There's a prospective graduate student visiting my adviser and I was asked if the student could come with me to an undergraduate class I'm taking at another college within the university. Is it acceptable for me to just show up to this class with the prospective student or should I email the professor and ask if the visitor can sit in? The class is lecture-based and doesn't require student discussion, relatively large (~40 students at both the undergrad and graduate level), but the professor will likely notice that the visitor isn't in the class.

Edit: I'm in the US and the prospective student and I are both from here, but the professor is from the Netherlands.

Update: I ended up emailing the professor three days in advance to make sure it was fine.

  • 7
    I would let the professor know by email and make sure he's okay with it, just so he doesn't get offended or worried if the prospect needs to leave during the lecture. The amount of effort you need for the email is at most 5 minutes.
    – Compass
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 17:52
  • 2
    You should specify at least your country. For instance in Italy, as far as I know, anyone can just attend any public University class, regardless of being officially a student.
    – o0'.
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 16:40
  • @o0'.: yes, pretty much in every European country I visited
    – WoJ
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 14:31
  • 40 people is large?!
    – user111388
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 17:45

3 Answers 3


E-mail a few days in advance.

Just showing up puts everyone on the spot, and could end poorly. It could also turn your visitor off.

  • 5
    This is certainly the safe route, but I'd imagine many professors would be okay with getting just a few hours' advance notice, and quite a few of those wouldn't really mind that much if you just show up and talk to them before class.
    – David Z
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 20:37
  • 3
    I try to check my email right before class, but often I am working on other things right up until I walk into the classroom. Also it is good practice to not email faculty at the last minute.
    – Tommy B
    Commented Oct 20, 2014 at 21:50
  • @DavidZ - You're right, I don't need a few days to think about this. But, as Tommy said, there's no guarantee I'll see your email before class if you send it just a few hours in advance. Not everyone checks their inbox hourly.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 0:02

I suspect the right answer to this question depends very much on the country you are studying in.

To give one example, in Finland it is determined by law that all university lectures are public and free for anyone to attend. Nobody would notice an extra attendee, unless there were normally only a couple of students in the class. Emailing the professor would just seem odd.

  • 4
    Yep, the same in Italy. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 6:48
  • 8
    It will also depend on the size of the class. If you are attending a 500 student lecture course, it might be a bit silly to ask for permission as the visitor will surely blend into the crowd. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 7:36
  • 2
    Same in Argentina.
    – user7116
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 10:32
  • 4
    @Sverre I am not a medical or psychology student, but surely they don't name any of the patients they discuss. Surely it is just the relevant information.
    – emmalgale
    Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 13:40
  • 3
    @Sverre: The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 13:51

I have taught a lot of small classes where I know most all of the students.

I also host office hours for my local Python group in a conference room, where people are expected to come and go at will, and new faces show up all the time.

In the former case, a new student showing up out of nowhere would have definitely raised my eyebrows, and an email in advance would have been sufficient warning to avoid any awkwardness. But in either situation, I would greet the new face warmly and welcome them.

Some schools may have more restrictions on access than others, and what you mostly want to ensure is that your guest has permission to be on campus, usually registering their presence at a visitor center before going elsewhere.

  • ... unless campus is a public place that does not have a visitor center, obviously. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 8:46
  • obviously. ... :)
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 16:05
  • 1
    What even is a visitor center?!
    – user111388
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 17:47
  • Google and Wikipedia is your friend: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visitor_center
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 20:48

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