Is asking for the syllabus before class frowned upon? I usually ask because I'm trying to figure out what we're going to do and whether I have interest in the subject.

  • 1
    Are you sure there is a syllabus?
    – user111388
    Jun 24 '20 at 14:55
  • 2
    By "class", are you referring to a course or a particular lecture in the course?
    – GoodDeeds
    Jun 24 '20 at 14:58
  • 12
    @GoodDeeds, the terminology isn't standard worldwide. In the US a "course" is, say, 15 weeks study of a single subject, like Calculus II. In other places like UK, "course" means everything needed for a degree: "course of study", several years. In the US, class and course are usually synonyms, though "class" could also be one day's instruction. A "lecture" would be one day's instruction. I don't know if that was your intent.
    – Buffy
    Jun 24 '20 at 16:34
  • 1
    Note that if you do get an early copy, the instructor may make changes before the course actually starts. Jun 24 '20 at 16:46
  • 6
    How far in advance are you talking about? Asking for a syllabus a week before class starts is different than asking six months in advance.
    – bta
    Jun 25 '20 at 0:00

It should be perfectly acceptable (nearly) everywhere. You may not get it, for a variety of reasons, but it is fine to ask. Note that some places have it online, so you might look there also.

Even an older syllabus might serve your purposes.

  • Agreed. This is something that I would do as a student all the time to get some early preparation and excitement in. It’s perfectly natural to ask (reasonably) ahead of time Jun 24 '20 at 15:02
  • The CS department I was in had links to old syllabi on the website listing courses they were planning to offer. Jun 24 '20 at 23:36

There is no problem asking, and in many cases it is already available on a website. Students that had taken the class earlier are another source.


It is perfectly acceptable and in fact you don't even need to justify your reasons when asking for it. I would also consider the following additional steps you can take in assessing a course:

  • Check if you have access to the course website and its resources, or any old material that may be on the professor's own page.
  • Check for which textbooks and/or books will be used for the course. If the course strictly adheres to a textbook you may want to read it to get an insight into how the subject will be taught, and whether you are comfortable using that resource.
  • If the module/course is part of a program (e.g. BSc, MSc), sometimes information about the course will be provided in webpages on the degree course it is part of, and those would be worth checking out.

i) the syllabus should be available before a student selects a course - and indicate requirements and successful completion will satisfy requirement for a course at the next level ii) the syllabus should include a list of recommended text books iii) ideally, a lecture schedule will suggest pre-reading material. It is recommended that the student does pre-read they can then focus in the lecture on parts less well understood iv) past exam / course work should be available. Again read and map "tests" to the lecture schedule. Ideally "test" will describe how grades are awarded. A very generic approach is Pass : a text book answer, Merit : identifies weakness in the text book answer, Distinction : offers a "worthy" solution to those weaknesses.

  • 1
    This answer seems a bit too institution-specific -- as many universities, including my own, don't adhere to the standards you've listed. Jun 26 '20 at 4:08
  • At the start of a new (2 or 3 year course) I took the students through the scientific approach as described in Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Ch 13 ?). "rationalise" your choice is a common "test". I strived to educate my students, to make them independent thinkers. The "generic" approach I described is part of that effort. Colleges are marketing a product. Students are rational consumers. Both student and college suffer if there is a mis-map
    – jfw
    Jun 27 '20 at 6:07

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