Non-degree, open university programs?
May 26, 2008 10:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for universities that allow students to attend classes without enrolling..

Thinking along the lines of "Open University" offered by SFSU.

I suppose what I'm looking for are non-degree programs..

Location is not an issue.

Alternatively, I imagine it would be possible to sit in on popular lectures without anyone noticing.. Has anyone done this regularly? Tips? :)

posted by mrunderhill to Education (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I sit in on lectures (or used to, when I had time) at my university all the time. There is never a roll call or anything for lectures, and in most subjects there are enough people that you wont be an obvious outsider. In one subject, I even approached the lecturer and asked if I could attend the weekly seminar (about 6 students for two hours), and she was delighted.

I imagine you'd be able to do this at most major universities. If you can get your hands on a course timetable, it'd help out immensely. Perhaps you could enrol and then withdraw, but in the meantime poke around?
posted by twirlypen at 11:14 PM on May 26, 2008

Wow, that's a pretty generous policy. I think many other universities offer a non-matriculating status that's similar but more restrictive. You have to apply and be accepted (but it's not the full application process). You can take classes and count a limited number towards an eventual degree program.

Also, most universities have an audit policy where you can sit in on classes with the teacher's permission. Technically you're supposed to pay full price and not participate at all. Most teachers will let you participate, however. And you can probably audit for free if you find an agreeable professor. I suspect twirlypen's experience of sitting in on a small seminar is rare, however. Lectures are easier.

You might also want to look into extension programs. Often taught in the evening, may included credit and non-credit courses and much simplified application process.

BTW, your link is borked. Better link to SFSU program here.
posted by zanni at 11:34 PM on May 26, 2008

With my university there is never any checking system, so you could easily sit in on a number of different subjects and never be discovered.

I did noticed whenever we had notable speakers in to my media studies class the lecture theatre seemed unusually full. Labs were the only thing where the tutors would often check your name, so they could stop students attending labs outside their assigned times (usually people trying to get into the afternoon labs rather than the assigned 8am lab).

Also you could enroll in a paper then withdraw before the exam date, and it wouldn't be recorded on your transcript and wouldn't effect overall grade, although obviously you'd have to pay).

If you do sit in and (although it would be rare) got caught out, the usual excuse is that you're taking notes for a sick friend, or your lecturer from XYZ course suggested you sit in on a lecture for this paper to get your head around some concept that both papers are dealing with.

Most universities also let you enrol then withdraw before a certain date to avoid paying fees for those papers, so you could enrol, get your course outlines and readings book/slide summary then withdraw yet still attend classes.

So long as you don't disrupt and don't deprive a paying student of any class resource, then I'm sure they don't usually mind. Unlike the MPAA ;)
posted by chrisbucks at 12:14 AM on May 27, 2008

Alternatively, I imagine it would be possible to sit in on popular lectures without anyone noticing.. Has anyone done this regularly?
I think you can get away with this at most universities in large lecture classes. I remember one of my professors even saying explicitly that his lectures were public. Seminars, labs and sections would be more of a stretch.
posted by puffin at 3:53 AM on May 27, 2008

You really, really need to check with the professor of the class (especially if you have any chance of being noticed). Some universities are very picky, and sometimes it varies department by department, class by class, professor by professor. My experiences in small classes:

Upper-level Spanish linguistics class, 15 people, large state university: asked the prof, he was thrilled, just didn't want me to take tests (but was happy to go over homework).

Introductory Japanese class, 30 people, large private university: asked the prof, recommended to register but told it was okay and i could participate fully, later received nastygrams.

Introductory Vietnamese class, 15 people, large private university: asked the prof, told it was okay and i could participate fully, later received nastygrams.
posted by whatzit at 3:59 AM on May 27, 2008

Yes, auditing is the term you're looking for. Here is a comparison of auditing vs. "special student" (credit) status at my university. We're famous for our auditing, as we have a law allowing senior citizen residents to audit for free; there are particular classes that are well known for this kind of thing, and one person was so enterprising that he started a whole senior summer school thing that brings in loads of people from other states.

This should be pretty representative of what you'll run into. Note the "non-participatory" emphasis. You may be able to get into other classes, but that would require discussion with the prof ahead of time.
posted by Madamina at 5:55 AM on May 27, 2008

yup - as mentioned above it's called "auditing" and is done based on space in the classroom and with teacher approval. You take quizzes and exams but it does not go towards anything. I am only familiar with older adults doing this.
posted by doorsfan at 7:41 AM on May 27, 2008

You should be able to audit any class at a university, assuming it is sufficiently large. You can also talk to the profs about this. The only time it may be a big deal would be language courses which are usually small, and labs. I know at my school you could never audit the language classes because they were so tight for space.
posted by chunking express at 8:22 AM on May 27, 2008

Many of my professors at UCLA never took roll and had no idea who was sitting in their classes. I sat in on classes in which I was not enrolled quite often. Had a professor actually called me out on it, I would have just said, "Oh, you mean this isn't Anthropology 101? Looks like I'm in the wrong room." You can also say, "I know I'm enrolled. The Admissions Office must have made a mistake. I'll sort it out after class today." That will at least allow you to save face rather than get banished from the class in full view of the other students.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:48 AM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm pretty sure all of the colleges in the CUNY system in NYC let you take non-degree classes if you go to the registrar's office with proof you've graduated from high school and any college credits you want applied (aka BIO 101 so you can take BIO 102). Of course, you register after incoming freshmen, so your course selection may be limited and you're capped at 24 non-degree credits. In terms of sitting in on popular lectures, most city schools require ID cards for entrance, so if you get a non-degree card and find a large lecture class, no one's going to kick you out.
posted by blueskiesinside at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2008

What the SFSU website doesn't tell you immediately is that open university classes are charged at a rate of $220 per unit, meaning that a regular 3 unit class is going to be $660. Ouch.

/bitter future sfsu grad student currently forced to take open university classes.
posted by nerdcore at 11:12 AM on May 27, 2008

My across the street neighbor goes to BU classes for free. Anybody over the age of
55 can audit this way, or so he says. I believe him.

I'll be there in 3 weeks.
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 6:37 PM on May 27, 2008

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