What is a syllabus?

A syllabus is your guide to a course and what will be expected of you in the course. Generally it will include course policies, rules and regulations, required texts, and a schedule of assignments. A syllabus can tell you nearly everything you need to know about how a course will be run and what will be expected of you.

A syllabus is a very valuable tool, underused by many students. All professors will write and use their syllabi differently. Sometimes syllabus information may be spread over several links in Blackboard, or on a course website. Other professors will use paper handouts. Regardless of the form, here are some items you want to evaluate.


What type of course is this? Problem set and exam-based? Reading and discussion with papers? A variable-unit class with a variable workload should explain the difference in the syllabus.

Deadlines & Policies

When are the exams and major assignments due? Are assignments due in class or electronically by a certain time? Be sure to check all the deadlines for all your courses to see whether you are committing yourself to four midterms in the same week or two problem sets on the same day every week (and reconsider, if you are). What is the late policy?

Continued Guidance

During the semester, the syllabus continues to guide you. The syllabus reflects the way the class is organized. The titles for each class meeting will often identify the main themes of that class, and may help you focus your reading for that day in order to prepare for class, as well as guide your studying for exams.

Freshman Alert

In high school, the daily schedule typically listed the homework that you would do after each class. In college, a syllabus generally lists the preparation that you need to do before that day's class.

This material was adapted from:

Undergraduate Advising and Research. "How Do I Read a Syllabus?" Cardinal Compass, Stanford University, undergrad.stanford.edu/academic-planning/cardinal-compass/your-questions-answered/how-do-i-read-syllabus. Accessed 23 July 2019.