Are you a high schooler wanting to get ahead with college credits? Are you an older college student wanting to make up ground? Are you somewhere in between? No matter the situation, you can earn college credit online.
There is a lot of variety of online college courses for credit. You can take all levels of math or science. If you need social studies credits, there are many different options. From languages to business, remedial classes to advanced, there is no end to the types of online college courses you can take.
- College Algebra
- Google IT Support Professional Certificate
- University of Illinois Master of Business Administration
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.
You can also take courses at various levels. For example, you can take undergraduate courses to apply towards a bachelor’s degree. You can also take graduate courses online to count towards a master’s degree. You can even take online courses for doctoral programs.
To earn college credit online, you have to know what to look for. There are many online college courses, but not all of them offer the same value.
Below, we’ve ranked 15 of the best online courses for college credit. To simplify things, we’ve focused on undergraduate courses. More specifically, we’ve provided rankings for the best general education courses.
We’ve done this because it would be impossible to provide a detailed list of the best online courses for each major. Additionally, most online learners need undergraduate credits, not graduate or postgraduate credits.
General education courses have the widest applicability too. Everyone has to take them no matter their degree program.
The courses included in this ranking were selected based on a specific methodology we devised. Let’s take a look at how we determined the rankings for these classes.
Methodology to Determine the Best Online Courses for College Credit
Deciding what online college classes to take is an important process. You want a lot of information to help you make your decision.
Our rankings include multiple measures so you can determine the value of each class.
To create these rankings, we’ve evaluated each course on the following criteria:
The purpose of using multiple criteria is to develop a course profile. This gives you better details so you can select the best course for you.
Many students place the most importance on affordability. But just because a class is the least expensive doesn’t mean it’s the best one.
For example, let’s say you’re deciding between Course A and Course B. Course A is cheaper but is offered by a college that isn’t accredited. Course B is more expensive, but the credits come from an accredited school.
As we’ll discuss in more detail below, this is important. Without accreditation, the credits you earn may not transfer to another college.
Flexibility is another important factor. After all, if a class has many deadlines that you can’t meet, it’s not a very good fit for you!
So, it’s important to examine a course from multiple points of view. That’s where these rankings come in.
More specific details about our methodology are provided below.
College courses are not cheap. Because of this, how much a course costs is used as a major part of our rankings.
While there are many free online college courses, most of them are not offered for credit. This is often the case with MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses.
This means that if you take online courses for transfer credit, you are likely going to have to pay to take the class. The question is, how much will you have to pay?
As you’ll see in the rankings below, the cost of an online course varies a lot. Since money is the biggest concern of most college students, we’ve given it the most importance.
The affordability ranking for each class is determined as follows:
- Under $500: 6 points
- $501-$750: 5 points
- $751-$1,000: 4 points
- $1,001-$1,250: 3 points
- $1,251-$1,500: 2 points
- $1,501 and above: 1 point
As mentioned above, if a college is accredited, the course you take will be much more likely to transfer to another school. This is especially true if the course you’re transferring is to another school in the same geographic area.
This is because accrediting agencies are based on region. So, if you take a class for credit at the University of Wyoming, the chances that those credits will transfer to the University of Colorado at Boulder are high.
Credits from an accredited school are more likely to transfer because accreditation sets high standards for education.
This means that if a class is coming from an accredited college, the things you’ve learned are similar to the school to which you want the credits to transfer. Furthermore, accreditation ensures that the same classes taught at different schools meet similar levels of academic rigor.
This is scored as follows:
- The school is accredited: 1 point
- No accreditation: 0 points
The final part of our rankings is flexibility.
The value of online learning is that courses are often much easier to take than those on campus. In many cases, there are no set class times, so you can do your studies when it works for you.
But this is not true of all online college courses for credit.
For example, some online college courses require you to participate in group chats. Others have video conference calls at set times. Other online college courses for credit have due dates that require you to complete assignments according to a set schedule.
