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"And you know what? I'm here for the education, right? That's what's important here, not some silly grades or some piece of paper."

I hear that a lot. It's wrong. Though people often want to deny it, they probably are in college primarily for the grades and the piece of paper.

Don't believe me? Try this:

  • Call up the registrar's office.
  • Ask them how much an average course costs if you want to take it for credit. At my school, that was about $2000.
  • Ask them how much an average course costs if you want to audit it. At my school, that was about $200.
Now, what is it about a full-credit course that warrants such a drastic difference in tuition? Auditors go to the same classes. They read the same books. They hear the same lectures. They do the same homework. Some auditors even take the tests and get graded on them. The only difference is that auditors don't get a final grade on a transcript and don't get a diploma at the end of it all.

For that one small administrative difference, you're willing to pay ten times as much. You're willing to incur thousands of dollars of college loans. It doesn't cost that much to provide you with a final grade; I've been a TA, and I know. If you're the sort of auditor who takes the tests, it takes, oh, say, 30 seconds or less to calculate an average, check it, and fill out the grade sheet.

You're mainly paying for an evaluation and for the official record of that evaluation. It's worth it to you. Otherwise you wouldn't do it; you'd audit all your courses. Right?

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