Course Proposal Sample Syllabus Requirements

Details on the course syllabus, including requirements for the sample syllabus to be included with all new Lumen course proposals.


Course Proposal Sample Syllabus Requirements


Course Proposal Sample Syllabus Requirements

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


The U.S. Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and UW-Madison recognize a course syllabus is required for each course offering. This policy specifies what is and is not required in a course proposal sample syllabus.


A course syllabus is required when a course proposal is submitted and must follow the requirements for course syllabi at UW-Madison. Some information that is specific to a course offering, such as instructor name, location, etc. is not required, although it is recommended this information be included when known. The following items are required:

Key Course Offering Information

  • Institution name
  • Subject and catalog number
  • Course title
  • Number of credits
  • Course designations and attributes (if any)
  • Course description
  • Requisites
  • Instructional mode
  • Learning outcomes
  • How credit hours are met by the course

Instructor-to-Student Communication

  • Discussion sessions (if applicable)
  • Laboratory sessions (if applicable)
  • The required textbook, software, and other course materials
  • Indication of time devoted to individual topics via academic activities
  • A representative list of readings
  • Homework and other Assignments
  • Exams, quizzes, papers, and other major graded work
  • Grading

Academic Policies and Statements

  • Not required

Special accrediting bodies may have additional or different syllabus requirements.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143
Source: View policy UW-1065 in the UW-Madison Policy Library  

University Course Catalog Elements

This policy applies to courses broadly, not just course proposals.

Course Catalog Elements

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


The review of course proposals is a shared responsibility, the intent of which is to broadly communicate curricula, offer feedback, enhance the quality of instruction, and meet certain standards. This policy outlines the elements required for course proposals.


A course proposal must include information to support the development of the course. The following elements are required, when applicable, and appear in the Guide and Course Search & Enroll. These elements must be consistent across all course offerings and can only be changed via the Course Proposal Form in Lumen.

Course Title
Transcript Title
Course Description
Grading Basis
Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Course
Credits (Variable Credit)
Topic Title Eligibility
Course Attributes and Designations
Graduate Attribute
LAS Credit
General Education (QR-A and B, COMM A and B)
Ethnic Studies
Foreign Language
Learning Outcomes


The subject must reflect the area of study and department offering the course. All proposals must be approved by the department that owns the subject listing and the school or college that owns the department. The same is true of any cross-list partners.


The course number must reflect the level of the course:

  • Course numbers below 100 do not carry degree credit.
  • Courses numbered 100-299 may be taken for credit only by undergraduates.
  • Courses numbered 300-699 may be taken for credit by undergraduate and graduate or professional students.
  • Courses numbered 700-999 are open only to graduate and professional students.

Specific course numbers are assigned to directed/independent study, undergraduate thesis, and graduate thesis and dissertation writing courses.


A cross-listed course must have the same elements in all cross-listed subjects:

  • Course number
  • Title
  • Credits
  • Requisites
  • Designations, if applicable, e.g., breadth, level, etc.

Cross-listing is reserved for courses that are taught within an inter- or multi-disciplinary framework and that appropriately belong to multiple subject listings. There is no requirement that a course be cross-listed, even when it meets the following criteria:

  • All participating units must work together to ensure the accuracy of information as it appears in each subject listing.
  • All participating academic units must regularly contribute instructors to either team teach or rotate teaching responsibilities for the course.
  • The course must benefit students across the cross-listed departments.
  • The subject matter must be appropriate and relevant to fields represented by the participating departments.

Course Title

The course title, also known as the Long Title, must reflect the overall theme of the course description and must be unique except for independent/directed study and similar courses where the title simply describes the basic activity of the course (e.g., Research, Thesis, etc.). It is utilized in Course Search and Enroll, Guide, Canvas and other campus systems and publications where space is not an issue.

A topic title-eligible course has two titles: a course title that is generic title and a topic title. Each time a section of the course is offered, the additional Topic Title is assigned to the section indicating the specific topic. See Topic Title Eligibility for more information.

Transcript Title

The Transcript Title is an abridged version of the Course Title and appears on the student transcript. The Transcript Title must accurately reflect the course to external parties such as employers, other institutions, etc.

Course Description

The course description provides a summary of the course content. The text of a course description is used in the search features of Guide, Course Search and Enroll, etc. Students use key words and phrases in course searches. The description must be written such that the intended audience (students, advisors, transfer credit evaluators, and the public) knows what will be taught in the course.

