University of the People is tuition-free, meaning you can save up to 95% of what a traditional American degree will cost. Source: Andreas Solaro / AFP

Only a handful of the world’s young population has the resources or time to attend university the traditional way. Many professionals eager to further their education are enslaved to their monthly paychecks. Then, some are too caught up raising a family to even consider the thought of heading back to school. 

These groups have fueled the popularity of online degrees, which are considerably cheaper and significantly more flexible than their on-site counterparts. 

However, free online degrees are another story. When the University of the People – a free virtual university – launched in 2009, many began and are continuing to wonder if what it offers is too good to be true. 

When a university markets itself as the “first non-profit, American-accredited, tuition-free online university” – their concerns are understandable.

So what exactly do they mean by “American-accredited”? Is University of the People a legit choice for those interested in furthering their education without having to reach too deep into their pockets?

The short answer is: Yes.

In fact, it is accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), which is recognised by the US Department of Education. The DEAC is also recognised by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 

The university has also been recognised as a Candidate for Accreditation by WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) a regional accrediting agency.

Is University of the People a smart choice for international students?

There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be if what they offer fit what you want and need. University of the People’s student body currently represents 200 countries and territories.

As its official website states: “An accredited American degree is usually recognised worldwide due to the fact that American higher education is considered to be the golden standard of higher education. Even countries with different educational systems are willing to look seriously at US degrees if they are accredited within the US.”

The statement means that a University of the People degree should be accepted and valued by educational institutions and companies across the globe. Hesitant aspirants are welcomed to check the qualification’s status in their home country – as they should for all colleges and universities on their list, no matter the cost.

Furthermore, University of the People has gained the trust and captured the hearts of organisations worldwide for their efforts to provide accessible education to those who need it. Its long list of philanthropic partners includes the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, Facebook, and Twitter. 

University of the People

Get a legit UoPeople degree from anywhere in the world. Source: Bertrand Guay / AFP

What’s the catch?

While the university has removed most costs for students to enrol and begin their virtual academic adventure, there are still some fees they will have to bear

University of the People asks its applicants for a one-time, non-refundable fee of US$60. Undergraduate and graduate courses each come with assessment fees of US$120 and US$240, respectively. 

The total approximate costs to earn a degree at University of the People are the following:

  • Associate degree: US$2,460 
  • Bachelor’s degree: US$4,860 
  • MBA: US$2,940 
  • M.Ed.: US$3,180

Each sum is still a relatively small price to pay for quality education. After all, the professors volunteering their expertise are the same ones teaching in some of the most respected universities in the world. 

Its partnerships with top universities around the world further prove its credibility. McGill University, Long Island University, Effat University, Harvard Business School Online, New York University, UC Berkeley, the University of Edinburgh, and the International Baccalaureate are all proud contributors. 

The university also works closely with top companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Union Square Ventures. These official relationships make it incredibly easy for students to land internships and for graduates to secure employment.

It’s little wonder 87% of graduates are currently excelling as professionals. Many of them can be found in companies like Amazon, Apple, Dell, Deloitte, IBM, Microsoft, JP Morgan, the UN, and the World Bank.