Tips from an Orange County College Consultant: 5 Things to do with a College Syllabus

New college students will often be overwhelmed by a multiple page syllabus handed to them by professors. Although students may feel this information is too much to handle, they are encouraged to read through it carefully and decode any important information. There are several things that students can read through briefly at the beginning of the term and other things that are extremely useful and important to keep close at hand.


1 – Make an electronic copy

It’s easy for students to lose a paper syllabus within the first two days of class but that can leave them missing valuable information for the rest of the term. Students are encouraged to keep an electronic copy of each syllabus so they can refer to it as the term progresses.

2 – Highlight important items

Students are encouraged to highlight any relevant information including the professor’s contact info, deadlines for assignments, and dates for exams. Additionally, students are encouraged to read about the professor’s policies regarding late assignments or partial credit. Students who are not used to college level time management should know if a professor is willing to give partial credit for any reason. Other important items to look for include descriptions of assignments and recommended prerequisites for the course. For example, if a student is allowed to sign up for Art History 2 but it’s recommended they have taken Art History 1, they may find there is information they’re expected to know before they even walked in the door (READ: “7 Tips to Settle in at College”).

3 – Ask about office hours and communication

It’s also a good idea for students to be aware of when a professor is available for office hours. For instance, some professors may hold office hours twice a week at the same time while part-time instructors may only hold office hours by appointment. Students who think they might need help last-minute are encouraged to talk with their professor about whether or not they will be able to drop in and how many students are waiting in line for help. Also, some professors will give out multiple emails and an office location while other professors may be hesitant to give out too much information (usually occurring in a large lecture class run partially by TAs). Students are encouraged to get in touch with their professor at the beginning of the term just to see how long it takes him or her to return the email. This will be valuable information for later on.

4 – Evaluate the difficulty level of the course

Some courses will be very straightforward and will let the student know exactly what they need to do to successfully finish while other courses may be extremely complicated and are only intended for certain students. Because students only have a few days to drop a class they think they won’t be able to pass, it’s a good idea to assess the difficulty level of assignments and exams straight away (READ: “5 Things to Consider if You’re Considering Grad School”).

5 – Evaluate the grading policies

Each professor grades differently but the grading system should be clearly explained on the syllabus. Students who test well might be pleased to learn that their particular professor gives 75% of the final grade to the midterm and final exams while students who are good researchers but poor test takers may find this to be extremely stressful. Understanding the grading policy is also a good time management tool. For example, if a student only has time to give their very best work to one of two assignments they need to know ahead of time which one is worth 30% of the final grade and which one is worth 5%. This will help them be successful in the course overall.

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