How to Read a Course Syllabus

A course syllabus is one of the most important documents you will receive from your professor. Believe it or not, your course syllabus will play a vital role in the overall success of your course.

By reading the information below, you will learn:

  • What a course syllabus is
  • Why a course syllabus is so important
  • How you can benefit from it
  • Common Suffolk University Syllabus Policies

What is a Course Syllabus?

A course syllabus is an important document given to you by your professor on the first day of class. Ideally, a course syllabus can be looked upon as a roadmap of your course -- it contains valuable information that will help you succeed and stay organized throughout the entire semester. In order to fully benefit from the course syllabus, it is important for you to read it, understand it, and keep it handy as you will be continuously referring to it throughout the duration of your course.

Why is a Course Syllabus Important?

If properly utilized, a course syllabus will help you plan your semester efficiently and help limit confusion and stress. In short, a course syllabus will indicate what you as a student will be expected to do in a course, and how your performance throughout the course will be evaluated and graded.

Common questions about a course can often be answered by reading and understanding the course syllabus; What will I be learning in this course? What are the required textbooks? What happens if I miss an exam? What is the policy on late work? Where do I go if I am struggling in my courses? How will I be graded on my work? When are the due dates for my assignments? How can I contact my professor out of class?

How to Read and Understand a Course Syllabus

A course syllabus has several different parts to it. At a first glance, a course syllabus may seem overwhelming, but be assured that it is actually a very easy to read document. Below you will find a list of sections you will commonly see your course syllabus, the type of information found in each of those sections, and how that information can be important to your success in the course.

Breaking Down a Course Syllabus

Instructor Information

In this section, you will be able to find the name of your instructor, their contact information (email, phone number, etc.), and their office hours. Office hours are a time set aside by your professor to meet with students. You should take advantage of this access to your professor.

Below you will find an example of what this section may appear like in your course syllabus.

Instructor Information

Instructor: Professor Jamie Smith
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 617-555-5555
Office: Stahl Building, 73 Tremont Street, 9th Floor
Office Hours: Tues. & Thurs. (2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.)


Course Information/Description

In this section, you will find information regarding your course including the following items; a.) course name, b.) meeting/location, c.) course description, d.) prerequisites, and e.) course credit hours. Please find additional information on these different items below.

  • a) Course Name
    Course name and course number
  • b) Meeting/Location
    This is when and where your class will meet each week
  • c) Course Description
    This is a summary of the topics that will be covered during the semester
  • d) Prerequisites
    This refers to a certain skill or topic you are required to have mastered prior to enrolling in a course. This is usually demonstrated by having earned credit in a specific course. (For example, if you are planning to take “ACCT 430: Accounting Information Systems”, the prerequisites listed for this course are “ACCT 322” and “ISOM 210”. This means that you are required to have taken both ACCT 322 and ISOM 210 prior to enrolling in the course.) In some instances, exception can be made. If you feel you are academically ready for a course that requires a prerequisite, reach out to the professor of the department before registering.
  • e) Credit Hours
    This is the number of credits that will be earned toward your program.

Below you will find an example of what this section may appear like in your course syllabus.

Course Information
Course: ACCT 430
Location: Sawyer Room 508
Meeting Day/Time: Mon/Wed 10:50 a.m. – 12:05 p.m.
Prerequisites: ACCT 322 and ISOM 210
Credit Hours: 3.00

Course Description: Introduces the design, operation, and use of accounting information systems. Examines the functional relationships of the AIS within an organization. Provides a background in automated data processing, along with the important human and organizational considerations in system design and implementation.

Engagement Hours

Suffolk follows the Federal Government’s Credit Hour definition. Some professors may include a table listing assignments and activities along with the estimated engagement time required for each of them. For a 3 credit course, you should anticipate a total of 135 hours, and for a 4 credit course, you should anticipate a total of 180 hours.

Below is an example that you may see in your course syllabus of a table that includes the engagement hours.

Activity/Assignment Engagement Estimate Engagement Hours
Course Readings 250 pages x 10 mins per page 42
Class Attendance 3 hours x 15 weeks 45
Poster Session 5 hours preparation 5
Essay # 1 (rough + final) 12 hours preparation 12
Essay #2 (rough + final) 12 hours preparation 12
Essay #3 12 hours preparation 12
Final Paper + Presentation 28 hours preparation 18
Exam Prep. Midterm & Final 10
Journals 10 journals x 1 hour per journal 10
Grammar Exercises 6 exercises x 1 hour per exercise 6
Event 1/Reflection 3 hours 3
Rhetorical Modes 2 hours 2
Impromptu Writing 6 impromptu writings x 1/2 hour per each 3
Total Engagement Hours 180

Textbook/Course Materials

In this section, the professor will indicate what textbooks and materials are required for your course. Textbooks can refer to print or digital books and course materials may refer to different items such as calculators, clickers, computer software, etc. In most cases, textbooks and course materials can be purchased or rented from Suffolk's Bookstore. If not, the professor will indicate where the required materials can be obtained.

Below is an example below of how this would be shown in your course syllabus.

Required Textbook/ Course Materials
TEXT-- Math for the Modern World, Version 3.2 by Edie Cook
** Each student will also need a calculator that is not part of a communication device.

Course Goals/Learning Objectives

In this section, you will find a list of goals and learning objectives that the professor will want their students to meet. Some professors may include a table listing the goals, learning objectives, and assessments.

Below you will find an example of what this section may appear like in your course syllabus.

Goals Learning Objective Assessments
Upon Successful completion of this course, students will: Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to: How the student will be assessed on these learning objectives:
… understand descriptive, quantitative information and data given in a variety of formats.

- Translate between algebraic and graphical representations.
- Translate between English sentences and mathematical equations.
- Translate between English sentences and graphs.

