10 Online College Courses for High Schoolers 2024

Online class for high school students

Reviewed By: Melissa Anderson, MS.Ed.
Reading Level: Grade 10
Reading Time: 14 minutes, 33 seconds
Original Publication Date: October 2021
Updates: 3

Online learning technology has proven to be a game-changer for colleges and universities. They hope to attract high schoolers to their programs before graduation. Now that schools can offer online access to their classes, high school students’ enrollment in online college courses has skyrocketed. As the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) points out, distance learning has elevated the opportunity for high school students to take college courses even if they don’t live near a college or university that offers these courses. With the right requirements, any high school student can enroll in these classes, no matter where they live. This article highlights 10 of the best online learning options for those who want to take online college classes in high school.

#10—AP Physics

Platform: edX

Featured Programs

College: Rice University

Website

One of the online college courses offered via Rice University is the AP Physics course hosted by edX. Although the class is categorized as an introductory course, it does assume some prerequisite knowledge of basic math and algebraic concepts. The goal of the course is to prepare students for the official AP Physics 1 exam administered by The College Board. Topics covered by the curriculum include:

  • Waves and Sound
  • Newton’s Laws and Motion
  • Electric Forces and Fields
  • Conservation of Energy and Momentum

The course is self-paced, but students can expect to devote between three and four hours per week to their coursework for 18 weeks.

Cost: $49

#9—Applying to U.S. Universities

Platform: Coursera

College: University of Pennsylvania

Website

Designed for international students with intentions to attend college in the United States, Applying to U.S. Universities makes our list of the top free online college courses for high school students. This fully online course requires a total of 25 hours to complete and includes topics such as:

  • The Realities of Admission: Understanding Timing
  • English Language Testing Information
  • Cost of a U.S. Education
  • Early Admission/Decision Statistics

Nearly 90,000 students have enrolled in the course to date, and it maintains a 98% content approval rating. It is taught by UPenn University Connection Counseling Specialist Erick Hyde.

Cost: $0

#8—Dog Emotion and Cognition

Platform: Coursera

College: Duke University

Website

One of the online college courses for high school students that can be taken for fun or for credit is Duke University’s Dog Emotion and Cognition. Taught by Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology Brian Hare, the class features engaging content surrounding topics such as:

  • The Paradoxical Canine
  • Ecological Approach to Cognition
  • Communicative Intentions
  • Origins of Dog Social Cognition

This unique course is available fully online and requires roughly 22 hours of study to complete. It is a popular offering on Coursera, with nearly 185,000 enrolled students to date.

Cost: $0/49

#7—Introduction to Chemistry: Structures and Solutions

Platform: Coursera

College: Duke University

Website

Students who require remediation in chemistry before enrolling in university-level coursework might consider taking Introduction to Chemistry: Structures and Solutions on Coursera. One of the online college courses for high school students offered by Duke University, the class features coursework on topics like:

  • Light Wave Particle Duality
  • Introduction to Quantum Numbers
  • Simple Structure, Formal Charge, and Resonance
  • Phases of Matter

This beginner-level course requires approximately 17 hours to complete and is available entirely online. Nearly 43,000 students have taken the course thus far, and it enjoys a 96% approval rating.

Cost: $0/49

#6—Tricky American English Pronunciation

Platform: Coursera

College: University of California- Irvine

Website

Tricky American English Pronunciation on Coursera is one of the online college courses for high school students intended for students for whom English is their second language. Offered by the University of California- Irvine, the class addresses topics in English pronunciation, such as:

  • Tricky Consonant Sounds
  • Unstressed Vowels
  • The Music of American English Pronunciation
  • Common Linked Expressions

This 100% online course is completely self-paced and takes an estimated 21 hours to complete. Over 190,000 students have enrolled in the class to date, and it boasts a 98% content approval rating.

