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Aug 26 2016
by Katie Kim

How to Read (and Understand) a College Syllabus

By Katie Kim - Aug 26 2016
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With summer break slowly (and unfortunately) reaching its end and classes finally starting, it's time to redirect our focus to studies instead of the beach. Most students will disregard the first week — or first few days — of school just because professors will most likely take the time to introduce themselves and get to know their students. However, if there's one thing that everyone should pay attention to in the first week of school, it's the syllabus. Yes, this is important and understanding one may just save your grade in the long run. Here's the breakdown on how to read one properly. 

Most syllabi will have information broken down into several categories including (but not limited to) general contact information, course descriptions and objectives, assignments/required readings, grading and make-up policies and classroom expectations. As overwhelming as the list may seem, everything has its own purpose and it's important that you don't skip anything. However, just because everything is important doesn't mean that you can't prioritize one category over the other. In fact, that's exactly what you should do. Here's how:

1. Assignments/Required Readings

If your professor has the whole schedule for the semester laid out with due dates for assignments and readings, then this should be the first thing that you tackle. It can be difficult to remember all these deadlines so take some time out of your day to organize all the dates on an excel sheet. I recommend printing several copies so you can have one on your desk, one for the front flap of your binder and an extra copy just because. This way, you'll never forget to submit that 10-page paper and you definitely won't forget about the final exam.

2. General Contact Information

There may come a time when 1. you realize that you don't know how to complete a certain assignment or 2. an emergency came up and you're about to miss an important day of class. In these situations, it's crucial that you contact your professor to make sure you're not penalized in any way. If you have an agenda (hopefully you do), use the front few pages to list all the names of your professors along with their contact information and office hours. This will make the information easily accessible so you can voice any concerns that pop up in the future. 

3. Classroom Expectations

By the time the second week of school rolls around, your professors will expect you to understand all of their classroom rules and expectations. Each professor has different policies regarding attendance, behavior and technology so be sure to read these sections carefully and respect each and every one of them to ensure that your relationships with your professors stay strong. Remember: this isn't high school. College is all about being an adult and professors will expect you to act like one. 

4. Course Description

If there's one thing that you don't really have to pay too much attention to, it's most likely going to be the course description section. The purpose of this is to just give you a general idea of the class curriculum. You will most likely only need to read this once. However, if you decide that a specific class may not be fit for you after reading the course description, be sure to find another class to take as soon as possible (preferably during the "add/drop classes" period). 

In the end, the main idea is to stay organized and to not procrastinate. College is bound to be a great experience, but only if you stay on top of everything, so don't let late assignments get in the way! 

Here's to a successful new school year! 

Lead Image Credit: Eric Rothermel via Unsplash

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Katie Kim - University of Georgia

Katie Kim is a junior editor for Fresh U. She is currently a sophomore at the University of Georgia majoring in Journalism. She loves candy (particularly Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish) and loves to sing and dance (even though she is not good at either of those activities). Follow her on Instagram @kt.j.kim where she shares some of her happiest moments :)

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