- homework assignments

- midterm exam

- final exam

… know how to draw, analyze and convey meaningful quantitative conclusions.

- Think about the validity of answers drawn from calculation.
- Looks for and corrects errors in calculations and assumptions in own work as appropriate.
- Reflect on effects of changing parameters in problems.

- project

- final exam

… be open to dealing with quantitative material in life and other courses.

- Translate problem to a mathematical problem.
- Solve the problem using mathematics
- Convey in writing the solution to the problem.

- project

- entrance/exit questionnaires


In this section, the professor will inform you of the factors that will be considered when determining your final grade for the course. These factors will vary depending on the professor and the course you are taking.

There are two common types of grading systems that professors may use: a) Weighted Average, and b) Point System. Below you will find examples of each of these two types of grading systems.

Weighted Average

Grading (Weighted Average)
This course grade is based on the weighted average of the following units:

Class Attendance 14%
Homework 14%
Project 13%
Quiz Average 13%
Exam 1 13%
Exam 2 13%
Final Exam 20%
TOTAL 100%

Point System

Grading (Point System)
Essay # 1 15 points max.
Essay # 2 15 points max.
Essay # 3 25 points max.
Midterm 10 points max.
Final Exam 10 points max.
Journals 15 points max.
Participation 10 points max.
TOTAL 100 points max.

The final grade is based on the total number of points earned:

94 - 100 = A
90 - 93 = A-
87 - 89 = B+
84 - 86 = B
80 - 83 = B-
77 - 79 = C+
73 - 76 = C
70 - 72 = C-
67 - 69 = D+
64 - 66 = D
60 - 63 = D-
59 or below = F

Student Services/Academic Resources

In this section, the professor will touch upon the student services and academic resources that are offered by the university. Suffolk provides a wide range of academic resources and student support services that are aimed to benefit students and help their overall success.

Please explore this page for additional information on these resources for academic support and student services.

Course Schedule

This section will provide you with an extremely valuable piece of information, which is referred to as the course schedule.

Within the course schedule, professors will typically provide students with a list of their assignments along which the scheduled due dates.

The course schedule will be extremely beneficial in keeping you organized. The course schedule allows you to look ahead and see when assignments are due, when exams will occur, and allow you to plan accordingly in order to balance your work load appropriately. It is always important to remember that the professor could update/change some items on the course schedule, so be sure to stay flexible, take notes, and ask your professor questions when needed.

Some professors may include a table listing for their course schedule. An example of this can be found below:

Week Starting: Sections Covered:
August 29th
(Day classes start Tues 8/30)
Introductions/Math Needed for Course
(Chapter 1- Introduction)
(Chapter 2- Basic Math Needed)
September 5th
(Monday Holiday)

(Tues 9/6 is Monday Schedule)
(Tues 9/6 last day to register)
Scientific Notation
(Chapter 3 – Scientific Notation: Large & Small #’s)

September 12

Personal Finance/Interest Rates
(Chapter 4 – Financial Math)

September 19

(Wed 9/21 last day to drop without W)

Personal Finance/Credit Cards & Loans
(Chapter 4 – Financial Math)

September 26

ISBN, UPC and Credit Card Numbers
(Chapter 5 – ISBN, UPC and Credit Card Numbers)

October 3

Review and Exam 1

October 10
(Monday Holiday)

Functions and Modeling: Introduction & Linear Growth &Decline
(Chapter 6 – Functions, Sections 1,2)
Projects: Rough Outline Due

October 17

Functions and Modeling: Linear (cont.), Exponential Growth/Decline
(Chapter 6 – Functions Sections 2,3)
Projects: Receive feedback and work on detailed outline

October 24

Functions and Modeling: Exponential
(Chapter 6 – Functions, Section 3)
Projects: Submit detailed project outline

Common Syllabus Policies

Credit Hour Requirements

Suffolk University has established processes to comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s credit hour definition, according to which a credit hour “reasonably approximates no less than

(1) One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or

(2) At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.”

For more information on the U.S. Department of Education credit hour definition, please visit the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education at the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) and their Policy on Credits and Degrees [PDF].

Participation/Attendance Policy

Students are expected to attend all classes as attendance is an integral aspect of enhancing academic success. Requirements for attendance and class participation are established by the instructor in each course, but there are common policies covering absences for religious observance, student athletics, and jury duty that can be found in the Student Handbook.

Disability Accommodations

If you determine that you need formal, disability-related accommodations, it is very important that you register with the Office of Disability Services and notify your professor of your eligibility for reasonable accommodations. You and your professor will then be able to plan how best to implement your accommodations.

The Office of Disability Services
Office Location: 73 Tremont St., 9th floor
Phone: 617-573-8034
Fax: 617-994-4251
Email: [email protected]

Academic Misconduct Policy

Suffolk University expects all students to be responsible individuals with high standards of conduct. Students are expected to practice ethical behavior in all learning environments and scenarios, including classrooms and laboratories, internships and practica, and study groups and academic teams. Cheating, plagiarism, unauthorized collaboration, use of unauthorized electronic devices, self-plagiarism, fabrication or falsification of data, and other types of academic misconduct are treated as serious offenses that initiate a formal process of inquiry, one that may lead to disciplinary sanctions.

Please review the Academic Misconduct Policy in the student handbook.

Academic Grievances

There is a formal process students must follow for grieving a grade. Please review the Academic Grievance Policy in the student handbook.

Confidential Use of Assignments for Assessment Purposes

Select assignments in this course may be used by our accreditation team for institutional assessment purposes and will be handled confidentially.

Additional Suffolk University Policies

Please review the additional University Policies that pertain to students in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Sawyer Business School.