Ultimate Guide to Creating a Course Syllabus

A course syllabus is a roadmap to any postsecondary course. Streamline course preparation and get students excited about the term ahead by crafting an engaging course syllabus. In this guide, we surface tips to draft an effective syllabus template for any online and in-person course. We also provide a fully customizable sample syllabus template you can use no matter your discipline.

What is a course syllabus?

Before defining a syllabus template, it’s essential to clarify the definition of a course syllabus itself. A course syllabus for higher education contains necessary information about that class. This includes, but is not limited to, the topics to be covered, accommodation and participation policies, learning resources and a list of assignments and their associated weightings. A course syllabus template should also outline learning outcomes as well as rules, expectations and pedagogical practices to get students excited about the term ahead.

→ Download Now: Higher Ed Course Syllabus Template [Free]

Table of Contents

  1. What to include in a course syllabus template
  2. Why is a course syllabus important?
  3. Who should I write my syllabus template for?
  4. How to design a course syllabus for an online or in-person course
  5. What you can do with a course syllabus template
  6. How to make your course syllabus fun and interactive
  7. Download a free course syllabus template
  8. Conclusion
  9. Frequently asked questions

What to include in a course syllabus template

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A great deal of information goes into a typical course syllabus template. A syllabus template includes four basic aspects:

  1. Information about the instructor
  2. Academic and non-academic policies
  3. Required texts and supplies
  4. Schedule of classes and assignments
An iPad image with a syllabus template included.
  • The basics: Include information about the college, department, term and course credit, course location, the teacher and any co-instructors along with their contact information and office hours. It may also include specific details like email etiquette for students, academic or school policies and, if applicable, a campus Indigenous land acknowledgment statement.
  • Table of contents: A section clearly laying out the content and flow of the syllabus with hyperlinked entries to give students the quickest and easiest access to navigate the document.
  • About the course: Contextual elements of the course, such as the official course description, objectives, pre-and post-requisites, required resources like textbooks, hardware and software (such as required technology tools and platforms), assignments and assessments overview, learning outcomes, collaboration expectations, and activities and advice on how to be successful in the course.
  • Course policies and expectations: This section highlights administrative elements of the course, such as its policies regarding attendance, participation and camera use for online courses, accommodations, computer and Internet access and plagiarism. You can also include a basic needs statement here to direct students who need basic food and housing assistance to the on-campus and external resources that can help them thrive.
  • Attendance policy: How many sessions is a student permitted to miss and still pass the course? Is attendance taken each session and, if so, how will it be recorded? What must a student do if they’re going to be absent? How should they make up for any missed coursework? How does lateness affect a student’s grade, and what must a student do if they are going to be late for a session? If your course is asynchronous, how will attendance and participation be measured?
  • Participation requirements: Similarly, how much are students expected to participate in the class and how much does this contribute to their grade? What degree of participation do you expect from each student, and what does this look like in practice? Does the course entail lab sessions, tutorials or seminars in which the students are required to participate? Is the course synchronous, asynchronous or blended, and how does that affect your participation expectations of students?
  • Behavioral expectations: Outside of participation, how do you expect students to act and treat one another in class? If your course is online, what netiquette guidelines will you provide to your students?
  • Academic integrity statement: This is a statement of your expectations and the rules and regulations regarding students’ academic performance in and out of class. If there are any academic prerequisites or corequisites associated with the course, outline them here. This may include not only prior coursework but previously acquired knowledge, skills or abilities you expect from students. This section can also clarify aspects of the course that may commonly confuse students. An important element to clarify is what counts as appropriate collaboration and the boundaries between acceptable paraphrasing and required citation.
  • Personal support: For students requiring mental and emotional support, you may include a statement detailing support and services available to them through the school or local community. 
  • Course schedule or calendar: The final section of your college course syllabus should include a clear and detailed outline of the course schedule over the calendar term, including important deadlines and exam or assessment dates.

Why is a course syllabus important?

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The value of a course syllabus cannot be overlooked. Research shows that 92 percent of General Psychology university students keep their syllabus in their notebook or binder through at least three quarters of the semester. The same study also indicates that more than 62 percent of students turn to the course syllabus to gauge whether there will be a scheduled quiz during their next lecture. Fifty-seven percent of students regularly reviewed the syllabus to understand what topics and readings would be covered in that day’s class.