Cost: $0/79

#5—AP Italian Language and Culture (2023-2024)

Platform: edX

College: Wellesley College

Website

AP Italian Language and Culture is one of the online college courses for high school students designed to prepare students for success on The College Board’s AP exam. This particular course is offered by Wellesley College and is taught by the school’s Department of Italian Studies Senior Lecturer Daniela Bartalesi-Graf. The curriculum for the course addresses topics covered on the Italian Language and Culture AP exam, such as:

  • Contemporary Italian Culture
  • Italian Grammar
  • AP Test Strategies

This course requires two or three years of high school Italian courses as a prerequisite. Enrolled students are asked to devote between three and eight hours of study per week to the course for 12 weeks.

Cost: $0/49

#4—AP English Literature & Composition—Part 2: Poems

Platform: edX

College: University of California- Berkeley

Website

Another of the top online college credit courses for high school students, AP English Literature & Composition—Part 2: Poems, is also taught by UC-Berkeley Director of College Writing Programs Maggie Sokolik. This second part of the series focuses on classic and modern poetry with specific emphasis on the following:

  • Chinese Poetry: The Six Dynasties and the Tang Dynasty
  • England: Romantics and Victorian
  • American Modernism: Poems for a New Country
  • Analyzing Poems: Themes and Verses

While the course is self-paced, students are advised to reserve four to five hours per week for online coursework. The time to completion is an estimated seven weeks.

Featured Programs

Cost: $0/139

#3—AP English Literature & Composition—Part 3: Plays

Platform: edX

College: University of California- Berkeley

Website

The final installment of the online college courses for high school students planning to take the Advanced Placement English Literature & Composition exam, AP English Literature & Composition—Part 3: Plays addresses the genre of drama, focusing on the playwrights Shakespeare, Rostand, and Albee. Students enrolled in the course will study the following topics:

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: The Man Behind the Nose
  • Shakespeare: Moonlight Magic
  • Albee: Introduction to George and Martha
  • Defending a Thesis with Evidence

This seven-week course requires approximately four to five hours of study per week. All course materials can be accessed online.

Cost: $0/139

#2—CS50’s Computer Science Principles

Platform: edX

College: Harvard University

Website

Among the very best online college courses for high school students is Harvard University’s CS50’s Computer Science Principles. Available on edX, the course satisfies The College Board’s AP Computer Science Principles curriculum guidelines, making students eligible for the AP exam upon completion of all course requirements. Topics addressed over the duration of this entry-level course include:

  • Software Engineering
  • Resource Management
  • Data Structures
  • Mobile App Development

The course is self-paced but requires a 5-month time commitment. All course requirements can be fulfilled online.

Cost: $313.20

#1—AP English Literature & Composition—Part 1: Stories

Platform: edX

College: University of California-Berkeley

Website

The first of a three-part series offered by the University of California- Berkeley, AP English Literature & Composition—Part 1: Stories is one of the best college credit courses for high school students available online. The course is hosted by edX and explores great works of literature around the theme “Monsters and Ghosts.” In it, UC-Berkeley Director of College Writing Programs Maggie Sokolik instructs on topics such as:

  • What Is Gothic Horror?
  • Frankenstein: Then And Now
  • Toni Morrison And Beloved
  • Writing: Introductions Are Hard!

The class takes roughly 7 weeks to complete and is self-paced. The AP exam is not a requirement of the course.

Cost: $0/169

About College Courses for High School Students

High school student working on college courses from her bedroom

It’s generally assumed that students need a high school diploma before enrolling in college courses, but this isn’t always the case. With online college courses for high school students, college-bound students can get a head start on their undergraduate coursework while saving money on tuition. For years, colleges and universities have been offering ways for high school students to access their courses. For example, dual enrollment programs provide ways for students to enroll in college while still maintaining their status as high school students. In addition, early college programs allow students to take classes over the summer before their official enrollment as college freshmen.

Why Take College Classes in High School Online?

Although there may be numerous factors that contribute to the decision to take online college courses for high school students, it usually comes down to the usual suspects—time and money. It is well-documented that a college education represents a huge investment of both, and college courses for high school students represent one of the best ways to cut down on costs and completion times. Dual enrollment, in particular, enables students to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, earning credit for high school and college in a single course. Similarly, Advanced Placement classes give students the opportunity to earn credit by exam, saving months of study time and the cost of tuition.

