Follow us on Instagram
Try our daily mini crossword
Play our latest news quiz
Download our new app on iOS/Android!

Learning for the sake of learning

Donohue is currently enrolled in POL 220: American Politics and CLA 217: The Greek World in the Hellenistic Age. She has been attending lectures at the University since 2003. Auditing allows her “to keep [her] mind alive and explore a whole new world of knowledge,” she said.

While most community auditors are retired, some take courses mid-career.


Michiko Yamashina, an English teacher from Japan who is temporarily living in the United States while her husband conducts business, enrolled in her first course as an auditor, PSY 101: Introduction to Psychology, this semester.

She said that returning to a college course after graduating richens the experience.

“You realize you want to learn more after working and having your own college experience,” she said.

Yamashina, who was a linguistics major in college, said that she enrolled in the course out of interest in the subject.

“Sometimes I don’t do the readings, though,” she admitted.

Donohue and Yamashina both said they are amazed by the students’ work ethic and ability to manage their schedules. Yamashina noted that while attending college in Japan was “more relaxed,” the undergraduate experience at Princeton is “very academic.”


Compared to her seventh-grade pupils, Donohue said she is struck by the students’ concentration during lecture. But from her vantage point in the back of Robertson 100, she added, she has noticed students browsing Facebook.

Auditors are enrolled in 144 courses this spring that range from electrical engineering to English, Kristin Appelget, director of community and regional affairs, said.

The most popular classes tend to be in the humanities, Appelget noted. In the past, art history, English and politics have been regular favorite subjects among community auditors. But this semester, the most popular courses are PHI 202: Introduction to Moral Philosophy, with 21 auditors, and ECO 101: Introduction to Macroeconomics and MUS 103: Introduction to Music, with 20 each.

Professors decide whether to open their classes to auditors, who must make up no more than 10 percent of students enrolled in the course.

Get the best of ‘the Prince’ delivered straight to your inbox. Subscribe now »

Auditors sit in the back of the room, are not allowed to participate during lecture — unless encouraged by the professor — and do not attend precept. But many choose to interact with faculty in chats after class.

“Community auditors often ask questions from a more worldly perspective,” said psychology professor Joel Cooper, who currently teaches Yamashina in PSY 101. He added that he especially likes “to hear from people with military experience, or those with grandchildren. It’s fascinating when their observations are different from those in the textbook.”  

But politics professor Paul Frymer, who teaches POL 220 this semester, said, “I wish there were more people from the community interested in classes and who come from a wide range of areas.”  

He also expressed concern that auditors and other non-students crowd out undergraduates at popular events, such as a panel discussion on the U.S. Supreme Court and the media last November.

In addition to retirees, Appelget said that unemployed individuals, international business people working in the United States and au pairs — nannies who come from overseas — are also frequent auditors. Auditors pay $125 per course, and enrollment preference is given to local residents and University affiliates.

Despite “a modest reduction in enrollment in the past three years” that she attributed to the economic downturn, Appelget said that auditing continues “to be worthwhile and a priority to most.” Enrollment is generally higher in the fall semester, which normally attracts 700 to 750 auditors, since “many of our auditors are retired, and so some ‘go south’ for the winter,” she said.

Donohue said that part of the appeal of auditing courses is the luxury of tuning out when the professor discusses midterms and final exams.

“It’s all the fun of learning, without the work,” she explained.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed a quote by Pat Donohue to Michiko Yamashina, and stated that Paul Frymer is teaching POL 318: Law and Society this semester, when in fact he is not.