Many students take online courses in large part to the ease of learning on their own schedule. Because of this, we’ve ranked each of the courses below in terms of its flexibility:
- Highly flexible: 2 points
- Moderate flexibility: 1 point
- Low flexibility: 0 points
Now that you have a better understanding of how we’ve ranked the best courses for college credit, let’s take a closer look at each of the classes.
Ranking the Best Online Courses for College Credit
#13: General Chemistry
Another commonly-required science course for undergraduates is chemistry. This introduction to chemistry course is provided online by Oregon State University.
Oregon State operates on a quarter-based system. This class is worth five quarter credits. If you attend a school that is on a semester-based system, the credits will still likely transfer. You’ll need to work with your academic advisor to determine if and how quarter-based credits will apply toward your degree.
In this class, you’ll learn the basics of chemistry, including:
- Properties of solids, liquids, and gasses
- Chemical bonding
- Atomic structures
Additionally, you can expect to learn about acids, bases, and molecular structure.
This online course for college credit is designed for non-science majors. No prior experience with chemistry is required. However, you should understand algebra, logarithms, and scientific notation to succeed in this class.
Accreditation: Oregon State is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
Flexibility: Low. This is a traditional instructor-paced course. There are many deadlines and proctored exams that must be taken at specific times.
#12: An Introduction to Philosophy
This is a basic course often required of most college majors. It is offered by Empire State College. It’s a four-credit class.
Philosophy is the study of knowledge. More specifically, it is the study of the nature of knowledge. Philosophers ask important questions, such as:
- What is reality?
- What does it mean to exist?
- Is there a God?
Philosophy involves a lot of theory and informed argument. You study both concrete and abstract topics. You also explore how different ideas are interconnected.
Since this class is offered by an accredited school, the credits are likely to transfer. However, not all schools offer philosophy for four credit hours. If transferring, it might only be worth three credits.
Affordability: In-state: $624. Out-of-state: $1,251. This course is scored based on out-of-state tuition.
Accreditation: Empire State College is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Flexibility: Low. This is a traditional instructor-paced course. There are multiple deadlines for assignments and exams that must be met.
#11: Religions of the World
This introductory course on religions can be counted as a history course or a humanities course. It is three credits and offered by the University of Missouri. This class will transfer to other in-state schools, and it will also likely transfer to out-of-state schools.
In this class for college credit, you learn about different religions. This includes:
You’ll study the different beliefs of these religions. You’ll also study rituals, practices, and myths.
This is a self-paced online class. You have to complete 11 lessons and take two proctored exams.
Affordability: In-state: $897. Out-of-state: $2,699.10. This course is scored based on out-of-state tuition.
Accreditation: The University of Missouri is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: High. The course is self-paced and completely online.
#10: Elementary Spanish I
Most college majors require at least 3-6 credits of world languages. If you didn’t take world languages in high school, a good place to start is a beginner course like this one.
This elementary Spanish class is offered by the University of Maryland Global Campus. The class assumes you have little to no understanding of Spanish.
The objectives of this course include:
- Learning to speak basic Spanish
- Learning to listen for understanding
- Learning to read basic Spanish
- Learning to write basic Spanish
These objectives are achieved through projects. There are real-life interactions in this class too. All activities are done in culturally appropriate ways.
You can earn three credits for this course. The credits should transfer to your school. It’s best to check before you enroll though.
Accreditation: The University of Maryland Global Campus is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Flexibility: Moderate. This class is 100 percent online. It is instructor-paced. There are assignments and quizzes with specific due dates. This limits your flexibility somewhat.
#9: Physical Geology
Geology courses are commonly used to meet natural sciences credits. This three-credit course is offered by the University of Phoenix. Credits from this school usually transfer. Make sure your school accepts credits from the University of Phoenix before taking this class.
