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Learning on the cheap
April 27, 2011 9:10 AM   Subscribe

I have a summer without a full-time job lined up, live near a world-class college campus, and wouldn't mind sitting in on classes. I don't have enough money to actually enroll for non-credit, so I was wondering: what's the general policy is on sitting in on large lecture classes?

I have vague plans to use this summer to read and study stuff that I haven't had time to do as a grad student, in addition to working a few part-time jobs, and volunteering to pad out my CV, gain experience and make contacts.

I would like to take classes at the university (Maryland, College Park, in case that matters), but don't have enough money to pay for anything. What's the best way to sit in on classes?

My general interests would be literary theory, film, social theory, statistics, logic, and some sciences.

Also: I'm aware that classes are often offered for free through YouTube and university websites, but that kind of thing doesn't work for me, so there's no need to suggest it.
posted by codacorolla to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You could call up the college registrar and ask if you could audit the class.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:16 AM on April 27, 2011

You may find some answers from these previous questions to be useful.

At my university, you have to pay to audit a class if you want to officially be allowed to do it, which I think is a pretty common arrangement. The fee is considerably less than if you're taking the class for credit, but may still be too expensive for you.
posted by lwb at 9:20 AM on April 27, 2011

Just talk to the lecturer who's teaching the course. If there are empty seats most of them won't mind you attending it for free.
posted by WizKid at 9:23 AM on April 27, 2011

Also: I'm already enrolled with the University. It appears their policy is that an audited course has the same tuition and fees as a for-credit course, which sort of blows.
posted by codacorolla at 9:24 AM on April 27, 2011

I'm sure you can find the prof's email address or phone number, either in the course description or on the "faculty" section of the university's website. Just ask the prof.
posted by John Cohen at 9:25 AM on April 27, 2011

Is there a reason why you're not identifying specific classes you're interested in sitting in on and asking the instructor/professor/department? If you're not registering to audit the class (which would involve a fee)-- if you're really just looking to sit in for your own personal edification-- it's probably going to be something left to the discretion of the instructor or the department.

You should consider, though-- especially for something like statistics-- that you really shouldn't be expecting to take tests or have assignments graded by the instructor if you're just sitting in (that is, not paying an audit fee or any kind). Not having a way to gauge your level of achievement and understanding in a subject that has more right answers/wrong answers (vs social theory) might be a challenge for some classes more than others.
posted by Kpele at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2011

You could just go, and if anyone asks say you're auditing. I did this when I was younger and was never asked any questions.
posted by xammerboy at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Especially in the beginning, some students attend classes just to see if they're interested...
posted by xammerboy at 9:29 AM on April 27, 2011

Show up to the first class or to the instructor's office hours. Talk to the instructor. Explain your intentions. If the class is large, most instructors will have no problem with you sitting in unofficially. Or, depending on just how large it is, you could just show up, sit in the back, and never mention to anyone that you're not in the class. No one will ever know, and no one will ever care.

I think it's pretty silly to pay for this unless (a) it's a small class and (b) the audit is participatory in that you want to contribute to discussions and/or be graded by the instructor (to challenge yourself to learn) but would prefer not to have a mark recorded on the transcript. In other words, only pay tuition if you'll increase the instructor's workload.
posted by matlock expressway at 9:49 AM on April 27, 2011

I've known people to just "sit in" on classes at UMCP during the year - I did it myself when I was a high school senior with a sometimes abbreviated schedule - but in the summer, there are going to be almost no large-enough lecture classes where you can just blend in. They're almost all smaller seminars. If you find a big one, it may end up being a freshman or transfer-student seminar of such basic things that you'll be bored to death.

If a lecture is large enough to blend in, it doesn't matter if it's at a world-class institution or the local third-string; the world-class quality comes out when you're an upper-classman or graduate student taking small seminars with those professors.
posted by juniperesque at 10:00 AM on April 27, 2011

What's available in terms of guided instruction in the DC area that's cheap, and doesn't involve me juking the system?
posted by codacorolla at 10:19 AM on April 27, 2011

Part of your answer depends on what classes you want to sit in on and how much you want to skirt or outright ignore policy. I went to a Very Large Public University and all science classes except physical chemistry were lecture hall classes of at least 80 students. This includes 3000 & 4000 level science classes. All my intro science classes were 150-300 students. Point is sitting in on any of those classes without paying anything or anybody being the wiser would have been trivial. There was never any professor-student interaction.

On the other hand, all of my liberal art classes were smaller <30 class sizes. Sitting in without properly auditing would have been much harder.
posted by jmd82 at 11:57 AM on April 27, 2011

Prospective students usually have free reign to sit in on classes. If I were considering this, I'd try to sit in on individual lectures of interest vs. an entire semester of classes. UMCP probably also has a bunch of guest lecture type events on specific topics that are open to the public - check the university events calendar for that sort of thing.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:33 PM on April 27, 2011

Don't go on test days.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 1:59 AM on April 28, 2011

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