The secret to collegiate success
So, I heard you did pretty all right in high school! If you’re reading this, it’s clear that you did. First of all, you graduated from high school, which is an accomplishment in and of itself, so congrats. Then, you got into college, which also deserves a pat on the back, so go ahead, pat yourself on the back. Okay, great. And, then, not only did you get into college, you got into FGCU and chose to come here, which, in my humble opinion, means you made the best choice.
This school is fantastic. It’s beautiful. It’s fun. It has resources for everything you need to be successful. It has a beautiful waterfront. It has awesome faculty and staff — need I continue?
That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. I’m here to talk about the syllabus. The same syllabus that all your professors will discuss on the first day of class, that they might email you, that they’ll post on Canvas and may even print out for you.
The same syllabus that — if you choose to follow in the footsteps of a large percentage of students — you will ignore. For some strange, unknown reason, a majority of students don’t feel the need to read the syllabus. This isn’t just a problem at FGCU; it’s a problem everywhere. That’s why there are shirts you can buy that say, “It’s in the syllabus.” A shirt that all university professors look at, and laugh at, with sadness.
So, what’s the deal? Do we think that since we made it into college, we just have to show up and that will be enough? No, friends, it’s not! Do yourself a favor, and of all the advice you receive about college, put this piece at the top of the list and remind yourself of it often. I don’t say that because I think highly of myself, I say it because I like to help people, and I love knowing that I am part of a learning community where people want to do well.
Here’s the thing: I know that some syllabi are long and seem like a waste of time to read, and unfortunately, some may be just that. But, being an avid syllabus-reader, I can tell you that the majority are not a waste of time to read — maybe long, but not a waste. Some are even funny.
FGCU even offers a six-day program called the Course Design Academy (CDA), for teachers to learn how to write a better syllabus.
“Schedule and content are still there, but the syllabus should welcome the student into the learning process. The instructor makes promises to the students and explains how they will support the students in the process,” said Jackie Greene, the assistant director for the Lucas Center for Faculty Development at FGCU, who leads the CDA.
I think it’s pretty great that the university cares enough about our success to offer that program.
OK, back to the syllabus: as a student, how do you expect to do well if you don’t know what’s expected of you? How can you decide if it’s worth it to skip class for a really awesome and once-in-a-lifetime concert or sporting event if you don’t know the attendance policy?
Most importantly, how do you plan on actually learning things? That is why we’re here, after all — to learn. I mean, the on-campus Chick-fil-A, parties and waterfront are part of life at FGCU, but they aren’t the reason we’re here.
So, please, listen to what I’m saying: read the syllabus. Note: I didn’t say, “memorize the syllabus,” I just said you should read it. You’ll remember maybe one thing after reading it once, and that’s totally fine — at least you’ve familiarized yourself with it. That first read-through will probably make certain things stand out.
Does your math professor highlight and bold everything having to do with test scores? Does your Comp I professor underline everything listed under their absence policy? Does your biology professor state in CAPS and bold lettering that he allows no test retakes under any circumstances?
Those things will stand out. So, when you’re considering skipping 8 a.m. bio when you have a test because you stayed up really late the night before, you can properly weigh the consequences.
I am usually a big fan of the, “ask for forgiveness instead of permission,” motto. In many situations, it actually works quite nicely. In academia, it doesn’t work. Trust me, I’ve tried, and I’ve watched many people try. We’ve all failed.
After you’ve read it, your next job is just to know where it is. If it’s easily accessible on Canvas, cool. If you’re more of a binder kind of gal, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise — binders are awesome — print it out and put it as the first page in your binder. Save it in a folder on your computer where it is easily findable. Do any, or all, of these things!
Just like you have dreams of becoming something, teachers became teachers to help students learn. If you want to walk across a stage with a cap and gown knowing that you did well and that you’re well-equipped to handle life, put the effort in to ensure that happens. I promise you that reading the syllabus will only make that journey easier.
Nicole Legge, an instructor of mathematics at FGCU, with a Ratemyprofessors.com score of 4.8 out of 5, said, “The syllabus is as important to the class as the grade in the class is important to the student.”
It’s so true.
So, in case you take nothing else away from what I’ve written today, all I’m trying to say is: if you want to do well, start by reading the syllabus. It’s arguably the easiest assignment you’ll ever receive.