Over the last decade, online learning platforms have proliferated. Udacity is just one example of an online education provider that has emerged to meet the growing demand for high-quality content at a reasonable price.
In this Udacity review, I’ll explain how Udacity works and help you decide whether Udacity is the best platform for you.
What is Udacity?
Founded in 2011 by Sebastian Thrun, David Stavens, and Mike Sokolsky, Udacity is an online educational platform that offers MOOCs (massive open online courses).
The platform started out providing education more in the style of a traditional university. Co-founder Sebastian Thrun worked as a professor at Stanford University and then decided to try teaching an online version of his course “Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.” Inspired by the online course’s success, Thrun left Stanford to turn his attention to his new start-up Udacity.
Udacity and the Georgia Institute of Technology announced in 2013 that they were teaming up to offer an online master’s degree in Computer Science at a cost of $7,000 USD, substantially less than a traditional on-campus degree.
In 2014, Udacity and AT&T partnered to work on the new “Nanodegree” program, intended to equip students with the practical skills they need for an entry-level position at AT&T. I’ll cover Udacity’s Nanodegrees in more detail later in this review, but the basic idea is that they offer focused instruction on specific, employable skills at an affordable price.
As of today, I’d say that Udacity’s overall focus is primarily professional and vocational: Most of its offerings are skills-based and oriented to specific careers.
There are courses in Artificial Intelligence, Data Science, Programming and Development, Autonomous Systems, Business, and Career.
Why I decided to try Udacity
Well, for one thing, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing. Even as some businesses begin to open back up a little, I’ve been hanging out at home with spare time on my hands and an interest in upskilling—keeping my repertoire of skills and abilities up-to-date in a continually changing world.
Some shorter Udacity courses are available for free, which lets you sample the platform without spending a penny: For example, this course entitled “Craft Your Cover Letter.” It’s free, takes less than a day to complete, and gives advice on writing and communication that is applicable to a variety of contexts.
Overall, I’ve been impressed with the quality and thoughtfulness of the course design I’ve seen on Udacity. If there are concrete skills you’re hoping to learn—especially in areas like programming or AI—you might be interested in Udacity as well.
Udacity Nanodegree explained
So, what is a “Nanodegree” exactly? In essence, a Udacity Nanodegree gives you a structured learning program on a particular subject. Many of these programs take a month or longer to complete.
A Nanodegree is organized into building blocks. So a typical Nanodegree might include around 8 Courses, each centered on a particular topic and involving some sort of real-life project or assignment. Each Course may then be further sub-divided into 5 or 6 Lessons covering particular topics. So in this hypothetical Nanodegree, you would complete 8 projects and take 40+ lessons.
Along with the Nanodegree course content, you receive access to Udacity’s Career Services—more on this below.
Is a Udacity Nanodegree worth it?
Overall, I would say yes. Here’s why:
One of the major benefits of Udacity Nanodegrees is that they are good value. If you attend a traditional brick-and-mortar program, you end up paying for all sorts of things in addition to your education: housing, meal plans, student fees, and so on.
An online education may not provide the exact same experience you’d find on-campus, but it absolutely can provide high-quality instruction at a fraction of the cost. If your #1 priority is learning a new set of skills while making the most of your budget, an online program makes perfect sense.
You can check out the syllabus before committing to enroll in a program. I highly recommend doing so. You’ll get a clear picture of whether the program is at an appropriate level and whether it covers the topics and skills you most need.
Overall, I’d say that most of the Nanodegree programs I’ve seen are quite well-constructed. Udacity instructors are leading experts in the field, and they design the Nanodegrees to provide a natural and systematic progression.
So, let’s say you’ve taken a few lessons on Topic X here and there but have significant gaps in your knowledge. A Udacity Nanodegree will fill in those gaps. Or maybe you’re completing new to coding. Udacity can get you up to speed.
In addition to the course content in a Nanodegree program, you’ll receive the following benefits:
- Personalized feedback from Udacity’s project reviewers.
- Support from Udacity mentors.
