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Harvard CS50 Guide: How to Pick the Right Course for You (with Free Certificate)

In 2022, CS50 includes 11 courses, 8 free certificates, and a highly-anticipated intro to Python programming.

Harvard’s CS50 free certificate

In this article, I go over Harvard’s CS50 entire course lineup, which will soon include 11 courses — 8 of them with a free certificate.

The CS50 adventure began in 2012 with the launch of CS50, Harvard’s Introduction to Computer Science. Over the years, CS50 grew into its own brand, adding 9 new courses, such as an introduction to web development.

And next month, CS50 will launch a new course, which is likely its most-anticipated addition to date: CS50’s Introduction to Programming with Python. The new course starts in April 2022, but enrollments are already open.

Let’s discuss the CS50 lineup, course by course, to help you figure out which course could be a good fit for you, and to explain how you can earn a free certificate in most of them.

CS50: The Original Course

CS50 is taught by Harvard Professor David J. Malan. Back in 2015, when Class Central contributor Charlie Soliman reviewed the course, she said this about Professor Malan:

At the risk of stating a cliché, his approach to teaching is unlike anything I have seen and can easily be labeled as revolutionary. One can detect the joy and effort he puts into each of his lectures.

Having taken the course myself, I can say that this quote is as relevant today as it was back then. In fact, since the course is updated every year, it’s even gotten better.

CS50 in Harvard’s Sanders Theater

Offered at Harvard since 2007 and on edX since 2012, CS50 has grown to become Harvard’s largest on-campus course, with over 800 students per term, and one of the world’s highest rated and most popular MOOCs ever, totalling close to 3.5M enrollments.

And “CS50” has evolved from a code designating a single course to a brand encompassing multiple courses exploring different subjects, targeting different audiences, and stacking into different learning paths.

To make sense of Harvard CS50’s offering, I partly audited each course, I explored their online communities, and I contacted their course staff. I found that Professor Malan often replies to emails himself — a nice touch considering the course has over 100 staff. And as CS50 keeps growing, I’ll continue to update this article.

CS50: The Expanded Offering

CS50’s full offering comprises 11 courses that can be broken down into 3 levels, as shown below. As you can see, 8 courses offer a free certificate. Click on a course or level to jump to the corresponding section.

CS50 course offering in 2022
Level Courses Workload Certificate
Basic
(Optional)
CS50 Tech 4 hours / 6 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Scratch 6 hours / 3 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
Core
(Pick one: usually enough)
CS50 12 hours / 12 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$149 on edX
CS50 Law 4 hours / 10 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Business 4 hours / 6 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Python 6 hours / 9 weeks $199 on edX
Follow-up
(Pick one or several)
CS50 AI 20 hours / 7 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Web 8 hours / 12 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Games 8 hours / 12 weeks Free on Harvard OCW
$199 on edX
CS50 Mobile 8 hours / 13 weeks ○ No certificates
CS50 Beyond 5 hours / 12 weeks ○ No certificates

Basic Courses

Currently, CS50 offers two basic courses. These can be seen as optional on-ramps to CS50’s core courses. If you don’t feel ready for a formal introduction to computer science, this is a good place to start.

CS50’s Understanding Technology (CS50T)

CS50’s Understanding Technology

CS50T is a gentle introduction to the world of computing. It starts at the hardware level and works its way up from there. It explores how the internet works, how websites are created, and how security is ensured. And it ends with coding basics.

The course is taught by David J. Malan. It involves about 4 hours of study per week over 6 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

The course is also part of edX’s XSeries program in CS50’s AP Computer Science Principles.

CS50’s Introduction to Programming with Scratch (CS50S)

CS50S is a gentle introduction to programming. It focuses on Scratch, a language that makes coding highly visual. Instead of typing text, you combine functional blocks as if they were LEGO pieces to create programs. The course covers all programming fundamentals, including variables, functions, and loops.

The course is taught by Brian Yu. It involves about 6 hours of study per week over 3 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

Core Courses

Currently, CS50 offers three core courses. These include the original CS50 as well as variants geared toward different types of learners. This is where most learners want to start. One course should be plenty. But learners that take a variant may want to also take the original CS50 — especially if they plan to continue with a follow-up course.

CS50 Introduction to Computer Science

CS50 is Harvard’s computer science introduction. It starts with binary and goes up the ladder of abstraction from machine code to low-level languages to high-level languages. It explores algorithms, data structures, and memory management. And it ends with one of three specialization tracks: web, game, or mobile development.

The course is taught by David J. Malan. It involves about 12 hours of study per week over 12 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

CS50’s Computer Science for Lawyers (CS50L)

CS50 for lawyers

CS50L is a CS50 variant geared toward lawyers and law students. Part of the curriculum explores similar content but emphasizes big-picture understanding over low-level details. The other part explores entirely new content that considers how law and computer science interact — for instance, in regards to cybersecurity, data privacy, and internet regulation.

