There is a professor in the city I am currently living in who does some interesting work. I would like to sit in on his lectures, but I do not know how to ask him. What is the best way for me to ask him to attend or audit his lectures or seminar? I don't want to come across as rude or imposing myself on him, esp. when its about seminars which are maybe not so big.

Also, relatedly: I am not sure if I would be able to attend every single lecture because I will have a lot of work to do the upcoming weeks. So I am not sure how to best ask with this in mind. If he says yes and I am not coming to one of the lectures -although I would love to- will it maybe look very bad?

  • What's your location? In Germany e.g. there is the possibility to enroll as a guest auditor. This will likely cost a fee but I'm unsure if it's the decision of the professor to let you be there or the university's. You didn't specify if the course itself has only limited seats and requires registration.
    – idkfa
    Mar 24, 2016 at 1:24
  • well I am not entirely sure about capacities. I am in the UK. So in Germany you would just get enroll as a guest and the professor would not really have a say? Mar 24, 2016 at 1:38
  • At least not in my field. Our classes are so big they wouldn't know who is there. That's why I asked how small the courses are going to be. If the seats are limited and require registration I'm sure you can only enroll if students who need the credit for the points have a seat and the professor consents.
    – idkfa
    Mar 24, 2016 at 7:38
  • I have sat in classes in Scotland without even needing to ask. Things may be different in England.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 25, 2016 at 13:53
  • 2
    @ChrisDoyle: In Germany, when talking about just wanting to see a lecture once or twice, you wouldn't even normally enroll in any way, but simply take a seat in the class. Mar 25, 2016 at 15:41

3 Answers 3


First I would check if the school has a formal procedure for auditing. For example, my school wants auditors to pay as if they were attending the class, and they also have insurance concerns if, e.g., a student is hurt in a chem lab and it turns out that they weren't enrolled. You can get this info from the school's web site or catalog.

If that's not an issue, then I would just send a brief email and ask permission. There are unlikely to be any objections, but it would be polite to ask. Some conceivable problems:

  1. There might be a shortage of seating.
  2. In certain subjects (e.g., languages) or in classes using certain teaching methods, it might be expected that students will participate actively. The quality of the discussion or activities might be worse if there is an auditor who isn't taking the course seriously.
  3. The professor might want to talk to you for your benefit to see if you have enough of a background to get anything out of the class.

Personally it doesn't bother me if an auditor's attendance is irregular.

  • 3
    It's not clear from the question, but it sounds like the OP is not enrolled at the university at all (not just not enrolled in the course he/she is interested in sitting in on.) Is there usually a policy on auditors who are not students at the university?
    – ff524
    Mar 24, 2016 at 3:20
  • @ff524: Good question, and I don't know the answer. I'm at a community college, so admission is trivial.
    – user1482
    Mar 24, 2016 at 21:17

If it's not too inconvenient, I would suggest asking in person. Send an email first to set up an appointment to drop by to discuss the possibility of attending his class. Then at the meeting you can easily explain your interest and situation. An in-person meeting will make it easier for the professor to get a sense of how appropriate it would be for you to attend the course.

As Ben indicates, universities generally want auditors to pay, and different departments may have different policies about auditing, but many professors don't mind someone "learning for free."

  • 2
    I would find having to set up a meeting in person just to be asked this much more inconvenient than receiving the question directly on the email.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 25, 2016 at 13:21
  • 1
    @Davidmh I think it depends on the person and class. Yes, many faculty would be okay with just an email. However, we've gotten some weird people wanting to take classes, and they can potentially throw off the dynamic, especially for small classes where there is a fair amount of student interaction. So if a random person off the street wants to take a class, I want to know something about them first.
    – Kimball
    Mar 25, 2016 at 15:56
  • If the professor has anything to say in the decision, he may want to meet first; but if he can't (because lectures are always public, already full, or following some university regulation), having to meet in person is just an annoyance. So, offering to meet is good, but I'd rather be explicit about attending classes on the first email.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 25, 2016 at 19:14
  • @Davidmh Fair enough.
    – Kimball
    Mar 25, 2016 at 21:28

If someone not associated with my university wants to sit in on one of my classes, I have no objection to that. It would be nice if the person asked first, but my answer would be yes unless the manner of asking convinced me that he or she would be a problem in the classroom. So far (my first 46 years on the faculty) I have never said no to such a request.

This presupposes that the student just wants to learn the material and doesn't need any sort of official record of having been in my class. For an official record, you'd have to go via the university administration.

It's also relevant that I'm in mathematics, where I don't have to worry about things like having enough space and supplies in a lab for an extra student.

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