It’s that time of the semester again.
It’s the Sunday before finals, the last week of classes, when you look at your planner and realize that not only are you nowhere near finished with your final projects, but they’re all due on the same day within two hours of each other.
Plus you have finals and haven’t even begun to look for and create study guides.
Whether it’s procrastination, overwhelming responsibilities, or any other excuse you tell yourself, you might not be able to finish everything on time. So what can you do?
- You can turn in mediocre or unfinished work and accept whatever grade you receive.
- You can turn everything in late and hope for the best.
- You can just ignore the problem and shamefully avoid eye contact with your professors.
- Or you can swallow your pride and ask for a due date extension.
I’ve written before about having no time to feed myself let alone sleep, blog, and work on my five-year plan. Open secret: I’ve let some of my assignments fall behind, too. In most cases I just turned in B- work and accepted my grades, but there have been times when I’ve asked if I could turn in a paper late to accommodate my absurd work schedule.
The internet is a goldmine for tips on how to email a professor with questions and requests about a class, but no one wants to talk about asking for a due date extension. It requires you owning up to your personal problems or bad time management skills, plus it’s super awkward to walk the line of begging for help and coming across as a competent adult.
How do you convince them that you weren’t just slacking off all semester? What’s the right amount of flattery? How much tragic backstory is too much tragic backstory?
Here’s an example, which is pretty close to one of the (successful!) due date extension requests I sent this semester:
Dear Professor Anderson,
This is Cordelia, from anthro section 7. I know we talked after class about my issues with the paper, but I am still having trouble getting more data points for my research. Would it be possible to meet and discuss other options for this portion of the paper? Or is there any way I could get an extension for a day or so? I am not sure I can meet all of the assignment requirements by the current deadline and I do not want to turn in subpar work.
I really appreciate how much support and guidance you’ve given me this semester, and I apologize for requesting an exception–I know that the due dates were set for a reason and you probably have set aside a specific time to grade these papers. I hope we can work something out, but I will accept whatever grade you feel this paper deserves.
Thank you for your consideration.
Never open with “Hey Prof,” or “Dr. Smith–”
Open with a nice, professional greeting. This is not a conversation. You are asking them for a favor. A simple “Dear Professor X,” or “Hello Dr. Y,” should be enough.
Remind them that you have interacted at some point during the semester. Even if it was just the one time you raised your hand in class, remind them that you’re their student and you’ve tried, at least once.
Even if they don’t remember the exact situation, the fact that you’ve spoken to them in person at some point is enough to humanize you. They’ll be more likely to think “Oh yes, this is a real person who cares enough to reach out to me about a difficult situation.”
The best way to get in your instructors’ good graces is to engage with them both in and out of class. Show up to class, respond in lecture and discussion, meet with them when the class is over.
But especially engage with them outside of class. Showing up during office hours, sending emails throughout the semester, even saying hi to each other on the street–they remember things like that.
Explain the Situation
Don’t give a long list of excuses or complain about how hard this semester is. Just let them know that you’ve had stressful responsibilities that ended up taking priority over classwork. However, don’t imply that their class isn’t a priority for you.
Ask them what you want, whether it’s just extra time, special consideration for a missing part of a project, or even your grade report if you don’t turn the assignment in at all.
But be sure you ask. Don’t make demands. Don’t tell them that this is something they need to do for you. They might not have the time or power to accept late work, and even if they do, they certainly won’t be inclined to make an exception for you if you’re being a jerk about it. Wait to ~lean in~ until you’re out in the workforce.
Use a Little Flattery
Buttering them up almost never backfires. But don’t lay it on too thick–they could think you’re trying too hard or they might think you’re being passive-aggressive.
Be nice. Just let them know that you appreciate the work they do for the class, and that you are actually interested in what they teach–even if you really think they’re a horrible teacher and the class is pointless. Never say things like, “I know this class is important to you, but it’s not my major/it’s only a gen ed, so…”
Don’t tell them that the class isn’t important to you, even if it really is just a gen ed and you want to do the bare minimum amount of work. TAs hate being reminded that they’re stuck with students who just want to get the class over with.
Sorry goes a long way, especially when you request a favor that inconveniences them. Instructors have lives outside of class! TAs especially have a lot of other student work to grade and they probably set aside a specific time to work on it so asking for a due date means interfering with their schedule.
Accept Their Terms
Ultimately, the instructor has all the power to say no or negotiate with you. They may come back with a compromise–you can turn it in late if you add another element to the project, or you can turn it in late if you’re willing to accept half credit.
They’re making an exception for you, so be grateful for whatever scraps they throw your way.
Seriously y’all, it’s just polite!
and most importantly…
Don’t send an email like this after the fact. If the deadline has already passed, you have a much lower chance of getting them to agree to accept late work.
As soon as you realize you may not meet the deadline, let them know immediately. Don’t wait until it’s too late to get credit or gain favors with them.
Actually Do the Work
If they flat-out don’t accept late work, no exceptions, then go ahead and use those newly-freed-up hours to take a nap.
But if they reply with a maybe, or say they’ll think about it: do the work anyways. And do good work–turning in an A paper will keep you on their good side.