The course is taught by David J. Malan and Doug Lloyd. It involves about 4 hours of study per week over 10 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals (CS50B)

CS50 Business

CS50B is a CS50 variant geared toward business professionals. Most of the course explores similar content but emphasizes big-picture understanding over low-level details. A small part explores entirely new content relevant to businesses — for instance, cloud computing.

The course is taught by David J. Malan. It involves about 4 hours of study per week over 6 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

CS50’s Introduction to Programming with Python (CS50P)

CS50P launches in April 2022, but enrollments are already open. The course teaches the fundamentals of programming in Python, including variables, functions, loops, and reading and writing files. It draws from real-world programming problems and has plenty of practical exercises.

The course is taught by David J. Malan. It involves about 6 hours of study per week over 9 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

Follow-Up Courses

Currently, CS50 offers five follow-up courses. These pick up where CS50 leaves off and explore a specific subject. They’re an excellent way to build on your computer science fundamentals by delving into a specialization.

CS50’s Introduction to Artificial Intelligence with Python (CS50AI)

CS50 AI

CS50AI leverages the Python programming language to explore modern artificial intelligence. It covers foundational AI concepts, such as search algorithms and knowledge models, and builds on them to discuss more advanced concepts, such as optimization and machine learning.

The course is taught by Brian Yu. It involves about 20 hours of study per week over 7 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

The course is also part of edX’s Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Artificial Intelligence.

CS50’s Web Programming with Python and JavaScript (CS50W)

CS50 Web Development

CS50W explores the languages, tools, and processes underpinning modern web app development. It covers languages such as Python and JavaScript, frameworks such as Flask and Django, and services such as GitHub and Heroku.

The course is taught by Brian Yu. It involves about 8 hours of study per week over 12 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

The course is also part of edX’s Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Web Programming.

CS50’s Introduction to Game Development (CS50G)

CS50 Game Development

CS50G explores the languages, tools, and processes underpinning modern game development. It leverages languages such as C# and frameworks such as Unity to create 2D and 3D experiences, and draws examples from video games such as Pong, Mario, and Portal.

The course is taught by Colton Ogden. It involves about 8 hours of study per week over 12 weeks. And it offers the following certificate options:

The course is also part of edX’s Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Game Development.

CS50’s Mobile App Development with React Native (CS50M)

CS50 Mobile App Development

CS50M explores how to develop mobile apps using the React Native framework. It covers concepts such as state and components, processes such as testing and deployment, and tools such as Redux and JSX.

The course is taught by Jordan Hayashi. It involves about 8 hours of study per week over 13 weeks. And it is offered via Harvard OpenCourseWare but has no certificate.

The course is also part of edX’s Professional Certificate in Computer Science and Mobile Apps.

CS50 Beyond

CS50 Beyond is the precursor of CS50W. It explores the same subject, web development, but does it in a more condensed time frame. Most topics remain the same but most projects are different.

The course is taught by Brian Yu. It involves about 5 hours of study per week over 12 weeks. And it is offered via Harvard OpenCourseWare but has no certificate.

Manoel Cortes Mendez Profile Image

Manoel Cortes Mendez

Software engineer and online graduate student in computer science passionate about education, technology, and their intersection.

Comments 29

  1. aneesh

    Thanks for this post. I opened the CS50 link. But there is no option for signup/register. How are we supposed to register ?

    Reply
  2. Yogesh Pandey

    I went to the Harvard University OCW website but all I could see was, the registration for the CS50AI course is through EdX. If I register via EdX, would I then be eligible to receive a certificate?

    Reply
    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      If you want a free certificate, you don’t need to register on edX. You just need a GitHub account to submit the projects. Each project page has instructions – for instance, here’s week 0:

      https://cs50.harvard.edu/ai/2020/projects/0/degrees/#how-to-submit

      Then, once you’ve completed all the projects, follow the instructions below to receive your free certificate:

      https://cs50.harvard.edu/x/2020/faqs/#how-do-i-get-my-free-cs50-certificate

      Edit: If you want to submit the quizzes, you do need to register via edX. But simply pick the free audit track. You don’t need to pay anything.

      Reply
      • osman

        Thanks for useful info. but still i couldn’t find where teh assignments are and how to submit them to earn free certificate on OCW for CS50’s
        Computer Science for Business Professionals , is certification for this through Edx or any option and Info pls ?

        Thank you

        Reply
        • Manoel Cortes Mendez

          You’re right. CS50’s Computer Science for Business Professionals requires creating an edX account to submit the assignments. However, you only need to sign up for the free audit track. Once you complete the course, you’ll have access to a free certificate.

          It’s explained on Harvard’s OCW assignment instructions:

          https://forms.cs50.io/6f5d198e-43e8-4af9-90fb-eba6cb7cef5f

          Reply
  3. Sush

    How do I register ?? Is scratch project compulsory

    Reply
  4. Prince

    I really love the detail you put into your post

    Thanks

    Reply
  5. Sukanya

    Do they provide any such course for educators or teachers with free certification??

