Suppose someone goes to a class without registering. Then what word should I use to describe this person or this kind of behavior?

  • Could you confirm that you have used a bilingual dictionary? You could tell us what the bilingual dictionary translates this as. I suspect that the answer is different in Britain and America. Can you also say if you are interested in British or American answers.
    – James K
    Sep 16, 2019 at 5:49
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    @JamesK Unless UK educational establishments have universally adopted the US meaning, "auditing a course" in the UK would mean that you are being paid by some organization (not necessarily the college itself) to check that the course meets some specified criteria, not that you are attending the lectures just "for personal interest".
    – alephzero
    Sep 16, 2019 at 15:59
  • Similar at EL&U: Word for going to a university class but without being enrolled? In my experience auditing indicates formal sanction from the instructor and more or less regular attendance, just without examination. Without sanction, sitting in is not far removed from crashing which is not far removed from trespassing.
    – choster
    Sep 16, 2019 at 21:30

6 Answers 6


Quick key terms: audit, auditing, auditor, sitting in, unregistered student, crashing a class, attendee.

Suppose someone go to a class without registering. Then what word should I use to describe this person or this kind of behavior?

I would agree with Maulik V, this person (call him John) can simply be referred to as an unregistered student.

I can think of two different scenarios when it comes to your question.

First, John might be attending the class with the intention of pursuing the course. It is totally possible that the class is full and there is a wait list. John is therefore in the wait list, officially unregistered for the course. When registered students drop the course, John is then moved up into the list of the registered students. While John is in the wait list, like all other students in the class, he must commit to completing assignments, quizzes, etc. In this case, John wants to register for the course, but he can't until someone drops the course and there is an open spot.

This scenario, as wonderfully pointed out by costrom in the comments, is informally referred to as "crashing [a class]". I couldn't find any dictionary entries for this, but here is a source: LocalWiki.

In the second scenario, John does not have any intention to commit to assignments/exams. John may be interested in a particular part of the course, a particular chapter, or generally, just interested to learn about the course material. In this case, he does not want to or need to register for the course. He simply sits in while the class is going on. We say "John is just auditing the course/class - lucky guy, he doesn't need to sit for the midterm tomorrow".In this case, we can call John, an auditor.

Cambridge dictionary defines "audit" as "to go to a class or educational course for pleasure or interest, without being tested or receiving a grade at the end".

Collins says to audit is to "attend (a college course) simply to hear the lectures without receiving credit".

In Wikipedia, the term Academic Audit is described as the following:

In academia, an audit is an educational term for the completion of a course of study for which no assessment of the performance of the student is made nor grade awarded. Some institutions may record a grade of "audit" ...

In this case, [the grade] 'audit' indicates that the individual merely has received teaching, rather than being evaluated as having achieved a given standard of knowledge of the subject. The term 'audit' is Latin, translating as, 'he/she hears'. In other words, the student has experienced the course, but has not been assessed.

But different universities have slightly different rules with regards to auditing. Some universities (or even different departments/faculty within an institution) may require students to officially register as an auditor. There are a few reasons for that (e.g., number of seats, fire safety code, and confidentiality of exam materials). Someone pointed this out here.

Here is what University of British Columbia says for its students:

  • An auditor is a student who is taking a course without seeking a grade or credit for the course.
  • Students usually audit courses for self-interest and academic exploration.
  • Auditors' participation in courses will be set by the course instructor.
  • In general, if you're auditing a course you'll be expected to complete all course requirements except the final exam, and your transcript will show a statement of audit for the course.
  • 1
    Your first scenario is frequently described as crashing the course (attending until enrolled in the session)
    – costrom
    Sep 16, 2019 at 19:42
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    @costrom YES! Thanks for mentioning that. That is usually what it is, and there are lots of reference (informal) to "crashing a course" on the internet. Sadly, I can't find a dictionary entry for a formal reference.
    – AIQ
    Sep 16, 2019 at 19:48
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    When I've audited courses, I've sometimes had to complete coursework and gotten a grade, I just didn't get credit for the course. Sep 16, 2019 at 20:07
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    @toonarmycaptain yes the rule varies based on the institution, and sometimes, even on the instructor.
    – AIQ
    Sep 16, 2019 at 20:18
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    @gidds, Cambridge dictionary defines gatecrashing as *"to go to a party or other event when you have not been invited" Collins provides a similar definition. In universities, teachers/professors may not have a problem with a few unregistered students sitting in the class. They may very well even appreciate it. But you are right that "crashing" can be misunderstood, particularly because it is not recognized by dictionaries for the intended meaning.
    – AIQ
    Sep 16, 2019 at 22:22

What I understand here is the context in which you run some class (of some subjects), and you have students. Some are registered and others are not but still, the latter come to the class.

If that is the case...

