Syllabus Week: How to Set Yourself up for a Successful Semester

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Welcome to syllabus weekthe only week this semester in which you won't have to worry about upcoming due dates. Some people use this week to kickback in their not-so-cozy lecture hall desks with headphones in and Netflix on. I mean, it's just syllabus week right? The week in which your professors go over a handcrafted step-by-step guide to be successful in their class. Yup, no biggie… unless you had hopes of maintaining a decent GPA and reasonable level of sanity.

Instead of, or maybe in addition to, napping and Natty-ing your way through the first week of the semester, take full advantage of the syllabi. Not only do the eight-page informational packets contain grading scale and office hours, but they also include the attendance policies. So, no matter what type of student you aspire to be, your syllabi have you covered. If you use syllabus week wisely, you will set yourself up for a successful semester.

When I was a freshman, I was constantly redownloading the class syllabus after failed searches for the hard copy. Then, I realized that I needed a way to organize everything in one place and, thus, the master syllabus was born. I created a simple, easy-to-follow printable that allows you to easily look up any important course information and upcoming due dates. Plus, I added some handy dandy empty bubbles to keep track of what assignments you have and haven't completed. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me.

Without further ado, let's jump right into the syllabus tips that will leave you organized, informed, and prepared.

1. Print your syllabi out

Right now, your Documents folder probably has a few high school assignments and maybe a resume draft or two. In a month, it will be overflowing with essays and assignments. Your syllabi will be floating around somewhere, and you may or may not stumble upon them at some point for the semester ends. Save yourself the hassle and print them out. Stick them in their corresponding course's folder or binder for safe keeping. Plus, this way they come to class with you in case your professor responds with the oh-so-dreaded "it's in the syllabus."

2. Highlight

Every syllabus is jampacked with useful information that is surrounded by utter fluff. To separate the need-to-know from the don't-even-want-to-know, grab some handy dandy highlighters. Bonus points if you use a color-coding method. There are a few areas of your syllabus that you should pay particular attention to:
  • Professor's contact information
  • Teaching assistant's contact information
  • Grading scale
  • Late assignments + missed exam policy
  • Email procedure
  • Attendance policy
  • Exam dates

3. Mark down important dates

You don't want to be the wide-eyed freshman getting handed a scantron and asking, "Wait, what test?" While rewriting every assignment, quiz, exam, and project due date in one place is a tedious task, the time investment is well-worth the academic gain. Everyone has their own organization preferences, so figure out which one works for you.
  • DAY-PLANNER This is a great way to manage your academic and social commitments all in one place. Assign a color to each class to avoid the assignments getting jumbled. Try not to get too elaborate with the design though, professors often make changes to the syllabus. Reserve the monthly-view for the big dates and add all of the assignment details in the weekly planning pages.
  • MASTER SYLLABUS Instead of planning box-by-box, this date-tracking method allows you to manage due dates and progress in a neat list. This is my personal preference because it prevents my academic tasks from getting jumbled up with my social commitments in my day-planner. I made a handy dandy master syllabus printable to track your assignments.
  • PHONE CALENDAR There are plenty of calendar apps available, yet none of them compare to a handwritten layout. I don't recommend using your phone as your primary date tracker. Writing things out makes them easier to remember.

4. Read through it, all of it

I can already imagine you reading that statement with an inevitable groan. I mean, didn't I say that syllabi are filled with fluff? Yes, but to decipher the fluff from the factual strictly by skimming is a terrible approach. Read every bit of it, because you might come across some deal-breaking policy or some oddly-specific procedures. Bonus tip: some professors will include some weird fact or task that will come up on a future quiz to see if you actually read the entire syllabus.

5. Introduce yourself

Your professors and their teaching assistants are forced to spend 1-2 hours lecturing to a room of faces they have yet to attach names to. A quick-introduction on the first day could be the different between a B+ and an A- down the road. If you establish a relationship with your professors and teaching assistants, they won't be grading a name, they will be grading a person. Plus, it will make you more comfortable participating in class or having to approach them for extra help or clarification.

6. Make a friend in every class

Or two, or twenty, or however many floats your boat. But pick one dependable person to bestow the "study buddy" title upon. Exchange contact information with them so if you need clarification on an assignment or have to miss a class, you can go to them for help. If you aren't overly outgoing, I recommend getting to class a bit early and sitting in the front row. From my experience, the majority of students who sit up there are always friendly and focused, which makes it easier to establish a friendship with them. Plus, it helps to have someone in the class holding you accountable for showing up and completing assignments on time.

7. Make textbook purchases + returns

Hopefully, you wait until syllabus week to buy your textbooks. This way your professors can clear up any textbook concerns, like whether or not you actually need the textbook and if an older edition will suffice. It is also a great idea to go to Rate My Professors to see if the professor's previous students ended up benefitting from the textbook. However, if you bought them in advance, see if the bookstore will allow you to return it. The majority of college book stores are willing to give full refunds the first couple weeks. Check to see if the bookstore offers a used version of the book or a rental option.

8. Make any last-minute schedule adjustments

Maybe you listened to a professor's spiel and realized that your professor's expectations are unrealistic or their teaching approach doesn't align with your learning method. Or you realized that college upperclassmen were right when they advised against taking early morning classes. Either way, make any changes ASAP so you can have a semester of satisfaction and success.

Enjoy your syllabus week thoroughly, because life is about to get busy. Half of success is preparation, so set yourself up for a great semester from week one.

What do you do to set yourself up for a successful semester? 

Let me know in the comments below!


  1. 100% great tips, although I think you can skip the highlighting once you put in your important dates haha :) if it's online I think it's ok if you don't read all the info, especially because you'll forget :)

    1. So true Avery! The highlighting is more of a precaution in case you procrastinate (like me) and never get to the date-transfer part haha. Loved hearing from you!

  2. I wish I had all these tips when I was in school! They would have been so helpful!

  3. SO cool! I didn't have this in college but I wish I did!

    1. Thanks girl! If you ever go for a round two, I've got you covered haha.

  4. I'm in total agreement about making at least a couple of friends in each class, it's so helpful for studying, if you have to be absent, or if you just need someone to discuss assignments with!

    xoxo, SS

    Southern and Style

  5. These tips are so smart! I can't agree enough with read EVERYTHING – I made that mistake one too many times, finding out about an assignment or a research requirement when it was almost or way too late.

    xoxo, Paige

  6. These are great tips!!! I love planners they are best.

  7. These tips are amazing! I miss going back to school, planners are my favorite!

  8. This is the first time in years I'm not in school this fall. I wish I had read this earlier though. So helpful!

    Greta |

  9. These are wonderful syllabus week tips! In law school there unfortunately isn't such a thing as syllabus week but I do remember following a lot of these tips in undergrad (not the highlighting though, I should have done that). I definitely think it is important to write down all important dates in your planner asap and to make sure you understand your professor's attendance policy and how it will affect your grade if you miss a class.

  10. Making a friend in every class is SO helpful! My music class made us do that my second year of college and I have done it every year since!
    Amy | Pastel N Pink

  11. These are really great tips! I was always obsessed with my planner and highlighting in school.

  12. Great tips! I remember I always went through and wrote down every single date and looked at all the policies and then my friend would be like when's our exam? And I'm's tomorrow. haha Ohh, the days of procrastination! Best of luck with the semester!

  13. I wish I had had syllabus days or a week haha. It always seemed like I have an assignment due the second day of class!

  14. I used to love syllabus week! It's a great chance to get ahead!

  15. These are such great tips to follow to get into routine that first week!

  16. Being organized right from the outset is the key to success!


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