ages.

Stanford Online

If you want to learn from the experts at Stanford University, then Stanford Online should be your pick. This platform offers free courses from Stanford instructors and industry experts on various topics, including health and medicine, education engineering, arts and humanities, etc.


Supported by The Open University, this online learning platform offers nearly 1000 free courses across eight different subject areas.

How to Choose the Right Online Course?

There are a lot of online resources out there, but not all of them are certified or offered by professionals. This makes choosing the right online course can be challenging. Here are some factors to consider when choosing a course—

Matching Course with Career Goals or Personal Interests

When choosing an online course, it’s important to choose a course that aligns with your career goals or personal interests. This will help you stay motivated throughout the course.

Pick Up Certified Platforms and Courses

The first thing you should look for when choosing any free online course is the platform and whether or not it is being offered by certified professionals.

There is an abundance of online educational resources, but not all of them are offered by certified professionals or backed up by renowned institutions. So, watch out for these.

I have already mentioned the most useful platforms you can use to find free online college courses, but there are other platforms as well. And you might not find free courses on a specific topic on the mentioned sites.

In that case, you should look for previous reviews and check the authenticity along with the qualifications of the instructor.

Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is an important factor to consider when choosing an online course. It ensures that the course meets certain quality standards and is recognized by employers.

According to a recent study by, 85% of employers believe that an online degree is just as credible as a traditional degree.

Challenges and How to Overcome Them

Online learning can be challenging for some adults. Common challenges faced by adults in online learning include the following—

Time Management

While convenience and availability are some of the key benefits of having free online college courses, time management can become an issue, especially when you have all the classes and resources at your hand from the beginning.

I have seen many students mess up their schedules and end up not completing their online courses in time, which results in a lack of expertise in their chosen course.

Lack of Motivation

In an online course, you are your sole motivator. There isn’t anyone who will ask you to take your class, nor do you have immediate quizzes, exams, or assignments.

This may result in a lack of motivation to complete your course, as becoming too relaxed often results in skipping productivity.

Also, believe it or not, money is a great motivator. In traditional college courses, you know you are paying for these classes, which can make you more compelled to go to the class and do well.

But the same can’t be said for online classes, which you are getting for free.

Technical Difficulties

Your desktop, laptop, and mobile devices are your way to access online courses, and they can suffer from technical difficulties over time. This may result in a complete shutdown of your study until you resolve the problem.

Tips and Strategies to Overcome These Challenges

To overcome these challenges, you can take the following steps –

  • Set realistic goals: Don’t take multiple courses at the same time, and don’t rush yourself to finish the course content as fast as you can. Proceed at a standard pace and move to a new topic only when you’ve mastered the previous ones.
  • Create a study schedule: Having a study schedule will allow you to keep studying in an organized manner. This will also help you to avoid being overwhelmed by the sheer number of online resources and course topics out there.
  • Stay motivated by connecting with other learners or instructors: Staying motivated throughout your online learning can be difficult as you are not monitored by teachers like in a traditional setting. That’s why reach out to your instructors and coursemates to stay connected with like-minded people and keep your motivation.
  • Seek technical support when needed: You will eventually run into technical errors from your online device or software or the platform you are using. When something like this happens, be sure to seek help.
  • Ask questions: questions to ask before joining an online program

To understand how to be effective in your studies and aim for the top like a topper, you can check our Secret Study Tips to Become a Topper guide.

Future of Online Learning

Online education is expected to grow continuously in popularity in the coming years. Current trends in online education include microlearning, gamification, personalized learning experiences, and more.

According to a report by eLearning Industry, the global e-learning market is expected to reach $325 billion by 2025.

Predictions for the future

The future of online learning looks promising. Predictions include increased accessibility through mobile devices, virtual reality classrooms, personalized learning experiences tailored to individual needs, and more.

Final Thoughts

Free online college courses for adults offer a valuable opportunity for adults who are looking to further their education. With several platforms offering free courses from top universities around the world, there has never been a better time for adults to pursue higher education!

Rebecca White
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