As an alternative to a full master's degree, edX and Coursera offer MicroMaster and MasterTrack certificate programs at a fraction of the cost of grad school

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  • edX and Coursera both offer cheap or free online graduate courses, many from top universities like MIT, Duke, and the University of Michigan.
  • edX MicroMasters and Coursera MasterTracks are bite-sized portions of master's degree programs. 
  • They can be used to build stand-alone skills to advance your career or as a stepping stone to a full master's program. 
  • We compared MicroMasters and MasterTracks for you here. Overall, the deciding factor will be the program itself. But generally, edX's offerings are cheaper, have more options, and are more lenient than Coursera's.

"Affordable" and "accessible" are not words typically associated with graduate school, even though having a degree or certification can be crucial for career advancement. To mitigate common economic and geographic barriers, established online platforms edX and Coursera have special programs like MicroMasters and MasterTracks, which offer graduate-level courses for a fraction of the average on-campus price tag.

Ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, they can cover up to 50% of a university master's program's curriculum. Upon completion, you can usually apply your MicroMasters or MasterTrack credits towards full master's programs to reduce costs and finish your degree faster.

You can take these as stand-alone programs to advance your career prospects or as a stepping stone towards a full master's program. And since both platforms count top universities among their partners, that could eventually mean lower overall tuition costs at schools like MIT, Duke, Indiana University, Georgia Tech, the University of Michigan, and more. 

Below, we compared the basic details for each bite-sized graduate program below. Ultimately, the best platform will be the one that offers the program closest to your particular interests and goals. But, in terms of services, edX may edge out Coursera — its offerings are cheaper, significantly more varied, and more lenient overall. 

You can find detailed FAQs on Coursera's MasterTracks and edX's MicroMasters here, and learn more about Coursera and edX here, including how they compare to each other as e-learning platforms.

What is an edX MicroMaster?

An edX MicroMaster is an online program with courses that cover 25% to 50% of a university's master's degree curriculum for a lower cost. 

MicroMasters are designed as a stepping stone toward credit in a full master's degree, or to strengthen stand-alone skills to help advance your career, offering a certificate of completion to add to your LinkedIn profile or resume. 

Not every MicroMaster program leads to a full master's program, but each of edX's online master's programs includes a MicroMaster. So, you can take the MicroMaster on its own, or potentially apply it to a full degree afterward. If accepted into an eligible master's program, your MicroMasters program counts towards the degree requirements.

What is a Coursera MasterTrack?

A Coursera MasterTrack is a portion of an on-campus master's program that's been adapted online at a lower price than taking the classes in person. 

Each MasterTrack is a stackable, for-credit program with several courses. In some programs, students are allowed to earn credit toward the full master's degree program from which the MasterTrack certificate program is based. For instance, you may apply to the MScA degree from the University of Chicago after the online Machine Learning for Analytics MasterTrack Certificate program and, if admitted, your MasterTrack Certificate will equate to the first two classes in the program (approximately 18% of course requirements), allowing you a headstart on your degree. Sometimes, the MasterTrack may even be "cashed in" to lower the cost of the full, on-campus master's program.

Credit: You'll earn a certificate for completing either program. But how does academic credit work?

The edX MicroMaster credits you earn may be accepted by eligible on-campus or online Master's programs to cover a portion of your master's degree.

If you've successfully earned a MicroMasters program certificate, you can apply to the on-campus or online master's programs that may accept credits from your MicroMasters program. To find your program's specific details, search for "Certificate & Credit Pathways" or scroll to find this section in the FAQs at the bottom of the page. Once you're accepted into the master's program, you can apply your certificate toward a segment of the full master's degree to reduce the tuition cost and potentially finish your degree sooner. 

Coursera MasterTrack credits are often offered for the institution's full master's program, but not always. Sometimes, they may reduce the cost of the full-time program.

Once you've completed a university's MasterTrack program, you can sometimes apply to the institution's full master's program. If admitted, your certificate will sometimes transfer and equate to a certain number of classes or credits in the program. The exact details vary by school and degree. To find your program's specific details, search for "Accelerate Your Path to a Degree" or "Earn degree credit" on the page. 

However, some MasterTrack programs don't offer credit exchanges. For programs like the Blockchain Applications MasterTrack Certificate from Duke, completion doesn't give you on-campus credit. It does make you eligible to fast-track your application process and get a scholarship that covers10% of the cost of Duke University's Master of Engineering in FinTech if you apply and are accepted to the program. 

Time commitment

Completion times vary, especially given that online learning is often flexible and self-directed. Having said that, by spending a few hours on school per week, you should finish within four to 12 months, depending on the program.

Coursera MasterTrack programs range from four to eight months on average. 

edX MicroMaster programs take roughly six to 12 months to complete.

Read more: Review: What it's like to be in a Coursera MasterTrack program

How much do they cost on average?

edX MicroMasters range from $1,000 to $1,500.

Coursera MasterTracks range between $2,000 to $5,000. 

Financial aid

Coursera doesn't offer financial aid or free audit access on its MasterTrack courses.

edX offers financial aid and trial periods for its MicroMaster programs. You can find more information here, though you'll typically enroll in the course as an audit learner and complete a financial aid application here. 

How are they billed?

It depends, but you often have to pay upfront.

An edX MicroMasters program charges a one-time fee. You can buy MicroMasters courses on an individual basis, but if you bundle all the courses in the program at once, you'll typically save 10% overall. 

For a Coursera MasterTrack, some programs offer installation payment programs, otherwise, students can choose to pay upfront and get a 5% discount. You can't buy individual courses within the MasterTrack. 

Audit: Can you try either or both of them for free?

Yes for edX MicroMasters, no for Coursera MasterTracks.

All individual courses in edX MicroMasters programs are free to try, so learners can test them out before deciding to pay to upgrade to the verified track. 

Coursera MasterTrack courses are available only to learners who have paid for the full program. 

Options: How many bite-sized post-grad programs are offered at edX and Coursera respectively?

Coursera currently offers 18 MasterTracks, while edX offers over 60 MicroMasters.

Access: How long will you have access to your program's course materials?

Coursera MasterTrack students don't have access to their course content forever. They're given access based on the estimated time it takes to complete the program.

edX MicroMasters students always have access to their program materials.

The bottom line: Which one is better?

It thoroughly depends on which platform has the best program for your career or educational goals, but edX may have better overall perks. 

edX lets you audit courses, gives you lifetime access to its materials, and can provide financial aid for its MicroMasters, while Coursera doesn't. edX MicroMasters are also cheaper on average than Coursera MasterTrack programs, and edX offers significantly more post-graduate program options. 

Browse all edX MicroMasters here.

Browse all Coursera MasterTracks here.

A few of the most popular programs: 

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