6 Reasons to Avoid Free Online College Courses

6 Reasons to Avoid Free Online College Courses

Posted By Staff Writer on March 29, 2019

The internet has opened up countless possibilities, including many for students. There are now over 10,000 free college courses1 offered online through dozens of educational institutions. Anyone can access these classes, whether they are a registered student or not.

This sounds like a golden opportunity to take your education to the next level, increase your skills, and better yourself, right? But, is it too good to be true? Perhaps …

Like everything else in life, you tend to get what you pay for, and when it comes to free education, the same generally holds true. Let’s take a closer look at free online college courses. Are they worth your time and effort? Will they actually help you achieve your goals as a student? After reading this you’ll be able to judge for yourself.

1. Free Online Courses Aren’t Easy

A common mistake students make is assuming that just because a class is free, it must be a breeze to complete and pass. The truth is that almost half of the professors who lead these classes believe that the free version of the course is just as academically rigorous as their traditional classroom version.2

If that’s the case, then what you can actually expect from the class is a lot of reading, a lot of assignments, and a lot of your time taken up­­­—time that could be spent on many other more worthy pursuits.

Speaking of which …

2. Free Online Courses Don’t Give Any Credit

Unless you want to use your learning time just for learning’s sake, you’ll sadly be wasting your hard-earned time taking free classes. You won’t earn any college credit whatsoever, which means you can’t transfer them to a different school to go toward earning a higher degree. In the meantime, you could have been using your time more wisely earning college credits that are worth something and will actually get you somewhere.

Not only will other schools not recognize your efforts, but most likely, employers won’t either.

Why is this? The curriculum isn’t regulated and the teaching standards aren’t either. Another reason is that it’s all too easy to cheat when nothing you do is monitored. To push the point home, even 72% of professors who teach free online courses don’t feel like their students deserve formal credit for their work.2

So, what’s the point of taking a class and doing all the work without the recognition? There isn’t one.

3. You Won’t Get Any Instructor Support

If you are fine learning, studying, and submitting assignments all on your own, then a free class might work okay for you. But, if you’re like most students, you deserve to have an instructor around to motivate you and keep you interested. No present instructor means that if you ever have any questions or need help with anything, you’re pretty much on your own.

When professors were asked if they respond to 100% of their student’s emails, only 51% said that they do, but 13% said that they don’t respond to any of their student’s emails at all.2 This is pretty poor support by any standard. Could this be because 65% of instructors have never taught a fully online course before?

4. You Have Little Contact with Peers

On top of having little to no contact with your professor, the same will be true of your peers. Thousands of students will be enrolled in the same class as you, but there won’t be much of an opportunity for discussions, brainstorming sessions, or study groups. You won’t enjoy any friendly competition or boost in morale. Instead, you’ll be all on your own to figure out everything.


The point is, doing work without anyone on the other end to motivate you or to even receive it gives students very little payout for all their hard work.

5. You Won’t Gain Any Real Study Skills

Since you didn’t commit a financial investment into free online college courses, it’s hard to stay committed all the way to the end. Self-discipline inevitably wanes, and you’ll likely skip boring content or only give moderate effort at best. Without set guidelines and a sense of purpose, sticking to studying seems pointless. Procrastination sets in and eventually you just give up and quit the class.

6. Free Online Courses Are Boring

Especially these days when attention spans are short and we are always looking to be entertained and engaged, online classes are just plain boring. Most of them use very little entertainment and engagement and a lot more watching of long-form videos and reading pages and pages of straight text. None of the teaching is personalized to any one student but is instead offered in an assembly line sort of way. The teaching isn’t productive, which ultimately makes it dull.

The Good News

After learning all the cons of taking free online college courses, do you think it’s worth it to take up all of your already limited time to give significant effort to work through and pass a class that doesn’t give you any college credit or recognition from employers?

The good news is that online education has come a long way in recent years. Nontraditional students are finally getting the education they deserve while having the flexibility they need to be able to continue working and taking care of family needs.

While free online courses may not be the best option, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t online courses that offer the needed flexibility while still providing the best (and accredited!) education.

Independence University has a variety of online college courses in programs such as Healthcare, Business, Technology, and Graphic Arts. Each class taken is another step closer to earning your Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree in your chosen field. You won’t be wasting your time, but will instead be achieving your goals of furthering your education and qualifying for your dream career—in as few as 15 months.* While this path isn’t free, the payoff, in the end, could be worth it. Plus, financial aid available and you may even qualify for grants and scholarships.

If getting your degree is worth it to you, request more information about the online degree programs at Independence University today!

  1. https://oedb.org/open/
  2. https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Professors-Behind-the-MOOC/137905#id=results

*Typical completion time for a Master’s degree.