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Does a B in a class look worse for graduate school admissions than an audit, given I'm not expected to have the class in the first place?

More specifically, I'm studying abroad and taking five math classes. When I go back to my home institution, by the time I graduate I'll have exhausted all the math courses there, so the maximum math courses I'm "expected" to have is those plus four (four classes being a typical semester).

I have the opportunity to change a class to audit, even after I know my grades, so my question is, if there is a class I might get a B in (functional analysis, if you care), do you think having a B would look less impressive than not taking the course (or does audit risk the same sort of judgement)?

Does my question make sense? Does a B look "weak" when applying to grad school (even in comparison to nothing)?

  • Can you clarify in your question if you mean this in relation to applying for graduate studies? (Currently the only indication of that is in your choice of tags, and the question otherwise risks being flagged as off-topic for not pertaining to research-oriented studies.) – user38309 Dec 13 '15 at 18:28
  • My apologies, yes in regards to applying for graduate school. Question has been edited. – Ryan Dec 13 '15 at 19:20
  • I don't feel great about the ethics of calling this an audit on your transcript. When admissions committees read the word "audit," they will think something quite different from what you're actually doing. – user37208 Dec 14 '15 at 6:04
  • What would you consider an audit? Just sitting in on the class, no? I've done everything required for an audit, so I don't quite see the ethical complaint. – Ryan Dec 14 '15 at 13:44
  • @Ryan you did take the class regularly, even if not required. Just give full details, particularly if somewhat unusual. – vonbrand Jan 3 '16 at 23:38
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It's better to have documentable (whether in transcript or by letters of recommendation) exposure to more substantial mathematics. Especially in the U.S., the default undergrad curriculum in mathematics is far too thin for grad school. Without taking initiative, which necessitates not-the-routine channels, you'd not be ready for grad school. Naturally, the irregularities in the not-routine channels generate grades whose meaning is unclear, and so on. (And, no, summer "research experiences for undergrads" do not typically add much to one's scholarly preparation, although they may fire one's enthusiasm.)

So, for me, when I see "functional analysis" on a transcript, I don't really care what the grade is, nor whether it's "audit" or not. Just the initiative to engage with it.

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First, this depends on if you plan to apply to the #1 ranked graduate program in mathematics or a un-ranked program. Second, although the "audit" may not carry the burden of a grade associated with it, it is often associated with a student who enrolled in the course but did not do any of the assignments, tests, etc. So, this is a double-edged sword. Keep in mind that one course will not make or break a graduate school application!

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