Taking basic science courses online is a great idea. Whether you’re in high school or in college, these courses can help you improve your understanding of scientific concepts.
And some of the best science courses are for credit. This means you might be able to transfer the credits you earn to your college of choice.
- Duke University Introduction to Chemistry
- University of Arizona Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space
- Tokyo Tech Intro to Deep Earth Science
Disclaimer: Some courses may include an affiliate link. Courses were chosen first based on the methodology with affiliate links only added after the ranking was complete.
But finding good courses to take requires more than searching for “science online courses free” or “online science courses for credit.”
Instead, it’s helpful to have more information so you can make a solid decision. After all, the best science courses for your needs may or may not be the first ones you find on Google.
With that in mind, we’ve developed a ranking of the 12 best basic online science courses. To determine our rankings, we evaluated the courses based on the following criteria:
- Academic Value
By looking at multiple criteria for each course, we’re able to provide you with a well-rounded ranking.
Let’s have a look at the method we used for ranking these courses.
Methodology to Determine the Best Basic Online Science Courses
Our three-part method of evaluating the best basic science online courses gives you a clearer picture of what a course has to offer.
While many students are most worried about the cost of a course, simply looking at the cost doesn’t tell you much about what the course has to offer.
However, by also looking at flexibility and academic value, you can see not only which courses are the most affordable, but you can also make a judgment call regarding which courses give you the learning experience and education you need.
Below is a short explanation of each of the three factors we use in our rankings.
There is no denying that getting an education can be very expensive. In some cases, online science courses might cost you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in tuition and fees.
There are ways around this, though.
Our rankings include a number of free online science courses. There are also some low-cost options to consider as well.
The tricky part with affordability is that it can be tempting to immediately push courses aside that aren’t free. While you need to take courses that are in your budget, it’s a mistake to not even consider a course just because you have to pay for it.
Paid courses often come with added benefits. They might have more learning materials for you to study with. They might come with tutoring or other resources. You might also get a certificate or earn college credit.
So, sometimes the benefits associated with a paid course are worth it.
This isn’t to say that free courses don’t have a lot to offer. There are some excellent free courses in our rankings. But just know that it’s less likely for free courses to have benefits like college credit.
We ranked this factor as follows. As you can see, courses that are less expensive earn more points to reflect the desire of many students to save money.
- Free: 5 points
- Under $100: 4 points
- $101-$200: 3 points
- $201 – $300: 2 points
- $301 and above: 1 point
By and large, online science courses are pretty flexible. That’s just the nature of online studies.
However, some courses are less flexible than others. For example, some online science courses offered by colleges or universities adhere to a traditional semester or quarter schedule. There are specific start and end dates. There are also specific assignment due dates.
On the other hand, some of the courses in our ranking are completely self-paced. This means you can take as little or as much time as you’d like to finish the class. Obviously, this gives you much more flexibility to fit the class in your schedule.
Other flexibility features we looked for are the ability to reset deadlines, the number and frequency of required meeting times, and whether students can get an extension to complete the course, if needed.
This factor is scored as follows:
- High flexibility: 2 points
- Moderate flexibility: 1 point
Courses that have below-average flexibility were not considered for these rankings.
The final factor we used to evaluate online science courses is what we call academic value.
We use this term to describe what educational benefits you might get out of the class.
For example, if a course is offered for college credit, it has more academic value. Other features we considered are:
- Will the course fulfill education requirements for a degree?
- Is the course from an accredited institution?
- The number and type of learning materials
Taking all these features into account, we scored this factor as follows:
- High academic value: 2 points
- Average academic value: 1 point
Again, courses that have below-average academic value were not included in our rankings.
Ranking the Best Basic Online Science Courses
#12: Principles of Environmental Science
This undergraduate course is offered by the University of Phoenix. This basic online science course is worth three credits. Since the University of Phoenix is regionally accredited, the credits you earn are likely to transfer to other colleges or universities.
Since this is a survey course, you’ll explore many different topics in environmental science. This includes:
- Environmental problems
- The relationship between humans and the environment
- Minerals, land, and other natural resources
This course also explores solutions to key environmental problems. This includes global warming, food shortages, and maintaining clean waterways.
Since this is a basic undergraduate course, there are no prerequisites to take it. However, you might have to satisfy certain admissions requirements with the University in order to take the class.
Affordability: Approximately $1,364.
Flexibility: Moderate. This course has specific start and end times. Participation in course activities is required. The course is available completely online. All learning materials are easily accessed anytime online as well.
