As someone who's considering a career in software engineering, but can't yet afford school, taking certificate courses on sites like Coursera is very tempting. Are these courses worthwhile for someone at this stage of their education? If not, what do you recommend for preparation before college?
Can online certificate courses in coding help someone to prepare for a career in software engineering?
Although some of my best hires had no formal education, a good education is an excellent stepping stone, and you should definitely try to get one. Consider looking for scholarships, student loans or help from your parents. Having said that - if it's not an option, it's not an option, no point on dwelling on it.
From my (admittedly limited) experience with online certifications like Coursera, they seem more appropriate for developers who already have a few years of experience and want to learn a new skill or fine-tune an existing one. At this stage of your career, I think focusing on the basics could be a better move. Many universities (notably MIT) have free versions of their courses online. While "taking" them won't own you any certification, it may give you a better basis to build your education on.