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What Does It Mean to Audit a Class?

By Sawyer Hiton

Sawyer Hiton is a former scholarship and financial aid writer with Scholarships360. Previously, Sawyer worked with the nonprofit College Possible, supporting high school juniors in beginning their college plans and applications. Sawyer graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in Philosophy.

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Reviewed by Bill Jack

Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: October 16th, 2023
What Does It Mean to Audit a Class?

On top of pursuing classes for credit, many college students choose to audit a class or two. Auditing a class means taking a college course without receiving credit for it. 

Each institution has different rules for auditing classes, but most allow it. It is also possible to audit online classes.

In this article, we explore the reasons students audit classes, the different ways to audit, and how to sign up for one. We hope this will help you create your ideal college schedule.

Related: Top study tips for college

Why should I audit a class?

At first glance, auditing can seem like a backwards idea. Why would a student take a class without receiving any credit for it? 

If you wish to gain credit from all your coursework, auditing probably isn’t the right choice for you. But first consider these reasons why students audit classes.

To avoid negatively impacting GPA

The most obvious reason to take a class without receiving credit is that it won’t drag your GPA down. When you audit a class, you can miss assignments or do poorly on tests, and your GPA will remain unaffected. This is not the case with normal coursework.

Related: High school and college GPA guide

If your schedule is full but there’s still a class you’re interested in

Auditing a class can lighten your course load. Say you need to take a certain number of classes to stay on track for your major, but this is the only semester the English department is offering a sci-fi class. You may want to audit it, to ensure you still have time to do well in your other classes while also pursuing a passion. 

If you’re curious about exploring a new subject

Maybe there’s a field you’ve never explored before and you don’t know how well you’ll do in it, but you’re still curious to try. Auditing a class in that subject can serve as a taste test. 

Maybe you’ll like it so much that next semester you choose to take it as an actual class. Fortunately, this means that you’ll have experience in the class and will know what to expect. College is the place to explore the world of knowledge—don’t be afraid to try anything out!

If you need help in another class

If you want to take an advanced course in a subject but haven’t taken the introductory class in a while, you may want to audit it before leaping into the hard stuff. For example, you could brush up on intro computer science before signing up for the infamous 300-level class on artificial intelligence. You could also choose to audit the intro alongside taking the more difficult class. 

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If you want to check out a local school but don’t want to enroll

Some institutions, especially community colleges, allow students to audit classes without being officially enrolled in their program. This could be the right choice for you if you’re home for the summer and want to fill your time productively. You may also be able to audit a class while still in high school. If you’re itching to try out a college course, check out your local college or university to see if they have audit options for high schoolers.

If you want to impress future employers

One cool part of auditing is that your audited course still shows up on your record, just without affecting your GPA. This means grad schools and future employers can see that you chose to push yourself beyond your standard schedule. A student who audits can be seen as a driven and passionate learner. 

Learn more: How to choose a major

How to audit a class

Now that we’ve covered the reasons why students audit classes, let’s get into the hows. 

Learn the school policy

Auditing depends on which institution you’re involved with. Some schools only allow certain students to audit. At Notre Dame, only graduate students can audit. But most school registrars or departments have audit forms for students to fill out on top of standard course registration. 

Some schools have universal audit policies, while others decide on a case-by-case basis. 

Talk to the course professor

It’s important that you reach out to the course professor directly to determine their preferences surrounding audits. Be sure to explain to the course instructor why you wish to audit, and how you plan on engaging with their class. 

Some professors might wish for auditors to complete all coursework, as they would if they were a normal student. Other professors are okay with auditors sitting in on class without doing homework. Talk to your professor to clarify their ground rules for audits, and make sure to respect these throughout your time with them. 

Look into online courses

Recently, auditing online classes has become increasingly popular. This is another great option for high school students. You can do this through massive open online course (MOOC) providers, like edX or Coursera

Both of these sites offer free class audits, but do not provide certification of course completion. If you’re already enrolled in school, check with your institution before pursuing online coursework, as they might not allow it. On the other hand, your school may support your pursuit of additional learning opportunities.

Learn more: Top scholarships for college students

Alternatives to auditing a class

With the rise of online learning platforms, auditing a class at your college is no longer the only way to pursue your passions without the risk of hurting your GPA. Platforms such as MasterClass, Udemy, and sites like edX allow you to take classes for a low cost. They are on flexible schedules and are often organized by the top professionals in their field.

These classes definitely have advantages and disadvantages when compared to auditing a college course. You won’t be surrounded by your college peers in a real-life setting, and you probably won’t have the same opportunities to ask your teacher questions. 

But their flexible schedules come in handy – if your courseload becomes too intensive around the end of the semester, you can take a break from your online course and finish it during a break. If you stop showing up to an audited class, you won’t be able to make up for those lessons.

Additional tips for auditing a class

As mentioned above, it’s crucial that a course auditor be respectful of their instructor’s audit policies. A professor is doing you a favor when they let you audit their class. Reciprocate this by being attentive and courteous in class, and avoiding distracting other students who are actually taking the class. You’ll get more out of the course if you treat it as you would one of your others. 

Even though you are just auditing, still prepare for your audit opportunity. Don’t try to sign up days before the class begins. It often takes longer to sign up for an audit than it does a regular class. Setting up an audit can take at least a few weeks. 

By now you should be in the know about course auditing. If you’re on the fence about whether or not you should audit, go for it! Because it won’t harm your GPA, there’s really no reason not to. Reach out to your registrar and professors today to initiate your audit process.

See also: Why should I earn college credit in high school?

Key takeaways

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

  • Auditing a class is when you sit in on a course without receiving credit for it
  • There are actually a lot of benefits to auditing a class such as exploring a new subject, impressing future employers, and checking out a prospective school
  • Learning your school’s policy and talking to course professors are two of the most important steps toward auditing a class.
  • There are also several online platforms that serve as alternatives for auditing a class 
  • If you do decide to audit a class, be sure to respect the professor and the course material. Get the most out of the experience as possible
Key Takeaways

Frequently asked questions about auditing classes

Technically, no. The audited class might show up on your semester schedule, but you don’t have to complete coursework or attend class since you don’t receive credit. It won’t negatively impact your standing in the class or your overall GPA.

Yes, you will still need to pay if you audit a course. This is because the course will show up on your schedule even if you don’t receive credit for it. However, that might still be a better alternative than taking a course and failing it.  

No. Auditing can be an alternative option instead of dropping a course if a student is worried about getting overwhelmed or losing credit hours. By doing so, GPA won’t be affected, and you can still experience the class without worrying about failing.

The worth of auditing a class truly depends on the person. Some students value being able to explore their interests without worrying about grades while others are more focused on getting their credits to graduate. It all depends on what you’re looking for out of your college experience and the best way to get there.

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