Updated: May 26, 2023

5 Free Alternatives to College: Free or at Low Cost

Want to brush up on essential knowledge or prepare for a career change? Here are tuition-free online alternatives that are worth your time.
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The average student loan debt is just under $30,000.  Elizabeth Warren, has called U.S. student loan debt “crushing,” and blasted the government for profiting from student loans. But as student loan reform remains a hot topic, graduates continue their search for a light at the end of the debt tunnel. One option available is applying for a debt forgiveness program, which saw a spike in applications over the past six months.

The repayment of a higher education has made it more difficult to move up financially or to change careers. Career colleges can also cost into the tens of thousands. As a result, college graduates resort to take whatever job available to avoid defaulting on their loans. And for those with co-signers, the death of a co-signer can potentially ruin the graduate financially, as your loan may come due sooner than anticipated.

There seemed to be no other access to low-cost education alternatives that offered the same level of curriculum as their state, UC or Ivy league counterparts.

Then came the Open Education Movement. With a mission to make a quality education available to all, The Open Education Movement was born in the search for an alternative to expensive tuition. Offering mostly non-credit courses, all you need is an internet connection and a passion to learn.

Whether you are brushing up on essential knowledge or preparing for a career change, here are tuition-free online alternatives to traditional colleges and universities that are worth your time.

1. Open Courses offered by U.S. colleges

Open courses are free, non-credit courses offered by established and accredited universities. Anyone can sit in on Ivy League classes taught at Harvard Open Course, MIT OpenCourseware, and Open Yale Courses, without emptying your wallet to the tune of $40,000 a year. These courses are best for those looking to take refresher courses or brush up on essential knowledge.

2. Open course communities

Sites like EdX, Open Courseware Consortium, or P2PU have partnered with a variety of accredited universities from around the world, offering a wide variety of non-credit courses, such as  history, liberal arts, physics and computer science. This allows anyone to take a variety of courses from different universities from one account. Open course communities are best for those brushing up on essential knowledge or are curious about learning a new subject.

3. Non-profit global classrooms

Funded by grants and donations, Khan Academy and Academic Earth are global classrooms, offering curated non-credit classes from top universities. Khan Academy founder, Salaman Khan, became a key figure of the open education movement through his highly successful TED Talks. Earlier this year, Khan Academy moved into the realm of college preparation, offering free SAT, GMAT and AP Art History prep courses. Again, all are welcome.

These platforms are best used as supplemental learning, for experimenting with the online classroom experience, and used as no-cost alternative to paid test preparations.

4. An accredited tuition-free university

University of the People made history as the first tuition-free online university to receive it’s accreditation.

While the tuition and course materials are free, there is a one-time application fee ($50) and exam processing fees (around $100) in order to maintain operations.

Associate and Undergraduate degree programs currently being offered include in the fields of computer science and business administration.

5. The new job training

Looking to pick up new job skills, particularly coding or web design? SkillCrush offers a 10-day crash course to brush up on those HTML skills. UdaCity teaches programming through a project-based curriculum.

From the novice to the seasoned professional, a free account allows access to archived classes according to skill level.

Instruction is given by industry leaders whom have worked for companies such as Google and NVIDIA. A subscription account grants access to coaches, project-based instruction and a completion certificate.

In years past, being bilingual or having basic typing skills could set you apart from the rest. But, this isn't your parents' job market. Employers are looking for well-rounded applicants with desirable skills. Take advantage of free resources that teach a coding language, that unlock the marketing potential in social media or tech app development.

These are just a few skills that are sure to move your LinkedIn profile to the top of the interview list.

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