Students need extensions on their assignments all the time. There are good excuses for an extension … and there are not so good excuses. I’m a professor, and I’ve heard them all. So has your professor. Here are the best ones I’ve heard.
The Best Assignment Extension Excuses
|Travel.||I’ve got a pre-planned vacation that I can’t change.|
|Illness.||I’ve come down with a sickness and I’m stuck in bed.|
|No excuse.||I don’t have an excuse, I’m sorry – can you cut me a break?|
|Miscommunication.||I thought the assignment was due next week. I didn’t realize until this morning!|
|Anxiety.||I’m suffering from an episode of anxiety/depression. I’ve booked a doctor’s appointment asap.|
|Death in the family.||There was a death in the family (usually your grandma.)|
|Writer’s block.||I’ve had writer’s block.|
|Your job.||Work called me in for extra shifts and I really need the money.|
|Work presentation.||My job assigned me a presentation that is due this week.|
|A promotion.||My job assigned me a presentation that is due this week.|
|A wedding.||I have a wedding coming up that is taking a lot of planning.|
|Public transport.||The trains weren’t on time so I couldn’t get the assignment in today.|
|Computer issues.||I’m having computer issues. Here’s a screenshot of the issue.|
For the rest of this article, I’m going to explain exactly how to ask your professor for an extension – with a focus on just 9 extension excuses.
Some of these are good excuses for turning in a paper late. Others are ones you’ll want to avoid.
Read on to learn which ones to avoid and which to use!
Professors like myself get a lot of extension requests, so knowing how to ask in a way that will get your teacher to grant the extension is very important.
1. Your Team Members screwed you Over in a Group Assessment
This extension excuse gets a lot of sympathies.
A little secret: teachers hate group work assignments, too. We usually set them because we have to embed it into a degree as an ‘employability skill’.
So, when you come to your teacher 3 days before submission and say “Teacher, one of my teammates didn’t pull through!”, your teacher will roll their eyes, but totally understand.
What you need to make this excuse work is a paper trail showing evidence that you pulled your weight. Evidence can be:
- Email and Facebook chains of conversations;
- Meeting minutes;
- Completed drafts of sections that you were assigned
If you can show that you’ve put in the effort and genuinely tried to be a good team member, chances are your teacher will want to help you out.
Just beware: you still might lose points for teamwork. It’s an unfortunate reality that sometimes our team members bring our work down and we can’t do anything about it.
But, if you can show you’re a good student and have worked in good faith, this one might just help you pull through and win you that precious extra few days to work on your piece.
2. You’ve had Writer’s Block
This extension excuse gets points for honesty. If you come to your teacher and say “Look, I’ve read all of the readings, but the creativity just hasn’t come” then your teacher might just give you a little extra time.
This reason for asking for an extension on a paper will probably be respected more than most.
Teachers hate when a student comes to them with an obvious lie like:
- Your dog ate your homework,
- Your grandma died (again), or
- your boss is a jerk
These are time-tested lies that we get all the time. It’s rarer for a student to step up and confess: “Look, it’s just a really tough assessment.”
For this excuse to work, it’s best to provide evidence of three things:
- You’ve tried really hard;
- You’ve sought help;
- You’ve come up with a solution so it won’t happen again.
First, show you actually have put hours into the assessment.
Bring to your teacher (either in person or via email) evidence that you’ve read through a lot of readings on the topic.
Bring to the printed readings with highlighting and notes in the margins.
Talk to them about how you thought you might be able to use the information in these pieces for your work.
Second, show that you’ve sought help.
This excuse works best if you’ve primed the teacher already with a few emails spaced out over the previous few weeks asking questions about whether you’re on the right track.
If you’ve already managed to email the teacher a few times about the assignment, send your extension request as your final reply to that email chain of discussion.
Another way of showing that you’ve sought help is showing that you’ve accessed help from the library or another member of the university staff.
Explain to your teacher that you attended a library workshop, talked to your academic advisor, or had ongoing conversations with a Teacher’s Assistant about the assessment.
Third, show how you’ve developed skills to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
Explain to your teacher that you’ve thought up some study solutions that you’ll put in place during the week or so in which the extension would take place.
