Low-Cost or Free Online Courses for High School Students

Low-Cost or Free Online Courses for High School Students

Affordable Online Courses for High School Students

Introduction: Relatively Low-Cost or Free Online Courses for High School Students

There are a variety of valuable online courses that are available to high school students, which include sumer options. The courses are often made up of instructional videos, reading assignments, and online assessments. In addition, some online courses contain college-level content, which can be helpful in building confidence.

Online courses can be beneficial because they enable high school students to learn about a topic of interest, explore a potential college major or career path, and enrich school-based learning. In addition, college-level online courses can help prepare students for post-secondary educational expectations.

Generally, high school students should consider an online course to enhance their knowledge about a topic, learn more about a compelling subject, investigate an area that they may want to study in college, or gain insight into a potential career field.

It is important to note that, in general, taking an online course from a particular university (e.g., a highly selective college) should not be seen as the way to gain admission to that university. While it is certainly beneficial to spend time being engaged in productive summer learning outside of the traditional high school setting, there are many factors that go into the admission review done by most selective universities.

This article includes information about and examples of low-cost or free online courses that are available for high school students. Please note that the affordability of the courses included in the article may be subject to change.

More information about online pre-college courses that are fee-based can be found by reading about online pre-college academic courses

Online Courses that are Relatively Low-Cost or Free

Online Courses through Massive Open Online Courses

One type of online option available to high school students is offered through a format known as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). When examining MOOCs, there are some fee-based courses, some low-cost courses, and some free course options. The courses are typically easily accessible from an electronic device and they are often self-paced. MOOCs can be a valuable way to learn about a particular subject area, expand knowledge about a topic, and, in certain cases, prepare for an exam (e.g., an Advanced Placement exam).

MOOCs should be viewed as an opportunity to learn about a topic of interest, explore a passion, gain insight into a potential college major, become more familiar with a possible career option, and extend learning beyond the walls of the school. Generally, taking an online course through a MOOC sponsored by a particular university (e.g., a highly selective university) should not be seen as a way to gain admission as an undergraduate student at the university. Instead, MOOCs can be seen as an interesting, challenging, and helpful way to enrich learning outside of the traditional school environment.

In some cases, MOOCs are available at a low-cost or at no cost, but provide an option for students to pay a fee in order to have a certificate of completion sent to them. Many MOOCs are run in connection with well-known universities. The following online course options are examples of relatively low-cost or free MOOCs.

Harvard University Online Courses

This is the link to Harvard University’s free MOOCs.  There are pull-down menus that will help sort courses by topics.  A few examples of topics are Introduction to Computer Programming, global issues, neurosciences, literature, religion, and statistics. There are some free courses available.

Learn more: Harvard Online Educational Courses

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Online Courses

Courses are available in a wide range of topics and can be searched by topics and dates of availability using the link below.  There are many interesting courses to study with self-paced options.  Students can learn about subjects in-depth, such as entrepreneurship, nuclear energy, calculus, Shakespeare, sustainability, etc. There are some free course options.

Learn more: MIT Online Courses

Yale University Online Course

Yale offers an interesting course that is available for high school students. The course has been developed as a MOOC and it is on the topic of happiness. High school students can learn about the way that psychologists study happiness, how expectations influence behavior and cognition, myths about happiness, strategies that can be used that can enhance well-being, and much more.

The course includes a variety of videos, readings, and assessments. Students can proceed through the course at their own pace. The course has been highly rated by participants.

The course is offered for free. When a student signs up to enroll there is an option fee (approximately $50) to receive a completion certificate, which can be helpful to show evidence of taking the online course.

Learn more: Yale Online Course: The Science of Happiness and Well-Being

California College of the Arts: Online Course in the Art of Comics

CCA offers a compelling online course with a focus on comics. The course is available for high school students and it allows participants to gain insight into sharing a narrative through the development and design of comics. The course is offered as a MOOC.

The course entails learning about the ways in which the text and images in comics can be utilized to convey information and share stories. Students learn about techniques to develop comic strips and sequences. Participants also gain insight into the techniques involved with designing and illustrating comic books. The course is open for students of all art skill levels.

The art course can be taken for free. There are also fee-based options for a credit from the institution and for a certificate of completion.

Learn more: CCA Comics: Art in Relationship

University of Kentucky Online Chemistry Course

UK offers a challenging high school chemistry course in an online format. Through the course, high school students can enrich their knowledge and understanding of the primary topics, concepts, and principles in chemistry. The course has been developed as a MOOC.

The topics in the course cover a broad range of chemistry, including elements, reactions, bonding, structure, molecules, and much more. The course includes a mixture of instructional videos, readings, activities, and assessments.

