Auditing A Class

There’s a few things I would do differently if I was to redo my university experience. One of those things would be to audit a few classes. Audit is kind of a vague term, but it basically means dropping in on a class that you aren’t “taking” or getting credit for. Some schools will actually denote an official audit on your transcript, even if you don’t do any of the official course work. This would likely look pretty good, and I’ve heard of students pointing to this in different job or faulty interviews in an effort to separate themselves from the pack. The real reason I will definitely take the opportunity to audit classes if I am ever back in a post-secondary setting has nothing to do with credit or building a transcript, instead it simply has to do with learning.

All The Best Parts of University – Plus No Assignments!

Dropping in on a class that you don’t have to do assignments in is sort of the ultimate opportunity for a geek like me. I’ve written dozens of essays in humanities courses, and the vast majority of them I would have learned just as much if I simply read a few of the books on the topic, and didn’t go through the trouble of trying to prove a specific thesis that was probably pretty obvious in most cases. The key for me is being able to audit a course not only in a subject area you are extremely interested in, but a course with a professor that is charismatic and truly cares about communication. My post on how to best use Rate My Professor stirred up some controversy, but the truth is that it remains an excellent indicator for deciphering which teacher gives a crap about teaching a course. The sad reality that I’ve noticed in many university settings (not so prevalent in Canadian colleges) is the fact that professors are picked based upon their publishing prowess and the degree to which they “put the university on the academic map” so to speak. It usually has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to teach or communicate. On top of that systemic obstacle, most professors see undergrads as a necessary evil that supports the “real” learning that goes on at a university; therefore, there are many classes at universities that are not nearly as good as they could be.

The flip side of this argument is that there are some incredibly dynamic people out there in post-secondary centres that have dedicated their entire life to not only exploring a given subject area, but sharing it with others as well. These professors are incredibly valuable to one’s education, and they should be clung to if at all possible to support further learning. I’ve detailed one extremely positive example I had with a man named George McLean. These individuals not only pass along information, but they stoke the fire within you to challenge yourself and learn more than you otherwise might have. Auditing their courses allows you to drop in as often as you can and simply learn for the sake of learning.

Steve Jobs Did It, So It Must be Boss

When I was in school taking my degrees I always had a full course load. When I combined this with sports and an active social life I found that I was pretty tapped out. If at all possible I would recommend using the university to its fullest and exploring different options. If you haven’t seen Steve Jobs’ famous Stanford speech, I highly recommend it. In the speech Jobs talks about how the school he went to had a phenomenal calligraphy program. The vast majority of people out there would have likely called Jobs crazy for dropping out of many of his classes, and auditing this course in an area that had almost no viable financial incentives. Instead, Jobs went on to take the course, and several years later when they were designing fonts for the various Apple products, he contributed quite a lot from his calligraphy background (which he had no actual credit in, but had gotten for free). In his own words, this revolutionized computer fonts since it gave Apple products more options, and then Microsoft basically just copied Apple! Jobs is the ultimate example of someone who loved learning for the sake of learning, and while it obviously helps your cause if you’re a genius, I think there is a lot we can take from that example.

Learning For The Sake of Learning

If and when I retire early (I hope to be working half days no later than 45), I truly believe one of the things I will love to do is just audit random classes. It would be great to chop out all of the anxiety that comes with having to achieve a certain grade in order to get into a faculty, and never have to worry about a crazy exam schedule. Instead, just listening and talking about subjects that truly interested me, and that were only taught by the best professors I could find would be a ton of fun. There are certainly worse ways to spend a Monday afternoon! I didn’t make enough use of all the cool little things that the university experience has to offer when I was there (that being said, I did make use of far more than the average student), so I definitely encourage others to learn from my experience and drop in on that course your buddy likes so much, or check in on that professor that really got to you in your first year at school. I highly doubt you’ll regret it.

Have any of you every audited a class? What were your main reasons, and was it worth it for you?

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9 years ago

I didn’t audit a class last year, but I did walk into the wrong lecture and was too embarrassed to leave. I want to audit a few classes this year, although I couldn’t fit it into my schedule last year so I do not know how I will be able to do it this year. I would like to sit in on a few business courses if they are relevant to starting a small business or a French class or something. And something else I have thought of is auditng classes that I will be taking the upcoming year so… Read more »

9 years ago

A couple years ago, I audited an Algebra/Geometry class. My friend was teaching the class and I just sat in for a couple hours for four weeks. It was intended to be a refresher class in math for me. I did the exercises in class, but not the homework. It was a great experience. This is one of the activities I plan on experiencing in retirement. The university is just five miles from home.

9 years ago

Have you heard of Coursera? ( It offers a ton of free online courses taught by amazing professors at Princeton, Stanforf, UPenn, etc. It’s free to make an account and since it’s online (and not for credit) you can go at your own pace and not worry about exams.

I’m strongly considering signing up for one later on this summer. It looks like a really cool way to study a subject I wouldn’t otherwise!

I never thought about that, but I do like the idea. I like the online idea even better. No travel time gives you more time to attend class. Thanks for the post and link.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
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