Opinion: The Syllabus Is Your Friend, Read It 

Syllabi and their content deserve more attention, Michela Arlia opines./Getty Images

By Michela Arlia 


   Four years in college teaches you many things. It teaches you to be resilient, manage time, and think critically, among other skill sets. But the most important skill college teaches you is to read the syllabus. 

   You may be thinking, Michela, what are you talking about? The syllabus is just a formality, no one really reads that. Well, my friends, you are wrong. 

   We know them, we love them, or we probably loathe them, but syllabi are your trusty companions throughout the 16-week race to final exams. 

   If you are just a glancer to the syllabus on day one, you probably look for three key things: grading, assignments, and attendance. Bonus points if you looked for the key words “midterm,” “final,” and “paper.” But the syllabus is so much more than this. It can be a useful resource list, or a great point of contact for your professor, or just simply a calendar. At its core, it is the blueprint for a carefully thought-out learning experience.

   We are now six weeks into the semester, and it truly baffles me how questions on the simplest of things are still asked in class group chats. This happens every semester like clockwork. Messages of someone frantically asking if there is a quiz the night before class, or whether a paper needs to be in MLA or APA format sit in my unread messages. 

   The amount of times I want to just respond “it’s in the syllabus” is now plain frightening. It is the place of all places to get information, why aren’t people looking? 

   While I completely understand instances of general confusion and that it happens to the best of us, this is on a whole other level. Many professors take the time before a semester starts to include detailed instructions for their course, leaving little to no room for clarifying questions. I mean it’s all spelled out, how hard can it be? 

   Apparently, very. 

   I may be guilty of taking things too far with my syllabi each semester, checking off classes on the course calendar as we go, and writing down due dates for the big end-term assignments ahead of time. But I really do think it’s more useful than not reading it at all.

   So here’s my suggestion to all professors on how to fix this issue. 

   The first, syllabus quizzes. A very simple yet effective tactic is to give students in the first week of classes a quiz on the syllabus. I’m no villain here, it would be open book of course. Though it will be quite comical to watch us students struggle for 15 minutes to remember if the midterm is worth 20 or 25 percent of our grade. 

   Point is, quizzes would just ensure that students have at least looked at the very document that outlines the semester’s plans. As I’m sure you spent your nights perfectly centering text, and planning out what reading assignments are due, you deserve a little boost to know that your work was read. 

   If you’re a student who actually creases the top left corner of your paper because you flipped to page two on your syllabus, this quiz should be the only guaranteed A the entire semester. 

   Option number two, and this one is my favorite – easter eggs. 

   If all professors could insert something quirky into their syllabus for students to catch, they may be able to get an accurate headcount of who actually read it. Some past examples I’ve seen include “if you’re reading this, send me a picture of a cat.” Arguably one of the best examples, a performing arts professor in Tennessee put in “free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five,” where the lucky student who read the syllabus and followed directions would instantly earn $50. Surprise surprise, everyone failed that test.

   Professors, attach some extra credit points to these easter egg hunts and watch how fast people read. Or chances are, they still won’t. 

   Students have yet to learn that this important resource is not a waste of paper that can be thrown away or forgotten at the bottom of your bags. It is a helpful source, and a contract between you and your professor that only exists to ensure your success in the course that you chose to enroll in.

   The syllabus is your best friend – so treat it right.