Having taken the course myself, I can’t say I’m surprised. The course is excellent. It has a fantastic instructor; it offers a rich learning experience; and its curriculum is refreshed annually.
Most notably, the course is entirely free, and it includes a free certificate of completion. But figuring out how to obtain it can be a bit confusing. So let’s discuss CS50 and how, exactly, you can earn a free certificate.
(If you’re interested in some of the other courses in the CS50 lineup — which include Python, webdev, and AI courses — check ourHarvard CS50 guide.)
CS50 in 2022
CS50 is taught byDavid J. Malan, and one of the best aspects of the course is that it’s updated annually. More specifically, the course is recorded every Fall in Harvard’s beautifulSanders Theater — except last year, when it was filmed in theAmerican Repertory Theater and without a live audience due to the pandemic.
In my experience, this is extremely rare. In the vast majority of online courses, lectures are recorded once and reused throughout the lifespan of the course. The only other course I can think of that records them annually isMIT’s Introduction to Deep Learning. It seems to be a prerogative a few big courses at rich institutions.
Beyond recording new videos, CS50 also refreshes its curriculum annually. In 2022, the course introduced the following changes, among others:
New Lectures: The course includes two new lectures. One discusses cybersecurity. And the other discusses emojis (more specifically, how emojis become emojis), to end the course on a light note.
New Problem: Week 7 of the course focuses on databases and culminates in anew problem, which involves scouring a database using SQL to solve a mystery.
New Code Editor: CS50 involves many coding exercise. You complete these via an in-browser coding environment. CS50 used to use aCloud9 environment. Now, they’ve transitioned to aVS Code environment.
Like in previous years, CS50 ends with an open-endedsoftware project — an opportunity for students to put into practice what they’ve learned throughout the course.
Free Certificate: How to Earn One
Since its launch, CS50 has maintained a firm stance toward openness. In 2022, the course remains entirely free, including itscertificate of completion. This is how the free certificate looks:
But earning a free certificate of completion in CS50 can be a bit confusing. Indeed, the course is offered through three platforms:
EdX, which is the platform most people will be familiar with. On edX, CS50 doesn’t include a free certificate. Instead, it offers apaid verified certificate, which costs $150.
Harvard OCW, which is Harvard’s open online course platform. On Harvard OCW, CS50 includes a free certificate of completion, like the one above. Note that the course is the same as on edX, including the assignments. The only difference is that the free certificate doesn’t involve ID verification.
Harvard Extension School, which is part of Harvard’s division of continuing education. On Harvard Extension, CS50 doesn’t include a free certificate either. Instead, students can take the course for credit and receive a formal transcript, which costs $1500–3000.
So if you’re interested in a free certificate, head to Harvard OCW. To further confuse matters, note that even when you take the course via Harvard OCW, you may have to create an edX account to submit assignments. However, this should be entirely free: you don’t need to pay for the edX verified certificate.