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Tips on How to Take Free Online Courses on Coursera


MOOCs and Coursera

Massive open online courses or MOOCs is an excellent resource for education worldwide. Coursera, an online learning platform, hosts thousands of courses with certificates, specializations and even degrees. To take an online course, all you need is a computer and access to the Internet. It is especially useful for those learners who don’t have direct access to higher education, or their universities don’t offer courses in advanced and diverse fields of study.

Create your profile here today if you don’t have one yet.

Refugees and students in other underprivileged parts of the world can benefit greatly from it. If you are a refugee student or just someone with a desire for learning new skills and knowledge and developing your career, Coursera is the place.

This summer, I completed three courses with certificates. Coursera charges about $49 per certificate although for specialization you have to pay extra. The specialization includes more than a course–—three to five depending on the type of specialization.

For instance, the creative writing specialization has five courses, which means you will get a certificate for each course you complete. However, you have to pay separately for each course.

You can find courses offered by professors from Harvard and Princeton to the University of Edinburgh on almost any subject you choose to take. The courses I took were hard to find at Rutgers University where I study for my Ph.D. Thus, online education is an excellent addition to classroom education.


How to enroll FREE for a course?

You may be wondering why the word “free” in the headline if you have to pay to take a course? Wait! The great news is yet to come.

Yes! The good news is you can take most courses for free. Generally, Coursera charges a fee, but it also offers financial aid. If you want to get a full waiver or agree to pay $10 (or whatever you decide) for a course, you need to apply for it.

Keep in mind that it is better to pay something like $5 or $10 per course than nothing. Even a humble contribution will make your application look more credible. Coursera has accepted all my requests —seven in total.

The application usually asks two questions:

  1. Why are you applying for Financial Aid?
  2. How will taking this course help you achieve your career goals?

You need to answer these two questions. In answer to the first question, tell them why you deserve financial assistance. Explain why you can not pay. Your reasons should be believable. Tie the need for help to your academic or professional goals.

The response to the second question should explain step by step your interest in the course and how it will help you achieve your career goals. For example, if you want to take a course on writing, show them your interest in writing and how the course will help you learn new writing skills. If you teach writing, say it will equip you with advanced capabilities to better prepare your students.

You have to answer each question in 250 words. Once you submit your application, you will get a notification on your profile. You will get the final decision in about two weeks. Keep an eye on the Updates option on the left side of the page.


How to get started on the course?

Once you receive acceptance, get started on the course. Depending on the course and your hard work and commitment to it, it should not take more than three weeks or a month from you to finish. It is ok if it takes longer than a month, but you should keep an eye on the deadline, new enrollment and any costs that may occur with it.

Each course will provide extensive guidelines on how to work through it. Make sure you read the material and complete all your assignments on time, so that other learners can give you feedback. You will get plenty of opportunities to partake in discussions and learn from other participants. The best thing with coursera certificates is that they are shareable to LinkedIn for your future employers to see.

With that, best of luck. Leave any thoughts or questions in the comments.


Aslam Kakar 


Tips on How to Write a Research Statement for Graduate School & Scholarships


A research statement is similar in many ways to a personal statement, but this is an essay mainly about your research goals and career objectives. Universities and scholarship entities may evaluate your application for Master or Ph.D. program admissions based on your research statement among other documents.

Keep in mind that if required, this is one of the most critical components of your application. You should show that you are genuinely interested in studying an issue and that you are worth their time and money.

Writing an excellent research statement is indeed tricky, but there are things that can help you prepare your statement. In this post, we are sharing pointers that have helped us in writing our study research objectives for our respective Fulbright scholarships, graduate school and research grants.

The following are some tips you should keep in mind while writing your research statement:

Define your broader area of interest with a focus on some specialization: Define from the outset your more general field of study. Remember, don’t make it too broad as to include everything in the world in it. For example, if you want to study human rights in your Master, don’t say international relations.

Once you define your broad area of interest, you should specify your specialization. For instance, what is it that you want to focus on in Human Rights? it could be gender rights, women rights, etc. The more specific you are, the better. The problem with many research statements is that they are too broad and overgeneralized. Keep in mind that you can’t study everything in your field. Be focused on one single issue or a question.

Is there a puzzle/question that remains unresolved? Say what problem or puzzle in your study is understudied. However, support your claim with evidence from the literature. Sometimes, the admission or scholarship committee get hundreds of thousands of applications. Those who say something unique, stand out from the crowd. If you don’t want to waste your time on writing dozens of statements, consider this tip.

Structure of the essay: A clean essay is easy to go through. State your broad and specific interest in the first couple of paragraphs—this will be considered the introduction to your essay. Briefly give reasons for your interest.  Depending on the word limit, each body paragraph should address a specific point. The end should wrap up and explain the impact of the study on your country, the world, and you academically and professionally.

Include relevant research/work experience: Don’t forget to talk about your relevant work experience. What you studied, what you liked and what you did not. If something didn’t go well for you, explain why. This is important to mention because the point of this essay is also for the selection committee to know you better.

Impact of the study: Mention how your research will impact the broader field of study, your community or country, or even the world. Don’t just make assumptions, but state your claim carefully and with supporting evidence. Here you can also tell briefly how this particular study will impact you professionally.

For a scholarship, give valid reasons to fund you, including your post-study expectations. Of course, it is hard to know where you are going to be, but you should have a broad idea of what you want to do after getting your degree. Hopefully, your future goals will align with the interests of the scholarship.

Why is the program good for you and what would be your contribution? Tell them why does the program fit your objectives. Also, briefly state what you would bring to the program. This may range from increasing the diversity of campus and community life to contributing new perspectives to the classroom.

Keep to the word limit and other requirements: Although there is a standard format for a research statement, different institutions may have different requirements. Don’t disregard the rules. You don’t want your essay to be ignored for something as silly as the number of words.

Good luck!

Paulina A. ArancibiaAslam Kakar: Paulina is a Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology and Evolution and Aslam a Ph.D. Student in Global Affairs, Rutgers University  

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