- Professional career coaching and other career services.
- Access to Knowledge, Udacity’s proprietary wiki.
- Progress tracker for additional accountability.
- Access to the Udacity Community.
I’ll come back to these “bonus” elements later in this review. For now, I’ll just say that, while some elements are more helpful than others, I think they add to the overall value of a Udacity Nanodegree.
Access to ample support is important; it helps you stay disciplined, make steady progress, and complete the program. Udacity does a good job making various forms of support available, whether you have a question about the course content, want feedback on your work, or are simply stymied by a technical issue.
Udacity Nanodegree Plus explained
You may have heard about a program called “Nanodegree Plus” and wondered what it was all about. Well, unfortunately, Nanodegree Plus is NOT offered by Udacity anymore.
Nanodegree Plus guaranteed that its graduates would receive a job offer (as either full-time employees or as fixed-term contractors) within 6 months of receiving their Plus credentials, or they would get a tuition refund.
Students who signed up before December 2017 were eligible for these terms. No new students were accepted after this point, and the Plus program was discontinued by summer 2018.
It is unclear to me exactly why Udacity discontinued this program and whether it plans to launch anything similar in the future.
How much does it cost?
That depends on the program.
As I mentioned above, you can enjoy numerous one-off courses for free.
Udacity Nanodegrees are paid programs, and they generally run around $250-$400 per month.
At the time of writing, the Nanodegree in digital marketing costs $399 per month (pay-as-you-go), or $1017 for 3 months’ access.
These programs sometimes go on sale or have promotions, so keep that in mind. At the moment, Udacity is offering one month of free access to its Nanodegree programs due to COVID-19, so this is as good a time as any to look into the platform.
Best programs to enroll in
The best Nanodegree program for you will of course depend on your personal interests, goals, and priorities. That said, Udacity is probably best known for its specialties in Programming & Development and Artificial Intelligence. Programs in these areas are likely to be very good.
Here are a few examples of Udacity Nanodegrees to take in 2020:
- Intro to Programming: No coding experience required! Learn the basics of programming in this Nanodegree, estimated to take around 4 months.
- AI for Healthcare: Stay at the cutting-edge of medical technology with this program.
- iOS Developer: As you complete this Nanodegree, you’ll build a portfolio of iOS apps for iPhone and iPad.
- Natural Language Processing: In this 3-month program, you’ll learn how to teach a computer to recognize and process human speech.
- Intro to Self-Driving Cars: Led by Udacity president (and self-driving car expert) Sebastian Thrun, this program is a Udacity classic and is absolutely fascinating.
- Flying Car and Autonomous Flight Engineer: Take your engineering and robotics skills to the next level.
What I like about Udacity
All things considered, here is what I like about Udacity:
- Nanodegree quality, structure, and content.
- Ability to work at my own pace.
- User-friendly interface.
- Emphasis on building practical skills.
- Opportunities for feedback and advice.
- Availability of free courses.
I love that some content is available completely free. And even in its free courses, Udacity often supplies extra resources beyond video lessons: for example, in its courses on interview preparation, you’ll receive interview checklists tailored to specific kinds of jobs (e.g. VR Developer). These simple one-page guides sum up essential tips for acing your next interview.
Now, what about the paid Nanodegree programs? Above all, I would say that I’m very impressed by the content and structure of each program. Udacity Nanodegree programs offer high-quality instruction, and the lessons are packed with practical information and advice.
You can find programs at a variety of levels, from beginner to advanced. Udacity also estimates how long it will take an average student to complete each Nanodegree (usually assuming 10 hours per week of study). But the nice thing about online learning is that you’re free to go at your own pace.
My experience with Udacity’s Nanodegrees has been very positive. These programs are impeccably organized, and I appreciate the focus on concrete, in-demand skills.
The lessons also go far beyond just watching video lessons and taking a quiz or two. With a Nanodegree, you will actually have to put in the work and complete assignments. After finishing a Nanodegree, you not only walk away with sharper skills but also with a portfolio of projects that prove it.
