Auditing is synonymous with investigating or evaluating, and the word likely conjures images of an IRS employee sorting a mountain of tax documents, analyzing your information line by line to find discrepancies. Normally, this is a scenario one wants to avoid at all costs. However, in college, auditing a class can be a useful tool that allows students to explore new subjects or career paths. While the option to audit is available at many universities, policies and associated costs vary widely. In this blog, we will answer the question “What does it mean to audit a class?” while also exploring the auditing policies at a number of top institutions.

What does it mean to audit a class?

When auditing, you will attend the class and engage in some degree of work, which will be predetermined by you and the instructor. However, you will receive no grade or credit. What form of insanity will they dream up next? You wonder. Due to the lack of credit involved, auditing classes may sound counterintuitive. However, there are several excellent reasons why you might want to consider the option.

Auditing a Class Reason #1: Explore Majors/Subjects

If you’re interested in a wide variety of subjects, it may be impossible to squeeze the full array into your course schedule (even over four years of college, and yes, even for Type A planners). Most colleges require students to declare a major by the end of their sophomore year, meaning that you will have two years to begin fulfilling foundational and/or distributional requirements and explore introductory or survey courses in your field(s) of choice. However, since time is precious, auditing may allow you to explore a subject of interest in a low-pressure, low-stakes environment.

Alternatively, after you declare a major, you may be interested in a particular subject that you simply can’t fit into your course schedule due to your major’s demands and/or college’s curricular flexibility. For example, you may be in the weeds with upper-level biology courses but want to take an international relations course. Auditing the course could be a fantastic way to gain exposure to the material. Ideally, you could engage in reading and discussion without the pressure of graded papers and projects.

Auditing a Class Reason #2: Prepare for the Future

As noted above, even the most carefully crafted schedules won’t allow you to take every course on your wish list Therefore, you may decide that auditing a class is in your best interest. Auditing an upper-level course in your major–or a class in a complementary field–that you won’t have time to squeeze in otherwise could offer new exposure, resources, and connections. For example, if you’re an artist who hopes to open their own studio, you might find it helpful to audit a business course. Similarly, an education major who hopes to teach English may want to audit a literature or adolescent psychology class.

Think about your future goals as well as the skills you’ll gain from the classes that you are able to take for credit. Is anything missing? If so, could an audited class fill the gap?

What is required while auditing a class?

In general, you are not expected to submit work, although this policy will differ depending on the class and instructor. Some professors assume that auditors will fully participate, write papers, and complete final exams. However, others expect them to be silent observers who do not hand in any written work.

That said, even if you’re not writing papers or completing problem sets, you’ll still spend quite a few hours per week in class. Ask yourself if you’re ready to make that commitment. For example, attending lectures without completing any assigned reading may earn you minimal benefit. The bottom line: make sure that you can engage with the class on a high enough level to be worth your time.

What does it cost to audit a class?

It depends. Although you will not receive a grade, you may have the opportunity to engage with the professor, participate in class, and receive transcript designation. Therefore, some universities charge the full course fee to auditors (or count it as part of a normal semester course load). Others allow students to audit classes at a reduced rate or even for free.

What Does it Mean to Audit a Class – Sample Audit Policies

Boston University

In addition to completing a form that must be signed by the course instructor, students must attend class on a regular basis and complete all assigned readings. Beyond that, the student and instructor determine participation level. While audited courses appear on a student’s transcript, no grades or credit are bestowed.

Brown

Great news: auditing a class will appear on one’s transcript. However, it will not count toward graduation requirements. Instructors must provide approval and will dictate how much work is required. Moreover, students may be required to complete all assignments.

Brown also offers “vagabonding,” which is when a student either occasionally or regularly attends class. Instructors may or may not allow them to participate in discussions and assignments.

  • Fee: If students are taking a full course load (four credits) they may audit an additional course free of charge. Otherwise, students are responsible for the typical course fee. Vagabonding is free.
  • Related: How to Get Into Brown

Caltech

Caltech typically requires that students show “legitimate educational interest” in an audited course. As such, their request must be approved by the course instructor as well as the undergraduate dean. Grades are not given and a record of the course is not kept.

What Does it Mean to Audit a Class? – Continued

Cornell

Undergraduates are not permitted to audit courses. However, graduate students may audit courses, but must attend regularly. In addition, the audited course(s) will appear on their transcript.

