Earning a free online computer science degree may seem like a deal that’s too good to be true—but it doesn’t have to be. There are strategies you can employ that will reduce the cost of your degree; in some cases, it may allow you to take courses for free.
There is a broad range of career opportunities for individuals with computer science degrees. You may want to consider, for example, becoming a computer systems analyst. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these professionals work to improve the efficiency of computer systems. They make a median salary of $99,270 a year, and the field is expected to grow by nine percent over the next decade, meaning there are likely to be good job opportunities for you when you graduate.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the ways you can reduce the cost of your online computer science degree. If you can employ several of these strategies, you may even be able to earn your degree for free.
How To Reduce the Cost of Your Computer Science Degree
Any of the following tactics will likely save you money on tuition costs. If you are able to combine several of them, you stand to save even more. Some tactics may take time and energy—such as thoroughly searching for all possible scholarships—but it is worth the effort.
Prior learning assessment
Prior learning assessment (PLA) allows students to earn college credits for knowledge and skills they have earned outside of a classroom setting, such as in the military or through work experience.
One example of this is advanced placement, or AP, exams. These are advanced courses taken in high school that incorporate college-level material. If the student has a satisfactory test score, they can opt out of taking the course in college. The IB (international baccalaureate) program is a similar example.
If students have work or military experience, they may be able to test out of courses through CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams. Although there is a small fee to take a CLEP exam, it is far less than you would pay to take the course at the college level. CLEP exams are good for basic topics required by your curriculum, such as chemistry or principles of management. By testing out of these courses, you save significantly on tuition costs.
Scholarships and grants
Scholarships, grants, and loans can help you save significant money on your education. When you apply to your chosen school, you will submit a free application for federal student aid, or FAFSA. This document, which includes information on your financial resources, will help determine if you are eligible for federal assistance, such as a Pell Grant. Your school may also use the information on the FAFSA to determine any school-based aid for which you are eligible.
In addition to these sources, however, you have other options. Grants may be available from nonprofit organizations, professional associations, or municipal sources, which may require a separate application. To get you started, here are a few that are available for computer science students.
- Microsoft Tuition Scholarships: Microsoft gives out several merit-based scholarships each year. You must be enrolled in a four-year college or university and have a demonstrated record of academic success and a minimum 3.0 GPA.
- Blacks at Microsoft Scholarship: Another offering from Microsoft, these $20,000 scholarships support high school seniors of African descent with a minimum 3.3 GPA and financial need.
- National Center for Women & Information Technology Collegiate Award: Available for undergraduate and graduate women, genderqueer, and non-binary students. Sponsored by Qualcomm and Amazon.
- Generation Google Scholarship: $10,000 for US students; $5,000 for Canadians. Applicants must demonstrate a strong academic record and financial need.
- IBM Linda Sanford Women’s Technical Advancement Scholarship: A renewable scholarship of $1,250. Applicants must be female with a minimum GPA of 3.5 and studying computer science or a related field. Sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers.
Teaching assistantships, which are generally available at the graduate school level, are a win-win for students. They offer financial support while at the same time giving them valuable teaching experience to help them hone their skills. Graduate teaching assistants, or TAs, are appointed to assist faculty members in teaching undergraduate courses. They may lead discussions, grade tests or papers, hold office hours, and provide academic support to students who need extra help.
Teaching assistantships are essentially part-time jobs that take up roughly 10-20 hours a week. TAs may be paid a stipend or regular hourly salary, or there may be benefits such as tuition waivers or subsidized health insurance. They work under the supervision of the faculty member teaching the course and may receive feedback regularly throughout the semester.
The benefits of being a TA are many. In addition to the potential for saving money, being able to include a TA assignment on your resume shows potential employers that you were trusted by the faculty of your school and were most likely near the top of your class. Your teaching work will also help you reinforce fundamental concepts in your own mind and highlight any areas where your knowledge is lacking.
Research assistantships, like teaching assistantships, are primarily available at the graduate level, although some schools do allow undergraduates to perform and assist in research. With a research assistantship, instead of helping a professor in the classroom, you will work with them on a research project that they are pursuing.
The specific job responsibilities of an RA will vary based on the nature of the project. They may collect and analyze data, do literature reviews, and write or co-write reports or research papers. They may work with an individual professor or a research group that includes other RAs.
As is true of TAs, RAs receive a stipend or salary based on the extent of their work. They may also receive tuition waivers or other benefits, including the ability to network with other professionals and the chance to add a significant accomplishment to their resume.
This list features some of the best free online computer science degree programs in the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions.
We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.
Next, we compared this comprehensive list of the best free online computer science degree programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications, such as U.S. News & World Report, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.