Academic Value: High. This course is worth three undergraduate credits. The University of Phoenix is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
#11: Geol 101: Introduction to Geology
This basic online science course is from the University of North Dakota. It focuses on introducing you to essential topics in the study of geology.
The course begins with an introduction to physical geology. This includes a discussion of matter and minerals. You’ll also learn about igneous rocks and volcanic activity.
From there, you’ll study topics related to:
- Sedimentary rocks
- Metamorphic rocks
You’ll study glaciers, earthquakes, and plate tectonics as well.
This course includes 14 lessons and three proctored exams. You have as little as three months to complete the class or up to nine months if needed.
Each lesson in this class has multiple materials to help you learn. This includes an overview, readings, key vocabularies, and practice quizzes.
Affordability: Approximately $1,067.55.
Flexibility: High. This course is self-paced. You can enroll anytime – there are no specific start dates.
Academic Value: High. This course is worth three undergraduate credits. The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
#10: Introduction to Chemistry: Reactions and Ratios
This introductory course was developed by the faculty at Duke University. It is available online from Coursera.
This basic online science course was specifically designed with students with limited chemistry knowledge in mind. It begins with very basic concepts of chemistry and advances through a wide range of beginner topics. These topics include:
- The Periodic Table
- Chemical problem solving
- Chemical reactions
- Periodic trends
By the course’s end, you’ll have a solid understanding of these and other basic chemistry concepts. This will allow you to further your studies in this field with a greater level of knowledge and confidence.
Affordability: Free to enroll. A fee (usually around $50) might be required. Other costs are involved if you participate in a specialization (usually $39-$79 per month). Learn more about Coursera pricing. This is scored as a paid course.
Flexibility: High flexibility. You can begin this course instantly upon enrollment. Deadlines are flexible. Work at your own pace until you finish the course.
Academic Value: Average. This course is not available for credit. However, it gives students that do not have much experience in chemistry a good foundation of understanding. Additionally, the course was developed by the faculty at Duke University, one of the top universities in the nation.
#9: Astronomy: Exploring Time and Space
This astronomy course was developed by the University of Arizona. It is available online on Coursera.
This course was designed for beginner students that have no background in astronomy. The course begins with a study of the science and history of astronomy. From there, you’ll complete nine modules, each on separate topics. Some of these topics include:
- The tools of astronomy
- Matter and radiation
- The solar system
You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the life and death cycle of stars. There is a unit on the galaxies and another unit on the universe as well.
This well-reviewed course is rather lengthy. It will require more than 40 hours of work to complete. However, this means the course is thorough and has good academic value.
Affordability: Free to enroll. A fee (usually around $50) might be required. Other costs are involved if you participate in a specialization (usually $39-$79 per month). Learn more about Coursera pricing. This is scored as a paid course.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This course was designed specifically for online studies. It is a self-paced course. You can begin as soon as you enroll and take as long as you like to finish.
Academic Value: Average. This is a good introductory course to astronomy. The knowledge you gain in this class will help you be more successful in advanced astronomy courses. It is not available for credit, which is why this is ranked as an average academic value.
#8: Easy Anatomy and Physiology
This beginner course from Udemy offers an overview of many of the topics in a traditional anatomy and physiology course.
If you need a quick refresher after taking another anatomy and physiology course, this will do the trick. Likewise, if you want a brief introduction, you should find this course helpful.
Some of the topics included in this course are:
- Anatomical structures in the body
- Systems of the human body
You’ll learn about these subjects with animated videos and an eBook for the course. Each section of the course also includes a quiz to test what you’ve learned.
Upon successful completion of this class, you will get a certificate. College credit is not available, though.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This is a self-paced course. You get full lifetime access. The course is available online and on TV as well.
Academic Value: Average. This is an ideal course for students that have no background in anatomy or physiology. It is not available for credit. However, you will learn the fundamentals you need to be successful in other science courses.
#7: Organic Chemistry
Organic chemistry is considered to be one of the most difficult college courses you can take. But this basic course will help you understand some of the most essential topics in this field.
You’ll learn about modern theories of organic chemistry. This includes the development of modern theories and their basis in experimental observation.
Likewise, you’ll complete assignments related to:
- Physical properties of organic compounds
- Orbital theories
Taking this course should require a fairly minimal amount of time input. Most students complete it in about 15 hours. It should be noted that it’s helpful to have taken basic organic chemistry or a high school organic chemistry course before enrolling in this one.
Flexibility: High flexibility. Begin the course whenever you like. Since it’s self-paced, you can take as long as you want to finish. You get lifetime access to this course. You can also access course materials on a variety of devices.
