I see places like Coursera, Udacity and EdX offer certificates upon successful completion of course work. Also most of the people doing recorded teaching at these places are famous and well known professors.

So if someone mentions those kind of course certificates in CV or application material for grad school, does it have a significant value for the applicant?

Do you consider these kind of certificates at the same level with a grade on an academic transcript?

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    Related questions: academia.stackexchange.com/q/2336/102, academia.stackexchange.com/q/1317/102
    – user102
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:56
  • I think this is different enough from earlier MOOC questions to keep open. TMNT isn't asking about inclusion in an academic CV (which most people have only after grad school) or getting official academic credit for MOOCs.
    – JeffE
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 4:16
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    Regarding the edit, a grade based on a proctored exam could carry some weight (and I believe this is an option for some edX courses). If it is just based on online homework or exams, then it means much less. Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 14:35
  • It will also be an issue of accreditation. The bricks and mortar coursework at those institutions is accredited. The MOOCs may not be accredited or examined during the accreditation process, especially if they are not currently counted as credit toward a degree.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 19:50
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    @tmnt Since you have some responses below that seem to answer your question, please consider marking one of them as ‘Accepted’ by clicking on the tickmark below their vote count. This shows which answer helped you most, and it assigns reputation points to the author of the answer (and to you!). Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 14:53

3 Answers 3


So if someone mentions those kind of course certificates in CV or application material for grad school, does it have a significant value for the applicant?

They are better than nothing, but it's unlikely that they would have significant value. Courses are only a small part of what matters for graduate admissions, and elementary or low-level courses matter the least of all. Only a fraction of Coursera/Udacity courses are at a high enough level to matter, and even those courses aren't likely to make much of a difference.

I would not recommend devoting any time to online courses for the purpose of graduate admissions. If they are teaching something you really want to understand and have no better opportunity to learn, then that's a good reason, but the learning will have to be its own reward.

Do you consider these kind of certificates at the same level with a grade on an academic transcript?

I'd look at a certificate of completion for an online course the same way I'd look at a traditional course taken pass/fail (i.e., without a grade). It's evidence that you have done something, which shows some level of motivation and energy, but it's not evidence that you actually learned much in the process.

However, there's a bigger issue than grades here. Ultimately, good grades don't mean that much: standards vary dramatically, the ceiling is rarely high enough to distinguish between excellent students, and even if the ceiling is high enough it's not clear that this is a meaningful comparison. Letters of recommendation are crucial for supplying the information grades alone can't supply, and this is something MOOCs are currently unable to help with.

  • I agree. Grad schools tend to care about your grades in the classes you take. If you only receive a certificate of completion, the grad school cannot tell the difference between completing the minimum required effort (which they don't want) and going above and beyond (which is what they are looking for)
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 15:28
  • Well, they do know you did something. Isn't that better than nothing? Also, grades mean nothing in general, and I think that is what the last paragraph of this answers says.
    – Raphael
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 9:27
  • @Raphael: Doing something is better than nothing, but it's not much. As for grades, if you get excellent grades in some advanced undergrad classes, it's evidence that you have a good foundation in the field. That's valuable to know, because not having a good foundation could keep you out of grad school, but the grades themselves won't go very far towards getting you admitted. On the other hand, a bunch of courses without grades won't even establish the solid foundation. Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 13:48
  • I still see an inherent issue with recognising "excellent grades in some advanced undergrad classes" because graders grade very differently, but what you say is true. However, I think "better than nothing" is an answer to the question. Or, if you have completed such a course, would putting it in a CV/track record ever hurt?
    – Raphael
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:03
  • I don't think it would help much, if at all, but I don't think it would hurt, so I've added "better than nothing" to the answer. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 14:15

I see these places offer a certificate upon succesful completion of course work.

I agree with Anonymous Mathematician. There is a difference between completion and mastery. Graduate schools need to know that you have mastered the prerequisite material. In the future, courses like these may count for something to graduate schools if they demonstrate and certify rigor and mastery.

Currently, these courses are targeting the Professional Development market. Many industries required or encourage their employees to further their education. For professional development, usually completion of the course/webinar/workshop/whatever is all that is tracked. A future employer may care that you have taken 2 or 3 MOOCs in accounting, but an MBA program would probably disregard them.

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    How can an admission commitee assess mastery? (That is actually a complex question, and a good answer might help to improve the certification process of MOOCs.)
    – Raphael
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 9:28
  • In the US, presumably, if you take a course, let's say Biochemistry, at a regionally accredited institution and get whatever minimum grade (A or B) that the committee wants to see, then the committee has a reasonable idea of how much you know about biochemistry. You probably had to make high marks on exams to earn that grade. If you instead took a MOOC in Biochemistry, and received a "complete", the admissions committee remains uncertain what marks you needed on exams to achieve "completion".
    – Ben Norris
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 9:55
  • I don't know about the US, but over here professors devise the exams and grade them. Therefore, an A has next to no global meaning. In reality, grades are not even comparable inside one department, let alone universities. What gets me an A there may only get me a B somewhere else. It becomes worse if you compare grades across borders. If commitees assume something about your knowledge -- or more interestingly, ability -- from the number of A's on your record (in whichever direction), they are kidding themselves.
    – Raphael
    Commented Sep 22, 2012 at 10:46
  • Raphael, I agree with you, being an A+ student must be personal preference of faculty because they were also an A+ student. Even at the same department there are professors with different grading schemes. Not even talking about U.S/E.U and other part of the world where continents are different. eDX courses will evolve into TOEFL kind of examination in future, but still there are faculty who don't care about TOEFL scores. But natural selection will sweep these faculty too, as their competitors get access to quality human resource while they are still going the old way. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 9:59
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    @BenNorris On Coursera, if students do more than 90% get "with distinction" mark in a statement of accomplishment, at least in all the courses I finished.
    – enedene
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 17:51

You do realize that MOOC's provide the full syllabus of their courses, and generally give a percentile ranking of the students in comparison to students from all over the world.

I'd be more skeptical about a degree/transcript from a university I have heard little about than a MOOC who's syllabus I can consider and depth which I can evaluate, in addition to the obvious motivation for learning FACT.

In addition most MOOC's clearly mention about the amount of grades they require from the students to get a Certificate of Completion.

70 % was the standard for Most Coursera courses that I completed/audited.

In addition, if Coursera is asked, they can provide (in the future) to employers information about how a student develops his code and how frequently he changes his code before committing, etc.

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