In any postsecondary course, a syllabus is one of the initial points of contact between an educator and student. It serves as a central source of information about a course that all students can refer to anytime they have a question to ensure they receive the same uniform answer. The course syllabus can be referred to when building out your class administration—whether in Top Hat or another educational technology platform. Regardless of whether you’re running an in-person class or a synchronous or asynchronous online course, our syllabus template can be edited to fit the needs of any teaching environment.

No matter what course you teach, the purpose of a course syllabus remains the same. A course syllabus serves as a contract, a permanent record and a learning tool. The ideal course syllabus takes all three of those objectives into account in its crafting. Later on, we’ll explore the three purposes of class syllabi in depth.

A course syllabus template can help you make sure you have all necessary information listed around course policies, accommodation guidelines and assessments. Syllabus templates may additionally offer guidelines on how to write different sections with inclusivity in mind. Some universities also offer syllabus templates that offer tactics on making your course document approachable and appealing to Generation Z.

Who should I write my syllabus template for?

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When crafting a college syllabus template, it’s critical to keep in mind your audience. While your students may be the primary focus, they are far from the only readers. You should also craft your course syllabus with colleagues and administrators at your school in mind.

The educator

A syllabus is important to you, the educator, because it prompts you to think about how you’ll prepare for and spend each day of the program. It serves as a reminder of what’s coming up next and ensures you stay on track in meeting your course objectives. Giving students a comprehensive syllabus also frees up your time to focus on areas that require specialized attention, like developing lesson plans, grading papers and checking in with students on their progress.

The student

For students, a syllabus helps set them up for success by giving them all they need to know to excel in the class. The ideal course syllabus is a student’s complete guide to the class they have enrolled in. By reviewing the course syllabus closely, a student should be able to understand exactly what will be expected of them in the course. They should also be able to identify the specific activities and assignments they must complete in order to pass the course.

When students have access to all required materials in a single view, they’re more likely to succeed. “All the assignments were in the same place and we were able to work ahead. I got As in all my Top Hat classes,” shares one Business student from a recent student survey. Our syllabus template offers pre-written course policies, accommodation guidelines and more accessible from a single document.

Colleagues

Your syllabus is important to your colleagues in case any of them have to fill in for you during an absence. It can also help new instructors take over your role if you’re promoted or take on a teaching position at a different institution. You might also compare your syllabus with a colleague teaching the same course as you. Doing so will ensure that both of you are delivering an equivalent educational experience regardless of which class students have enrolled in.

Administrators

Administrators will likely use your syllabus to ensure that your course is consistent with the department it falls under, with the school’s expectations and teaching philosophy and with the larger standards of the state. Sometimes, complying with certain state standards in your course syllabus is necessary in order for your school or program to receive funding.

The two main groups that will likely rely on syllabus templates are educators and administrators. Administrators may mandate their staff to use a particular syllabus template to ensure all students receive the same quality and course experience, no matter what year or discipline they’re in. Educators can also use college syllabus templates to guide them in writing the various components of this essential course document.

How to design a course syllabus for an online or in-person course

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No two course syllabi are alike. While each individual syllabus will contain some of the aforementioned elements, differences will always exist due to teaching modality. The format of online courses, such as synchronous and asynchronous, will also inform what information is included on the syllabus.

Syllabus examples for synchronous vs. asynchronous courses

A syllabus will differ depending on whether you’ll be conducting the course in a synchronous, asynchronous or blended format. It helps to understand the differences between these approaches. 

  • In synchronous learning, the students and teacher all meet together in the same place and time, even if that “place” is online, such as a video conference. Students access activities, resources and course content at a specified time and place. In some cases, students taught synchronously may still have some control over their pace. Students also have direct and immediate access to teachers and peer support while undertaking tasks and assignments.

Synchronous learning allows for greater class engagement, dynamic learning and educational depth. However, it imposes a rigid schedule and the possibility of certain logistical difficulties, such as access to a computer and reliable Internet.

  • In asynchronous learning, students move through the coursework at their own pace. Students can access course materials and work on their studies from anywhere that offers an Internet connection. In some cases, students can even download coursework and materials in advance of their study time so they can work when and where a computer or Internet connection may be lacking. 

Students are fully in charge of the time, place and pace of their learning and complete all tasks and assignments independently. Asynchronous learning allows for greater flexibility. However, it can also involve greater isolation and the potential for apathy and technical difficulties, such as computer software errors and Internet access issues.