Along the way, you can reach out to Udacity mentors for advice and additional guidance. These mentors tend to be great and enthusiastic and really deepen your understanding of course material.
As I mentioned above, Udacity Nanodegrees come with some personalized features to help you in your career goals. If you enroll in any Nanodegree, you automatically gain access to Udacity’s Career Services. What does this encompass?
- Career coaching: a 1-on-1 appointment with a professional career coach who will help you formulate your plans and offer advice on the hiring process, negotiation, and so on.
- Resume review: You’ll get a personalized review of your resume, plus a template, and some advice to help you put your best foot forward in a job application.
- LinkedIn review: Again, you’ll receive some personalized advice, here intended to boost your LinkedIn profile.
- GitHub review: Polish up your GitHub profile and ensure that your portfolio stands out to potential clients and employers.
I really appreciate that the Nanodegrees come with these additional services, which you should factor in when you’re evaluating whether a particular program is worth the price tag.
The Nanodegree lessons will teach you skills—but then what? You need to present your skills in a way that catches attention from recruiters, clients, and employers. Career guidance is especially helpful if you’re hoping to change fields or embark on a new line of work.
Finally, the Udacity interface is streamlined and easy to use.
A more detailed look at a Udacity Nanodegree syllabus
As I mentioned earlier, you can download and read through the syllabus for any course you’re considering. I really appreciate this level of transparency. Before spending $1,000+ on a program, I want to know what to expect: Does the program cover all the topics and skills I need? Are the assigned projects interesting and useful to me?
- Real-world projects: For instance, Course 5 of this program involves conducting an SEO audit on a website and determining an action plan to boost its ranking in search engine results. Each lesson within this Course covers what you need to know about how search engines work, how to choose keywords, and how to develop a link-building strategy. It’s comprehensive, common-sense, and at the end of Course 5, I expect to have substantially improved my website’s search engine presence.
- Steady progression of topics: The Nanodegree begins with a Course on Marketing Fundamentals, comprising 6 lessons that establish a firm framework that unpacks exactly how digital marketing works so that you can do it more effectively. It then proceeds to topics such as Content Strategy and Social Media Marketing and eventually wraps up with Email Marketing. Overall, this is a multi-faceted approach that will bring me up to speed in all of the skills I need to be a more effective digital marketer.
- Attention to multiple platforms: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more comfortable on some digital and social media platforms than others. I love that this Nanodegree recognizes the importance of fluency in multiple platforms and offers instruction on creating content and running ads that are tailored to be maximally effective on each platform.
I definitely recommend scoping out syllabi in advance as you make a decision on whether Udacity is the right platform for you.
What I don’t like about Udacity
Nothing is perfect, so where does Udacity fall short?
First, I’ll point out one of Udacity’s main limitations: It does not focus on courses in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.
This isn’t necessarily a drawback—if you’re most interested in computer science, business, or AI, Udacity has you covered. But bear in mind that Udacity is not intended as a replacement for a traditional liberal arts education. It’s more about marketable skills.
Okay, so what if you’re interested in what Udacity does offer—what are the disadvantages of the Udacity learning experience?
One possible drawback is that interactions with other students can be limited and kind of hit-or-miss. Yes, you gain access to the Udacity Community, but I find it hard to replace the liveliness of an in-person student community. This is a drawback to any online platform, however.
You also shouldn’t expect to interact directly with the lead instructors of your Nanodegree program. This is understandable, since they’re teaching huge courses with thousands of students and simply don’t have time to hold 1-on-1 “office hours.”
Now that said, Udacity does have “project reviewers” who will look at your work and give personalized feedback and line by line code reviews. You’ll also have “mentors” available to help you out and answer questions.
So, for most people, this probably offers a good workaround, a way of receiving custom feedback in an efficient manner. Virtually any online platform has the challenge of giving you that “personal touch” and dynamic interaction, and I think Udacity does better at this than most. But you should be aware that you most likely won’t be personally corresponding with the program’s lead instructors.
