The Course Syllabus- Your New Best Friend

Navigating Your Syllabus

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Arguably, the syllabus is the most important tool in your class

The first day of classes. Perhaps you’re a little anxious as you grab a place to sit—it’s okay, there are no assigned seats. Casually, the professor strolls in a few minutes before class. With a quick glance around the room, you watch in anticipation as the professor pulls out a stack of papers. Cycling through the stapled bundles, he passes a stack that’s expected to be distributed around the class.

What is this? Homework on the first day of class?

Your heart starts to beat slightly faster as you tense up. You scan the papers presented to you with a puzzled expression. Not before long, the professor speaks.

“Welcome to class students. I just passed around the syllabus”.

The syllabus is the ultimate guide to your courses. For virtually every class you will likely receive a syllabus in some form. Get used to it and become best friends with your syllabus. It’s one of the most important tools you’ll receive in class.

What Exactly Is It?

Consider the syllabus of a course to be a list of guidelines and a (less than overwhelming) contract between the students of a classroom and the professor. Within it lies basic outline of what’s to be expected in the course. Realistically speaking, anything you could ever wonder about the course and any questions you might (and will) have are presented to you here. While many students make the mistake of underestimating their syllabi (and many probably never even read it), it’s actually a valuable, underrated tool.

What’s In a Syllabus

Typically, a professor will briefly describe what the course is about and include what topics and material will ultimately be covered. Information about their office such as office hours (so you can talk to them outside of class) and even phone numbers will be provided. They also will list required textbook(s) for the course, policies involving plagiarism (just don’t do it), overall point distribution, and grading. And yes, in college professors can vary their grading based on the class. Be prepared to have some classes that grade on a curve, some that are more standard, and some that use a unique method for grading that might be exclusive to a particular professor. If nothing else, this is one of the main reasons to always read your syllabus.

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Just like your textbooks, the syllabus is important to read

The main thing that’s especially useful: Professors will list which assignments are coming up as well as the date it’s due (something that’s highly undervalued which I’ll discuss in a second). While in high school, teachers and professors might simply provide homework daily and alert you of upcoming tests and/or quizzes a few days beforehand. However, college professors expect a little more out of you. Every due date for an assignment is typically provided prior to when it’s required, which means there are very few excuses about not completing an assignment on time.

Advice for the Syllabus

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By keeping track of your assignments carefully, you’ll ensure a semester with much less stress

Now for the good stuff! My advice is to first, read your syllabus carefully. Make note of the policies. Specifically, things like attendance, whether extra credit is given, and how points are distributed should be scrutinized heavily as these are ultimately the most important aspects of the class—your entire grade is determined by the aforementioned factors. Next, I highly encourage buying a planner or utilizing some kind of calendar to manage and organize every assignment, project, quiz, and test’s due date. This is extremely important.

Many college students (even seniors) drastically underestimate how much time they have and are overconfident in their ability to memorize what they have to do. If you have several classes a day and assignments’ due dates are scattered throughout the month, it can be extremely easy to become overwhelmed when even a single assignment is missed. Factor in any clubs/organizations you choose to join as well as special events and you’re creating a recipe for disaster. Don’t allow this to happen to you! Plan ahead! Trust me, it will make your life much easier in the long term. Personally, I always use the calendar section of my planner to make note of when every test is. By doing this, at the beginning of every month or week, I can budget my time appropriately and determine what I need to do during the time I have available.

Also, it’s simply easier to handle a big project in pieces over time than it is to pull an all-nighter. Your quality of work will be higher, you’ll likely get a higher grade, and you’ll actually have more time to do fun activities. Plus, you won’t have to deal with so much stress. If you don’t like to use physical planners, many college websites have calendars linked to your personal account. In many cases, there are options to sync all of your course information to the calendar itself in order to save you the trouble while reaping the benefits. And if that’s not an option, Google Calendars has an amazing interface, can be synced to your phone/pad, and is completely free.

On a side note, while professors usually provide very accurate syllabi, it’s possible (and not uncommon) for things on a syllabus to change. This isn’t really anything to worry about. Ordinarily, this could be due to a professor missing class (due to illness or perhaps an event) or possibly due to weather conditions. The reason varies but it could happen so keep this in mind. If it does occur, simply adapt, make minor adjustments to your plan, and keep going as originally intended. Any changes in the schedule are typically minor.

Finally, this isn’t a usual tip but this is one I definitely recommend from personal experience: Save Every Syllabus until after you graduate. Yes! Save them!

Why?

Well, it’s possible to have issues with grading and administration. You might need a form of evidence to prove you were part of a course after you completed the course. Meanwhile, the information may be locked from you, preventing any access. In any case, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t want to physically save a hard copy of your syllabi you could always scan each page and save them on your computer.

Hopefully, you’ll think a little bit more about the importance of syllabus and how they can be of great benefit. Please, I encourage every student to take their syllabus seriously! It will make your life so much easier!

Thanks for reading! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to message me or comment below!

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