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What is a Syllabus?

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A syllabus is your guide to a course and what will be expected of you over the course of the quarter. 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.

Where can I find syllabi?

Check the Syllabus archive. You can search by quarter and by department--if looking for previous syllabi, you can use ExploreCourses to see when the course was last taught.

ExploreCourses (not SimpleEnroll) has links to syllabi for many courses. Click on the blue Schedule link to see if there are Additional Resources for that course.

In addition, some courses have course websites that act as a syllabus, particularly the introductory courses in Math and CS. You can also contact the instructor and/or the SSO (Student Services Officer) in an academic department/school to inquire about the availability of a syllabus, or ask to see a previous syllabus.

Many instructors will hand out physical copies of their syllabus on the first day of class. If you are joining the course later than the first day, be sure to ask if there are any handouts (like the syllabus) you might have missed.

Heads-up! Syllabi are always subject to change, especially if a different instructor is teaching a course. However, even looking at a previous year's syllabus can give you valuable information as you are evaluating a course.

Hang on to your syllabus and refer to it throughout the quarter. Some like to say that a syllabus is essentially a contract between the professor and the student, detailing both what you can expect of this course and what will be expected of you.

How to Read a Syllabus

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 Canvas, or on a course website. 

Regardless of the form, here are some items you will want to consider:


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

A syllabus provides important information about what is expected from students taking the course.  It details the course requirements, your assignments and their deadlines, participation and attendance expectations, and how your grade is calculated.  When are the exams and major assignments due? Are assignments due in class or electronically by a certain time?  What is the late policy?   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).

Your decision to take the course implies that you have read and understood the syllabus, and that you will accept the requirements and the grading policies spelled out there.  So be sure to read the syllabus carefully before making your enrollment decision!

Continued Guidance

During the quarter, 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.

First-Year 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.

As always, if you have any questions, you are more than welcome to bring them to your Academic Advisor!

See Also

Return to the Advising Student Handbook