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I'd like to join a class at a university, as a non-matriculated student, that I can participate in online, due to COVID-19. I already have a PhD (in a technical field), and am looking to take a class outside of a technical field, with the goal purely being personal intellectual enrichment. Many universities are moving classes online due to COVID-19, which makes this practical.

I'm not sure how to go about doing this. It's easy for me to find classes in the field of interest (Middle Eastern history) in various university catalogs, and it's easy for me to see if the university is holding it online or in person. But I haven't been able to find out which universities will allow me to participate without being a degree seeking student. I'm not tied down to any one university or any one particular class, but rather any class in my general area of interest that I can fully participate in. I know that the application deadline for the upcoming semester is very soon (for cases where it hasn't passed). Can you give me guidance on:

  • What types of schools will allow such participation?
  • What is the application process like?
  • How do I find these?
  • How do I go about doing this?

Note that I know there are a lot of open classes, MOOCs, Coursera, etc., but that's not what I'm looking for. I'm looking for the full structure and engagement of a full university class, with papers that will be graded, and the like.


To clarify:

  • non-matriculated means here "not seeking a degree", only (full) participation in a class
  • I am happy to pay tuition for this class
  • I'm located in the US
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    I believe this may be possible; once you find a university offering a class of interest, search their website for instructions on how to "audit" or "enroll as a nondegree student", and see if you can find the contact information of someone who would be willing to answer your questions. This will involve a fair amount of paperwork, and paying tuition -- which it sounds like you're happy to do. – academic Sep 22 '20 at 12:44
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    Search for "non-degree" rather than "non-matriculating". That should turn up a site for many universities you're interested in. – mkennedy Sep 22 '20 at 19:45
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What types of schools will allow non-matriculated participation?

I'll skip this part, because honestly it was news to me that there are universities that don't do this. Usually the emphasis is on job-related courses.

What is the application process like?

Very simple, if you can pay. They want your money.

How do I find these?

Look for a "school of continuing education," "university extension" or similar. If you do not want something job-related, you might look at programs marketed to retirees. In some places, such as those with a shortage of classrooms during teaching periods, this may be easier if you look for summer courses. Availability of classrooms is not, of course, relevant for online courses.

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I'm looking for the full structure and engagement of a full university class, with papers that will be graded, and the like.

That is a big part of the work that goes into teaching. So the time you take up cannot be spent on "real" students. That would not be fair without some way in which you compenste for the effort. Setting up, administering, and enforcing such payment system is work, i.e. costs money. You can see that what you want is not that easy. MOOCs are an attempt to give something like what you want, but is still viable from the university perspective.

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    Universities do this precisely because it's profitable. The students pay. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 22 '20 at 13:11
  • @AnonymousPhysicist Indeed, that's what Maarten and I have both noted. – user2768 Sep 22 '20 at 13:57
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For (full) participation in a class, rather than several classes, you may struggle. You could try institutes that specialise in remote learning / part-time study (and did so pre-covid), since they are more likely to offer single courses, especially those that target professionals. (My search provides results.)

If you want to study a number of classes, but just not graduate, then you can simply enrol as a regular student. There's no requirement to graduate.

Also (as per my original answer to your now edited question): Beyond MOOCs, schools won't allow this. As explained, it isn't in the financial interests of schools. Nonetheless, for a particular class that you're interested in, you could try emailing the instructor. If you present a good case, they may be willing to allow you to participate (just like they might allow you to participate physically). Whether you'll be successful is unclear: Participating physically would go largely unnoticed (in a large class), participating digitally may leave a digital trail (and isn't possible when students must login).

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    This is incorrect. Enrolling paying students is profitable. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 22 '20 at 13:12
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    @user2768 As far as I can tell, the original poster seems to be expecting to pay and happy to do so. – academic Sep 22 '20 at 13:56
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    Only one assumption is reasonable. – Anonymous Physicist Sep 22 '20 at 14:00
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    @AzorAhai--hehim What is quite common? – user2768 Sep 22 '20 at 14:10
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    @AzorAhai--hehim Which aspect is not correct? I haven't given a system, because my answer applies to several, including the US. – user2768 Sep 22 '20 at 14:36

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