Finally, as with any large platform offering numerous courses and with multiple different instructors, reviewers, and mentors, there is some variation in quality. While I’ve personally had good experiences with Udacity, I can imagine that some instructors or mentors are more effective than others.
Alternatives to Udacity
Online educational platforms are having their heyday—and I expect they’re more popular than ever thanks to the impacts of COVID-19. Here are a few alternatives to Udacity that you may want to consider:
Coursera is about as close as you can get to traditional colleges classes in an online format. You’ll find course offerings in a wide variety of subjects, from Data Science and Information Technology to the Arts and Humanities.
There is tons of free material, though you will need to pay a fee if you want to earn a certificate of completion.
Coursera has also partnered with universities to offer full online degree programs. For instance, here are their available Computer Science degrees. An online Master of Computer Science from Arizona State University will take 18-36 months and cost $15,000 as of June 2020.
Udemy is an enormous platform with 100,000+ courses. Like Udacity, it tends more toward professional and technical skills, though you’ll also find classes in areas such as personal development, photography, lifestyle, health and fitness, music, and more.
Given this huge range, you can expect there to be some variation in quality among courses and instructors. But there are definitely some amazing classes on Udemy, and many are available at competitive prices, so the platform is worth a look.
Another large MOOC platform, edX was started in 2012 by Harvard and MIT. It’s a non-profit site that aims to increase access to quality education for everyone.
EdX offers courses in a range of fields, including architecture, computer science, data analysis, history, law, and more. If you need something more intensive than a one-off course, you can look into their “MicroMasters” programs.
Pluralsight also offers “paths” (which combine multiple courses to give you deeper expertise in a particular skill area) and “assessments” (which evaluate your knowledge in a given area and show you which skills to develop next).
Is Udacity an accredited institution?
No, Udacity is not an accredited institution but rather a private online educational service. Udacity does not confer degrees.
Once I finish a Nanodegree program, will I receive proof or a certificate of completion?
Yes, you should receive a certificate upon completion of a Nanodegree. Check out the instructions here to learn how to find and share your certificate.
Am I guaranteed a job after graduating from a Nanodegree program?
No, Udacity cannot make any guarantees about job placement after graduation. However, your improved skills and expanded portfolio should increase your odds of succeeding in a difficult and constantly changing job market.
What is it actually like to take a Udacity course?
Udacity aims to provide an interactive learning experience. So, in addition to watching instructional videos and interviews, you should expect to complete exercises, quizzes, and problem sets, which can typically be retaken multiple times if needed.
In addition, most Udacity courses involve creating a project or projects (such as an app or blog) that you can feature in your portfolio. You’ll also receive some personalized feedback on your projects as well as on your career goals.
Will I need to buy a textbook to take a Udacity course?
No, Udacity courses do not require textbooks, though they may suggest extra resources that students will find helpful.
What can I expect from the Udacity Community?
The Community is made up of Udacity students and alums. When you enrol in a Udacity program, you’ll gain access to Community channels that let you communicate with other students in the class, as well as your mentors and Udacity staff.
You can use the Community to ask and answer questions, seek advice, share tips, and receive support and motivation as you make your way through the course. To be completely honest, I find it hard to replicate any sort of in-person classroom dynamic online…But that’s just me, and I think overall the Udacity Community is a useful feature.
Visit the Udacity Help Center for answers to more frequently asked questions.
Overall, I think Udacity is extremely good at what it does. It’s an excellent alternative to more expensive in-person courses, and it still manages to provide an interactive learning experience, complete with personalized feedback, mentorship, and career guidance.
In my opinion, that’s really what sets it apart from alternative online education platforms. I find that this personalized attention holds me accountable for progressing through the program and gives me targeted feedback that rapidly improves my skills.
I also love the focus on creating projects that serve a real purpose and can go in my portfolio. Instead of passively absorbing information from videos, I’m putting my new skills into practice and building something new.
You can check out Udacity for yourself here to see if it’s worth it for you.