Physical geology is the study of Earth. You’ll learn about the processes that shaped Earth in the past. You’ll also learn how the planet is changing today.
Additional topics include:
- Plate tectonics
- Rocks and minerals
A discussion of Earth’s resources and how they’re used is also included.
Accreditation: The University of Phoenix is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Flexibility: Low. This is an accelerated course. It must be completed in five weeks.
#8: PSY 101 – General Psychology I
A basic psychology course is usually required to graduate. This one is offered by Colorado Community Colleges Online. It is three credits. Credits will transfer to other colleges in Colorado. Transfer to out-of-state schools is also likely.
General psychology focuses on the development of psychology. You also learn about human behavior. This includes a study of:
You’ll also learn about sensation, memory, and principles of learning. A study of abnormal psychology is included as well.
This online course for college credit is offered multiple times each semester. This makes it easier to take a class when it’s easiest for you.
Affordability: In-state: $1,071.60. Out-of-state: $1,203.75. This course is scored based on out-of-state tuition.
Accreditation: The member colleges of the Colorado Community College Online consortium are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: Low. This is a traditional instructor-paced course. There are multiple deadlines for assignments and exams that must be met.
#7: Introduction to the Arts
This three-credit course is provided by Macomb Community College. Macomb is based in Warren, Michigan, but this class is offered online.
Most college majors require arts and humanities courses. They are part of the general education requirements. This beginner art class may fulfill art or humanity credits at other schools. Be sure to check if credits will transfer before enrolling.
If you take this class, you will learn about:
- The history of the arts
- Artistic expression
- How art and culture are related
You’ll get to explore these topics as they relate to painting, architecture, sculpture, and music.
This top class for college credit is offered several times a year. If you are too late to register for one class, another will be available soon.
Affordability: In-district: $594. Out-of-district: $895. Out-of-state: $1,110. This course is scored based on out-of-state tuition.
Accreditation: Macomb Community College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: Moderate. This is an instructor-paced course. It runs during specific dates, though multiple offerings are available each academic year.
Courses in economics are often required for most majors. Some majors require multiple classes of this type.
This course from Central Wyoming College can fulfill graduation requirements for economics or business. It is a three-credit class. Before enrolling, verify if credits from this college will transfer to your college.
Macroeconomics is the study of economic systems. You’ll learn about the tools economists use too. This includes how to calculate demand and supply.
Other topics of study in this course for college credit include:
- Gross Domestic Product
This class also looks at monetary policies. In particular, you’ll learn how certain policies promote stability in the economy.
Having computer skills is necessary. Basic math skills are also required.
Affordability: In-state: $420. Out-of-state: $1,014. This course is scored based on out-of-state tuition.
Accreditation: Central Wyoming College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: Moderate. This class is completely online, but it is instructor paced. It runs during specific dates, though multiple offerings are available each academic year.
#5: Composition II: Writing for Public Audiences
English Composition II is a follow-up to English Composition I. This course is offered by the University of North Dakota. You will learn more specific writing skills. This includes how to write texts for specific audiences.
This is a project-based class. You will research specific topics. You will also write different kinds of texts. This includes letters, emails, and editorials. You will be asked to do research too. You’ll use primary and secondary sources to become more informed about a lot of issues.
Additionally, you’ll learn how to:
- Compose a variety of texts
- Read different types of materials
- Use different tones, voices, and structures
- Adapt your compositional approach to varying technologies
This course helps build the skills needed for communicating effectively in work situations. These skills can also be applied when writing in social situations.
This is a self-paced course. It’s recommended that you complete it within three to nine months of enrolling. The course must be completed within the nine-month timeframe.
If you will need to transfer these credits, check with your school before enrolling.
Accreditation: The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: High. This class is completely online and is self-paced (with a nine-month completion limit).
#4: English 110: College Composition I
English Composition I is a standard requirement. All students must take it, no matter their major. This course from the University of North Dakota is an introduction to writing techniques. This class also focuses on improving reading skills.
