The first week of classes, often referred to as syllabus week, is arguably one of the most important weeks in a semester. While some courses will not dive too deeply into teaching subject matter in that first week, it is the time when you will learn the most about how the course will be conducted. It is vitally important to resist the temptation to skip class that first week, as doing so can make the rest of the semester much more difficult. College can be the most enjoyable period in a person’s life, but missing syllabus week can turn it into a source of stressful, bad memories.
At first glance, the syllabus itself may just look like a few pages of mundane information that you can copy from someone else. But in addition to the course objectives and the professor’s office hours, a syllabus has key information that will guide you through the course. Most syllabi have a calendar listing test days and readings for each class, and having this information can let you know very quickly which weeks will require more study time. This is information that you will want on the very first day to enable you to plan out your semester. Taking each week as it comes will lead to stress and struggles. College is much more enjoyable when you have a plan.
A syllabus will give you a good indication of whether the content of the course matches the catalog description. If the content seems significantly different from what you thought it would be, you may want to change your schedule. Schedule changes are best done as early as possible. The standard information distributed by a college is often incorrect with regard to course materials, and getting your syllabus on the first day of a course will ensure that you have the proper books and extras for the second week of class.
Course syllabi will often have extra requirements that need to be planned as early as possible. Any type of fieldwork, observations, or participation in experiments will need to be scheduled, and it’s a good idea to map out your semester’s requirements in that first week. Doing so will give you the peace of mind that comes with knowing where you need to be each day and why, and a structured semester allows you to spend free time enjoying social activities. There’s nothing worse than planning to attend a social event and realizing at the last minute that you’re required to participate in a psychology professor’s experimental trial instead.
There are many reasons to avoid skipping syllabus week that go beyond simply getting a copy of the syllabus early to plan your semester. Some courses may have strict attendance policies that reduce a grade for too many absences. Some students may see a missed class allowance as an invitation to skip the first week, but it’s much better to save those days for times when they are truly needed. Using days for fun is only a good idea for people who are never, ever sick, and everybody gets sick from time to time. Having your A grade reduced to a B because you skipped the first week and caught the flu in the middle of the semester is a recipe for regret.
If you’re taking a course with low enrollment or you’re lucky enough to attend a college with small class sizes, you will definitely want to attend during syllabus week. Professors’ impressions of students are formed early, and nobody wants to be known as the person who skips class. Schedule changes in the beginning of the semester do sometimes require missing a class or two in the first week, and faculty understand this. But in smaller classes professors will notice who isn’t there and will often be more vigilant in observing attendance patterns. Showing up for each class on time gives the impression that you are a hard-working, interested student. Skipping the first week and then missing classes later in the semester can create an impression of lack of seriousness. This can mean the difference between an A- and a B+.
Another important reason not to skip syllabus week is that it’s important to spark your own interest in a course early. Doing so makes it easier to maintain your interest throughout the course. Not all of the courses you take in college will pertain to your major field of study, and many required general education courses can seem like drudgery. Diving into the material early with the right attitude can make even the most boring subjects interesting, and you will often find that the things you learn early in a course will be helpful in other courses you’re taking at the same time.
The final and perhaps most important reason not to skip the first week of class is simple: Not all professors buy into the idea of syllabus week. Many begin lectures the very first day. This can become a huge problem for courses in which information in each class builds on information presented in the previous one. Math courses are a great example. Nearly everyone knows someone who has said of a math course, “I ended up falling behind and got completely lost.” Now imagine skipping the first week of a class, and starting with a knowledge deficit. For exceptional math students this may not be a problem, but note that it’s easy to fall behind in many other courses as well. Sciences and foreign language courses also see many students start strong but fall behind at some point.
Syllabus week at most colleges has many events, parties, and opportunities to meet new people. These are all important parts of the college experience, but it can be tempting to focus more on fun than school. It’s important to resist this temptation and attend the first week of classes. Doing so will help limit stress over the course of the semester and ensure that your eventual memories of college are fond ones.