A course description must:

  • Be concise.
  • Exclude elements populated through other means, e.g., course title, credits, how it fulfills requirements, planned offerings, requisites, modes of instruction, or how the course will be taught.
  • Exclude phrases like "In this course", "The goal of the course is", or "Students will" as these are implied.
  • When applicable, reference other courses with the correct subject short description in all capital letters and the catalog number (i.e.: MATH 202). If formatted correctly, Lumen will connect the sequenced course information to be displayed in a course bubble.
  • When applicable, clarify that a course is taught in a language other than English. This excludes foreign language courses with the Foreign Language Attribute (FL1-5).

Note: In limited situations, information related to the enrollment of students in the course, such as “Consent of Instructor” may be included as the last sentence in the course description.


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A catalog requisite is the academic preparation required of all students to be successful in a course. A requisite can take the form of a prerequisite (completed prior to the start of the course) or a co-requisite (taken concurrently with the course).

Each requisite must be transparent and inclusive of all ways a student can demonstrate preparation.

A requisite is not a means of managing enrollment. This is done at the section level with requirement groups and is not part of the course catalog. A section level requirement can be variable while a course catalog level requirement is constant. A section-level requirement group is determined when building the schedule of classes and may only be stricter than the catalog level requisite.

A requisite must, when applicable:

  • Include all UW-Madison courses that provide the academic preparation needed for the course, including all course equivalents and all cross-listings. Courses must be formatted with the correct subject short description in all capital letters and the catalog number (i.e., MATH 202).
  • Include specific GPA/grade requirements for prerequisite courses.
  • Include placement exams. Advanced Placement and other third-party test results are automatically configured if the course they equate to is used in the requisite.
  • Consider the audience for the course (i.e., class standing- junior standing, graduate/professional, etc. Students declared in a plan or subplan).

When a requisite is not enforceable in the enrollment system, ‘Consent of Instructor’ may be utilized by the academic department when developing the course description at the catalog level. See the list of standard requisites.

Grading Basis

The grading basis for a course determines what grade options are available to the course instructor on the grade roster.

Available grading bases include:

  • A - F: The standard grading scale which includes the pass/fail grading option.
  • Credit/No Credit (CR/N): A student who performs at a given standard receives credit for the course while those who do not receive no credit. This is not the same as the pass/fail grading option.
  • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U): Typically used for graduate or professional courses.
  • School of Veterinary Medicine: Available only for School of Veterinary Medicine courses.


  • Courses with a number ending in 98 (e.g.,198 or 698) are offered on a Credit/No Credit basis.
  • Courses with a number ending in 99 (e.g., 199 or 699) are graded on the A - F basis.
  • The First in 2 Course Sequence grade option is for administrative use only, and is utilized for courses that are connected, e.g., 681/682 (Senior Honors Thesis) or 691/692 (Undergraduate/Senior Thesis).


A course component reflects a category of course meeting and is not intended to describe the instructional method.

Lecture: A commonly used component for group instruction.

Seminar: A small discussion-oriented course, usually in a specialized topic.

Field Study: A course that takes place in a work setting.

Discussion: A component that is an attachment to and subset of a lecture.

Laboratory: A component used to reflect hands on learning. A laboratory may be attached to a lecture or stand alone.

Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Course: A one-on-one learning experience where student learning is directed by an instructor and the student learns independently of other students.

Some course components may be used in combination:



Lecture/Field Study


Lecture/Laboratory/Field Study



Each course must abide by the Credit Hour policy, including a course offered for variable credit.

A variable credit course may take several forms:

  • Different credits across terms (e.g., 3 credits in fall, 4 credits in spring); or
  • Different credits across sections (e.g., topics courses where each section is a different topic with a set number of credits); or
  • Different credits across students.
    • For group instruction, each student selects the number of credits representative of their workload.
    • For group instruction, a student selects to enroll in an additional, optional credit. For individual instruction, the student and instructor together determine the number of credits representative of the workload.


A course may be designated as “repeatable” which allows a student to successfully complete the course for credit more than once.

Topic Title Eligibility

The content of a topics course varies with each course offering. A topics course must not be used to circumvent the course proposal and approval process. A topic title that becomes a regular offering in the curriculum must be proposed as a new course.

A topics course is used to pilot and refine an idea for a new course, address a timely issue of special interest, or be offered for a limited time, and must:

  • Fall under a disciplinary area of closely related course content; and
  • Align with the approved catalog-level components for the course, including learning outcomes, component type(s), and course designations; and
  • Include at least one learning outcome common to all offerings of the course; and
  • Appear on students' transcripts with the specific title of the topic; and
  • Allow for repeat enrollment with different topics; and
  • Follow the same requirements for credit hour, instructor qualifications, syllabus information, etc. that pertain to all courses.

A topics course is not to be cross-listed unless there is a specific programmatic and scholarly reason.

Course Attributes and Designations

All attributes and designations are set at the catalog level and apply to all sections of a course, unless otherwise noted.