To achieve these goals, you will be asked to:
- Read a variety of books
- Develop reading and writing strategies
- Develop an understanding of language structures
This course also requires you to create a writing project. This project includes writing multiple draft copies. You must also take feedback on your writing to create an improved final product.
This is a self-paced class. However, you must complete it within nine months of enrollment to receive credit. Consult with your school of choice to ensure these credits will transfer.
Accreditation: The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: High. This class is completely online, and is self-paced (with a nine-month completion limit).
#3: Math 114: Trigonometry
Offered by the University of Illinois, this online trigonometry class is worth two credits. In most cases, these credits will transfer. Check with your school before you enroll to find out if this course is eligible to transfer.
Trigonometry is a more advanced course than college algebra. It focuses on learning about angles and dimensions of triangles.
In this top class for college credit, you’ll learn how to use trigonometric functions, such as:
These functions are used to determine the angle of a triangle’s sides. They can also be used to establish the distance between specific points on a triangle.
Having the ability to perform these functions is important for many different careers. Jobs in math, science, and engineering, in particular, require mastery of trigonometry.
This is a self-paced course. However, there is a 16-week timeline to complete it once you enroll. You must pass a final exam to receive credit. The exam must be proctored. You’re also assigned an individual mentor to assist you throughout the class.
Affordability: $818 (for undergraduate students). $964 (for graduate students). A $78 fee also applies for required courseware. This course is scored based on undergraduate tuition.
Accreditation: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: High. This course is self-paced. All materials can be accessed online.
#2: Introduction to Biology
This beginner class is offered by Penn Foster College. You can earn three college credits. Those credits might transfer to other colleges. Check with your college to make sure they accept credits from Penn Foster before you enroll.
Introduction to biology explores many topics related to human and animal life. This includes cell structure and molecules. You’ll also learn about plant anatomy. Natural selection and evolution are also topics of study.
You can also expect to learn about the following topics:
- Major plant groups
- The scientific method
- Types of animal tissues
This class is taught 100 percent online. You can either use a printed textbook or an ebook, whichever is your preference.
Accreditation: Penn Foster College is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
Flexibility: Moderate. This course is self-paced. However, there are many assignments. There are also many quizzes. The final exam is proctored, so it must be taken at a specific time.
#1: College Algebra and Problem Solving
This class is offered by Arizona State University (ASU) and edX. It is eligible for three credits through ASU. These credits may transfer to other schools. It is recommended that you check with your college of choice to find out if these credits will transfer.
College-level math is required for most majors. This best course for college credit focuses on the basics of algebra. It will help prepare you for future math courses. This includes calculus.
You can expect to learn about the following in this class:
- Rational functions
- Linear equations
- Problem-solving techniques
This is an adaptive course. This means that you can work on mastering one concept before moving to the next one. You can also get individual coaching as you work through the class.
Affordability: Free, but a $49 fee applies for a certificate. You must opt for the certificate for the course to count for credit. This course is scored as a fee-based class.
Accreditation: Arizona State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Flexibility: High. This course is self-paced. There is individual coaching throughout the course as well.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I take one college course at a time?
Absolutely! Most colleges and universities allow you to take a single course, though this is not typical.
If you’re a traditional college-aged student, it’s more likely that you’ll take three or more courses each semester. But if you’re just getting your feet wet, taking a single class is a great idea. It’s a good plan if you’re just taking an occasional course for self-improvement. Additionally, if you’re a non-traditional student (i.e., a retiree taking classes), taking a single class at a time is perfectly acceptable.
It’s important to note that some financial aid requires that you take a certain number of classes. For example, you might get a scholarship that requires you to be a full-time student. For undergraduate students, this means taking 12 credit hours a semester.
Also, be aware that taking one college course at a time means it will take much longer to complete a degree. For example, completing an associate’s degree usually takes two years. That timeframe is if you attend school full-time, though. If you take one or two classes at a time, it could add years to the timeline for graduation.
