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Using Syllabi to Your Advantage

You walk into the classroom for the first day of Western Civilization, in your best ‘new semester, new opportunities’ wardrobe (i.e. your best pair of sweatpants). You find a seat in the auditorium-like room and sit down, making small talk with others around you. Suddenly, the professor walks in and before even taking roll, he immediately slaps a packet down on each student’s desk. It’s the syllabus, and the first of many syllabi you’ll get over the next few days.

It’s syllabus week. You go in for the first day of each class, getting an over-sized packet of information that takes your professor the rest of the week to explain. Some people hate it, thinking it’s a waste of time. Others love it, seeing it as an easy first week of the semester. It’s what you do with those packets, though, that make a difference in the way your semester goes. Are you one to throw them away? Do you put them in a folder, never to be opened again? If that’s you, it may be worth rethinking your strategy. Follow the tips below to learn how to make the most of your syllabi!

FILL OUT YOUR PLANNER

The best thing to use your syllabi for is planning your semester. The first step in doing this is to get a planner. There are plenty of options out there, both cheap and more expensive. Don’t be afraid to spend a few extra bucks on a nice planner. You’ll be more inclined to use it if you actually like the way it looks (and knowing you spend more money on it is a pretty good incentive itself).

Once you’ve got your planner, grab your first syllabi. What you’ll find is that almost every assignment you’ll have throughout the year is right in front of you. Go through the schedule portion of each syllabi and put those dates on your calendar. Do this during syllabus week while most professors aren’t assigning homework. Once you’ve put everything in your planner, the real key is to use the planner! Make sure to stay up-to-date with what’s due each week. Having everything in one place keeps you organized and on-track all semester.

HIGHLIGHT, HIGHLIGHT, HIGHLIGHT

If you’re anything like me, your syllabi will soon be looking more like the rainbow. I am a sucker for highlighters, and they’re a sure-fire way to make sure you stay organized. Planners aren’t for everyone, so the next best thing is to use the syllabus as its own planner. Toward the back of most packets, professors have already laid everything out into a neat calendar-like design for you.

While your professor is going over the syllabus (more like reading it to you, even though you, in fact, know how to read) whip out those highlighters and get to work. In order for highlighting to work, you have to color code. For instance, use a yellow highlighter for large projects, a blue highlighter for reading assignments, etc. This will make it a million times easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when due dates start coming up.

STAY AHEAD OF THE GAME

Sometimes you hear people say ‘You’re such an overachiever,” like it’s a bad thing, but let me tell you when you’re in college, overachieving can be your best friend. Luckily, your syllabi allow you the opportunity to get ahead in your classes when you have the time available, so that you don’t have to cram everything in at the last second.

Let’s say it’s Tuesday and you’re working through the required reading for that Western Civ class you were sitting in at the beginning of this post. Chapters one and two are to be read by tomorrow (Wednesday), the next two chapters by Friday. You finish reading chapters one and two and have no other homework to do for the night. The best thing to do is take a few extra minutes to read the next couple chapters while you have time so that by the time Friday rolls around, you aren’t forgetting, or hurrying, to read those chapters.

Perhaps my favorite thing about syllabi is they often tell you exactly what your final project or final exam will look like. In my case, my majors were both very project-oriented, so rather than taking a final exam, I turned in projects or large papers. I was always able to work on these throughout the semester, with help from my syllabi, so that I would have more time to do my best with them, and so that I wouldn’t be locked away in a study room at the library for the entire last part of the semester. For example, I took a literature class in which the final was a 25-page paper. I worked on this over the course of the semester, writing about three or four pages per week, if not more. I broke the assignment up so that writing 25 pages didn’t feel like as much. It wasn’t nearly as gruesome and I had more time to proofread (and more time to hang out with my friends) as the semester came to an end.

ATTENDANCE, GRADING SCALE, ETC.

Aside from the positive planning aspect of syllabi, they’re also good for keeping track of the way each professor handles a classroom because, as we all know, professors can all be very different.

If you take out the class schedule, perhaps the most popular thing in syllabi is the attendance policy. It’s inevitable. You’ll rarely find a student that hasn’t considered just not showing up to class one day. Maybe you’re cramming for a test or you’re simply tired and need some extra rest. No matter the reason, it’s always important to know how many classes you can skip before it impacts your grade. That number varies with some classes allowing as little as two unexcused absences, others six or seven. Having a syllabus for each class allows you to keep track of exactly how many days you have so that you don’t miss one too many days and cost yourself a grade.

