Not sure if this only happens in my country, but a university student can go to a class without actually being enrolled. The student is either there because he wants to "try" the class first, or because the registration capacity is full.

What's the word for that?


Mary wasn't sure whether to take the biology course, so she went to [...] first.

  • There’s also a common practice of showing up to a full class in hopes of getting an “add” so that you can fully enroll. I am not aware of a word for that particular situation, though. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 23:46
  • 3
    Many years ago, I heard it described (outside of North America) as "sitting in"; for example when PhD students might have been encouraged to attend a class at say masters level or undergrad level for no credit, because it would be useful to them.
    – Glen_b
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 23:47
  • As much as bib's answer is correct, and it has been upvoted the most. I am certain that Avangion's answer was the most helpful and informative answer for a person who is a non native speaker.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 5:53
  • Thanks @Mari-LouA! I'll add that the practice of showing up to a full class in the (frequently fulfilled) hope of getting in is called by my university "special permission." What you do is go to the first class and politely ask the professor for a "special permission number." You can then register online using this number even if this would result in over enrollment. The likelihood of this working out is in inverse proportion to how much additional work the professor will have to do for each additional student. :) Although I can't say if this is common usage, most academic terminology is.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 8:17

6 Answers 6


A common term is audit

North American - Attend (a class) informally, not for academic credit.

Oxford Dictionaries Online

  • 4
    I don't think the word audit would be used in this circumstance in the UK. Indeed I find it slightly contrary to the usual understanding of audit, and auditor. I think we would simply call them a visitor if they had been invited. Were they there uninvited they would probably be called a gate-crasher.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:02
  • 22
    In the US, it's a formalized arrangement to audit a class - which implies the entire duration of the class term. A visitor would likely only sit through a single class period in a single day. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:50
  • 2
    @ws2 I've heard the term used in that sense during my (British) university days. It was a little unusual, but definitely something I've heard here.
    – Racheet
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:30
  • 2
    @Racheet Umm. I've had recent university experience, in retirement, but didn't encounter it. What bothers me slightly is that it introduces a very different sense to the word than that of a financial audit. And as a lifelong member of the accountancy profession that slightly troubles me.
    – WS2
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:56
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    Since audit is from Latin for "to hear," this isn't that specialized a sense. You're listening in on the class without otherwise participating. Such people are called auditors. If you doubt the common currency of this term, Google any university website. I am a university instructor, and students frequently ask me if they can audit my courses, as I have done in the past myself. It is neither new nor unusual.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 17:28

If a student intends to sit in on a course without registering, this is indeed called auditing. Auditing can be formal, in which case it might not even be free and could require arrangement with the university, or it can be informal if the professor agrees to allow it (which they may or may not technically be allowed to do).

Mary wasn't sure whether to take the biology course for credit, so she decided to audit it instead.

Contrary to the dictionary definition, I once took a course in which auditors were required to do all the reading and assignments, even though they wouldn't receive a grade, because all members of the class were expected to contribute. This sort of auditing was still a formal relationship, and I think it was even indicated on their transcripts. These were matriculated graduate students, however. At the same university (not mine), I myself audited a class by casual arrangement with the professor, though his requirements for participation were rather less onerous.

On top of that, there were also "auditors" from the general public in these courses who paid dearly for the privilege of listening to our discussions but, I understand, were expressly forbidden from actually participating in those discussions themselves—they were auditors in the true sense of the word.

The practice of trying a course out, on the other hand, is usually called shopping, and many if not most US universities these days allow for a one or two week "shopping period" at the beginning of each semester, so students can do precisely this. Shopping is not a slang term for it, either, but is what the universities themselves officially call it.

Mary wasn't sure whether to take the biology course, so she tried it out during the shopping period first.

This is a little bit redundant, since you could just say she tried it out or went to check it out, but I thought you might be interested to know this other common term and that there is a distinction between auditing and shopping. The former implies a commitment to a course despite not receiving a grade, while the latter indicates a trial period.