However, you need to go to school as it fits your schedule. Taking fewer classes, but having time for them is a better situation than taking too many classes and struggling to keep up.
Can I earn college credit for free?
Yes, there are many ways you can earn college credit for free.
One of the most common ways to earn college credit for free is to take Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) courses in high school. These are college-level courses that count for credit provided you pass the course exams with a satisfactory score.
Some high schools also have what’s called dual credit classes. These courses are not AP or IB, but are normal college classes. In some cases, they are taught directly at the high school. In other cases, high school students go to the college for part of their school day to attend classes. In either case, college credit can be earned for little or no money.
Another option for earning college credit for free is to participate in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).
This program includes courses in Algebra, Economics, and Sociology, to name a few. Like the AP and IB programs mentioned earlier, the CLEP program has an examination component. These exams, which are overseen by the College Board, can lead to college credit, provided you get a good enough score. At the time of writing, nearly 3,000 colleges and universities in the United States accept CLEP scores for college credit.
A more traditional way of earning free college credit is to get scholarships. Scholarships are provided based on academic performance, financial need, or both.
What’s more, there are scholarships for specific majors (i.e., math or science). There are scholarships for specific students, too (i.e., women and minorities). Also, in some states, high school students that meet academic criteria can earn a full-ride scholarship to an in-state college.
If you serve in the military, the GI Bill will pay for in-state tuition and fees. It also provides a monthly housing allowance. You get money to pay for books and other supplies too. The GI Bill has enabled many students to pay for their education who would otherwise not be able to afford it.
Another popular way to reduce the expense of college is through work-study programs. These programs offer college credit in exchange for volunteering. You can also earn credit for working in areas related to your major.
For example, if you have financial need and are majoring in education, you might work in your college’s education department as an assistant.
In some instances, you might be able to test out of a course and earn credit. Let’s say you’re good at math. Let’s also say you need a basic math class to complete your degree. You might be able to take a comprehensive exam from that class, and if you pass, earn credit for the entire class.
As you can see, most of these methods require you to do something in return for free college credit. But with the expense of college, earning credits through one or more of these methods is a smart financial move.
What courses can I take in high school for college credit?
As noted earlier, there are multiple means by which you can earn college credit in high school.
AP and IB courses are the most popular, with dual credit and CLEP courses being less common, though still a great option when available.
With regard to AP and IB courses, there are many options for earning credit for core classes.
For example, you can earn credit in art, English, and social studies. You can also earn credit in math, science, computer science, and languages.
Within each of these categories, there are multiple classes offered. For example, there are five different AP math and computer science courses available:
- AP Calculus AB
- AP Calculus BC
- AP Computer Science A
- AP Computer Science Principles
- AP Statistics
As of this writing, there are a total of 36 AP courses offered. There are currently 56 IB courses available, though that includes Standard Level classes, which are not always accepted for college credit.
Common IB courses that can earn college credit include:
There are 34 CLEP exams available as well. These exams are grouped into the following categories:
- Composition and literature
- World languages
- History and social science
- Science and mathematics
As you can see, there are many classes available to high schoolers for college credit. Better still, there are a variety of means by which to complete those classes.
Can I transfer online college credits to an on-campus program?
There are many online college courses for transfer credit. In many cases, online college credits from an accredited school will transfer to an on-campus program. The key is that the online college needs to be accredited. If not, the likelihood that the credits will transfer is virtually zero.
Online credits are most likely to transfer within the same college system. So, if you take an online class from the University of California at Davis, it is highly likely that those credits will transfer to an on-campus program at the University of California at Berkeley. This is because both schools are within the University of California system.
Likewise, online credits earned from junior colleges in the same state as an on-campus program at a university are very highly likely to transfer. So, if you take an online class from Oklahoma City Community College, there’s a good chance that those credits will transfer to an on-campus program at Oklahoma State University.
