Tuesday, September 22, 2015

College Credit: It's On The Syllabus


No matter what you ask your professor over the course of the semester, the most likely response you'll get is something like "It's on the syllabus." Yes, professors love to write up big documents governing every aspect of behavior in their class. In some instances, it might seem like the iTunes terms and conditions are easier to get through than that 30-page syllabus. Even worse are the instructors who offer a half-page of instructions while expecting you to interpret in a manner similar to applying the Ten Commandments to a dispute in your fantasy football league.

As exasperating as those syllabi might be, there's something to be learned from them.  When you have a document that outlines your principles, it helps clarify confusing situations.  Do you have a syllabus in your life?  What is your policy for missing class?  What guidelines do you have for civil behavior?  How do you know if you're living up to your principles if you've never sat down and tried to figure out what your principles actually are?  Without a syllabus, you're just left to figure out every confusing situation as it comes along.

Your financial life needs a syllabus, too.  What's your policy on work hours?  Will you pick up a shift during finals week?  Are you willing to quit your job if it interferes with school?  A budget can be your syllabus for spending to answer many of those questions.  For instance, if you know ahead of time that you can spend $20 per month on video games, then you know buying that video game you want this month means that you can't buy another until the end of the year. It also means that, if you haven't bought a new video game all summer, you don't have to feel guilty about buying one now.  

This weekend, put together your syllabus.  Use one your professors have provided as your example ... and fill in all the sections.  Start with who you are, what your expected outcomes for the semester are, and determine your tentative schedule.  Don't worry about some of the odd sections until the end. You can probably find a way to incorporate them - for example, sexual harassment policies might become "dating principles" - but that's something you can handle later.  For now, try to get down the most important principles to guide your path ahead.

Finally, after you know what you value, put together a budget.  Do you value time with your friends?  Then put more money aside to cover spending leisure time together.  Or maybe you value that time with your friends, but don't value going out to eat or dancing on Saturday nights.  Maybe your budget should reflect that, so maybe consider putting money aside to host a dinner party or watch football.

Whatever plan you come up with, try not to deviate from it too much once you have it established.  That way, when a strange situation comes up in a few months, you've got a list of principles to help your decision process.  Tell yourself, "It's on the syllabus" and use that to help guide you.  Creating a budget, scheduling your time, and formalizing your principles can be difficult, so drop us a line if you'd like some help.  You can find us here.

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