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

    • General information about the course, including 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

    • Information about the instructor, including instructor name, email address, office location, days/times of weekly office hours*
      *From the University's Faculty Handbook: "Faculty should hold regular office hours during the academic term that are clearly communicated to students. Faculty are also expected to be available to advise students during registration and the final examination period following the end of classes."

  2. Course description

    • ​The course description should convey to students the intellectual goals of the course. The course description on the syllabus could be the same as the course description for the Bulletin, or it could provide even more details.

  3. Goals for student learning

    • ​​All syllabi should include a list and/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 texts and materials required for the course, as well as any texts and materials that are recommended for further study.

    • ​​Note: Instructors should also post required texts and other materials to their course's Courseworks site as soon as the site is available. Federal law requires that information regarding course costs be made available to students before registration -- i.e., students should have access to the information during April registration for Fall courses and during November registration for Spring courses.*
      *From the University's Faculty Handbook: "Posting of textbook information to Canvas is an important condition the University must meet for its students to continue to receive federal financial aid. To satisfy this legal requirement, faculty are required to provide complete textbook information (listing all required course materials including books, software or online programs, specialized calculators, lab materials, etc.) in CourseWorks prior to student registration."

  5. The forms of assessment for the course and a grading rubric reflecting the weight of each form of assessment

    • ​The syllabus should provide a list of all assignments and other required activities through which student performance will be evaluated. ​

    • The syllabus should also note the percentage that each assigned requirement will have in the calculation of the final grade.

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

    • Some forms of assessment that instructors may assign could include the following:
      • ​​​Participation

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

        • Please note that, while attendance may be considered one element of participation among many, attendance in and of itself should not be given its own grade and given its own weight in the final grade for the class (see more in "Course Policies" below).

      • 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 closely 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 and Papers
        • Lecture courses often require one or more midterm examinations and a final examination, while seminar courses typically require several written assignments. It is possible to require a combination of exams and written assignments, depending on the goals of the course.
        • Midterm exams may be scheduled during class times at the discretion of the instructor.
        • Please note that 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.) Final examinations should not be given during during regular class meetings.
        • If the course is an advanced 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
    • The schedule should include the date of each class meeting and the assignment(s) due by each class meeting, including all reading/homework assignments that must be completed before the class meeting and the due dates for any other assignments that are due in class.
    • The following information about the academic calendar may help instructors to plan the numbers of class meetings and schedule of class meetings in a given semester. Both of the fall and the spring are 14 weeks long, plus an additional week for final exams. However, a "week" has a particular definition in our calendar: it is any week in which classes are held, whether classes are held every day or on certain days. In the fall semester, we have two weeks during which classes meet only on certain days: in early November, when the "Election Day" holiday covers a Monday and Tuesday, and in late November, when the Thanksgiving holiday covers a Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. These weeks count as two weeks of the fall term, and yet they represent one full week of class meetings (i.e., class meetings that cover Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday). For this reason, it is important to remember that there may be a different number of class meetings in a fall semester than in a spring semester. Instructors are encouraged to consult the Registrar's website to view the calendar for upcoming semesters and to plan their class schedule accordingly.
  7. Course policies

    1. Attendance: It is a basic expectation that students will attend class; therefore, attendance should not be a substantive basis for grading (i.e., it should not given its own grade and given its own percentage of the final grade). It is advisable, however, to articulate a clear policy on absences on the syllabus.

    2. Academic integrity: 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.
    3. Academic accommodations: All syllabi should also include a policy regarding accommodations for students with disabilities. Instructors are encouraged to include the Faculty Statement on Disability Accommodations.
    4. Course-specific policies: Please 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