The safest word to use is unregistered. I teach IELTS, PTE, and CELPIP. I often encounter such students and inform the management that I have 3 unregistered students. They then take care of the case.

  • 1
    This is an option. Thanks. But actually I am the unregistered student. I was just imagining this situation where someone I know walks to me and says "I didn't know you were in this class too". And I would answer: "I am actually not registered, I am just here to ___ "(or "I am just a ___").
    – trisct
    Sep 16, 2019 at 7:17
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    Maybe.... like this? I did not know you were in this class too ~ I am actually not registered. I am just here for the demo OR I am just a newbie yet to register.
    – Maulik V
    Sep 16, 2019 at 7:25

Combining points from the other answers and comments, I would refer to and expect this student to be "crashing the course" (negative/unwelcome/possibly disruptive), "sitting-in" (positive/welcomed), or "an unregistered attendee" (neutral).

All of the terms imply the student

  • is attending the course or part of it (welcome or unwelcome/unobserved)
  • is not registered for the course (though they may intend to)
  • does not intend to attend the entire event or series of events
  • is using some resource they have not necessarily been given formal approval for (even if of negligible marginal cost such as one seat in a big lecture hall)
  • is likely not attending any lab portions of the course (lab portions of classes frequently have a financial cost and more limited seating)

A common example (showing the term's negativity) would be "crashing a wedding", where uninvited people attend a small portion of or just the party of a wedding, with the intention of acquiring free drinks, food, or other benefits.

An unregistered student isn't necessarily implied to be attending the class (while an unregistered attendee clearly attends and the implication is that they are a student).

Finally, an auditing student is a special case where they are registered for the course (even if this is informal/simply departmental approval), but do not receive a grade for the course (often the student will receive a line on their transcript noting the audit, but it can/will not affect their GPA). Normally auditing implies both registering and the intention to attend the entire course.

Native speaker, no additional references.

  • 1
    "Finally, an auditing student is a special case where they are formally registered for the course (has paid for it and has departmental approval, etc.)" This is not true. In many institutions, students don't have to pay anything for auditing; there also may be no requirement for formal registration. It all depends on the institution.
    – AIQ
    Sep 16, 2019 at 22:10
  • That's fair, I'll change it a bit! Though I would draw the line at a student being registered and would specially note students in an audit situation who aren't subject to that formal mechanism.
    – ti7
    Sep 16, 2019 at 22:22
  • "Not having formal approval" is a big assumption - at my university, students are permitted at any lecture in any subject, regardless of the subject they are to be examined in. Sep 17, 2019 at 13:21

In the US we call this person an auditor of the class; they are auditing the class. Even our UK friends at Oxford acknowledge this meaning:


attend (a class) informally, not for academic credit.

The other answers here are legitimate terms as well, and I think the appropriate term depends on what the student is trying to accomplish by attending the class.

Usually we use the word "audit" to refer to someone that is not a student but still wants to learn the information. This is considered a legitimate reason to attend the class. However if you are registered at the school and there just aren't seats available in the class and you still want to follow along with the class, this can still be considered an 'audit' of the class.

The instructor may or may not provide class materials to auditors. If there is only one auditor, or only a few, the instructor may allow them full participation, except that they cannot receive a grade or credit. However if there are a bunch of people that are just waiting for seats to open up, likely the instructor will not provide materials for them. In this case, maybe "crashing" is the better term, but "auditor" is still legitimately used to describe them.

  • Informally, auditing is sometimes used to describe this situation. In reality, though, many universities expect or require auditing students to register for the class they are auditing. (See, for example, the registrar pages at Memphis, Indiana, and Florida; more info also available on the Academia Stack.)
    – J.R.
    Sep 17, 2019 at 22:38

In Australian English, you could call this person a ring-in, although the term works outside of student/class contexts .

ring-in — A person or thing that is not a genuine member of a group or set.


  • in US/NA we call them a "ringer". Or that's at least how I've always said it, maybe I just mis-heard someone saying it? Can anyone coroborate "ringer"? This is often used to describe musicians playing temporarily in a musical group that they are not a part of, usually as a substitute. Sep 17, 2019 at 21:10
  • Interesting! At least in the traditional Australian song Click Go The Shears, the term ringer is used to refer to the fastest and most experienced shearer in the shed. In other words, virtually opposite meaning! Sep 19, 2019 at 5:56

I've heard the term "drop-in" used. Plays on the term "drop-out" and also simply says that they've "dropped in" to the class.

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    Do you have any references you could quote? Sep 17, 2019 at 20:08
  • Well, after giving my answer, I wracked my brain trying to remember where I'd encountered the term. Turns out that it came from a single-season TV sitcom from 1965 called "Hank". imdb.com/title/tt0058811/?ref_=fn_al_tt_3 Admittedly not a formal usage, but certainly one with a certain seniority behind it. Sep 17, 2019 at 23:34

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