Why I Am Taking Free Online Courses Before Going To Grad School

Why I Am Taking Free Online Courses Before Going To Grad School

The current state of free education in the US and how I am taking advantage of it.

After graduating in 2015 with a Bachelor’s in Journalism I realized that I had been in school, of one form or another for 18 years of my life. Being in my early twenties, that means that most of the time I have been alive has been spent in classrooms.

Granted, after high school, college was a gift in more ways than one, I learned what I wanted to do in and out of the classroom. It was education on my terms, not me sitting at a desk trying not to fall asleep as the teacher tries to inform me about letters that symbolize numbers.

But once I got my degree I realized that I needed to take time to do other things and decide whether to go back to school down the road.

As a form of a Gap Year I joined a ten month service term with AmeriCorps NCCC FEMA Corps, and from that I received an Education Award, a sum of money I can use to pay for education.

Education in terms of student loans or tuition costs. I had not thought too intently on going to graduate school, mainly because I was unsure of what I wanted to study and tired of the school book lifestyle.

Now that I have put some miles and minutes between me and campus life I do miss it, but most importantly I now know that I want to go back. I like the structure school provides while simultaneously inspiring me to be creative with it and make it my own.

So now I have the want to go back, the problem? I am still not sure of what I should study, and I am not about to pay thousands of dollars if I do not know what I want to do.

A family member mentioned free online courses, and truthfully my initial reaction was disinterest. Having just spent a whole lot of moolah on education, it was hard for me to believe that any quality courses were offered for free.

But, I am not one to run with my initial reactions on things, I am the research type that needs to see firsthand if things really are what they seem. An empirical learner, if you will.

So I began to research and happened upon edX. They offer free courses from Harvard, Berkeley, Boston University, University of Queensland Australia and many more. The courses offer a certificate of completion at the end and sometimes the piece of paper does cost money, but nothing compared to the money it costs to be a full-time student.

Like any college course, edX classes have lectures, interactive labs, quizzes and tests. The best part?

It is on my schedule and there is absolutely no risk.

I can access course material anywhere there is Wi-Fi, and I do not have to throw money at an uncertain cause. And it gets better, they offer a variety of courses from Architecture, Business, Engineering, Medicine to Language courses.

I want to make sure that going back to school is what I really want right now or if it is just what Barney Stinson refers to as “Graduation Goggles”, as if I am somehow romanticizing the memory of the atmosphere of college versus the actual schoolwork. My first edX class begins January 10th on International Law, and I am excited to test the waters. To dive back into the pool of education, (to weirdly continue with the water allegory).

All this consideration of free education got me thinking about two things: 60 Minutes and Bernie Sanders.

An episode of 60 Minutes covered Sal Khan’s story in his creation of Khan Academy. A nonprofit that stemmed from one YouTube video that the MIT and Harvard graduate made to help his young cousin with Algebra. While the organization has expanded immensely from when CBS originally aired that piece, I imagine the feedback and praise Khan has received since has been even more positive.

Khan Academy has lessons on k-8 math to Organic Chemistry and Macroeconomics. The idea behind the free courses being, “Changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone anywhere. All of the site's resources are available to anyone”, according to their posting on www.volunteermatch.org.

Bernie Sanders comes to mind because an integral piece of his presidential campaign was offering free college education. His campaign on free education exclaims, “In a highly competitive global economy, we need the best-educated workforce in the world. It is insane and counter-productive to the best interests of our country and our future, that hundreds of thousands of bright young people cannot afford to go to college, and that millions of others leave school with a mountain of debt that burdens them for decades. That shortsighted path to the future must end”.

Sanders is not alone in his convictions, Green Party’s Jill Stein raves about the importance of forgiving student loan debt altogether. Now Sanders is part of a proposal to make college education free for families that earn less than $125,000 per year in New York, according to a story "Politico" published. California is said to be making strides towards it as well.

As Sander’s campaign website states, the concept of free education is not new in fact it has shown positive results in Germany, Norway, Sweden and others.