    Reply
    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      The Advanced Placement version of CS50 has an open curriculum, which should be suitable for instructors that’d like to teach the course. But it doesn’t include a free certificate.

      https://cs50.harvard.edu/ap/2021/curriculum/

      Reply
  6. Carlos Nunez

    Nice work Manoel! Thank you

    Reply
  7. Chris Faulkner

    Thank you, Manoel, for this article. It is well presented and was evidently well researched.

    Reply
  8. Shwetha Maiya

    Thank you for a wonderful post. I am currently taking CS50W. It was good to know the details of each course.

    Reply
  9. Uche Lily

    How do you get a Github account if you want to register Cs50’s free courses and get the certificate.

    Reply
  10. Chris Spangler

    As an old goat that once upon a time went to the University of Michigan before computers were the thing, I am very interested in learning this, and Ai.. Thank you for the detailed responses to the questions, and course materials! Think I will have to start with the rudimentary course, and progress from there. But, first things first, I need to sign up for GitHub!!

    As an aside, I asked my guidance counselor in 1967 to find me courses on how to become a computer programmer. He had never heard of computers, but did find me an answer, and that was the military! I did make him a lot of money, when I advised him to buy IBM stock, and telling him that one day he would see a computer on everyones desk..

    Reply
  11. Brenton Cheng

    Hey, Manoel! Thanks for laying out the options. I’ve got a high-schooler interested in CS50 AP.

    1) The OpenCourseWare site recommends taking it for “free” on EdX, but it looks like EdX only offers a paid option. Does that sound right? (I’m not averse to supporting EdX’s mission — just wanted to verify.)

    2) Once registered on EdX, would the high-schooler be following along with the Fall 2020 lectures that are happening for CS50x, i.e. that start on 9/2/2020? Or are there a whole other set of lectures that David Malan gives for the CS50 AP folks? Or are they pre-recorded? I note the large duration difference between CS50 “Intro to CS” (12 weeks) vs. CS50 AP (32 weeks), which makes me think these are totally different tracks.

    I guess I’m trying to decide whether to steer the high-schooler towards just taking CS50x or investing in taking CS50 AP. Thanks for any light you can shed on the above!

    Reply
    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      1) You can take it for free via Harvard OCW and earn a free “unverified” certificate, and you can audit it for free on edX, but you’ll have to pay for the “verified” certificate if you want one.

      2) At this point, CS50 AP subsumes CS50 Intro to CS and CS50 Understanding Technology. CS50, at least, is recorded annually, so the curriculum should be fresh, but yes, it’s the same as CS50, not a separate set of lectures.

      https://cs50.harvard.edu/ap/2022/

      Reply
      • Patima

        Hello Manoel,

        May I ask you a question?
        Does it mean that we cannot get the verified certificate for free nowadays?

        Thank you

        Reply
  12. Imran Fazil

    Is CS 50 Back Pain course have certificate after the completion and they charge 30 $ please do reply thank you

    Reply
  13. Hannah

    I just wanted to say, thank you for this post. However, I do have a question… and it might sound dumb, it might not even be something you did but Harvard did, or neither of you did and I’m just confused.

    If the people taking the beginner class knew how to operate Github, why would they need a beginner class? I’m not trying to be rude at all, but Github can be complicated for people who don’t know what they’re doing *coughMEcough*! Does the beginner course walk you through all of that? I don’t want to do the work if I’m not going to be able to access my certificate.

    But again, really great job on the article, it was well written!

    Reply
    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      There’s a little bit of initial setup, but it’s all explained. And you won’t use GitHub functionality per se (commit, merge, …). It’s just a channel for uploading assignments.

      Reply
  14. Navjot Singh

    Would you guys please device a full computer science curriculum as there is so much confusion which course to take, when to take and so on…

    Reply
  15. Joe Rodrigo

    If I get the “Professional Certificate in Computer Science for Python Programming” from edx, will I also receive the individual certificates from each course (“CS50’s Introduction to Computer Science” and “CS50’s Introduction to Programming with Python”)? Alternatively, can I get the professional certificate if I finish both courses individually?

    Reply
    • Manoel Cortes Mendez

      If you enroll in the professional certificate program, you’ll still receive the individual certificates for each courses, as well an additional certificate for the whole program:

      https://support.edx.org/hc/en-us/articles/4405331055127-What-s-a-program-How-is-a-program-different-from-a-course-#h_01FBYHQ7X0JF8BE21T511CKSQV

      If you first buy the first course and then enroll in the professional certificate program, the program cost will be discounted by about 50% (I just tried it). Basically, you just pay for the part of the program you weren’t already enrolled in.

      What I’m not sure is what happens if you buy the two courses individually: I don’t know if you can still still enroll in the professional certificate, and I don’t know how much it would cost in that case (or if it’d be free).

      To avoid the problem altogether: if you’re positive you want to a verified-certificate for the second course, rather than enrolling in the course’s certificate track, enroll in the professional certificate program. Both would cost the same, but with the latter option, you’re sure to also get the program certificate in addition to the individual course certificates, upon completion of the program.

      Reply

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