For example, you could note how some study skills you’ve thought might help you out of this situation might be:
- You’ve found a spot in the library to dig in and do the work;
- You’ve freed up some time in your calendar over the next 7 days;
- You’ve found a study tip that you want to put in place
Make sure you not only tell, but show your teacher you’ve tried hard, you’ve sought help, and you’ve identified solutions. If you do this, you’re more likely to have your extension request granted.
3. Work called you in for Extra Shifts
Here’s another reason to ask your professor for an extension on a paper that gets a lot of sympathies.
We teachers have been there. Poor, living off microwaved noodle. In fact, many of us are still there with you.
When explaining that work has called you in for extra shifts, make sure your teacher knows you needed that money. You don’t need to cry poor or ask for a sympathy card. But let them know:
- My boss asked me to take on extra shifts; and
- I pay my own way through life, so the extra money meant a lot to me.
This extension excuse strategy works best when you give advance notice. Let your teacher know as soon as you pick up those extra shifts. Send them an email making them feel like they were a part of the discussion (Click here to download all my Assignment Extension Request Letter Templates).
You can say:
My boss has just gotten in touch asking me to cover some extra shifts at work for the rest of this week. I’m pretty short on money at this point of the semester with a few bills coming through, so I’d love to be able to take them.
Obviously this gets in the way of the time I’ve set aside this week for completing the upcoming assignment.
I’m wondering, would you please consider giving me an extra three days to submit my assessment so that I can pick up these shifts? It’d mean a lot to me.
Thank you for considering this request.
4. You’re taking a pre-planned Vacation
This reason for asking for an extension on a paper needs to be flagged very early on.
I’ve granted extensions for this extension excuse, but usually only when students let me know in the first week or two of the semester.
The trick here is to show:
- That the vacation was booked well in advance and was not intended to interfere with the course;
- That you really want to complete the course this semester in order to meet a personal goal.
Your personal goal might be to have graduated by a certain date, before your child starts (or finishes) school, or in order to qualify for an internship in a Master’s program that has an application deadline of a specific date.
If you show you’re ambitious and taking your studies seriously, this excuse will go down well.
Teachers don’t always grant this one, so be prepared to be told that your extension is not granted. Your teacher might insist that you submit it before you head off on your vacation, or simply deny the extension.
Something else you need to take into account is that you’re admitting you might miss some classes as well.
It might be worthwhile pointing out that your intention is to complete the weekly readings or tasks in advance of heading off on vacation.
One time when I don’t grant extensions for pre-planned vacations is when the vacation clashes with group work assessments. Your chances are higher if your vacation isn’t putting anyone else out.
Good luck with this one!
5. Computer Issues
This extension excuse gets eye rolls.
Blaming technology issues is a cliché excuse that teachers tend not to take too seriously.
It’s used too often and we expect that more often than not it’s a lie rather than a genuine problem.
If you want to get sympathy for this excuse, provide evidence. Here are some valuable forms of evidence, in order from best to worst:
- A receipt or quote from a computer repairman that contains the current date;
- Evidence you’ve been to see the university’s IT department to see if your data can be recovered;
- A photograph of the broken computer equipment.
Your teacher may even expect you to provide a backup of earlier drafts. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of saving your assignments onto a personal internet cloud like Google OneDrive. Personally, I email drafts to myself to ensure I have regularly saved versions.
You should also expect that your teacher will inform you that the university computers are there, available for you to use.
It’s a good idea to get ahead of this response by letting your teacher know you’ve set aside some time to use the university computers to get back on track.
6. You’re a Carer
Something that has blown me away as a university teacher is just how many students care for their chronically sick or disabled parents, partners or children.
Carers are, frankly, inspiring people, and you’ll get sympathy from your teacher.
I’d recommend letting your teacher know in advance about your situation.
The best way to do this is to ask your student advisor or the course leader to give your teacher a heads-up on this one. Most universities these days assign student advisors to each student for support on issues like this.
Most universities also have a course leader who takes care of a specific degree program or major. If you know who this is, get in touch with them asap and let them know your situation.
