Lastly, colleges often offer free or highly discounted classes via the academic audit*. In an audit arrangement students must get permission from the registrar to sit in on a class. The student can then attend the class and have access to all the related materials but will not take part in testing nor receive a formal grade.
If credits are not earned how can an audit save the student money in his quest for a degree? For one, audits are a cheap way to attend enjoyable or exploratory classes that don’t count toward one’s graduation requirements. For two, it’s a great way for students to survey their options and take a few “test drives” of subjects before committing to a major. This decreases the start-over expenses of changing programs mid-stream. Thirdly, audits can significantly increase the prospects for success in unfamiliar or difficult courses a student risks failing. Here a student can get a good grip on the material before taking the class for credit. After all, few things hurt worse than paying good money toward a course only to have those credit hours voided, or to earn a poor grade that sullies up an otherwise good GPA. Last but not least, you may want to learn a class’s subject matter via the audit in order to pass a credit waiver exam, at which point you have a formal education, credits and substantial savings rolled into one (we explored the world of credit waivers in elsewhere here).
So while the audit may cost you in terms of uncredited time, if any of the above situations apply to you, it can be a great way to learn without the expenses normally associated with class enrollment.
*Some schools still charge full tuition for audit arrangements. Obviously this greatly diminishes, if not completely nullifies the value of an audit as described above.