Where questions arise is what the transfer credits apply toward. In some cases, the receiving school will apply the transfer credits as they were earned. For example, if you took a Native American history course online, those credits would be applied to the on-campus program as history credits. If you’re a history major, this is what you need.
However, in some cases, the receiving school only transfers the courses as general education credits. So, using the Native American history course from the previous example, it might transfer as a humanities credit rather than specific history credits. In this case, you’d have three more general credits for your on-campus program. Unfortunately, you’d have to take another class to fulfill the three history credits that weren’t transferred.
It’s always best to consult with your advisor before taking online classes. Doing so ensures that you know if the course will transfer. If it does transfer, you’ll also know how those credits will be applied.
Do junior college credits transfer to a four-year college or university?
The short answer is yes, junior college credits often transfer without issue. But this is not always the case.
If you attend community college in the same state as the four-year college you intend to transfer to, you should have no problem transferring your credits. But if you plan to transfer to a four-year college in a different state, you might encounter some problems.
This isn’t to say that your credits will not transfer out of state. Instead, there’s just a better chance of them transferring to an in-state school.
The best course of action is to select the school you wish to transfer to as early as possible. By choosing your next school, you can plan ahead and take courses in junior college that you know will transfer.
Additionally, the sooner you choose your next school, the sooner you can talk with an academic advisor that can help you with the transition from a two-year to a four-year college. Part of that process is helping you understand what credits will transfer. Another part of that is helping you determine what classes you need to take now, that way you’re in a good position to graduate later.
Is there a limit to how many college credits I can transfer?
The number of credits you can transfer depends on many factors.
First, many schools limit how many transfer credits you have. For example, if you’ve taken 120 credit hours of courses at a junior college, a university might only accept 60 of those credit hours. As a general guideline, two years’ worth of studies (60-90 credit hours) is about the most you can expect to transfer from one school to the next.
Second, as explained in the next question, though credits don’t expire, some are more likely than others to transfer. Core classes are more likely to count than electives. Recent coursework is more likely to transfer than a course you took 20 years ago.
Third, some school systems have transfer agreements that help ensure your credits transfer. So, if you take classes at Washington State University and transfer to the University of Washington, your credits are more likely to transfer than if you went to the University of Florida.
Another factor to consider is that sometimes schools need to review the coursework before granting transfer credit. Sometimes this involves providing the syllabus of the class so the receiving school can evaluate how closely it aligns with their course.
Ultimately, every college and university allows transfer credits in some number and form. But the specifics are left to individual schools regarding how that process looks.
Your best bet is to figure out what schools you might want to transfer to early on. Then contact each school’s academic advising department to ask about transfer credits. The more information you have, the better you can plan and the more credits you might have to transfer.
Do college credits expire?
College credits typically don’t “expire.” Instead, their ability to transfer for credit usually goes down over time. This varies from one school to the next.
For example, if you took a math class 15 years ago, one school might accept those credits to apply toward your degree. On the other hand, another school might elect not to allow those credits. Alternatively, they might allow the credits to count as general credits, but not toward your major.
As a rule of thumb, the longer ago a class was taken, the less likely it is that the credits will be used. This is because colleges want students to have the most up-to-date knowledge. If a lot has changed since you took a course, you might have to retake it. This is particularly true for fields like computer science, which changes rapidly.
The relevance of your credits is also important. For example, if you took several philosophy classes five years ago, and you’ve gone back to school to major in philosophy, those credits have a good chance of still being applied. But if you’ve changed your major to physics, those philosophy credits aren’t as useful.
Likewise, general education credits are much more likely than electives to be good for a longer period of time. Math, science, social studies, and language arts are core credits that will likely count for ten years or more.
Accreditation is a critical factor too. If the classes you took years ago were from an accredited school, the likelihood that your credits will count is much greater.
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