How to Read a Syllabus in College and Prep for Success

Posted: July 13, 2021 | Author: Savannah Byers | Read Time: 4 minutes

How to read the syllabus in a college courseOne often overlooked difference between high school and college is the course syllabus. In high school, you are expected to read and sign the syllabus or course disclosure, which is basically an overview of classroom rules and procedures. In college, the syllabus contains a detailed overview of information that will be referenced not only throughout the semester, but also throughout your time in college. As you start your next college course, use the following outline to learn how to read a course syllabus and effectively plan for your upcoming semester.

What is a Course Syllabus?

The college syllabus is a combination of expectations for the course and a guide to completing the course. Most college syllabi will follow the same formula outlined below. 

What Information is on the Syllabus?

Instructor Contact Information

The instructor contact information will include how to best contact your professor (email, Canvas, phone, carrier pigeon, etc.), in addition to the location of their office and their office hours. Be sure to utilize your professor’s office hours throughout the semester to get the most out of each course. Take note of all of these things for better communication and collaboration with your professors.

Course Description

The course description in the syllabus is often a direct duplicate of the course description as listed in the course catalog. Nevertheless, this is an important section of the syllabus because it can disclose both a broader look at the course and a few focused details about the course contents, giving you an overall idea of what the course will look like.

Course Materials

This section of the syllabus will outline general and specific materials you will need for the course. Perhaps most importantly, it will list the textbooks you will be required to rent or buy. Be sure to order your textbooks as soon as possible because usually readings begin within the first week or so of class. You can also view which textbooks you will need ahead of time on the SUU Bookstore website.

Breakdown of Grades

Some professors choose to distribute points/percentages to different assignments in a way that makes some activities more high stakes than others. For example, usually final exams are worth more than quizzes. Note how the grades are broken down because it varies from course to course. Give every assignment and activity the attention it deserves, and be mindful of assignments and exams that will largely affect your grade.

Descriptions of Large Assignments

Most classes will have a few larger assignments and/or assessments that will make up for a bulk of your grade. Depending on the class, these might include essays, exams, projects, presentations, journals, quizzes or performances. The course syllabus will include a brief description of these assignments. This is an important part of the syllabus to pay attention to because these assignments typically account for a large portion of the final grade and may take some planning and preparation ahead of time.

Course Policies

Course policies include procedures for things like late work, technology, student conduct, etc. This is an important section to pay attention to because it will likely vary from course to course. Check if you can turn in assignments late, if you can bring a laptop to class, if your professor has specific instructions for classroom management, etc. Paying attention to the little things can help you be a standout student.

University Statements

Each course syllabus from Southern Utah University will include a series of identical statements that apply university-wide. These statements include academic integrity, ADA (American with Disabilities Act), EMS (Emergency Management System), HEOA (Higher Education Opportunity Act), a course disclaimer and sometimes a SUUSA (Southern Utah University Student Association) statement.


Usually, the syllabus will include both program and course outcomes. Program outcomes refer to the bigger picture goals of what students will have learned and displayed by the end of the program. Course goals refer to the more immediate, short-term outcomes for each course. These are good things to look at on the syllabus because they will give you a better idea of your academic trajectory and what to expect for each course throughout your program of study.

Course Calendar

The nice thing about the college syllabus is that most of the due dates for major assignments and exams are given at the beginning of the year so you can plan for them ahead of time. Be sure to write down due dates for all major assignments and exams. Also be sure to take note if you need to purchase a blue book or a scantron for an exam.

Important note: Take a close look at the readings and when they are due. The typical college syllabus will note the readings on the day they are due, meaning that the readings should be completed before the dates by which they are listed.


Knowing how to read the syllabus effectively is the first step toward success in college. More support for incoming students can be found on the First Year Experience website.

Tags: College Prep First Year Experience

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