Academic Value: Average. This course is not offered for credit. However, it is a nice introduction to one of the most difficult studies in science. This beginner course will help clarify some of the complex topics of organic chemistry.
#6: Introduction to Deep Earth Science
This free basic science course was designed by Tokyo Tech and is offered online by edX. It focuses on what lies far beneath our feet deep in the recesses of Earth.
There are some essential questions this course seeks to answer. This includes:
- What is happening deep inside Earth?
- How has Earth evolved into its present state?
- What is the chemical composition inside Earth?
Additionally, you’ll explore the relationship between Earth and water. Specifically, you’ll discuss the fate of water on early Earth.
By the time you complete this course, you will understand how scientists use research and inferences to predict what’s happening deep in the Earth’s core.
Since this is an introductory course, you don’t need to fulfill any prerequisites. You don’t even need prior scientific studies.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This course is self-paced. There are no set meeting times. You can also begin the course at any time.
Academic Value: Average. This is a great introductory course to earth science. It utilizes different types of learning materials, including videos, transcripts, and research questions. However, the course is not offered for credit.
#5: University Chemistry: Molecular Foundations and Global Frontiers Part 1
This free beginner course in chemistry was developed by Harvard University and is available on edX. It is an extensive course. Most students will need about 24 weeks to finish it.
Because it’s a robust course, it has good value. There is much to learn about the physical sciences in this course.
Specific topics you’ll discuss include:
- The fundamentals of energy
- Basic concepts of energy and energy transformation
- How chemistry can be used to address global challenges
Other topics of study include thermodynamics, electrochemistry, and chemical equilibria.
While this is an introductory course, you must have completed high school algebra before enrolling. A familiarity with basic calculus is recommended but not required.
Flexibility: High flexibility. You can work at your own pace. There are no deadlines either.
Academic Value: Average. This is an excellent foundational course for further studies in chemistry. It goes deep into chemistry concepts. Even though it isn’t offered for credit, it can help you develop a better understanding of basic principles of physical sciences.
#4: Cell Biology: Mitochondria
This beginner-level course is offered by edX. It was developed by Harvard University faculty.
In this course, you’ll explore the functions of cells. You’ll examine their components, how those parts are organized, and come to an understanding of cell hierarchy too.
Other topics in this free basic science online course include:
- Cell metabolism
Your studies will be human-centered. That is, you’ll focus on learning about human cells rather than cells of other living organisms.
Since this is a beginner course, there are no prerequisites. You should be able to complete the class in about a month’s time. This is assuming you study about 2-3 hours per week.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This is an untimed course. Work at your own pace. The course is short as well, giving you more flexibility for completing it.
Academic Value: Average. As a Harvard course, the academic value is quite high. It is not offered for credit. However, this is a nice introduction to cell biology, which will be useful for taking other biology courses in the future.
#3: Fundamentals of Biology
The free course in the basics of biology is available from Alison. It is a short course that you can complete in a single sitting if so desired.
Biology is the study of living things. In this online science course, you’ll look at features of life such as:
- Population distribution
- Physical structures
You’ll also explore topics related to the origin of species and the growth patterns of different living organisms.
If you intend to take other biology courses in the future, this course is a good option for getting a head start. You will not study any topics in depth. However, the basic understanding you get from this course will be valuable for future courses.
Flexibility: High flexibility. You can begin this course at any time. It is self-paced. It is a very short course – just a few hours worth of studying.
Academic Value: Average. This course is basic, yet gives you good information for additional studies in biology. Credit is not offered through Alison.
#2: Chemistry Library
This free science course from Khan Academy includes a vast library of learning materials. There are many study materials for novice chemistry students. There are also many intermediate and advanced materials available to continue your learning.
This library of resources is organized into nearly two dozen modules. This includes:
- Newton’s laws of motion
- Electric charge
Each module has a variety of video tutorials and quizzes to help gauge your learning. There is even a unit on studying for the AP Chemistry exam.
If you need a little refresher in chemistry before taking a high school or college class, this is a great place to start.
Flexibility: High flexibility. The learning materials in this course are available online 24/7. Study when you want and at your own pace. There are many different course modules you can choose from as well. This allows you to study only topics you need or want to study.
Academic Value: Average. This course is not available for credit. It doesn’t fulfill general education requirements either. However, there is a wealth of information to study. There are dozens of course modules to explore. The information in these modules lays a solid foundation for taking more complex physics courses.