Something else that often varies from class to class is the grading scale. A 90 percent in your Western Civ class could be an A while it’s a B in your Statistics class and vice versa. Luckily, you don’t have to memorize the scale for each of your classes because, guess what, it’s in the syllabus. Keeping your syllabi in a place where you can easily access them will help you keep track of your grades so that you always know what you’ve got and what you need to do to maintain or improve them based on the requirements of each class.

Professors spend countless hours creating syllabi for the classes they teach because they find them to be important. The syllabus is your lifeline for your class. Some people even go as far as treating it like a legal contract between the professor and students. Every bit of information on each page has meaning and is, most likely, something you need to know and have readily available throughout the semester. Hold onto syllabi. Use them. They’re worth it!

CELEBRATE!

At the end of a long, hard, hopefully successful semester, you’ll want to have some fun. Lucky for you, before you throw away your supplies from the semester, your syllabi have one more use. Head outside, start a campfire, throw them in and celebrate! Those syllabi are perfect to fuel your fire and will keep it burning bright. Plus, it’s pretty relieving to officially take those classes off your mind. Just make sure you’re burning that fire in a safe place. 😊

If you have other tips on how to use syllabi to your advantage, tell us in the comments!

Organizational Tips for the College Elitists

What time is it, you ask? Well, it’s time for you to get back into the habit of organizing your life. Planning for the new semester when glancing over your books and syllabi can be the most frustrating feeling ever — overwhelming, even. Fear not, my fellow college friends. Following a few steps before your classes start can alleviate stress and prepare you for a great semester ahead.


1.  Ever heard of this thing called “online calendars”?

Well, if you haven’t, let me introduce you to it. You see, the Internet offers a plethora of calendars that can be printed, synched to your smartphone or iPod and tailored to your needs. While many exist, I personally love Google’s calendar.

If you have a Gmail account you should be able to click on their calendar tab and use their format to fill in your class schedule, work schedule, TV shows and anything else that will help you stay organized. Even better, synced calendars to your phone can have Google send you reminders before your event takes place. We live in a great age of technology when your schedule doesn’t have to be scribbled on a piece of paper or stored in your mind. Utilize it, please!

2.  Set goals for yourself before your classes even start.
Get into the habit of writing down goals that you want to accomplish, both long term and short term. Long term goals are things that take place over weeks, maybe even months. Short term goals are ideas that you want to bring to life over the course of a shorter period of time.

For instance, a short term goal can be that you want to earn an A on a test you’re taking in a few weeks. A long term goal can be that you want to achieve a 3.5 GPA, which would require you working hard all semester for this to be accomplished. Setting goals ahead of time has proven to help people focus better about the bigger picture, which is completely different for everyone.

3.  Stick to a set sleep schedule.
College, as we all know – or may not know – can distract us from getting any sleep. Between our friends wanting to socialize, our homework, job and parents wanting us to update them about our lives, it’s fairly impossible to sleep. However, setting a strict bed time before your life is thrown into the whirlpool again will force us to get enough rest.

It is recommended that everyone gets at least eight hours of sleep a night, so try to stick around that time frame. Sleep is essential for our bodies to function correctly, and even for our bodies to heal themselves when we’re sick. Not getting enough sleep wears on the body, and can eventually get us in trouble health-wise overtime.

4.  Plan to eat a balanced meal.
Let’s face it: pizza, ramen noodles and sub sandwiches are delicious; they’re fairly cheap and they’re easy to get. However, they’re also bad for our overall health, can cause us to gain a significant amount of weight if eaten regularly and it doesn’t help you to focus your life. Your body needs a balanced nutritional diet, just as much as it needs sleep and exercise. Taking care of your body when you’re younger may be harder, but starting the habit now will yield substantial results for you in the end.

Although these tips may seem obvious or small, they’re going to pay off big when the semester hits. Life is enough within itself, and the added stress of juggling college can distract you easily. Take the time to prepare yourself. There’s no harm in wanting to make sure your ride is a little less bumpy.

-Compton

I’m reading Managerial Accounting