Dartmouth

As at many other colleges on this list, Dartmouth requires students to obtain instructor permission before auditing a course. In general, it is assumed that students will not participate or submit any work to the instructor for review.

Duke

Whether students need to take exams or complete papers in an audited course is at the discretion of the instructor. Although students do not receive grades, audited courses count as part of their course load and are thus included in tuition.

Georgetown

Students in the College of Arts and Sciences are barred from auditing a class. In addition, students from other schools are not allowed to audit language or consortium courses. No grades or credit are received for audited courses.

MIT

Deemed “listeners” at MIT, students are encouraged to audit for “self enrichment or intellectual curiosity.” Credit is not granted, and students must obtain permission from the instructor before registering. In addition, students are not allowed to audit research courses or other individualized subjects.

  • Fee: Full-time students may audit courses for no additional charge.
  • Related: How to Get Into MIT

Pomona

Although freshmen may not audit courses, sophomores and upperclassmen are permitted to do so. In addition, auditors do not receive credit, although a grade of “AU” will appear on their transcripts. Overall workload and requirements are determined by the course instructor.

Princeton

In addition to receiving permission from the course instructor, auditors should be prepared to complete some level of official work for the class. (Examples include taking the final exam and writing papers.) As such, students receive “credit” for audited classes, which will appear on their transcripts. Students can audit one class in any term as long as the class is not a distributional or departmental requirement.

What Does it Mean to Audit a Class? – Continued

Stanford

In addition to being an enrolled student at the university, auditors must adhere to several other policies. For example, they are expected to be “observers rather than active participants.” As such, they are not allowed to take discussion-heavy classes like language, laboratory science, or studio art. Permission must be granted by the instructor, department administrator, and university registrar.

Tufts

If students would like an audited course to appear on their transcript, their only option is to take it during the summer semester. During the fall and spring semesters, unofficial audits are available, for which students do not receive grades or credit. Either way, students need to participate on a regular basis and make arrangements with the professor for the amount of work to be completed.

Another option is to take “Auditing for Breadth” through the Ex College; students receive one credit for auditing three classes.

UCLA

Although students are not required to participate in discussions or complete written work, it is generally expected that they will attend class. Students will need instructor permission before enrolling, and will not receive credit for any audited courses.

University of Michigan

A good deal of work is required from students who are auditing a class, including regular attendance, papers, labs, tests, and final exams.  The course will appear on the student’s transcript but no credit will be given. Finally, prospective auditors must be approved by the Academic Standards Board.

UPenn

Penn has one of the stricter audit policies on this list, as undergraduates are not allowed to audit classes at all. However, they may be permitted to “sit in” on classes with instructor permission, although it is an informal arrangement and may not be permitted by all departments.

UT Austin

A student auditor is expected to attend class but does not need to participate or complete work. That said, they will not receive credit, a grade, or a transcript designation. Finally, students will need to complete a special form with signatures from the course instructor as well as the dean.

UVA

Students must receive instructor permission before auditing a class, and some instructors may not allow their course to be audited. In addition, although students will not receive credit for the course, it will count toward their semester course load.

Vanderbilt

Students can audit courses from any undergraduate school. To do so, they need instructor permission. However, they do not officially register for the course or receive credit for it.

Williams

Students have the option to choose whether an audited course appears on their transcripts. However, they must have attended at least two-thirds of the classes in order to have it noted. Before deciding to audit a class, students should speak to professors about the degree of participation required.

Yale

Full-time students are eligible to audit courses, and are not expected to write papers or take tests. If they would like to do so, however, they can request evaluation (which may be granted or denied). To audit a course, students need only obtain permission from the instructor. They do not receive grades or credit and the course does not appear on their transcripts.

Additional Auditing a Class Resources

Not in college yet (or is your college’s audit policy too restrictive or expensive)? You might consider auditing classes for free through edX or Coursera, which feature offerings from Harvard, Berkeley, MIT, and BU, among others. As an audit learner, you typically enjoy temporary access to course readings and assignments but will not receive a certificate at the end of the course.

Final Thoughts – What Does it Mean to Audit a Class?

If planned for carefully and taken seriously, auditing a class can be an incredibly positive addition to your undergraduate experience. It’s hard to go wrong if you use the opportunity wisely: as a way to explore new subjects and gain invaluable preparation for the future.

More questions about major exploration and course planning? Consider checking out the following:

Kelsea holds a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Tufts University, a graduate certificate in College Counseling from UCLA, and is currently pursuing graduate work in writing instruction at Johns Hopkins University.