My thought is, why not? Education should be accessible to everyone and the idea of putting a crazy price tag on it is irresponsible. While there are necessary costs to consider and serious changes to be made to accommodate free education, it is doable. We just have to get a little John Lennon with our mindsets and stop holding onto the archaic traditional arguments.

So, until the day that tuition is free or at the very least more affordable I am taking advantage of what is out there until I figure out if I am ready for the workload and what I want to study.

Cover Image Credit: Huffington Post

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To All Incoming Freshmen, When You Get To College, Please Don't Be THAT Freshman

I am pretty sure we all know who I'm talking about.


As we are all counting down the days to return to campus, students are looking forward to meeting new people and reuniting with old friends. And then, there is the freshman.

We have all been there. The eagerness and excitement have been slowly building up through months of summer vacation, all waiting for this moment. I understand the anxiousness, enthusiasm, and insecurities. The opportunity to meet new people and explore a new area is very intriguing. But let's be real, you are here to make memories and get an education. So here are a few pieces of advice from a former college freshman.

1. Don't be that freshman who follows their significant other to college

This is the boy or girl who simply can not think for themselves. The 17-year-old puts their own personal goals and interests aside to sacrifice for a six-month high school relationship. This will more than likely end at an end of semester transfer after the relationship has been tested for a month or two in college life. So if you want to really enjoy your freshman year, make your own decisions and do what is best for you.

2. Don't be that freshman who lets their parents pick their major

"You are not going to school just to waste my money."

This is a statement you might have heard from your parents. As true as it might seem, this is definitely not a good way to start your college years. If you are not majoring in something you can see yourself doing, you are wasting your time. You can major in biology, go to medical school, and make the best grades. But if deep down you don't want to be a doctor, you will NOT end up being a good doctor. When it comes to picking your major, you really have to follow your heart.

3. Don't be that freshman who gets overwhelmed with the first taste of freedom

Yes. It is all very exciting. You don't have a curfew, you don't have rules, you don't have anyone constantly nagging you, but let's not get carried away. Don't be the freshman who gets a tattoo on the first night of living on your own. Don't be the freshman who tries to drink every liquor behind the bar. Don't be the freshman who gets caught up being someone that they aren't. My best advice would be to take things slow.

4. Don't be that freshman who starts school isolated in a relationship

I'm not telling you not to date anyone during your freshman year. I am saying to not cut yourself off from the rest of the world while you date someone. Your first year on campus is such an amazing opportunity to meet people, but people are constantly eager to start dating someone and then only spend time with that person.

Be the freshman who can manage time between friends and relationships.

5. Don't be that freshman who can't handle things on their own

It is your first year on your own. Yes, you still need help from your parents. But at this point, they should not be ordering your textbooks or buying your parking pass. If you need something for a club or for class, YOU should handle it. If you're having roommate problems, YOU should handle it, not your parents. This is the real world and college is a great time for you to start building up to be the person you want to be in the future, but you can't successfully do that if your parents still deal with every minor inconvenience for you.

6. Don't be that freshman who only talks to their high school friends

I know your high school was probably amazing, and you probably had the coolest people go there. However, I believe that college is a great time to be on your own and experience new things. Meeting new people and going to new places will allow you to grow into a more mature person. There is a way to balance meeting new friends and maintaining friendships with childhood friends, and I am sure you will find that balance.

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25 Things Every USF Student Needs To Know ASAP

Raw, humorous and valuable advice for new or already established students.


Whether you are a brand new college student or you have a couple semesters under your belt, it's easy to get stuck going through the motions without allowing yourself to fully absorb everything that your school has to offer. These 25 students at the University of South Florida share some of their most valuable advice, secrets, and hacks when it comes to getting the most out of your college experience.

Going To The Football Games


"If I could give a first-time student some advice I'd say to take off of work on Saturday and just go to the football games because they'll regret it if they don't." Ciara G.

Finding Opportunities


"Read the Note-a-Bulls emails and flyers you see on campus. Sometimes you find a great scholarship, internship, and recreational opportunities." Abigayle R.

Gaining Friends And Losing Friends


"Remember that some people come into your life for short periods and even though some make your life amazing while others make it awful…they're part of your story!" Ashley J.



