free online course on computer science

Did you know that learning computer science doesn’t require putting yourself in debt? If you’re strapped for cash and need to get started with some free education, take a look at these resources. If there is one thing that the tech industry values it has to be a little bit of imagination and creativity.

Computer Science is the study of computer technology, including both software and hardware. It is an exciting and diverse field that can teach students skills that are in demand across almost every industry in our tech-driven world. This broad subject encompasses multiple specializations and sub-disciplines in theory, analytics, hardware and software systems, data science, and more.

Featured Programs

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.

In this article, we will review some of the top free computer science courses available, as well as courses in many of the various levels of specialization in the field. We’ve ranked them in descending order using a methodology we developed to choose the most robust and helpful courses first. However, each of the following free courses deserves merit and is worth looking into.

Featured Programs

Ranking 10 Free Online Courses for Computer Science

1. CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science

Offered by Harvard University via edX

Over 1.5 million students have enrolled in this edX course presented by Harvard. The on-campus version of CS50 is the University’s largest course, and this free online version is nearly as comprehensive. Even more astounding is that you can take it for free in its entirety. However, if you do choose to pursue a certificate to highlight your accomplishment, the platform offers this perk for only $90, a serious bargain compared to the classroom version.

The course is extensive, which is why we have listed it at the top of our list. Anyone looking into the best free online course in computer science should check this option out first. No prior programming experience is necessary, and the course can be taken at your own pace.

Topics covered include:

• A thorough understanding of computer science and programming

• How to use algorithms and solve programming problems

• Concepts such as data structures, encapsulation, abstraction, algorithms, resource management, software engineering security, and web development

•Programming languages, including C, Python, SQL, and JavaScript plus CSS and HTML

The course can be taken on its own or as part of a professional certificate in Game Development, Artificial Intelligence, Web Programming, or Mobile Apps

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with a fee

Time to Complete: 12 weeks

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Covers all the basics of computer science

•Harvard University’s most popular class

•Taught by three prominent Harvard faculty members

Cons:

•None

2. Introduction to Computer Science and Programming

Offered by MIT

This MOOC from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is also one of the best free online courses in computer science available. Provided through the Institute’s Open Courseware program, it covers the same materials as taught on campus and is aimed toward students with little or no prior programming experience.

The biggest skill students will take away from this free online course is computational problem solving, which will be accomplished by learning:

• How to use Python

• How to write and debug a program

• The process of moving from written problems to a computer formula for solutions

• Basic algorithms

• How to use simulations to solve complex problems

• How to use computational tools for modeling and understanding data

MIT’s online learning platform has a bit more of a learning curve than some of the other, more user-friendly options on our list, but there is a wealth of learning material here for those who are willing to do some digging. The online computer science course features a complete set of lecture videos accompanied by tons of resources as well as homework, self-assessment tools, and links to further study.

Cost: Free

Certificate: No

Time to Complete: Varies

Curriculum: Introductory to Advanced

User Experience: Good

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•No hoops to jump through, you set your own schedule and go at your own pace

•Perfect for those who want a solid foundation in computer science

•Entirely free courseware from a major tech college

Cons:

•No certificates are offered

3. Computer Science 101

Offered by Stanford University via edX

This is an excellent self-paced course brought to you by Stanford Online and presented on the edX platform. It’s one of the top free online computer science courses we have found for beginners, as it introduces users with zero prior experience to the subject. Intended to be taken over six weeks at four to six hours per week, students will learn the fundamentals of CS, including:

• All about computers and code and what they can and cannot do

• How computer hardware works

• Computer terminology and jargon

• How software works

• How digital images work

• Computer code

• Big ideas: abstraction, logic, bugs

• How structured data works

• How the internet works

• Computer security

• Analog vs. digital

• Digital media, images, sounds, video, and compression

This online computer science course assumes no prior knowledge, and there are no prerequisites. Students who are already versed in most of the above concepts will likely find the course too rudimentary; however, for the absolute beginner, it is ideal. A certificate of verification can be purchased for $149 but is not a requirement as the course can be taken in its entirety for free.

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with a fee

Time to Complete: Six weeks

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Excellent for beginners

•Taught by senior Stanford University lecturer Nick Parlante

•No previous skills required

Cons:

•Probably too basic for some students

4. Computer Science: Programming with a Purpose

Offered by Princeton University via Coursera

Learning to program is the fundamental first step in computer science, and this course presented by Princeton University covers the subject in-depth with over 40 hours of learning. Unlike some of the other introductory courses on our list that use Python, this one uses Java, although the main goal is to teach students programming as a whole.

You will learn essential programming elements like loops, arrays, conditionals, variables, and I/O. The free online computer science course then moves on to concepts like modular programming, recursion, and code reuse before it introduces object-oriented programming.