  • 10
    You said "sit in on" - I think that would work as an answer too. MW even explicitly mentions 'class' in the definition, although Oxford doesn't.
    – Rup
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:32
  • 1
    Sure. I guess it depends on how specific you want to be about the nature of the transaction. Auditing may or may not be a formal arrangement, while shopping is a trial period and sitting in would be the most casual and non-specific way to express it. These may all be relevant to the OP.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:35
  • 1
    +1 for showing how to use the word in the example phrase, +1 for teaching me "shopping period", +1 for explaining how auditing works in the US. Oh... I can only upvote once :(
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 15:52
  • 1
    I would indeed use "audit" if the student had officially requested to join the class, and if it would show up anywhere, even if no grade was being given... but "sit in on" in a less formal capacity, if the student just dropped in and listened to the lectures and that's it.
    – neminem
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 22:35
  • @neminem I agree with that usage, too, but in practice the distinction is blurry. Technically, as has been pointed out by me and others, auditing is often (typically?) an official way of taking the class, just not for credit. In practice, however, it doesn't always have to be more official than a student simply asking a professor to, in effect, sit in. "May I audit?" and "May I sit in?" are used interchangeably, correct or not. However, I wouldn't use audit in the case of a student sitting in without permission, as would only be possible in a larger lecture in which attendance is not taken.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 3:43

auditor - a university student registered for a course without credit and without obligation to do work assigned to the class.

dictionary.com definition

  • So..."she went to audit first?" Is this a common way of saying it?
    – wyc
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 12:28
  • In your version she went to a financial examination (audit is an official financial examination). I think it should be "she went to somewhere as an auditor.
    – dmayilyan
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 12:46
  • 2
    I've always heard it as a transitive verb; that is, one with a direct object. She decided to audit the class first.
    – Xenophon
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:21
  • A financial audit is a different sense. It's also a noun. Xenophon is correct about this sense being a verb. You could use it intransitively, though, and I think "audit the class first" makes less sense than "try it out" or "observe the first few classes" since auditing isn't the same thing as shopping. So, no, janoChen it isn't common.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:58
  • @Avangion 'audit' can be used as either a noun or a verb in either the financial or university sense. When a financial auditor decides to audit you, the event is called an audit. The noun form is less common with the university sense, though it is still used that way at times. For instance, university records clerks would refer to an 'audit' on someone's transcript.
    – reirab
    Commented Jun 18, 2015 at 14:32

This is sometimes known as shopping, as in during "shopping period."

If it continues into the semester, if the instructor is aware of the student and the student still submits work (which may or may not actually be graded, due to their enrollment status), this is indeed known as auditing as others have said.

If the instructor does not know of the student, I've heard this colloquially called vagabonding.


In the UK, attending a university session in order to 'try it out' would be considered a

"Taster Session (or just a "Taster")

(From Collins:) 4. a sample or preview of a product, experience, etc, intended to stimulate interest in the product, experience, etc, itself: the single serves as a taster for the band's new album.

You can see it being used by various universities

http://www.london.ac.uk/tasters, and http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prospective-students/widening-participation/activities/taster-courses, for example.


Should suit you, try "test".

Test more generally means "trial."

  • If you test a soap on your skin, you use it on one small patch, to see if you'll have an allergic reaction.
  • A drug test looks for the presence of drugs in your system.

test (noun) 1.a procedure intended to establish the quality, performance, or reliability of something, especially before it is taken into widespread use.


  • 3
    I don't think test is a good word to use in this context. Try is much better. Sometimes, we might colloquially say "test it out" but "try it out" is still better.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:03
  • 1
    I'm not sure what you mean. "Try slash test" as we might pronounce it? Your answer isn't clear to me.
    – sjsyrek
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:36
  • 2
    @MystiSinha, Most native speakers won't use "test", however, I echo Fumble Finger's thought that - it is slightly contrary to the usual understanding of audit, and auditor. Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 13:57

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