#1: Introduction to Biology
This free online course is available through the Open Learning Initiative from Carnegie Mellon University. It is a basic biology course that is typically offered for undergraduate students.
This course begins with a broad study of common themes in biology. From there, you’ll get into more specific topics, including:
- Biological chemistry
- Cell theory
Other units of study hit on topics related to genetics, ecology, and evolution.
This science class was developed as part of Carnegie Mellon’s community college series. As such, the course was designed for introducing new college students to the field of biology.
Flexibility: High flexibility. This course is independent study. You can access the course any time. You can take as long as you need to finish the course as well.
Academic Value: Average. Carnegie Mellon University is one of the top schools in the nation. This course is very well designed and thought out. Credit is not available. But it is a good preparation for studying biology more thoroughly.
Frequently Asked Questions
What science online courses can you take for credit?
There is virtually no limit to the science courses that you can take online. This is true whether you want to take a beginner, intermediate, or advanced science class.
The majority of the online sciences courses you can take are beginner level. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that advanced scientific studies often require laboratory work. That kind of work is difficult to do online.
So, when you’re looking for basic science courses online, you’ll easily find introductory classes in:
- Life sciences
- Earth Science
- Physical science
- Environmental science
In addition to these courses, there are many others that can be taken for credit online. Psychology is a popular social science course for students to take online. Nutrition is another basic science course you might take for credit online.
In some cases, you might be able to take online science courses for credit in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and neuroscience, to name a few.
Regardless of the course you want to take, be sure you double and triple-check to ensure it is actually a for-credit course. Remember that college credits aren’t always transferable. So even if the course earns you credit, it might only be recognized at the school that offers the course, or a select few schools.
To improve the chances of a course counting for credit, the school that offers the course should be regionally accredited. There are many different organizations that accredit colleges and universities. Each is a little different, but they are tasked with the same job. That job is to outline what’s necessary for schools to do to remain accredited. Part of that process is to prove the worthiness of curricula.
Some schools are nationally accredited. National accreditation is not as widely recognized as regional accreditation. For this reason, you should consult with your school before you take a class to ensure that the credits will count if they come from a nationally accredited school.
Of course, if you’re auditing a course or simply taking basic science courses for your own personal benefit, accreditation is not an issue that you have to worry about.
Can you get credit for free online science courses?
If you Google “science online courses free,” you’ll find that there are many different options. While free courses are a great way to learn more about science, it is not typical for free online science courses to earn credit.
Instead, the majority of online science courses for credit are offered by colleges and universities that require tuition and fee payments to take the course. Many of the best science courses are therefore far from free. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
First, there are many affordable online science courses for credit. You can find three-credit and four-credit online science courses for a few hundred dollars and many colleges and universities. While several hundred dollars is a significant amount of money, it is far less than the thousands of dollars you might spend on some online science courses.
Second, some colleges and universities might accept free courses for credit in some situations. For example, there are some online science courses offered by major universities online for free. If you take a free course and then attend that university, you might be granted credit for the free course. This is not a given, though. It is important to investigate whether this is possible before taking a free course.
Third, if you’re in high school, you can take Advanced Placement courses for college credit for free. AP courses can be taken at your high school or online. To get credit for the course, you must successfully pass the course’s exam. Though most colleges and universities accept AP courses for college credit, in some cases, those credits are not accepted. Again, be sure you speak with your college or university about their policies regarding accepting AP credit.
What is a self-paced science course?
A self-paced science course does not have a set timetable for completion. This means that you can work on it as quickly or as slowly as you like.
Self-paced courses are beneficial for students that have busy schedules. For example, if you go to school during the day and work at night, a self-paced course might be a good way to expand your studies in your free time.
It is worthy to note that in some cases, self-paced courses do have a time restriction. Instead of requiring you to complete tasks on a particular schedule, some courses might give you a timeframe to complete the class.
For example, you might enroll in a self-paced course that gives you six months to finish the class. Within that six months, you can complete course requirements at your leisure. In some instances, you might be able to get an extension to complete the class. However, this often comes with a cost. You might have to pay an additional fee to continue to get access.
Many online science courses are self-paced. This is just one reason why studying online is so attractive for many students.
Many other online science courses are instructor-paced. This means that it operates more like an in-person class. There are assignment due dates, specific test dates, and specific start and end dates for the course. Some courses might have all of these requirements. Others might have one or two.
When looking at online science courses, be sure you understand if the course is self-paced or instructor-paced. It could make a big difference in your ability to successfully complete the course.
What are the easiest science courses?
