Course audits are the secret little gem of relaxed higher learning

University education doesn’t have to be the stressful experience of struggling to maintain a GPA

Be a beacon of calm in your class this summer and audit a course Illustration: Alex Vanderput

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

Gather ‘round, ye sweet summer children, and listen well. For I am old — a fourth year — and at the end of my undergrad life. Before I pass onto the great beyond of post-grad life, I wish to pass on some wisdom to you all: consider taking a course audit before you graduate.

What’s that? You don’t know what a course audit is? I’m not surprised. Course audits are an under-utlilized, underpromoted, and underappreciated service offered at SFU, and frankly, I think that should change. An audit course is a course taken without credit. This means that the course won’t count toward your GPA or your degree requirements. Seems a bit pointless to take an audit class then, huh? If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re dead wrong. There are lots of reasons to take an audit class. Here are my favourites:

  1. No GPA, no worries. Have you ever felt that you just weren’t learning anything with all that stress to complete weekly assignments on top of all your other courses? Course audits are a perfect way to relax and let the information settle in your brain at your own pace. Because course audits don’t count toward your GPA, all assignments and exams are optional. This allows students the chance to engage with topics and materials in a completely different, stress-free way. I personally found I enjoyed my course audit a lot more than my regular classes because I was able to concentrate on interactions between core concepts without having to stress over how much I needed to memorize for an exam. It made for a much more engaging and enjoyable learning process, and in the end, I got so much more out of that class than most of my other, regular classes. Speaking of GPAs . . . 
  2. Step out of your comfort zone. Let’s face it, by the time most students have entered their third year, they’re fairly entrenched in the ways of thinking specific to their home department. We just get comfortable with the way things are written, what expectations are common across professors, and the kinds of knowledge and discourses that are most valued. But isn’t university supposed to be about engaging with new ideas and disciplines outside of our comfort zones? What if we want to try something radically different but are afraid to tank our GPA in the process? The beauty of course audits is that even if you have no experience in a certain discipline, the course audit itself is risk-free. It can’t affect your GPA because you’ve already agreed not to take it for credit. This gives students a low-cost way to try new things outside of what they’re familiar with, without having to worry that the attempt might destroy their academic or career plans. 
  3. Course audits are cost-effective. I know what you’re all thinking: all this sounds pretty sweet, but I’m not going to pay full price for a class that I’m not going to get credit for. Honestly, I wouldn’t either. Fear not! Course audits actually cost half of the regular fee for the course. This averages to about $75 per unit. While this may understandably still be too costly for some students to make course audits worth it, it’s at least a reduction in the usual price it would cost to gain the same knowledge. 
  4. Save those open-scholarship credits. OK, I fully acknowledge that this isn’t going to apply to everyone, but it is something to keep in mind if you’re amongst the students who receive automatic open scholarships as a neat little consequence of keeping that GPA up. Unfortunately, open scholarships have a limit, and that limit is 10% of your program’s required credits. This means that if, for whatever reason, you’re projected to go over the usual 120 credits required to graduate, you’re going to lose those open scholarships once you hit 131 credits. This makes it a lot less attractive for students who rely on scholarships to take a chance on a course purely for interest or pleasure. But since course audits don’t count for credit, you can take as many course audits as you want and never have them eat up precious open scholarship credits. Of course, they also won’t count in the calculation of how much you receive from an open scholarship, but it’s a fair trade-off. 
  5. Keep that learning train going. Course audits aren’t limited to just current SFU students. Anyone in the community can apply to audit a course through the Special Audit program. This means that long after you’ve shrugged the shackles of SFU off and you start feeling that itch to learn again, you can apply to audit a course and soak in the learning without the stress of studying, exams, or paper writing. However, Special Audit courses are limited to lectures only. Tutorials and labs are still the special privilege of undergrad students.

All this said, I want to leave all you young’uns with a bit of a disclaimer. The above information is based on my personal experience and what limited information I could scratch out of the internet. Before auditing a course, you should definitely talk to your academic advisor.

Detailed information on course audits is almost impossible to find online, which is a shame. The university absolutely should be promoting more diverse learning streams like course audits to its students. The Peak reached out to SFU for clarification on some course audit details, but as of time of publication, has yet to hear back.