Boost your salary by 20%: The best online certifications for better careers and pay

best free online certification courses
Source: AFP

If you want to expand your knowledge and skills without the financial burden of traditional education, the best free certification online courses will be just what you’re looking for. 

These courses are accessible to anyone with an internet connection, regardless of location. This accessibility eliminates barriers to education for those who may not have access to educational institutions due to location, cost, or time constraints.

There is no denying that higher education can be expensive. From tuition fees to textbooks and living expenses, the cost of higher education can add up. In the US, international students can expect to pay between US$25,000 and US$45,000 annually.

However, few can afford these high expenses and often turn to loans. That has led to a total outstanding student loan debt in the US, totalling US$1.6 trillion as of the end of 2023

Free online certification courses are an excellent cost-effective alternative to acquiring new skills and credentials without financial debt.

Through these courses, you can explore new interests or enhance your existing skills. Whether you are interested in programming, marketing or healthcare, free online courses are available to suit your interests and goals.

Not only that, employers often value candidates who show a commitment to continuous learning and professional development, so obtaining these certifications can enhance your resume, improve your job prospects, and even get you a 20% salary increment

Free certificate courses online from Harvard University 

Harvard University offers several free certificate courses online through its online learning platform, Harvard Online Learning

These courses cover many subjects, including computer science, business, humanities, health & medicine, etc. 

They typically consist of a series of video lectures, readings, quizzes, assignments, and discussion forums. Each one is designed to provide high-quality educational content in a flexible and accessible format, ensuring students have the opportunity to engage with the material and with each other.

The reason they’re one of the best free certification online courses worldwide is that these courses are taught by Harvard faculty members and industry experts, ensuring that students receive instruction from some of the best minds in the field. 

Like most online courses, Harvard’s courses offer the flexibility you need to work them into your schedule. You can access the course materials and complete assignments at your own pace, allowing you to balance your studies with other commitments such as work or family.

Enrolling in these courses also gives you access to Harvard’s extensive library resources, including online journals, research databases, and other academic resources. This can be invaluable for conducting research and deepening your understanding.

Upon completing the course, you will receive a certificate of completion from Harvard University. While these certificates may not carry the same weight as a Harvard degree, they still hold value and can be a great addition to your resume.

7 best free certification online courses to improve your skills

best free certification online courses

The best free certification online courses offer you the flexibility that allows you to balance work while studying. Source: AFP

1. Cybersecurity 

With the increase in cyber threats, individuals and organisations recognise the importance of safeguarding digital assets and information. The best free certification online courses in cybersecurity are a stepping stone for those looking to enter this field.

The cybersecurity industry is experiencing growth, with a projected market expansion of 33% from 2020 to 2030. As such, professional certifications in cybersecurity, such as Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), CompTIA Security+, and CISSP Certification, are highly valued by employers. These certifications can significantly enhance your career prospects and open doors to many opportunities.

The average salary of a certified cybersecurity engineer in the US ranges from US$133,300 to US$151,200 per year.

Here’s where you can enrol in a free certification online course for cybersecurity:

  • National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS): NICCS provides free online cybersecurity training courses through its Training Catalog. These courses include risk management, incident response, and security operations.
  • Carnegie Mellon University: The university offers free online courses in cybersecurity through platforms like CyLab, which provide educational resources.
  • University of Maryland, College Park: The university offers free online courses in cybersecurity through platforms like Coursera and edX. These courses cover cybersecurity risk management, network security, and cybersecurity policy.

2. Data Science 

Free certification online courses in data science offer a pathway to entering this field and distinguishing yourself in a competitive job market. By earning a data science certification, you gain an understanding of data analysis techniques, machine learning algorithms, and statistical modelling.

According to Glassdoor, certified data scientists in the US earn an average annual salary of around US$120,000, depending on their experience level. 

Interested in data science? Here are the best free certification online courses to look out for: 

  • Columbia University: Free data science certificate courses are available on edX, covering topics such as data analysis, machine learning, and data visualisation. 
  • University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley): Through edX, UC Berkeley offers free online certification courses covering topics like data analysis, machine learning, and big data. 
  • IBM Data Science Professional Certificate: Available on Coursera, this programme covers topics and tools, including Python, R, SQL, data analysis, machine learning, and data visualisation.
best free certification online courses

By developing AI solutions, you can contribute to advancements in healthcare, finance, transportation, climate change, and many other areas, making a positive difference in the world. Source: AFP

3. AI & Machine Learning 

AI and Machine Learning are some of the best free certification online courses you can pursue for a number of reasons.  

These skills have become indispensable across industries, revolutionising how businesses operate and making significant strides in healthcare, finance, retail, and more. Pursuing courses in this area allows you to develop an understanding of algorithms, statistical modelling, data analysis and programming languages such as Python and R — valuable skills that are highly sought after by employers. 