Graduate Attribute
The graduate level course attribute is assigned to a course that meets graduate-level standards and contributes to the requirement that at least 50% of credits applied toward a graduate degree must be in courses designated for graduate work.

Honors Designation
The honors designation may be used at the course catalog or section level. When designated at the course catalog level, every section of the course must be offered every time with the honors designation. When designated at the section level, oversight is the responsibility of the school/college honors program and is addressed each semester when developing the Schedule of Classes.

Breadth Attribute
The breadth attributes are administered by the College of Letters and Science and indicates a course has been reviewed to meet the requirements for the L&S undergraduate degree (Natural Science, Humanities/Literature/Arts, and Social Studies requirements). Many schools and colleges also use the L&S breadth designation to indicate to students how they may meet their general education requirements.

LAS Credit Attribute
A course designated LAS Credit must encourage students in one or more of the three “habits of mind” of liberal arts education, as specified by the College of Letters and Science:

  • Skilled written and verbal communication, excelling in formulating and expressing a point of view, reflecting, and questioning current knowledge through reading, research, and consideration of the views of others.
  • The ability to drew flexibly upon and apply the modes of through of the major areas of knowledge.
  • Knowledge of our basic cultural heritage as a multifaceted and often contested history.

General Education Attribute
Consideration of course eligibility for a general education attribute occurs after all department and school/college approvals are granted.

 Communication A
 Communication B
 Quantitative Reasoning A and B

Ethnic Studies Attribute
The ethnic studies requirement is overseen by the Ethnic Studies Subcommittee of the University General Education Committee, which reviews all requests.

Foreign Language Attribute
The foreign language course attribute differentiates courses where the primary focus of the course is teaching a method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way, from courses that focus on the culture, literature, history, and polity or other aspects of language learning.

Workplace Attribute
Workplace experience encompasses internships, clinical work, cooperatives, practica, student teaching, and other simultaneous credit-bearing experiences based on immersive workplace experience that is linked to an academic program.

Learning Outcomes

Course learning outcomes state what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of a course and may contribute, or map to, program learning outcomes. Each course is expected to have three to five course learning outcomes.

Learning outcomes must be common to each offering of a course regardless of instructor, mode of instruction, etc. An instructor may have additional learning outcomes for a specific offering of a course, but these must not be in place of the approved and established course learning outcomes.

Related UW–Madison Documents, Web Pages, or Other Resources

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143
Source: View policy UW-1079 in the UW-Madison Policy Library  


The syllabus must include:

Note: several items listed below can be copied and pasted from the course proposal form. The ordering of items does not need to match this kb, but is recommened as it aligns with the Campus Syllabus Resources.

Key Course Offering Information

  1. Institution Name
    • Syllabus can be placed on UW-Madison letterhead, or if letterhead is not used, be sure "University of Wisconsin-Madison" is at the top of the document.
  2. Subject and Catalog Number
    • The subject should use the "subject short description", which can be found in the Academic Structure Tableau Dataviz. The subject short description should always be in all capital letters. Format as "[subject short description] [space] [catalog number]". Include all cross-listed subjects. For example, "MATH 101" or "BOTANY/BIOLOGY/ZOOLOGY 151".
    • See the Policy on Course Numbers for more information.
  3. Course Title
  4. Number of Credits
    • The sample syllabus should always use the maximum number of credits, if a variable credit course.
    • See the Policy on the Credit Hour for more information.
  5. Course designations and attributes (if applicable)
  6. Course Description
  7. Requisites
  8. Instructional Mode
    • The instructional mode is not approved by the University Curriculum Committee. For the sample syllabus, include one of the available options for instructional modes (in-person/face-to-face, online, hybrid). The syllabus should reflect the meeting patterns associated with the listed instructional mode.
    • See the Policy on the Mode of Instruction Course Descriptors for more information.
  9. Learning Outcomes
    • Course learning outcomes state what students are expected to know or be able to do upon completion of a course. Learning outcomes are approved by school/college and university governance and cannot change without formal approval from the school/college and University Curriculum Committee. Ensure learning outcomes listed on the syllabus match the learning outcomes listed on the Lumen Courses form for new course proposals. Additional learning outcomes may be included in the sample syllabus (usually for topics courses).
    • See the University Course Catalog Elements Procedures for more information.
  10. Details on How Course Credit Hours are Met
    • The credit hour explanation should be written in a way that is easy for students to understand. Specify how often the course meets (including different course components, if applicable) and how much time should be spent outside of the class meeting times. Another way of writing this would be to articulate how many total hours are spent on the course. For examples on how this could be achieved, see the Teaching and Learning course credit information. If utilizing the template language, be sure to tailor the credit hour rationale to match the specific sample syllabus you are submitting with the course proposal. This helps the reviewer know what to look for in confirming the out-of-class work associated to the credit hour policy.
    • See the Policy on the Credit Hour for more information.