  • In blended learning, some of the coursework is conducted in real-time. Students and instructors meet at the same time and location to conduct some course activities. Other work is conducted on the student’s own time. An example of blended learning is low-residency programs. In these programs, students meet with teachers and each other on campus for a brief period at the start of each term. Then, they conduct their studies for the remainder of the term asynchronously at home on their own time.

Considering the differences between synchronous, asynchronous and blended learning, it’s easy to see how a course syllabus for each should be adapted accordingly.

  • For a synchronous course: The times and locations of each class session and exam will be strictly scheduled. Attendance, lateness and absence policies are typically detailed in the course policies section.
  • For an asynchronous course: A greater focus is placed on due dates and deadlines. As long as a student reviews materials and completes assignments, exams and other assessments within the expected timeframe, they remain in good standing. Course policies for this type of course may place a greater focus on academic integrity than attendance and participation. A course syllabus for asynchronous learning should also detail exactly how students will be assessed and what learning outcomes they should strive for.
  • For a blended course: Synchronous and asynchronous elements of the course must each be delineated. While both elements must be scheduled, students need to be clear on which require real-time, in-person participation and which aspects are merely deadlines and due dates. Course policies may focus strongly on participation, given the opportunities to do so will be limited.

What to include in an online course syllabus

As classes continue to be offered in virtual modalities, it’s important to note some of the differences between online and blended courses.

For an online course course syllabus, be sure to include:

  • Unit of time: Do you use a weekly time frame or more flexible modules to structure the course? If using a weekly time frame, consider making assignments due at the end of each weekly period. If using modules, incorporate regular check-ins or incremental due dates to maintain consistent contact with students and encourage progress.
  • Weekly structure: On what days does each weekly period begin and end? This can help students better organize their time in the lead up to each assignment and avoid lateness. It can also keep students from attempting to contact you during times you don’t wish to be contacted.
  • Workload: Include a rough idea of how much time students are expected to commit to coursework each week. You may even include additional guidance on the degree of motivation and self-discipline necessary to succeed in the course.
  • Type(s) of learning: Online courses can be synchronous, asynchronous or blended. Let students know in the online syllabus what type or types of learning will take place in the course and the procedures and expectations for each. How will classroom discussions take place: in a schedule, real-time chat or over an asynchronous forum?

An online course syllabus template may also include information on where and how students can obtain technical support and what software or services students should use to communicate with peers and instructors. 

An online course syllabus is also a good place to remind students of protocol associated with the technologies and platforms you’ve chosen for your class. As with any course document, you should also include tips and advice on how to succeed in the course.

What you can do with a course syllabus template

The majority of course syllabus templates are completely editable. That means you may add, delete, alter and reshuffle any of the content to suit your specific needs.

Most syllabus templates aren’t meant to be copied and submitted to students as-is. Instead, each section provides prompts to effectively draft each section. It’s up to you to pick and choose which criteria to include and how to present it.

For the best use of these free course syllabus templates, be sure to reflect yourself, your teaching philosophy and your own unique points of focus. Apply your own personality to your college syllabus template. Consider using this template to give your students a sense of your teaching style. You can even create an interactive syllabus template by using colors and, if appropriate, including images, GIFs, fun facts or interesting links.

Make sure your final course syllabus demonstrates empathy for the learning process. This is also a critical opportunity to convey respect for students’ time and learning challenges, particularly if you’re teaching a remote or blended course.

→ Download a sample syllabus template with easy-to-follow directions

How to make your course syllabus fun and interactive

As long as your course syllabus contains all essential information, this important class document doesn’t have to be stale and boring. Instructors far and wide have come up with different types of creative, innovative syllabi. 

For example, if you’re savvy with graphic design software, you can create a graphical syllabus, also known as a ‘visual’ syllabus. This may include images, charts and graphs, like an infographic. Similarly, you can parse out the information you need to convey in bite-sized chunks by creating a PowerPoint document.

Infographic on how to create a syllabus students will read.

Some tips for an effective graphic syllabus:

  • For a college syllabus template, limit your choice of colors to avoid visually overwhelming students.
  • Keep the design relatively simple, avoiding clutter and allowing for plenty of space to maintain readability and flow. Avoid intricate, hi-res graphics, as well. Instead, use simpler line drawings and vector images.
  • Use basic fonts, avoiding anything too fancy that may be hard for some to read.
  • If your students will be downloading the document to print on their own, keep the document and pixel size to a reasonable level so accessing it doesn’t become prohibitive. Creating a syllabus template in Google Docs is a great way to ensure it is accessible for students.

