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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.