Have you ever bought a new gadget or piece of technology and found that it wasn’t easy to use out of the box? If you’ve ever been in that scenario chances are you turned to that handy tool well known to the experienced buyer, the instruction manual, to figure out how to use your new purchase. Syllabi are essentially the instruction manuals for your college classes. The major points you should know in order to succeed, or understand how to “operate” in the class will be found in your syllabus.

So what is a syllabus? A syllabus is:

  • A short document about the class created by your instructor
  • Usually under 10 pages in length
  • A document including key information you need to know about the class

The key information you will find in a syllabus includes:

  • Instructor contact information and office hours
  • A brief description of the course and course objectives
  • Materials, including textbook, required for the course
  • Classroom decorum expectations and technology policy
  • Description of assignments and course schedule
  • Information about the plagiarism policy and preferred formatting
  • How to obtain disability assistance
  • A bibliography for further reading
  • Anything else your instructor wants you to know

Most instructors will review their syllabus during class at the beginning of the semester. However, some may only make it available to you electronically or in print and expect you to review this document on your own.

Usually syllabi are organized by bold headings using an outline format, so finding the information you want is an easy task. It shouldn’t take much of your time and will be well worth the read!

I see many students, even experienced ones, who simply don’t make use of this simple tool to make their college life easier. Don’t be that student! Here are a few tips for how to use your syllabus to be prepared and get ready to achieve your college goals!


  1. Read the entire syllabus. Your teacher is the one giving you your grade when it’s all said and done. If they thought it was important for you to know they probably put that information here.
  2. Check before you ask. If you have a question about an assignment and are tempted to ask your instructor, chances are it’s already addressed in the syllabus. Page length, assignment guidelines, preferred formatting, it’s probably there. Your teacher will appreciate not having to answer questions they’ve already addressed.
  3. Get a system. Most syllabi include a schedule of assignments and important course dates. Find a system that works for you to keep track of reading and assignment due dates. Below are some sample methods of organizing homework.
    • If you have a google account you can schedule assignments in the calendar feature as shown here.
    • Buy a cheap planner and write down assignments on their due date as shown here.
    • Use an app such as myHomework to keep you organized.
    • You can even pin your syllabi to your wall, highlight assigned work, check it on a daily/weekly basis and cross out assignments when you’ve completed them.
  4. Use the bibliography for research assignments. If you have to write a research paper for the course start with the extra sources your instructor listed at the end of the syllabus. Save time combing through the internet for good sources by using the ones your teacher has already recommended if they apply to your topic.
  5. Do what it says. This may sound elementary, but many students miss this step. Either you, your family, or someone is paying for you to have a great college experience. Take advantage of that by taking your classes seriously. Your teacher will appreciate the effort you bring and you won’t regret the benefits you earn from a job well done.