Here’s where you can secure one of the best free certification courses online in AI and Machine Learning:

  • Google AI: Google offers free online courses and resources through its Google AI website. These resources cover machine learning, deep learning, TensorFlow, and AI ethics. 
  • Coursera: Some of the most popular courses on Coursera include “Machine Learning” by Andrew Ng from Stanford University and “Deep Learning Specialisation” by Andrew Ng from 

4. Digital Marketing 

As people use digital platforms for purchasing and socialising, the demand for skilled digital marketers has increased. 

By obtaining a digital marketing certification, you can acquire inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, search engine optimisation (SEO), search engine marketing(SEM), and email marketing skills. These certifications provide practical knowledge and hands-on experience through projects and real-world scenarios, ensuring you are ready to take on the challenges of digital marketing campaigns and strategies.

Consider these online courses if you are interested in digital marketing: 

  • HubSpot Academy: HubSpot provides free online certification courses in digital marketing through HubSpot Academy. Courses cover inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing and email marketing.
  • Google Digital Garage: The free certification courses here cover digital marketing covering SEO, SEM and social media.
best free certification online courses

The best free certification online courses will open the doors to many job opportunities. Source: AFP

5. Project Management 

Project management is one of the most valuable skill sets across industries. Pursuing a certification in project management, such as the Project Management Professional (PMP), Prince2, or ITIL, is a great way to enhance your employability and career prospects. 

Here’s why project management is one of the best free online certification courses: 

  • According to a PwC survey, PMP-certified project managers handle over three-fourths of high-performing projects. This shows the high demand for skilled project managers in today’s workforce. Top IT companies like IBM, Microsoft, SAP, TCS and Infosys actively seek PMP-certified professionals to lead their projects.
  • Certifications like PMP, Prince2, and ITIL are globally recognised standards in project management. These certifications provide a common language and framework for project management practices, making it easier for professionals to collaborate and work across international borders. 
  • The financial benefits of obtaining a project management certification are high. Forbes reports that the average salary for a PMP-certified professional is US$148,000 per year, a 32% increase over that of non-certified counterparts. 

Kickstart your career in project management with these free online certification courses: 

  • University of Washington: They offer a free online project management certificate programme through Coursera called “Project Management Principles and Practices.”
  • University of California, Irvine (UCI): UCI offers a free online course on Coursera called “Fundamentals of Project Planning and Management.”
  • Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT): RIT offers a free online course on edX called “Project Management MicroMasters Programme.
best free certification online courses

Did you know that AI will affect almost 40 per cent of jobs in the future and even replace some of them? Source: AFP

6. Computer Science 

Studying computer science will equip you with problem-solving, critical thinking, and algorithmic reasoning skills. These are applicable in many industries, from technology and finance to healthcare and entertainment. 

Through the best free online certification courses, you can gain proficiency in programming languages like Python, Java, and C++ and delve into data structures, algorithms, artificial intelligence, and machine learning. 

The best part is that the demand for professionals with expertise in computer science continues to grow. Employers seek professionals with strong computational skills and a deep understanding of computer science principles to drive innovation and improve efficiency. 

Here are the best online certification courses in computer science that will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to succeed: 

  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) OpenCourseWare: MIT offers free online computer science courses covering topics such as programming languages, algorithms, and artificial intelligence.
  • Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative: Carnegie Mellon University provides free access to computer science courses, including programming, data structures, and algorithms through its Open Learning Initiative.
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech): Georgia Tech offers free computer science courses on Coursera, covering software development, cybersecurity and machine learning.
best free certification online courses

Say goodbye to financial burden when you choose one of the best free certification online courses. Source: AFP

7. Software Development 

Software development is undeniably one of the best free online certification courses in 2024. Choosing to pursue a course in this field has many benefits: 

  • The demand for software developers continues to rise as every industry relies on software solutions to run their processes, enhance efficiency, and improve user experiences. As such, there is always a need for professionals with the skills and knowledge in this area.
  • Whether you’re interested in web development, mobile app development, or software engineering, software development skills can open the doors to many career opportunities with high salaries.
  • If you enjoy working from home, software development is the field for you. Many jobs offer remote work or flexible schedules.  

Interested? Here’s where you can find the best online certification courses in software development: 

  • FreeCodeCamp: They offer a comprehensive curriculum covering HTML, CSS, JavaScript, databases, Git, Node.js, React.js, and more. 
  • Coursera: Some courses offer certifications upon completion, covering topics like full-stack web development, mobile app development, and software engineering.
  • edX: edX offers free software development courses from universities like MIT, Harvard, and UC Berkeley. Topics include programming languages, software engineering principles, and web development.