Have you ever tried to go through one of those corn mazes? Perhaps you’ve been in a gigantic garden with tall shrubs that twists and turns? Or maybe just in a large new building or house? There are places we’ve all been that create in us a sense of confusion and disorientation. Now picture one of those places again. This time however, instead of confusion you are calm and level headed. Why is this? It’s because somebody gave you a map of the place. Doesn’t it help to see the bigger picture? It sure does! And an online college syllabus is to an online course what a map is to a maze.

Each teacher in your online classes will have put together a syllabus or something like it to help you understand what’s going on in the class, deadlines and assignments that are expected of you during the course of your studies in that class. Let me share with you in a little more detail the direction you can expect to get from carefully looking over your online course syllabus.

Many syllabi start with painting a picture for the student of what the class is all about. If it’s a math class it may share the skills that you will be learning throughout the course of the semester and how it fits into the entire math picture. This can help you get your bearings.

Other class fundamentals like the hour (if there’s a set time), amount of credits you’ll get by finishing the class successfully, the required texts and of course, the name of the class.

Your teacher or facilitator should put his or her phone number, email or other contact information on the syllabus so that they are readily available to help you when you need it. Take note of this and make a point to contact them a couple times in the first week for anything so they can get to know you and see that you have an interest in succeeding and turning to them when you need help.

Course calendars are often listed on the syllabus. This will include the due dates for assignments and tests. If you’re in a self-paced online course you will most likely have some flexibility on any of these dates, but even then you are likely to have an “end” date, some self paced courses will give you up to six months to finish the course material.

School and class policies. Some teachers accept late work, others do not. Some universities have a dress code (please let me know if you run across an online one that has a dress code, I love myself a good laugh) others do not. Most online universities will have an honor code of some sort. Cheating in any setting is not tolerated. These and other policies may be listed on the syllabus.

How you are graded is an important part of setting correct expectations. While it’d be best to make your top priority learning from the class, it doesn’t hurt (it’s even important) to note the parameters of your final marks. This may also give you a better estimate of how long to spend on each area so you don’t overdo it on an assignment that is only 1% of your grade while leaving till the end a paper that is worth 50%.

Lastly, you’re also going to see in your online college’s syllabi a list of topics that are going to be covered, this may or may not be on the calendar, but reviewing these topics at the beginning of each week can give you a good idea of what’s coming up.

When all is said and done a syllabus is a document that helps get you and your teacher on the same page. When expectations are clear you both can go forward and accomplish some great things in the classroom.

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