Understanding how to develop a great syllabus means defining the roles and responsibilities of teacher and student alike and presenting a clear assertion of the course’s intended learning outcomes. Ideally, it should establish procedures and standards for assessment and apprise students of all logistics about the course. This, in turn, helps create a clear channel for communication between students and instructors. 

Captivate student attention from day one by watching our on-demand session for building an interactive course syllabus.

Download a free course syllabus template

This free, course syllabus template is ready to use upon download and works as a Microsoft Word or Google Docs file. Simply open the course syllabus template in your preferred program and begin entering in your responses to each of the prompts in the text boxes provided. It’s really as simple as that.

→ Download our free sample syllabus template for higher ed instructors today

Conclusion

College students are expected to be more self-directed and accountable for their learning progress than students in primary and secondary educational environments. A course syllabus must therefore be designed with self-directed learning in mind. Postsecondary students may also have greater demands outside of class. It’s why giving students a complete view of assignments, exam dates and deadlines to schedule into their calendars is particularly important in avoiding conflicts. 

On a purely administrative level, a course syllabus may also require more detailed information about the credits a student earns for completing the course and the exact times and locations on campus or virtually for any classes, conferences or labs. Make your next class accessible, inclusive and effective by referring to our course syllabus template for higher ed instructors—downloadable for free.

Frequently asked questions

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1. What is a course syllabus template used for?

If a course syllabus is a student’s guide to a course, a college syllabus template is a teacher’s guide to creating an effective syllabus. Rather than merely provide instructions, like a tutorial, a template provides prompts for certain specific information and gives you the spaces in which to enter it. Then, when it’s completed, the course syllabus template allows you to print out a ready-to-use course syllabus you can distribute immediately to your next group of students.

Some syllabus templates may already be pre-written for arts, STEM and social science courses. Contrastingly, you may be able to download a free syllabus template, which you can adapt to the needs of your course and students.

2. What are some well-designed examples of course syllabi?

No matter how many students are in your next course or what subject matter you teach, well-designed syllabus templates can help your students feel motivated and supported from the beginning of the semester. We share effective syllabus examples below for you to base your own document around.

  • The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s course syllabus template clearly outlines the various parts of an effective syllabus, along with grading guidelines. Including a course calendar in your own syllabus can further make it easy for students to stay on track, while letting advanced students read ahead.
  • The University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s college course syllabus template offers guidelines for writing the five major sections of any class syllabus: course information, course learning outcomes, topic schedule, grading policy and course policies. This syllabus is an effective example since it also provides clear netiquette tips for online classes—which can be applied to any hybrid or blended course as well.
  • The University of South Carolina Center for Teaching Excellence offers three free, syllabus examples that are designed for face-to-face, online and blended courses. These syllabi examples outline how to write each section effectively, while the university also offers syllabus best practices for faculty. You’ll learn what pieces are essential to include on your next syllabus, no matter what modality you choose to teach in.

3. Tips for editing your course syllabus template

Once you’ve completed a draft of your class syllabus template, try and read it through the eyes of your students. Imagine you know nothing about yourself or the course, and see if your syllabus provides a clear and cogent idea of who you are, what the course is about, how it is structured, what the student will get out of it and why you are qualified to teach this course. 

Another powerful way to sharpen your course syllabus before sharing with students is to submit it to colleagues in your department for peer review. This certainly doesn’t take the place of your own meticulous self-review, but it can give you the benefits of a fresh, unbiased set of eyes. In particular, ask your chosen peer-reviewers to identify anything that may be confusing and any gaps that may need filling.

Use the following syllabus checklist for additional questions you can ask both in your self-review and peer-review of your course syllabus:

  • Is the description of your course thorough enough to inform the reader of the value of the course content and the instructional methods you plan to use?
  • Are all the required materials, supplies, texts and prerequisites listed essential to the course, and do they each contribute to achieving the learning outcomes of the course?
  • Have you included sufficient details about the structure of the course to distinguish it from other classes on similar subjects?
  • Are the learning outcomes clearly described, and are they appropriate for student learning at that level?
  • Are the assessment methods outlined clearly, and are they appropriate for student learning at that level?
  • Have you identified the components and course activities that will run in person and online, both synchronous and asynchronous?
  • Do students clearly know where to seek support when facing financial, socioeconomic or basic needs concerns?

→ Download your free, customizable syllabus template today

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Active Learning, Student Engagement

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