Structuring a Syllabus

In order to review a course proposal and to evaluate the structure and workload of the course, the Columbia College-General Studies Committee on Instruction (COI) must be provided with a syllabus that is in a relatively final state. The COI is interested in seeing how the syllabus will convey to undergraduate students the expected work for the course and the expected schedule for that work.

The COI expects for a syllabus for an undergraduate course to include the following components:

  1. Introductory information about the course and about the instructor:

    • Course title, term taught, class days/times, classroom location, course format (e.g., lecture, seminar, language, laboratory, etc.), and number of points for the course.

    • Instructor name, email address, office location, days/times of weekly office hours.

  2. A description of the course that conveys to students the intellectual goals of the course. This description could function as the course description for the Bulletin, or it could expand on that brief summary in even more detail.

  3. A list or description of the goals for student learning in the course — i.e., the specific skills, knowledge or attributes that students should be able to demonstrate after successfully completing the course.

  4. A list of required and recommended texts and other materials for the course.

  5. The requirements for the course through which student performance will be evaluated and the percentage of the final grade that will be based on each requirement.

    Please note that it is a COI expectation that all courses open to undergraduates ensure that some written and/or graded feedback will be given to students prior to or around the midterm point of the semester, regardless of the type of course, so that students may understand better how they are being evaluated and may have the possible opportunity to improve. In no case should 100% of the grade be based on end-of-term work.

    Depending on the type of course, course requirements may include the following:
    • ​​​Attendance
      It is a basic expectation that students will attend class; therefore, attendance should not be a substantive basis for grading. It is advisable, however, to articulate a clear policy on absences on the syllabus.

    • Participation
      If you choose to assign a participation grade to students, please provide students with clear guidelines regarding your expectations, as well as evaluative feedback throughout the semester.

    • Weekly Readings/Homework
      The amount of reading and/or other homework for the course should be designed with an aim to ensure that the course carries the expected workload for the course credit. For example, for a three-point course, students are expected to conduct an average of six hours of work outside of the classroom; for a four-point course, eight hours. (To learn more, please review the Guidance on Course Points.) The type of work will determine the approximate length of time that students may need--for example, some courses may require 100-200 pages of reading per week because students are moving quickly through the material to understand overarching ideas, while other courses may require a smaller number of pages because students are closley analyzing particularly dense material or texts in foreign languages. If you have questions about the expected workload, please feel free to consult with Lisa Hollibaugh, dean of Academic Affairs for Columbia College, and Caroline Marvin, dean of Academic Affairs for the School of General Studies.

    • Presentations
      If a percentage of the grade is allocated to an in-class presentation, please provide students with clear guidelines regarding your expectations and provide students with graded feedback on the presentation.
    • Examinations
      Lecture courses often require one or more midterm examinations and a final examinations, while seminar courses typically require several written assignments. It is possible, of course, to require a combination of exams and written assignments, depending on the goals of the course. Please note that, while midterm exams may be scheduled during class times at the discretion of the instructor, final examinations must be administered during the exam period according to the schedule assigned by the Office of the University Registrar. (Find more information on final examinations.)
    • Written Work
      If the course is a seminar or colloquium, it is an expectation of the COI that students will be required to submit a final paper that is substantial in length and scope.
  6. A detailed schedule of the semester, noting the date of each class meeting, the topic of each class meeting and the assignment(s) due by each class meeting.
  7. All syllabi should include a policy regarding academic integrity; instructors are encouraged to include the Faculty Statement on Academic Integrity and to refer to the Columbia University Undergraduate Guide to Academic Integrity. All syllabi should also include a policy regarding students with disabilities; instructors are encouraged to include the Faculty Statement on Disability Accommodations. Please also specify if you have policies specific to your course about what is and is not allowed in class and in exams (e.g., if laptops are or are not allowed in class for taking notes; if books and notes are or are not allowed in exams; if cell phones must be turned off in class).

If you have questions about developing a course or structuring a syllabus for an undergraduate course, please contact Lisa Hollibaugh, dean of Academic Affairs of Columbia College, and Caroline Marvin, dean of Academic Affairs of the School of General Studies, at