Auditing a Class: What It Is and How It Works
- Auditing a class entails enrolling in a college course for no grade and no credit.
- Many students choose to audit courses to avoid negatively impacting their GPAs.
- To audit a class, you must usually get permission from the instructor.
- Students can audit classes online for free through MOOC providers like edX and Coursera.
Each year, many college students choose to audit a class. Some do so because they're interested in the material but lack room in their course schedules, while others may want to avoid the pressure of keeping up their GPAs.
But what does auditing a class mean exactly? In the simplest terms, auditing college courses is when a student regularly attends a class without receiving a grade or credit for it. Not all universities maintain the same rules around auditing, though.
Here, we cover what it means to audit a college class, how to sign up to audit, and whether you can audit classes online.
What Does It Mean to Audit a Class?
Students who audit a class enroll in a course for no credit but typically must still pay for the class. While auditing a course, you will have access to all class materials but will likely not need to complete homework or take any exams. You may also be encouraged to participate in the class, but this is usually not required. At the end of the term, you will not receive a grade.
What's required of you ultimately depends on the school and the particular class you audit. Some instructors may require you to fulfill certain course requirements, such as submitting class assignments, even though you won't receive a grade on your transcript.
Some instructors may require auditors to fulfill certain course requirements, such as submitting class assignments.
In other cases, an instructor may expect your participation to be minimal in order to give more time and attention to fully enrolled students.
Not everyone is permitted to audit a class. At the University of Notre Dame, for example, only graduate students can audit a course. Undergraduates at Boston University may audit a course only if space allows and if the instructor approves their request.
While you won't receive a letter grade for auditing a class, many colleges use some sort of notation on transcripts to show that a student audited, rather than officially enrolled in, a course. At Chapman University in California, for instance, students receive an "AU" on their transcripts to indicate that they successfully audited a class.
Why Would You Audit a Class?
Auditing a class can be a wise choice for certain students. Learners who feel they don't have enough time to enroll in all of the courses that interest them or who are struggling to decide on a major can explore a subject without worrying about the impact on their college GPA.
Auditing allows students to learn without fear of earning a low grade.
Back when I was in college, I took a popular course that was capped at 30 students. But to my surprise, on the first day there seemed to be more than 30 people in the room. During self-introductions, two students explained that they were auditing the course. One wanted to take the course without stressing about her grade, whereas the other wanted to audit the course to help him decide between two majors.
Many different types of people audit college courses, including nontraditional students and currently enrolled undergraduates. Auditing is often considered risk-free, since it allows students to learn without fear of earning a low grade or missing out on participation points.
While there are many personal reasons to audit a class — such as exploring a new subject, preparing for a future course, or choosing a major — eligibility to audit depends on the college.
How to Audit a Class in College
Most universities require students to receive approval from instructors for auditing courses, so reaching out to the instructor should be your first step. This way the professor can understand your motivation for wanting to audit the class rather than officially enrolling in it.
While most schools require permission from the instructor, others, like the University of Oregon, require students to get departmental authorization before auditing a course.
As mentioned, auditing policies differ depending on the school, so be sure to check with your institution to find out who is eligible for auditing courses and how you can apply to audit a class. You may also find that you'll be expected to complete all assignments or actively participate in each class.
Checklist for Auditing a Class
- Research the school's and department's auditing policies
- Contact the course instructor to ask about auditing — don't assume you'll get permission
- Ask the instructor about the level of engagement expected for a student auditing a course, including whether you need to participate in class and complete assignments
- If the instructor agrees to let you audit the course, fill out the necessary paperwork to ensure the course appears correctly on your transcript
Typically, not all classes are available to audit, and certain schools may offer specific audit programs. Columbia University, for example, has an auditing program and a special process for nonstudents, including a separate registration section with a list of available courses.
Some schools may also allow students to attend a few classes before they commit to auditing a course. Montana State University requires students to declare an intent to audit by the 10th day of the semester, whereas the University of Nebraska-Lincoln allows students to declare intent after the sixth day of classes.
Many universities provide a two-week grace period to students to turn a for-credit course into an audited course, or vice versa.
Auditing Classes Online Through MOOCs
Most four-year institutions, such as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, do not permit students to audit online courses, often citing the difficulties of gauging an auditor's online engagement. That said, a number of massive open online course (MOOC) providers — many of which have partnered with prestigious colleges and universities — let you audit online courses for free.
Many MOOC providers, like Coursera, let you audit classes for free.
One example is edX, a nonprofit co-founded by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through this MOOC platform, students can freely audit courses from top schools like the University of Texas system, Georgetown University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
As an auditor, you get access to all course materials and readings but will receive no grades or certificates of completion upon finishing the course.
Similarly, Coursera — an MOOC provider that partners with more than 200 universities — lets students audit certain classes for free. As with edX, Coursera auditors can access most course materials at no cost but will be ineligible for certificates and grades.
The Benefits of Auditing Courses
Auditing a class is a convenient way to explore a new subject or field, help you pick a major, or even revisit an interest after graduation or during retirement. Auditing also allows students with different learning styles to develop new skills and pursue interests they're passionate about.
If you decide to audit a course, remember to research the school's policies to ensure you understand the expectations of both the department and the instructor.
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