So it’s the first day of class and you get handed a Syllabus… WAIT! Before you shove it in the bottom of your bag…
1. The syllabus is a portal to the future.
While it isn’t an awesome portal that will let you jump through time and space, it will let you see where the course is going and give you a sense of what the journey will look like. You’ll get a course description, the titles of sections of the course, and even what the goals of the course are. The syllabus will give you an idea of how much work you will have to do to obtain the credit, and the list of important dates will let you estimate how much you’ll be spending on coffee.
2. The syllabus is a shopping list (and often saves you from being swindled one way or another).
Each course has its own required purchases. If you’re doing science, you might have to buy a fancy lab coat, if you’re in English, you may have to buy a bunch of novels (if you’re in philosophy, you might have to invest in a tweed jacket). Most professors understand that university can be hard on the bank account, often they’ll help tell you where to get the best deal for the required materials. Regardless of how you work out purchasing the materials you need for class, you should attend the first class before investing, just to make sure that the course is the one you want to be in.
3. The syllabus is a way (and tells you when) to contact your prof.
Commissioner Gordon has the bat-signal to contact Batman, likewise, your syllabus is (an admittedly less awesome) way to contact your professor. The syllabus will tell you how to get hold of your prof. The syllabus will also tell you when the professor has scheduled their office hours. Those are the hours that profs have specifically set aside to help students in their course. These are a great way to get extra help from the source, but make sure you’ve got your questions ready.
4. The syllabus is your report card.
The syllabus will contain a list of where your mark comes from, broken down into how much each component is worth and sometimes how it will be weighed. You can keep track of your mark. You can also use it to determine what mark you need on an assignment or final to get your desired grade. You know how you keep promising to stay ahead on your work, start your assignments early, and not do your work the day before it’s due? The syllabus is a big piece of this. Use the syllabus to find out what you can get a start on deadlines.
5. The syllabus is a cheat sheet for the final.
The fact that the syllabus talks about the course topics was mentioned before, but a syllabus will often emphasize what parts are most important. When studying for the final, pull out the syllabus and give it a read through. How familiar are you with the key points and topics? What have questions about these topics looked like in the mid-term?
While the syllabus isn’t going to give you the answer to every multiple choice question on the final, it can make for a sweet study guide.
6. The syllabus is a review of your professor.
You may know someone who has had this professor before and knows what they’re like in class and what they expect from you. But if you don’t, the syllabus is a good starting point to find these things out. Often professors will have sections about their expectations about you, like how they expect you to turn off your phone in class. Also pay attention to whether the prof emphasizes these rules or loosens them when they’re talking about the syllabus.
That said, don’t judge a professor entirely by their syllabus, but it’s a good starting point to understanding the course and the person in charge of it.
In the end, the syllabus is an important document and you can make good use of it throughout your course. Make sure you take the time to read the syllabus, make sure you know how to access it whether by keeping a copy in a binder or having a version online or in your email. The syllabus is a great guide to tell you exactly what to expect about the course you’ve signed up for, so give it the credit it deserves and it just might help you get the credit you came for.