The course is available for free. There are specific start dates, which can correspond to the opportunity for earning a certificate. The course and the materials can be accessed at any time, but a certificate may not be available without aligning to the official start dates that are specified during the year.  Additionally, UK  offers an advanced level chemistry online course that includes even more rigor.

Learn more: UK Online Chemistry Course

University of Pennsylvania

UPenn offers free MOOC courses online.  One interesting course that is particularly popular is Gamification.  It is designed for participants to learn more about this new concept and how organizations are using gamification to positively impact motivation.

Learn more: UPenn Gamification Course

Wesleyan University Online Course in Social Psychology

This online course provides students with a chance to explore the world of psychology with a focus on human behavior in social settings. This can be a helpful course for high school students who are considering a college major in psychology or who have a general interest in human behavior. The course has been developed as a MOOC.

This course includes a broad range of topics including group behavior, persuasion, behavioral reactions in group settings, ethical dilemmas, research in group dynamics, and much more. Through the online course, students examine well-known studies that have shaped the field of social psychology. The course includes a variety of video clips, college-level readings, and online assessments.

Students have the option of enrolling in the course for free or paying a relatively low fee to earn a certificate of completion after the course.

Learn more: Wesleyan Social Psychology Online Course

Stanford Online – Introduction to Computer Science Online Course

Stanford Online, a part of Stanford’s extended education program, offers a productive online course in computer science. The course allows high school students to learn more about a broad range of topics in computer science. There is no required knowledge to enroll in the course. Students can work at their own pace and take their time understanding the various principles that are introduced.  The course is set up to be a MOOC.

The course provides information about topics such as computer science terminology, hardware, software, the basic language of coding, cybersecurity, varying types of digital media and more. The course is taught at the introductory level, but it provides valuable information to build upon for those interested in computers and how they work. There is a hands-on component of the course in which students can experiment with basic computer code and get a feel for how a coding language works.

The course can be taken for free or there is a relatively low-cost paid alternative to earn a certificate of completion.

Learn more: Stanford Online: Intro to Computer Science

University of Michigan: Introduction to Computer Programming

UM offers an introductory course that focuses on the fundamental aspects of computer programming with Python. There is no prior programming experience needed to take the course. The course is self-paced and students can progress through the material in a comfortable manner. The course is aligned with the MOOC format.

The online course may be beneficial for high school students who are interested in computers, technology, and analytical thinking. The instructor, from the University of Michigan, shares information about what programming entails, how it works, fundamental aspects of the Python language, and the way to use basic code for a program. The course features a variety of exercises and assignments that reinforce the content.

The online course can be taken for free. There is an option to make a relatively low payment to receive a certificate of completion.

Learn more: UM Intro to Computer Programming

The Khan Academy – Advanced Placement Physics 1 Online Course

The Khan Academy offers a variety of courses in an online setting. This organization has been providing online resources for a while and more course options are being added each year. One of the course options is AP Physics 1, which provides instruction and resources that align with the College Board’s Advanced Placement Physics 1 curriculum. While the Khan Academy is not the same as other MOOCs, the course options are open to high school students.

The AP Physics 1 course includes videos, reading assignments, online exercises, and unit assessments. Students can check for their understanding of the material by completing the exercises and assessments throughout the course. There is also a forum where questions can be posted and answered. The course includes a broad range of topics such as circuits, waves, vectors, motion, momentum, energy, and more.

The course is offered to students for free. Students can proceed through the course at a pace that is comfortable for them. Prior to taking an online course, it is recommended that high school students review the information about AP Physics 1 and other advanced placement courses on the College Board’s site.

Learn more: KA AP Physics 1 Online Course

Marshall University Online Courses in High School

Marshall has a unique program that enables qualified high school students to take college-level courses online. The courses in the program are not a part of a MOOC. However, the program can provide high school students with a relatively low-cost way to learn about a topic and gain insight into the academic expectations at the college-level.

The online courses offered through Marshall can enable high school students to become more familiar with a subject of interest, prepare for further study in higher education, and extend their learning beyond the walls of a high school. However, it is not recommended to take courses for the sole reason of earning college credit. While the program indicates that some of the courses may be taken for credit, the credits may not be transferrable to another institution. It is important to note that it is up to each institution (e.g., a high school, a college) to determine whether transfer credits will be accepted.

Marshall’s online courses for high school students do provide qualified participants with an opportunity to learn about interesting and exciting topics. The summer online course options include topics such as psychology, business applications on the computer, meteorology, history, economics, and more. The courses are subject to change by the university.

There is an application for the program that includes several components. Admitted high school students can begin to forward with the registration. It is recommended that students contact the program office at the university to ask questions and obtain further information.