There are definitely some science courses that are easier than others. However, don’t get trapped in the idea that any science course is going to be easy.
The ease of a course depends less on the course content or structure and more on your input as a student. The more you study, the easier the course will be. The more questions you ask, the easier the course will be. The more committed you are to learning, the easier the course will be.
All that said, we can still identify some basic science courses that are easier to understand than others.
Geology – Geology is the study of the processes that shape Earth. You’ll learn about volcanic activity. You’ll also learn about earthquakes. This course is a good option for non-science majors in college. It’s also a good option for high school students with an interest in the physical processes that impact the planet.
Astronomy – This course explores the bodies in space around Earth. You’ll learn about basic concepts related to the composition of the universe. There is usually a focus on historical astronomy and the creation of the universe. There is also a focus on the solar system, the sun, and starts.
Ecology – If you want to take online science courses for credit, ecology is a good option. You can often find this course offered by many different colleges online. It is the study of agriculture. You’ll learn about environmental quality. You’ll also learn about the use of non-renewable resources.
Animal Behavior – This introductory course explores why animals behave in the way they do. It is a mix of biology and life sciences. This means you’ll study things like reproduction, communication, and social behavior.
Psychology – Though psychology is not a physical or biological science, it is still considered by many to be a critical social science course for high school and college students to take. Psychology is the study of human behavior. You’ll learn about the history of psychology. You’ll also learn basic theories of psychology that seek to explain why humans behave the way they do.
What are the hardest online science courses?
As noted in the previous question and answer, your commitment to your studies is what will have the greatest impact on how easy a course is. The same applies to courses that are difficult as well.
However, some science courses are simply more difficult than others. This is even true of introductory courses. Below is a list of some of the best science courses, but which might be more difficult than others.
Organic Chemistry – This is often cited as the hardest college course there is. Organic chemistry covers extremely complex topics. It requires that you understand how molecules react. You must also understand how to combine molecular building blocks. It is a course required for many college majors, including pre-med.
Physics – Physics is the study of concepts like heat, light, sound, and electricity. Physics courses are difficult because they dive into mechanics, magnetism, and the history of physics. Many students make this course more difficult on themselves by focusing too much on getting a correct answer, rather than learning the processes of studying physics.
Quantum Physics – What makes this far from the basic science courses is that quantum physics is a very abstract field. It also requires a great deal of complex math. Before you take this class, you should have taken multivariate calculus and linear algebra.
Anatomy and Physiology – This course is commonly required for many health professions. It requires a lot of memorization, which is part of what makes it so difficult. The terms of anatomy are difficult and the complex functions of the human body can be hard to understand, too.
Thermodynamics – Like anatomy and physiology, thermodynamics also requires a lot of memorization. This course is the study of physical processes related to mechanical action and heat. This is not a class for the faint of heart. It is also not among the basic sciences courses. It is considered to be very, very difficult.
What online science courses should I take if I want to go to college?
The best science courses for you to take if you’re going to college depends on your degree program. Obviously, if you intend to major in a field of science, you should take as many high school science courses as you can. But if you intend to major in a non-science field, the short-list of basic science courses you should take prior to college is fairly short.
Generally speaking, non-science majors will be just fine taking the required science courses in high school. For many high schools, this means taking the following classes:
- Earth and space science
- Physical Science
Other options you might consider taking are advanced courses, like Advanced Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Physics.
If your school offers Advanced Placement or Dual-Credit courses, it would be beneficial for you to take as many science courses as you can. Not only do these courses earn you college credit, thereby reducing how much money you have to pay for college, but they are also advanced classes. This means you’ll enter college with a greater level of science preparation than most.
What basic science courses will count towards general education requirements in college?
Though the general education requirements for a degree varies from one degree and one school to the next, there are some basic science courses that all college students will need to take.
As mentioned in the previous question and answer, you might have already fulfilled some of the science requirements of your degree if you took Advanced Placement or Dual-Credit courses in high school. If you didn’t, the best science courses for you to take are the introductory science courses offered by your college or university.
Typically, colleges and universities require anywhere from nine to twelve credits of science for non-science majors. One or more of those courses likely has a lab requirement as well. For this reason, courses in the following list are among the most popular for fulfilling the general education and lab science requirements for most degrees:
- Environmental Science
More advanced courses in biochemistry, physics, anatomy, and physiology are also options for fulfilling general science requirements.
Just be sure that you consult with your academic advisor so you’re sure what science courses you can use to fulfill graduation requirements. You don’t want to spend your time, money, and energy taking a course that doesn’t help you get closer to graduation.