Instructor-to-Student Communication

  1. Discussion Sessions
    • If the course component includes discussion, provide information specific to the discussion portion of the course.
  2. Laboratory Sessions
    • If the course component includes laboratory, provide information specific to the laboratory portion of the course.
  3. Required Textbook, Software, and Other Course Materials
    • List any required materials such as text books, open educational resources, and eTexts. Include any required course or eText fees, and articulate required software tools even if they are available as part of UW-Madison licensing.
  4. Indication of time devoted to individual topics via academic activities 
    • To provide this necessary detail, it is recommended that a calendar/grid be created that shows the topics covered in the course with time/interaction details provided relative to items.
  5. Representative List of Readings
  6. Homework and Other Assignments
    • Provide rules and expectations concerning homework.
  7. Exams, Quizzes, Papers, and Other Major Graded Work
  8. Grading
    • Grading details should be provided, reflect the grading option selected on the course proposal, and include considerations such as: 
      1. How the course is graded (assignments, papers, exams, etc.) and the relative weights of assessments.
      2. Linkage between weights and letter scores (i.e., how the letter grades of A, AB, etc., will be assigned to final grade calculations). 
      3. If some of the valid letter grades will not be used by the instructor (e.g., AB or BC), this should be noted on the syllabus.) 
      4. Whether the final grades are curved or not, including the standards upon which a curve is set, if applicable. 
      5. Whether attendance and/or participation is part of the grading. When a significant percentage (i.e., more than 10%) of the grade is tied to participation, attendance, and/or discussion, how this percentage is assessed must be clearly defined. For assistance, refer to these samples. The intention of the participation/attendance policy is to be student focused and provide students with clear information on how they are being evaluated in an area that is often highly subjective and not thoroughly explained.
      6. For courses that enroll both undergraduate and graduate students, provide separate grading requirements for graduate students.
    • See the University Course Catalog Elements Procedures for more information.

Academic Statements and Policies

  • Not required for the sample syllabus

Directed/Independent Study or Thesis Courses

Individual study courses are different from group instruction courses in that they do not have a predefined curriculum. Proposals to create or change an individual study course must still go through the regular course proposal process.

There are a number of areas where this type of course must follow the same requirements as all other for-credit courses:

  • They must have learning outcomes.
  • Students must be provided with information about how they will be graded.
  • Information must be provided about the amount of work and assignments/deliverables that are required.
  • Information that outlines the frequency and nature of the student-instructor contact is needed.
  • The course must follow the credit hour policy.
  • If the course number is less than 700, the course must adhere to the Policy on Directed/Independent Study for Undergraduates.

The sample syllabus may be replaced with a directed/independent study or thesis agreement form.

Related Policy

See the policy about the department's responsibility to maintain copies of syllabi for offered courses:

Department Responsibility for Maintaining Course Syllabi

Policy Number


Responsible Office

Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


University Policy


The U.S. Department of Education, the Higher Learning Commission, and UW-Madison recognize a course syllabus is required for each course offering.


The Higher Learning Commission (HLC), UW-Madison’s accrediting body, dictates the following:

  • Instructors are expected to communicate course requirements to students in writing and in a timely manner, HLC Assumed Practices C.5.
  • The institution presents itself clearly and completely to students and the public, HLC Criterion 2.B.
  • Institutions are to comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s requirements related to the definition of a credit hour, 34 C.F.R. § 600.2.

To meet these requirements, and to support the learning experience of students, instructors of record are required to develop a course syllabus for each course offering and to communicate the syllabus to students.

Students frequently seek copies of syllabi for past courses, for example to support application to graduate or professional programs, in the context of an employment search, or in relation to seeking transfer credit equivalency at another institution. For this reason, and in support of UW-Madison Faculty Policies and Procedures Chapter 5.31 D, departments must retain syllabus records of courses taught in their department. It is expected that syllabi from all course sections will be retained for a period of no less than 10 years. Departments may contact University Archives regarding the disposition of syllabi that are more than 10 years old.

External References

Approval Authority

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs

Policy Manager

Vice Provost for Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research


Associate Director, Data, Academic Planning & Institutional Research -- Michelle Young, MEYOUNG@WISC.EDU, (608) 262-2143
Source: View policy UW-1086 in the UW-Madison Policy Library
See Also:

Keywordscourse, proposal, syllabus, sample   Doc ID110354
OwnerMelissa S.GroupAcademic Planning
Created2021-04-19 06:13:46Updated2023-10-19 08:20:39
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