Sit In

How auditing can change a semester

It’s 9:52 a.m., and I’ve snoozed that alarm three times already. There’s only one reason to wipe the goop from my eyes—and it’s a 10 o’clock section. Since my grade depends upon getting out of bed, I throw off the covers. Usually.

I’m not a morning person and have had my fair share of 9:52 a.m. battles in the past. But on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester, I can magically rise and shine without a struggle. What’s changed? I’m auditing a class.

Arriving on time to a lecture that’s not only early, but also completely optional, might strike some as counter-intuitive. “Auditing a class?” skeptics often ask with raised eyebrows and a smirk. “Good luck.” Summoning up this extra motivation, when many of us struggle to stay awake through classes we’re already required to attend, seems unlikely at best. But there’s a secret here: When people view an educational opportunity as just that—an opportunity—it stops feeling like such a burden.

The skeptics’ rationale speaks to conflicting realities of life in the 02138. This campus purports to contain some of the most intellectually curious students in the world. However, many spend countless hours attempting to escape from schoolwork—whether by roaming Lamont aimlessly, Facebook-stalking potential love interests, or downing scorpion bowls at the Kong. When, five hours before the deadline, it’s impossible to avoid that paper any longer, the finished product often turns out less than inspired. What happened to the hunger for learning that so many of us claimed to possess in college application essays?

Somewhere along the way, I think, many Harvardians transferred their high-school mentality to higher education. We view attending lectures, just like showing up for 10th grade, as an external expectation—something that society and parents tell us we have to do. It’s easy to adopt a victim mentality, where heavy courseloads and unfair grading are out to get us. The only choice: to rebel. Lecture? What lecture?


But whether students remember it or not, they’re all here by choice. And most do experience bursts of academic excitement in specific areas of interest. Ask a senior thesis writer to describe his topic, and once he stops ranting about how overwhelmed he’ll be until March, he might spend 45 minutes explaining the intricacies of animal-rights laws in Chile. That certainly qualifies as a hunger for learning.

When I wake up every Tuesday and Thursday in order to audit, I’m reminded of why I came to college in the first place. Watching a brilliant professor do his thang—without the pressure of assigned readings, or section discussions, or grades—actually allows me to listen. I’m not tempted to check Gmail; in fact, I don’t even bring my computer. I’m there because I want to be. In an ideal world, of course, the same would apply to college as a whole.

Molly M. Strauss ’11, a Crimson associate editorial editor, is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House.