"Always put school work as a number one priority. I know I sometimes slacked off and waited until the absolute last minute to do assignments my first year. Not only did that stress me out but that work also ended up not being as good as it could've been. Also, take as many pictures as you can because before you know it college is over." Sydney M.

Sidewalk Etiquette


"If you walk slow, do not walk in the center of the sidewalk." Katie H.

The Squirrels


"The squirrels get aggressive, just be careful." Alex K.

Doing Laundry On Campus


"Always check the USF app to see if the laundry machines are in working order, and if you want your money back call, the app for the company doesn't work well…and keep in mind they'll give you a refund, but they will send a physical check even for something as small as a dollar." Megan M.

When In Florida, Do As The Floridians Do


"Always carry an umbrella because there is a 100% chance that it will rain. Also, buy a rain jacket that can fit over your backpack in order to protect electronics." Sina W.

Dining Dollars and Beer


"You can buy stuff that is not food from the pod with dining dollars and you can buy beer from the Beef O Brady's with dining dollars after 5 p.m." Carlin I.

Finding Parking


"Be prepared to play musical chairs, parking lot version." Negin W.

Taking Alone Time


"Remember to take time for yourself. Whatever that may be, always remember you deserve time for you!" Mary S.

Checking Your Emails Is Important


"Check your email regularly. This is the only way advisors/faculty can communicate with you. Also, set your mail.usf email to forward to your personal email account if you don't want to check more than one email." Cherie D.

Letting Go Of The Past


"Nothing from your past matters, not people or things, so don't dwell on it." Cameron H.

Sitting In Someone Else's Spot


"Respect peoples non-assigned assigned seat. Also, people at USF are friendly so don't be afraid to talk to people and make new friends." Gaby M.

Talking In Class


"Don't be afraid to talk in class. The class will go by so much better and will be less boring if you help the professor out and say something. Also, be sure to go to peer leading because it helps me so much." Brandon W.

Being Friendly To Your Professors And Classmates


"Get to know professors as humans and mentors. Be the student whose smiling face they look for in class when they come in. Don't always dive for the empty table if you see others sitting alone. Maybe they need a friend too." Amanda F.

Being Involved On Campus


"Take advantage of the stuff on campus. Like you pay for it. Do it." Leeland B.

Exercise And Finding Free Food On Campus


"Join a sports team on campus, you'll get your exercise in and make amazing friends! Also, download the Edi-Bull app to find the free food on campus." Megan K.

Being Anti-Social


"Go to USF events and just talk to people. That little voice that tells you 'ah people are scary, I shouldn't interact,' almost everyone has that voice in some sort of way so you already have something in common. Also, come to WOW (Week Of Welcome) and so hi to the PALS (Peer Advisor Leaders)." Ishaat Musrur H.

Not Knowing Your Purpose


"Don't worry about figuring out everything (yourself, your major, your classes, etc) right away. It's okay to be a little unsettled as long as you are working hard along the way." Bonita H.

Sleeping, Eating, And Showing Up To Class


"Set a structured schedule for yourself. Try to get up and go to sleep around the same time every week day-it makes waking up easier and it's healthier for your body! You don't have to live off of fast food. I know it's easier and all around on campus but try making yourself something- you'd be surprised how easy cooking can be. Also, go to class! Even if attendance isn't mandatory, you're paying for every single hour of that lecture. Better not waste it." Hannah W.

Controlling The Music In The Dining Hall


"You can control the music in the dining hall using the Rockbox app." Nicole Y.

Figuring Out Where Your Classes Are


"At least a day before classes start, walk around on campus to find out where they all are and go to your professor's office hours. Especially if it pertains to your grade, but even just for one little question. Get to know your professors." Demi A.

Picking The Best Classes


"Prepare for the next semester! Try and figure out what classes you need for the coming semester ahead of time so you're ready to get them as soon as you can sign up!" Elizabeth S.

Appreciating Your RA's


"Get to know your RA! They're here to help you get acclimated and enjoy your time on campus." Gia R.

The number one thing to remember is to have fun and appreciate each moment because these few years will fly by faster than you think. Go Bulls!

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