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Subsection 10.1.4 Asking for an Extension

One of the most common interactions that you may have with a professor that can still be difficult to navigate is asking for an extension on an assignment. This is difficult for a few reasons, but mostly it's difficult because your perspective and the professor's perspective can differ so much, and understanding these differences can help you ask for what you need in a more thoughtful (and hopefully, successful) way. First of all, you could have lots of reasons for asking for an extension. Maybe there was a family emergency. Maybe you have a lot of other work to do the same day. Maybe you've been stuck in bed sick. Maybe you just didn't plan quite right and started too late. Often, asking for an extension is not planned, but happens as a panicked response to a scenario you didn't want to be in in the first place. Professors know that there are good reasons to ask for an extension, but they've also heard a lot of not good reasons for asking for an extension.

What might feel catastrophic or unusual in your life is probably something that your professor has heard from another student before. They know that being a student is really tough and that life falls apart sometimes. Everyone gets sick and has to deal with emergencies sometimes. Getting an extension is often better than turning in a partially complete assignment, but when you ask for an extension, think about how what you say will come across to your professor. They've received too many emails that start with “Hey, I'm really really busy and I have a lot of work to do for my other classes, and I was hoping I could get an extension on your assignment.” They might believe and empathize with you, but because the assignment you're falling behind on has probably been on their syllabus the entire semester, they're just going to think that you planned poorly and now are asking them to accommodate that poor planning. So how should you ask?

List 10.1.5. Strategies for Asking for an Extension
  • Ask permission to turn in an assignment late rather than forgiveness for having already done so, and ask as far in advance as possible.

    This proactive step gives you lots of time to work out a new arrangement with the professor and communicates to the professor that you are thinking ahead and have read their syllabus.

  • Think about who else your late work might affect.

    Turning in late work will almost certainly require that your professor deal with it separately, but it may also impact other students if you ask to take a test or give a presentation on a different day.

  • Check the syllabus and know the professor's policy on late work and extensions, which can vary drastically by discipline and professor.

  • With the last point in mind, know whether you are asking for the professor to make an exception to their policy or not, and . . ..

  • If you're asking the professor for something that's generally not allowed by their policy, give them an out by saying that you recognize that they might not be able to give you what you're asking for.

    Giving the professor an easy way to reject you may sound counterproductive, but it really makes you seem more reasonable and understanding.

  • If you know you can't get an assignment in on time but it's entirely your fault and you know it, be honest about it.

    Like most people, professors respond far better to people who are being genuine than they do to people who come up with a flimsy reason for why they haven't been able to get something in on time.