Using a Course Syllabus to Prepare for the Semester

At the beginning of each semester, college students receive mountains of paperwork and documents to make sense of. This can include schedules, handbooks, forms, and today’s topic: the course syllabus. While you may be tempted to file away the syllabus along with all of your other papers, thinking “I’ll look at it later if I need to,” try using it to set yourself up for success instead.

A syllabus is a professor’s way of communicating his or her expectations and plans for the semester. It is meant to be a place for you to find answers to the most commonly asked questions about how the course will be run, such as:

  • Which dates are the most important to plan around? (Exams, project deadlines, etc.)
  • How will your grade for the semester be calculated?
  • What is the policy for work that is turned in late?
  • How many classes can you miss in a semester?
  • How can you contact your professor outside of class time?

To take full advantage of all of the information contained in this deceptively unassuming sheet of paper, follow these tips:


Transfer important dates to your calendar.

We’re talking exam dates, project deadlines, even assigned reading if you really want to be meticulous. Once you transfer the info from all of your syllabi into your calendar, you’ll start to get a better feel for how your semester will look. You’ll also have the added benefit of being able to plan around your schoolwork at a glance, rather than making plans and hoping there are no deadlines that you’re forgetting about.


Note your professor’s contact info and office hours.

It’s a good idea to keep an easily accessible spreadsheet of this info for all of your professors. This way, if you run into any difficulty with understanding the work during the semester, you won’t need to waste time looking around for it.


Make sure you have all of the required reading and course materials.

If you’ve already purchased your textbooks for the semester, great! It’s still a good idea to make sure the books you have match up to the ones listed on the syllabus and the upcoming reading assignments. If anything looks out of place, now is the time to speak with your professor about it, not the day before an assignment is due.


Bookmark any online resources that are listed.

Sometimes professors will go the extra mile and suggest some helpful online sources to make your coursework easier. This means that they thought sharing these resources with you was important enough for them to spend time on, so don’t disregard their suggestions!


Digitize your copy of the syllabus.

Scan it and email it to yourself, take a photo and upload to Evernote… do what you need to do in order to make sure you can easily access it later in the semester. You never know when you’ll need to quickly reference it in the future!


Professors put a lot of time and thought into creating a syllabus. If anything makes it on there, it’s obviously important enough that they were willing to put it in writing for you to reference later. Prepare for a successful semester now by doing what you can to take advantage of this wealth of information.

Learn how to use a syllabus to organize yourself for the semester!