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Auditing a College Class: Learning without Exams or Grades

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Despite the seemingly endless amount of information that’s easily available on the internet and at the library, some people prefer to learn in a classroom setting. College students who have not yet declared a major, high school students that want to experience college before they officially enroll, and people who are simply interested in learning more about a particular subject can all benefit from auditing a class.

What is Auditing a Class?

Auditing a class means that a student has enrolled in a college course and attends classes without receiving an official grade or college credit for doing so. The student’s transcripts will show a grade of “Audit,” often abbreviated “AU,” as opposed to an official letter grade in order to prove that they received instruction although they did not earn credit for participating in the class.

Why Do People Audit Classes?

People audit classes for a variety of reasons.

Some students know exactly what they want to study before they even begin college, but others prefer to take a variety of general courses until they find something they enjoy enough to pursue further. The College Board states that most colleges and universities do not require students to declare a major until the end of their sophomore year, and auditing a class can give them even more opportunities to sit in on classes and learn without fear of missing assignments or earning a bad grade.

Older students that are returning to school after being away for several years often decide to audit classes to review material without penalizing their GPA. Auditing a class is a good way to evaluate your own skills before proceeding with official classes or taking prep classes.

Other people simply love school, love learning and want to gain as much knowledge as they possibly can. They are the people who enjoy taking classes for the sheer fun of it, and consider auditing classes a hobby. Retired people are often big fans of auditing college classes.

How to Audit a Class

Rules and regulations about the auditing process vary from college to college. Some schools charge full tuition price to audit a class while others allow students to audit classes for free or for a discounted rate. Some colleges only allow currently enrolled students to audit classes; other colleges allow anyone to audit a class.

Check with your college—or the colleges in your area, if you are not yet enrolled anywhere—to find out the details.

Alternatives to Auditing Classes

If you are serious about your education yet unable to officially audit a class, there may be alternatives available.

Some professors are more than happy to allow students to sit in on their classes if there is enough room. You can show up and ask them or tag along with a friend or relative. Be polite and explain to the professor that you would like to learn more about the topic being taught, and ask if you can visit their class. If the school has rules against sitting in for free, you may be asked to leave, but I have taken plenty of classes with instructors who did not mind visitors.

If you’re unable to physically get to a college campus, free online college courses may be for you. Free online classes are similar to auditing a class because you have the opportunity to learn but you will not receive a grade or earn college credit. You can work at your own pace, and you will not receive proof of completion.

Some of the many colleges that offer free online courses include:

  • Massachussetts Institute of Technology
  • Tufts University
  • John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • Carnegie Mellon University

For more information about the free college courses that are available online, be sure to read the June 2010 StateUniversity blog post on the topic.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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Terry over 6 years ago Terry

Thank you Mellisa . Got the info I needed for my daughter . T