Unlike most Coursera offerings, there is no certificate associated with this class, and all the features are available at no cost, including auto-graded multiple-choice exercises, quizzes, and programming assignments. A streamlined version of IntelliJ is provided, which is easy to install and perfect for beginners, but students are free to use any programming environment they choose.

Cost: Free

Certificate: No

Time to Complete: 10 Weeks

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Ideal for beginners

•Auto graded exercises are featured

•Taught by two high-level Princeton faculty members

Cons:

•No certification offered

5. Accelerated Computer Science Fundamentals Specialization

Offered by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign via Coursera

This specialization in the fundamentals of computer science consists of three courses, each of which can be taken in audit mode for free on the Coursera platform for the full specialization experience. In the free mode, you won’t be able to participate in the hands-on projects or earn a certificate, but all other components of the coursework are available. If getting the certification is important to you, but you cannot afford it, you can apply for financial assistance on the site.

The three courses include Object-Oriented Data Structures in C++, Ordered Data Structures, and Unordered Data Structures.

Taught by computer science professor Wade Fagen-Ulmschneider, the free computer science course online is intended for students who have already taken an introductory course in a programming language like Python and who can write a program.

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with a fee

Time to Complete: Two months

Curriculum: Intermediate

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Highly rated

•Can help students prepare for advanced courses in CS

•Great user experience

Cons:

•Certification is only offered at the paid level of the program

6. Intro to Theoretical Computer Science

Offered by Udacity

This excellent intermediate course on Udemy will give students a basic introduction to theoretical computer science. Entirely free, it is a two-month-long program taught by industry pros. Rich in content and superbly easy-to-follow, the course features interactive quizzes, an online student support community, and plenty of practical exercises. There are seven modules that can be taken at your own pace.

Before taking this free online computer science course, students should have a basic understanding of programming and algorithms, but no prior experience with theoretical computer science is necessary.

Cost: Free

Certificate: No

Time to Complete: Four months

Curriculum: Intermediate

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Taught by industry experts

•Part of a nano-degree program for students who choose to go further

•Great online learning platform

Cons:

•Certification not offered

7. Mathematical Thinking in Computer Science

Offered by University of California San Diego via Coursera

Mathematical Thinking in Computer Science is a 25-hour beginner level course designed to teach students the crucial mathematical thinking skills needed in all aspects of computer science. The free online computer science course teaches students about the essential tools used in discrete mathematics, including induction, recursion, logic, invariants, examples, optimality. You will then use the tools you have learned about to answer programming questions.

Throughout the course, you will be solving interactive puzzles (mobile-friendly, too) that will allow you to develop the reasoning skills necessary to work out the solutions on your own. This engaging course only assumes basic math skills, curiosity, and a desire to learn.

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with a fee

Time to Complete: 25 hours

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Part of the Introduction to Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science Specialization

•Interesting and hands-on

•Highly rated by former students

Cons:

•Certification is only available at the paid level

8. CS50’s Computer Science For Business Professionals

Offered by Harvard University via Edx

Similar to the first offering on our list, this free online computer science course is also presented by Harvard University, and it follows much of the same curriculum but from an alternative, top-down approach.

The course is designed for product managers, managers, founders, and decision-makers who are accustomed to taking a top-down approach to business. It focuses on managing the most high-level concepts first so that business professionals gain an appreciation of how computer science works and the factors that can guide them in making crucial business decisions. The course covers:

• Programming languages

• Computational thinking

• Web development

• Internet technologies

• Cloud computing

• Technology stacks

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with a fee

Time to Complete: Six weeks

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

•Excellent user platform

•Taught by Professor of the Practice of Computer Science David Malan

•Can be taken at your own pace

Cons:

•Fee charged for a certificate

9. Foundations of Computer Science: Theory and Practice

Offered by SE Factory via Udemy

This four and a half hour course on the Udemy platform is presented by SE Factory, a nonprofit coding Bootcamp based out of Lebanon. The company aims to teach CS and engineering students the hard and soft skills necessary to become employable. To take the course, you should have a basic understanding of high-school mathematics and programming concepts.

There are four sections featuring 44 lectures, and students will learn Python, Algorithms, Complexity Analysis, and Data Structures. The Udemy platform is easy to use, progressing through each lesson clearly and concisely. The online computer science course can be taken for free, with an upgrade that provides a certificate of completion and one-on-one interaction with the instructor.