Types of Online College Courses for High School Students

All online college courses for high school students represent convenient opportunities for students to earn valuable postsecondary credit before graduation. Still, not all of these opportunities are alike. When looking for these kinds of classes, it’s important to know the different varieties available so you can make the best choice. Below, our editors will discuss some of the popular types of online college courses for high school students:

Free Online College Courses for High School Students (MOOC)

When searching for any distance learning opportunity, it’s wise to keep cost in mind. If you’re looking to save money on the price of higher education, you’ll want to consider free online college courses for high school students. These offerings are a result of the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) movement. This development in distance learning made it possible for anyone to access coursework from top universities across the country at no cost. While it’s possible to access MOOC courses directly, you can also subscribe to a third-party platform like Coursera, edX, or Future Learn, for example. These platforms typically allow students to audit the course for free or pay a nominal fee in exchange for a certificate of completion.

Online AP Classes

In addition to MOOC (or free online college courses for high school students), online Advanced Placement (AP) courses provide another opportunity for distance learners to take college classes in high school online. These types of courses prepare high school students to take subject-area exams administered by The College Board. Success on these exams is rewarded with real college credit from thousands of colleges and universities across the United States. The AP program is not just a distance learning opportunity. In fact, The College Board has been administering these exams for decades. The traditional way for students to prepare for these exams is by taking an in-person course offered by their individual high school. Distance education has increased access to this test preparation, though. High school students can enroll in an AP class online despite barriers like time constraints or, more commonly, a lack of face-to-face AP courses offered at their high schools.

Dual Enrollment Online

Like online AP courses, dual enrollment programs powered by distance education offer yet another way for students to take college classes in high school online. The only real difference is the lack of an exam. With AP, students only receive college credit when they pass the AP exam for the specific subject they studied in their online AP class. On the other hand, dual enrollment offers college credit for the successful completion of a course. Another similarity between the Advanced Placement (AP) program and dual enrollment courses is that both can be accessed via either the traditional in-person route or online. With traditional dual enrollment programs, high school students would access their dual enrollment courses either at their high schools or on the campuses of nearby colleges and universities. Today, however, an increasing number of these postsecondary schools are offering dual enrollment courses to high school students online. This makes this pathway to college credit in high school much more convenient for busy students (and their parents).

Online Early College Programs

If you’re looking to take college classes in high school online, another option is online early college. Online early college programs are offered through colleges and universities across the country as a way of attracting promising students to their campuses while also offering them valuable credit-earning opportunities. Early college programs online are often combined with dual enrollment offerings to enhance a student’s ability to earn college credit. When considering such programs, keep in mind that each individual college or university will set its own eligibility criteria for students, and some are more competitive than others. Still, if you’re accepted, early college is a great way to access numerous college credit courses for high school students at once.

Online Summer Courses for High School Students

There are a number of things to consider when looking for online college courses for high school students, and one of these is timing. After all, it’s difficult to even think about taking college-level classes when your regular school schedule is already demanding. Enter online summer college courses. These distance learning opportunities provide students with the same opportunity to earn college credit, just on a timeline that makes more sense for them. Summer college programs are ideal for students who already have a high school schedule packed with advanced placement or other challenging courses and don’t have the time to devote to early college enrollment during the regular school year. Likewise, students who work part-time or participate in a demanding extracurricular activity like band or sports, for instance, may prefer taking online college classes over summer break. Online summer courses for high school students make earning college credit a possibility for students whose schedules wouldn’t allow it otherwise.

Frequently Searched Online College Courses for High School Students

In this section, our editors will address some of the more popular subject-area courses for those who want to take college classes in high school online. Here, popularity is judged by the frequency of online searches for these particular types of classes.

