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Understanding College Syllabi

August 30, 2013

Understanding College Syllabi

by Veronica Gonzalez

It’s the first day of school. Your instructor walks in and he or she hands out or displays a syllabus on the board. Syllabi will be your best academic friends in college: They will be dispensed to students in each class and will serve as roadmaps for the duration of the semester. If you’re wondering what they’re all about, here’s a crash course:

Syllabi often start out with introductions, followed by explanations and outlines, and end with ground rules. The introduction part of the syllabus is basically the instructor introducing themselves to the class and explaining what the course is about. They then acknowledge the disability and academic integrity statements of the syllabus to ensure that there’s equality in the class environment.

Next comes the explanation. This is where you’ll to get to know what books and materials you will need (if you don’t have them yet) or clarify what you won’t need. Also, every instructor grades differently so your professor will give you a heads up on what to expect from them when they evaluate your papers, quizzes, tests and even class participation. Afterward is the course outline, which lists the activities that will occur in and out of class throughout the semester (homework, assigned readings, group projects, etc.).

After the explanation, the professor will set ground rules. It’s best that you be aware of the policy statements listed on the syllabus such as the statement on plagiarism, the rule on cell phones, the nature of deadlines, etc. Finally, the syllabus will provide the office hours and contact information of the instructor and teaching assistants in case you have any questions or concerns.

Syllabi may change at any given time over the course of the semester; this really depends on the instructor so be sure yours remains up to date by attending lectures, discussions and office hours. Do you have any tips on understanding college syllabi?

Veronica Gonzalez is a rising junior at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. Her current major is English and she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in this field. She served as the vice president of the UIW chapter of Alpha Lambda Delta from 2012 to 2013 and she returns as a junior delegate in the fall of 2013. Her dreams are to publish novels and possibly go into teaching in the field of English.


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