Cost: Free

Certificate: Yes, with an upgrade

Time to Complete: 4.5 hours

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Excellent

Quality of Instruction: Good

Pros:

•Taught by an industry expert

•The paid version offers a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied

•User-friendly platform

Cons:

•Some students have remarked that the course is not in-depth enough

10. Computer Science 101: Master the Theory Behind Programming

Offered by Skillshare

Taught by computer scientist and multimedia designer Kurt Anderson, this six-hour course housed on the Skillshare platform is clear, concise, and easy-to-follow. It features 45 interactive lessons, a class project, and a final test. If you want to understand the theory behind what makes a great programmer, this is the course for you. No prior experience is necessary; just bring your curiosity and begin.

The course requires users to sign up for a Skillshare premium membership, but the first month or two will be free, depending on which promotion is running at the time of sign-up. This means you should be able to complete this course in the allotted time, but you will need to cancel your membership if you don’t want to be charged. You may find, however, that the hundreds of other courses you can access on this terrific platform make the monthly fee worth it for you.

Cost: Free

Certificate: No

Time to Complete: Six hours

Curriculum: Introductory

User Experience: Good

Quality of Instruction: Excellent

Pros:

• Short and easy-to-digest lessons

• Taught by an industry leader

• Video tutorials

Cons:

• You will need to cancel the membership fee to avoid being charged

 Frequently Asked Questions About Free Computer Science Courses

Great Free Online Courses for Computer Science

Computer Science has truly led to technologies that have changed how we live. The internet, smart devices, social media, and all the discoveries we take for granted came about as a result of creativity and collaboration among individuals determined to explore this field.

There are countless ways one can apply CS learning. It is used across a wide range of industries like entertainment, healthcare, communications, manufacturing, and business, and there are specialty niches everywhere for students to plant their flags.

If you are new to online learning, we’ve put together some frequently asked questions so you can gain a better understanding of free online courses for computer science. 

Why Should I Take Free Computer Science Courses?

Computer science is an integral part of life as we know it. Although most people utilize it every day, few have the in-depth knowledge necessary to understand the cutting-edge technologies behind it. Here are just a few reasons to utilize free courses in this area:

• Computer science is part of everyday life, and it’s here to stay!

• Taking classes in CS will teach you to solve complex problems better

• You can make huge, positive changes in the world

• It offers many options for a lucrative career

• You can gain employment no matter where you live

• You can freelance or work for someone else

• You can work alone or collaborate as part of a team

• CS can help you in any career, as those who understand computers are always valued in an organization

• It can help you navigate other academics better

• The future opportunities are boundless

What Are the Requirements and Prerequisites?

Academically, students interested in computer science should have some strong math skills, as mathematics and CS go hand-in-hand. But if you are worried your math skills aren’t up to par, never fear. There are plenty of free courses in mathematics on most of the above-listed platforms as well.

In addition to math, those considering studying computer science should possess fundamental problem-solving skills and the ability to analyze and evaluate various solutions. Most students interested in this field already have the creativity necessary to take on the challenge.

You will also want to have some determination and resilience. In computer science, you will often find yourself trying things multiple times before finally coming upon a solution. In essence, you will be failing many times before you succeed. If you expect this going in, you shouldn’t have a problem.

How Long Do Free Online Courses Take?

Most online courses in computer science are self-paced, so the time for completion can vary. Most of our listed classes have a suggested or estimated time frame that ranges anywhere from a few hours to a few months. Depending on your level of commitment and your schedule, you may complete classes in more or less time. This is one of the main advantages of taking free online courses. You can work them in around your current commitments. 

What Are Some of the Career Paths for Those Who Study Computer Science?

The specializations in computer science are vast, and there are many options to choose from. This is something that makes this field incredibly versatile, and students who want to pursue CS can choose from a range of career paths, including:

●       Artificial Intelligence

●       Digital Image/ Sound

●       Networks And Administration

●       Microprogramming

●       Robotics

●       Bioinformatics

●       Cryptography

●       Computer Graphics

●       Operating Systems

●       Computer Engineering

●       Computer Programming

●       Computer Game Development

●       Data Management

●       Design Databases

●       Simulation And Modeling

●       Computer Programming

●       Mobile Development

●       Software Systems

●       Memory Systems

●       Web Development

●       iOS Development

●       Parallel Programming

●       iOS Development

Keep in mind that this is not a complete list. There are various sub-disciplines within all these categories for students to choose from.

Are Free Computer Science Courses Worth It?

Absolutely! Studying computer science can open doors you never imagined. We live in the digital age, where those with the right knowledge of technology can find a job in nearly any industry they are interested in, including public policy, healthcare, entertainment, education, economics, engineering, cybersecurity, and more. The list is never-ending.

Even entry-level roles in this discipline offer competitive salaries, and those with experience can expect to command even higher earnings.

Taking free courses in computer science will never be a waste of time. At the very least, you will know that you have the resilience and dedication it takes to make it through the challenge, and potential employers will see these characteristics in you as well.

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