Online Business Programs for High School Students

Online students working together in a college class

Job opportunities in business are growing at a steady pace and are associated with a higher-than-average salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It’s no surprise, then, that many high school students are looking to get a head start on a college degree in the business field. Below, you will find a sampling of online college courses for high school students in this professional discipline:

      • Machine Learning (Stanford University)

      • Python for Everybody (University of Michigan)

      • Business Foundations (University of Pennsylvania)

      • Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies (Harvard University)

      • Finance for Everyone: Smart Tools for Decision-Making (University of Michigan)

      • Communicating and Negotiating in a Dynamic Global

Online Biology Courses for High School Students

Student enrolled in an online biology course

Biology courses are common prerequisites for careers in the healthcare field—a field that is currently growing rapidly due to an aging baby boomer population. Thus, it makes sense that online college courses for high school students in the academic discipline of biology would also be in demand. College courses available to high schoolers in this particular area of study include:

      • Introduction to Biology: The Secret of Life (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

      • AP Biology—Part 1: The Cell (Rice University)

      • Introduction to Genetics and Evolution (Duke University)

      • Biology Everywhere (University of Colorado- Boulder)

      • Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life (The University of Chicago)

      • Anatomy (The University of Michigan)

Online Engineering Courses for High School Students

High school student working on an engineering project

Engineering is another steadily growing occupation associated with high wages, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Students who wish to jumpstart their pursuit toward a college degree in the field should consider these courses for high school students in the discipline of engineering. Some sample classes that fit this criterion include:

      • Introduction to Thermodynamics (University of Michigan)

      • Engineering Project Management (Rice University)

      • A Hands-On Introduction to Engineering Simulations (Cornell University)

      • Introduction to Engineering Mechanics (Georgia Institute of Technology)

      • Solar Engineering Basics: State University of New York

Online Journalism Courses for High School Students

Student taking pictures for an online journalism class

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for journalists and news reporters are currently growing about as fast as the average occupation. Since a bachelor’s degree is required for these positions, high school students with an interest in journalism may wish to take college classes before graduation. Some examples of journalism-related online courses for high school students include:

      • Become a Journalist: Report the News (Michigan State University)

      • English for Journalism (University of Pennsylvania)

      • Introduction to Public Relations and the Media (University of Colorado- Boulder)

      • Journalism for Social Change (University of California- Berkeley)

      • English for Journalists, Part 1 (University of California- Berkeley)

Online College Math Courses for High School Students

online math student

Math classes are common general education requirements at the college level, and they can be a springboard for a multitude of different career paths. Students with a desire to take college classes in high school online should consider the following available online courses:

      • College Algebra and Problem Solving (Arizona State University)

      • Introduction to Discrete Mathematics for Computer Science (University of California- San Diego)

      • Introduction to Statistics (Stanford University)

      • Data Science Math Skills (Duke University)

      • Precalculus: (Arizona State University)

Online Writing Courses for High School Students

Student working in an online writing class

Writing effectively is a critical skill for college freshmen. In fact, the ability to express oneself via the written word can make or break a student’s academic performance. Students who want to sharpen their writing skills before enrollment in university courses can do so by taking online classes for high school students in the area of writing. Some examples include:

      • Writing and Editing: Word Choice and Word Order (University of Michigan)

      • Creative Writing (Wesleyan University)

      • Writing in the Sciences (Stanford University)

      • English Composition I (Duke University)

      • English Composition: Research and Writing (Arizona State University)

      • AP English Composition—Part I: Stories

Frequently-Asked Questions About College Classes Online for High School Students

Q: Are there college classes that are free online for a high school student?

A: Yes. While most classes for college credit are associated with a small fee, many online classes can be audited for free.

Q: How long does it take to complete these online courses for a high school student?

A: Each course is different. Consult with the university or distance learning platform for information about the timeline for specific classes.

Q: Are there eligibility requirements for a high school student to take online courses?

A: Sometimes. While it’s possible to find online courses with no eligibility requirements, some courses and programs require that students meet certain criteria such as grade level or GPA, for instance.

Q: How many credits can a high school student earn?

A: With a combination of AP classes, dual enrollment, and/or online summer courses, a high school student, it’s possible to earn up to a semester’s worth of credits or more before official university enrollment.

Sources

      • Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook

      • The College Board: AP Students

      • National Center for Education Statistics (NCES): Dual Enrollment: Participation and Characteristics