The Importance of the College Syllabus

The college syllabus. The best kept secret weapon to acing a class. But why is it a secret? Everyone has access to it. The reason is because so many students disregard it. You’ll probably hear the term “syllabus week” or “sylly week.” This is often the first week of classes where many classes do not cover material much deeper than the syllabus (of course this isn’t true for all). During this week, students, for lack of a better word, slack off. It’s another week of break/vacation/freedom from schoolwork. We’re here to tell you, though, it’s not. It’s a chance to use your time wisely and get ahead of your classmates and on the path to a successful semester.

Flickr User: grace_kat

Flickr User: grace_kat

For students who didn’t read the syllabus, on week two, suddenly they claim they “didn’t know” there was an assignment due today because the teacher never “told” them. The professor may not have verbalized a reminder in class, but they told you. They told you in the carefully crafted, six page long syllabus they wrote.

The syllabus is your foolproof guide to understanding what the professor’s expectations are of you, when assignments are due, how your work will be evaluated, and the method behind calculating your grade. On the first day of class, either a paper copy or electronic copy should be distributed and explained by your teacher. If the material isn’t clear to you, be sure to ask questions. Many discussions you have with your professor or teaching assistant will direct back to the syllabus.

When they instruct you to carefully read it on your own, multiple times, do it. Don’t consider it a waste of your time–it will in fact be very valuable. A beneficial activity is to look through the assignment list and due dates and schedule them into your calendar. This allows you to have a broad overview of the course load you will have during the semester. When you have all your assignments written out, you can start deciding the division of your labor throughout the semester.

For example, if you see you have five midterms all on the Friday before Thanksgiving break, you know you aren’t going home early. Also, this gives you ample time to prepare, and possibly communicate with your professors about rescheduling some for different days to to spread them out. You will not always be granted this permission, but showing initiative and requesting early might give you a better opportunity. Many professors also put deadlines on their syllabus specific to request test reschedules. By carefully reviewing your syllabus early, you can be sure not to ever miss a deadline and set yourself up for a successful semester.

Reading the syllabus is an important factor to being successful in a class. It doesn’t have to be boring, however. Put a gummy bear between every page, go to Taco Tuesday after your planner is scheduled, or celebrate in whatever way you wish. Just Don’t. Skip. The. Syllabus.

Kali Slaymaker

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