True Cost of Free PDU

The True Cost of Free PDUs

Earning PDUs, or Professional Development Units, is required if you want to become a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential holder and maintain your certification. You’ll find that there are many ways to earn PDUs, including options for earning free PDUs. However, free PDUs aren’t always the best choice for your career. 

Learn more about what PDUs are and some of the challenges you’ll face when you choose to pursue free PDUs. 

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What are PDUs?

First, let’s look at what PDUs actually are. PDUs are credits earned for professional development in the field of project management. You must earn PDUs to both take the PMP® exam and to renew your credential every three years. One PDU generally equates to one hour of professional development training or activities. To take the PMP certification exam, you must earn 35 hours of project management education, and to renew your credential, you must earn 60 PDUs every three years. 

Earning PDUs can happen in a variety of ways, from taking training courses to attending professional development events. Accumulating PDUs demonstrates that you have gained proficiency in some area of project management. It also signifies that you continue to grow as a PMP credential holder and are staying current on project management strategies when you earn PDUs to renew your PMP certification.

Common Problems with PDUs

Although every active PMP certification holder must earn PDUs, there are still some challenges you’ll face throughout the process, especially if you pursue free PDUs. Here are some common problems you might encounter as you attempt to earn and document PDUs. 

Additional Monetary Costs

The PMP certification exam is already relatively expensive – $405 for Project Management Institute (PMI) members and $555 for non-members. On top of the actual exam fees, most PDU training courses also cost money. Remember, PDU courses will likely be an ongoing cost, as you will need to renew your certification. 

So, are these costs worth it? Earning your PMP credential has a high return on investment. PMI estimates that certified project managers earn 20% more than their non-certified peers. While you may have to invest money in your certification exam and earn PDUs, your earning potential will probably outweigh any costs that you accumulate. 

While there are ways to earn PDUs for free, taking these training courses make it easier to report the PDUs you’ve earned. Plus, all PDUs you earn must be approved by PMI. When you take a PDU training course with a reputable training provider, PMI is sure to approve your PDUs. 

Long Time Period

Have you ever waited until the last minute to do something? With PDUs, you will struggle to earn and track them if you procrastinate. When renewing your PMP credential, you’ll have to earn and track 60 PDUs over three years, with the clock starting as soon as you earn the PMP certification. You may struggle to track these hours with enough detail to get the approval of PMI. One big mistake many PMP credential holders make is trying to retroactively report their hours. Trying to remember the PDUs you earned over a long time period is likely to lead to mistakes.

If you work with an experienced PDU training provider, however, they can support you in your efforts to gain PMI approval and keep track of your hours. While the long time period for keeping track of your hours might seem intimidating, the process is a lot easier when you have a training provider helping you. 

Limited Regulations

How can you distinguish between a reputable training provider and one whose courses may not count toward your PMP credential maintenance requirements? Some sites selling PDUs or providing free PDUs may not be reputable, which can result in you wasting both time and money. Because there are limited regulations on how you can earn PDUs and who can sell PDU courses, you’ll need to take some extra steps to ensure your energy isn’t wasted. 

The best way to find reliable PDU providers is to check the PMI Registered Education Providers (R.E.P.s) database. Most of the training providers listed will likely charge for their services, but you’ll feel confident that you’re making a wise investment and your PDUs will be approved. Ultimately, it’s best to trust your instincts. If a provider doesn’t seem reputable or professional, you should probably choose a different option. 

Tracking Hours

PMI wants to ensure that all PMP certification holders have the skills to be a positive representation of the profession. That’s why tracking hours and proving that you’ve met the exam requirements are so important. However, tracking and reporting your PDUs can be pretty confusing if you’re going through the process on your own. You don’t want to put in all the work to earn your PDUs only to have them not count because you failed to properly document them. 

Working with a verified R.E.P eliminates this challenge. They will track your hours for you and they often have some kind of database or dashboard you can log into if you want to see your progress and how many hours you’ve earned. 


PMI has the right to audit the PDU activity of any PMP credential holder at any time. This means you could be required to provide proof of each PDU you earned. If you’re navigating this process on your own, this step could be nearly impossible. Audits are designed to ensure that PMP certification holders are being honest about their PDUs. It’s probably easy to see how some people may exaggerate the number of hours they’ve earned. An audit process can ensure reporting is more accurate.

The best way to keep an honest accounting of how many PDUs you’ve earned is to work with a trusted provider who can offer proof that you completed their courses. You don’t want your entire future as a PMP credential holder to be lost because your PDUs failed to stand up to an audit. 

Why Pay for PDUs?

While you can earn legitimate PDUs for free, there are a number of reasons why it’s better to go through an approved PDU provider

  • The process is hassle-free. Paying a little more can help you avoid some big headaches. You won’t have to be responsible for reporting and tracking hours yourself. You also will have support in the event of an audit. This will save you a lot of time and ensure your efforts actually count.
  • You’ll have access to high-quality training. The whole point of earning PDUs is to ensure you’re prepared for your future as a certified project manager. When you pay for courses from a reputable provider, you’re sure to have access to quality training to ensure you’re ready to pass the PMP exam and continue your career as a successful project manager. 
  • You’ll have constant access to new training materials. Top PDU providers like Project Management Academy are regularly updating their training courses. Paying to earn your PDUs with this provider means you’ll have access to new materials, so you can always be at the forefront of the project management industry. 

While the price tag of earning free PDUs may be appealing, in the long run, it’s better to work with a provider you can trust. You’ll feel confident in your skills as a project manager and that your PDUs will be approved. This is the easiest and most reliable way to ensure you’re ready to be a project manager.

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Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO
Director of Product Development at | + posts
Erin Aldridge, PMP, PMI-ACP, & CSPO