Attending a University Class without paying for it?

Hi folks,

So at my university I am taking 2 languages (French and Russian) and I am in the standard 3 credit course for those. However, my school also offers 1 credit Labs in those languages (focusing on oral communication and pronunciation). However, I’m already at the maximum credit load, so taking those 2 classes will cost me $1,000 per credit ($2,000).
I simply want to reinforce what I’m already learning in the standard class, but I don’t want to pay for those 2 oral labs. I’ve asked my teachers if it would be okay for me to drop in without registering for the class, and they’re fine with it as long as I keep it on the ‘down low.’ This is because the university would prefer that I pay for the course. I’ve asked my spiritual director if he would consider this stealing (Dropping into a college class that I’m not paying for), but I’m not sure if he understood my question (He compared it to an audit where you pay for the class but don’t get any credit for it. What I was asking was if not paying at all would be some kind of theft).

All advice would be appreciated. I would like to attend these classes and reinforce what I’m learning, but paying $1,000 for each class is just too much.

If I understand correctly: You want to benefit from the learning you will acquire attending the classes and you are not expecting to receive credits.

If that is what you’re saying, it’s not stealing at all. You are simply sitting in on the class and learning for its own sake. I understand the professors wanting you to keep it on the “down low” for various reasons, but that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong to do.

If I misunderstood and you wish to receive credits without paying, then that would be stealing.

Is there no option to audit them? I guess not being straight-up lecture classes that’s not as likely. Also, have you investigated other options for reinforcing what you’re learning? For French (not yet for Russian, but it’s probably coming soon) there is a great language app that is free and very easy to use (and addictive!). It’s called Duolingo, and you can find it at or use it on your smartphone. I use it to keep my Spanish fresh–just fifteen or twenty minutes a day, and I can review all my vocabulary and grammar pretty easily. If you’re already proficient, you don’t have to start with the basics, but you can test out of whole lessons. I’d say check that out, as it’s free and accessible.


If there is no explicit university or department rule that you cannot sit in on classes (which is an unofficial audit) and you asked the professor, who said it’s fine, then I don’t see anything morally wrong in doing so. Of course the university would PREFER you take the course since charging tuition is the bottom line for them; but if they have no regulation against it, then go ahead and don’t feel guilty.

You** need** to listen to your spiritual director. We cannot countermand advice from spiritual directors here on the forum, especially in cases like this.

I think you should consult with your spiritual again just to make sure he/she understood.

I suspect that there is not a problem here given what you’ve already been told. Keep the following in mind:

  1. Instructors may have a lot of leeway when it comes to who can be in their classes, but they cannot issue grades to someone who isn’t registered.

  2. University policy is not necessarily exact Catholic moral policy. If you are following Catholic teaching and especially getting formal spiritual direction, Your spiritual direction trumps any odd secular policy clause, but I suspect this is not that big of a deal.

  3. A good argument as to why it’s not theft is that you are not getting credit for it. When you market this, you won’t be able to truthfully say you got credit, but you can market it as an unofficial audit.

To me, this sounds like just like an unofficial audit. You have permission from the instructors and your spiritual director leans that way. Just make sure you director knows about the “down low” part of this.

Otherwise, I am inclined to say this is fast approaching scrupulosity.

Even if they did, I wonder how morally it would be if the instructors gave permission. Well-run universities should allow instructors and departments to make their policy as to who is allowed in classes and who isn’t.


In my experience, this sort of thing is usually at the professor’s discretion. I am not aware of this happening very often for undergrads in my department, but I know my fellow grad students will often sit in on a class they find interesting and/or need reinforcement in with out actually signing up for it, and with most people knowing. (Math grad students have to take qualifying examinations in certain subjects, and sometimes because of our schedules these examinations are a year or more after we’ve originally taken the class, and so often we will sit in on the class again without taking it).

The department and the university both know this sort of thing happens, and don’t really care so long as it doesn’t get out of hand. So if your professor says it’s ok, it probably is.

Since we’re both in academia, SuperLuigi, you know as well as I that sometimes professors allow things that are explicitly against departmental and/or university policy: for example, permitting students to take final exams earlier than the official finals week. I agree with you that instructors and departments SHOULD be allowed the freedom to enforce or not to enforce certain rules, especially those that are peculiar to a particular department, individual class, or individual student. Notwithstanding, so long as the department or university has explicitly stated rules and regulations, an instructor must realize that, whether due to negligence or ignorance, if they do not follow them, they do so at their own risk. In this instance, however, I have the impression there is no official university policy forbidding this kind of unofficial audit, even though it may be discouraged, so the student is under no moral obligation to refrain from attending classes.

Hi meltzerboy! Something I was considering (but as a Canadian - and I know nothing about the American university system). If a university is a public one (therefore somewhat subsidized by the taxpayers) I would think that if there is space available, any taxpayer could sit in on a class at the professor’s discretion. Of course, understanding that no credit will be given just that one wants the opportunity to learn something. Is my thinking correct?

Grasscutter, your thinking makes sense, but common sense is not always typical of a university’s policies. I cannot speak for all universities but the ones I am familiar with do not allow any taxpayer to sit in on classes. There is often a written statement forbidding unofficial auditors, and sometimes no auditing is permitted at all. The professor does not have the authority to override university policy. Of course, sometimes the rule is more honored in the breach than the observance, particularly in graduate school.

Thank you, good to know.

Hi Angel7,

I agree with the general sentiment that since you’re not receiving credits, you’re not really stealing. You’ve received the professor’s permission and that is sufficient.

Just an aside…

I attended a large public university. One semester I was taking a philosophy course. It met three days a week in a large lecture hall. There were over 100 students and the professor knew very few of us. On the first day of class I noticed an elderly man sitting toward the back, listening very intently and furiously taking notes. A couple weeks into the semester we were studying a somewhat complex topic so, figuring this guy might provide some insight, I sought him out after class. He gave me a very good, understandable explanation. I was so impressed that I began sitting with him in class and even meeting him at the library for further study.

Finally, the end of the semester was upon us. After the final class he said to me, “Well, it’s been fun. Best of luck on the final exam. Hope to see you around campus.” Puzzled, I ask him, “Aren’t you taking the final?” He laughed and said, “Hell no. I’m not even enrolled. My wife died earlier this year and I needed something to do, so I sneak into large lecture halls in order to soak up some knowledge.” Then, with a wink of his eye, “And to flirt with pretty co-eds.”

I had a similar experience or two when I was a graduate psychology student. In New York City, this behavior is not uncommon.

I think that’s considered stealing, and I’m surprised your professor would say that’s fine. There still is a charge for taking a class, regardless if you receive credits or not. Unless you talk to the person in charge… You could do that.

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