Many people assume that a college or trading school education is necessary. And while a good education is a great stepping stone to getting a great career, going away to a 4 to 8-year college isn't always financially possible for many people. Or, certain situations happen in life, and it stops people from finishing school.
One of the best alternatives to leaving for school or trying to earn enough money for that expensive university is online courses. There are several sites that are free or very affordable compared to on-campus college courses. Several of these sites have financial aid services that, if accepted, allow for either smaller course payment or it could allow courses for free; to name a few, MOOC, Coursera, edX, FUN, FutureLearn, Miríada X, OpenClassrooms.
While the education is real and from several colleges and universities, it is up to the school in which you are enrolled, or the job, if they take the certificate as an official college credit. It is advised to talk to a college advisor or a credit advisor for the job in which you wish to apply the certificate to.
Coursera is one of the best college courses site that I have ever used and it is very accommodating if you fall behind in the work. It is possible to switch your course session but you only have a few times to do so, so pick the time frames wisely. They have a financial aid form that, if you want to pay less or free for the course, it must be filled out for each course separately. Edx is another one that I have used for a few art and computer classes. They also have a financial aid form, and I believe that they, too, have to be filled out separately per course.
Some people that are interested in taking online courses might need some help finding the right school for them, if they don't want to take classes from an open source site, like Coursera. There are some sites that could help find some online schools that match the criteria you set. Mooc-List is a site that has an amazing search engine that once you enter what and when you want to start a class, and in what language, it pulls it the information from the different sites, and you can pick and choose when you want to start and use whichever site you want.
Academic Earth is one site that helps narrow down the search, just answer a few questions and a school will show up that matches what you want to study. If you want more information on the school, just fill in your information and someone will call you the next available day and someone will email you right away with some basic information. OEDB, or Open Education Database, is very much the same. One both sites, there are tabs that could gives you options to take online classes straight from the sites.
There are several free online courses sites, some even offer a free certification of completion. Open Culture is a great site that offer classes from top colleges and universities for free. Saylor Academy is another site that offer free, self-paced courses without charge. They have a good selection of courses in their catalog. Though some only offer one or two main concentrations, it is a helpful site to take a few classes at a time.
MIT OpenCourseWare is an amazing site where there are classes available from several concentrations, and many from MIT. There is even a similar site for courses from Harvard.
There are several more sites for online college courses, and they are not hard to find. But I recommend always researching each one that you find because there are some fraudulent sites on the net. And to see if the courses you want to take are available on the site before signing up and making a commitment.