Learn more: Marshall’s Online College-Level Courses

University of Colorado

The University of Colorado system offers a range of free online courses. The courses are offered as MOOCs. There are courses offered for people who would like to learn more about topics such as astronomy, business, computer science, communications, education, engineering, health, leadership, psychology, and science.  

One online course that may be of interest to high school students falls under the category of health. The course, the Science of Exercise, provides students with interesting information regarding ways that the body reacts to exercise. The course helps students to integrate physiology, fitness, nutrition, performance training, well-being, more. The course includes videos, readings, and assessment activities.

Learn more: UC Online Health Course

University of Edinburgh Computer Programming Online Course

One of the benefits of online courses is the opportunity to tap into resources around the world. For example, the University of Edinburgh offers an online course in programming that can be taken by high school students with an interest in technology, computer science, web design, and computer engineering.

The course focuses on Scratch, which is a user-friendly language that can be used for programming. Students learn about utilize Scratch and begin to develop programs. Through the course, students can gain an understanding of the underlying principles that are involved with creating computer programming. The topics of the course include programming fundamentals, creating engaging effects, designing features of games, coding, and more.

The online course is relatively short. It includes readings, video learning, and assessments, such as online quizzes to ensure understanding.

As of the writing of this article, the course is offered at no cost. Students can pay a relatively low fee to receive a certificate upon the completion of the course.

Learn more: Intro to Computer Programming

Duke University

Duke University is committed to furthering the growth of society by delivering information to enhance knowledge. Through their online courses, instructors share their expertise in their content areas with students. Duke offers courses, in the MOOC format, in areas such as business, computer science, engineering, math, and science.

One of the courses is called Chimpanzee Behavior and Conservation. This course explores the findings from observations of chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania based on the work of Jane Goodall. Participants taking the course will learn about the behaviors of chimpanzees, including social behaviors, in their natural habitat. It is a goal of this course to enlighten others about the importance of protecting chimpanzees and learn about how the ecology is impacting them.

Learn More:  Chimpanzee Behavior and Conservation

Museum of Modern Art Online Fashion Design Course

MOMA offers a unique and fascinating online course designed to help students learn more about fashion design. High school students with an interest in fashion, clothing, and design may find this course to be appealing. Participants can gain significant foundational knowledge in the subject area.

The course includes a broad range of topics connected to fashion design and the fashion industry. The topics include marketing, manufacturing, historical aspects of the fashion industry, varying types of clothing, and much more. The course also examines fashion through different lenses, including economic, geographic, political, and more.

Through the course, students can become more familiar with the way in which fashion design functions in society and the process that is utilized by fashion designers to bring clothes and other items to market to be worn by people. The course includes videos, readings, and assessments. Students can check their understanding of the content through the assessments included with the units.

The course is offered online for free. There is an option to receive a certificate of completion for a relatively low fee.

Learn more: MOMA Fashion Design Course

Rochester Institute of Technology – The History of Video Game Design

RIT offers a free online course called Video Game Design History.  The course may be beneficial for students with an interest in designing video games.

In this course, students can learn about the 50 years of history associated with video game design and how this knowledge can impact the future of gaming. Through the course, high school students can enhance their knowledge about the way that video games have progressed, and gain information about path that video game design has followed over time.

The course has been developed by RIT in partnership with the Strong National Museum of Play. The online course is offered for free.  There is a relatively low fee associated with receiving a certificate of completion.

Learn More: Video Game Design History

Online Learning Resouces: The Past, Present, and Future of Cars

There is a unique set of online learning materials for students with an interest in cars. The learning materials are available through Open Culture and come from Stanford University.

The online videos and presentations about automobiles include information about the history of cars and how the human-centered design approach has influenced present and future car production. Students can also learn about how cars have been used in movies and interesting facts about driving psychology. 

The videos include presentations by a variety of experts. The lecturers share fascinating information about cars and include topics such as design, engineering, human-technology interaction, and cognitive science. The learning resources are available online at no cost.

Learn more:  Online Learning: Cars, Present, and Future


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Mike Uretsky

Mike has worked in the field of education as a teacher, school counselor, program coordinator, and consultant. As an educator, he has helped high school students find summer programs, pre-college programs, and colleges that align with their interests and goals. He has an interest in assisting students with the transition from high school to college. Mike is a manager for Student Education Programs, an online directory that is designed to connect high school students with valuable summer pre-college opportunities.

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Donna Andrews

Donna has worked in the field of education in a variety of positions. She has been a high school teacher, college academic skills coordinator, and university professor. She has helped students achieve success in summer STEM programs and sports programs. She has also coordinated and taught in pre-college programs for high school students.

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