Ask them to let your teachers know that you’re a carer which may mean you need special consideration.
Contact the teacher personally towards the start of the semester. Talk to them in person after the first class, or if you’re a distance learner, send them an email early on.
These early emails help to prime your teacher for when you ask for an extension.
If you haven’t informed the teacher of the situation, I’d recommend talking to them in person as soon as possible, telling them what your situation is, and asking for some additional time on your assessment.
As always, some form of evidence of your situation is really helpful. Doctors, social workers, or other support networks should be able to write a letter for you that you can pass on to your teacher.
There are two illnesses that I hear about the most. It’s either your child who’s been sick or you who’s been sick. Let’s take them in order:
1. Your Child’s Sick.
The ‘My Child’s been Sick’ excuse is one that I get a lot, but also one that I usually find believable.
One reason it’s so believable is that often five or six of my students who are parents will come to me explaining that an illness is going around the school.
It’s also an excuse that is easy to sympathize with. Children take up a lot of time, and with many of my students being single parents, I understand that children come first.
This is one that crops up late, but as usual, try to ask for an extension at least 72 hours (3 days) prior to the submission deadline.
A letter from a doctor goes a long way here but is not always necessary. If you can’t get a letter from a doctor, copy in some evidence that your child has taken the last few days off school. Attach a copy of your sick note to the school when you email your university professor.
2. You’re Sick.
If it’s you who has been sick, a note from a doctor is usually expected. It also requires some advance warning. If you got sick 6 days before the due date, why did you only email your teacher on the day it was due?
If you didn’t give advance warning, it looks pretty bad.
Similarly, if you got sick 3 days before the due date, what have you already done? Shouldn’t you just have finishing touches to do with 3 days to go?
Therefore, when you contact the teacher, you should also attach your most recent draft. You need to say:
- This is what I’ve done;
- This is what I had planned to do in the next 7, 6, 5, 4, or 3 days before submission;
- This is why I’m so sick that I can’t do it.
So remember, if you’ve been sick, the two key things to include are:
- A doctor’s note to prove it’s true;
- Your latest draft to show you’ve not left it to the last minute.
8. There was a Death in the Family
This is the most common reason for extension requests. Let me be clear: every teacher is bamboozled that there seems to be a spike in the deaths of grandmas whenever assessments are due.
We’re skeptical about this one, to say the least.
If you’re going to use this extension excuse, evidence is a must. Teachers understand that this is a sensitive topic. I’ve accepted a range of evidence for this one, though. This includes:
- Notice of death in the local newspaper;
- A scan of the booklet of funeral proceedings;
- A letter or receipt from a funeral home;
- A copy of the flight to or from the funeral location.
This is obviously a very sensitive issue, and it’s pretty sad that people abuse this reason. Teachers don’t want to offend you: but they also need to know you’re not pulling the wool over their eyes.
Another worrisome point for this excuse is that often the death occurred a month or more before the assessment is due.
Be prepared for your teacher to say: okay, there was a death a month ago. What have you done in the month since the funeral on your work?
If you’re going to use this reason, explain how it’s caused hardship (failure to focus, busy making funeral arrangements, travel to funerals, etc.). You also must think about how you can provide clear evidence that this death did, in fact, happen.
9. You have a Learning Disability
If you have a learning disability, you need to tell your university in advance. There’s really no other way around this one.
Nearly every university these days has support plans for students with learning disabilities.
The most common one is dyslexia. This is the condition in which students struggle with accurate and speedy reading and spelling. It can make university really tough, but universities try to be accommodating for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia.
Other common personal issues that can qualify for extensions include common migraines and issues with concentration.
Talk to a student advisor at the university about how to get a diagnosis if you think you’ve got a learning disability. Once you’ve received the diagnosis you’ll be able to get a support plan set up.
Support plans are usually sent straight to your teachers at the start of the semester. However, you should also make yourself known to your teacher at the start of the semester. There are additional benefits to this, including that your teacher will be careful not to ask you to read content out loud in class.
If you haven’t told your teacher already that you have a learning disability, but you still want an extension, you’ll need to get in touch as soon as possible.
- You have made every effort to ensure you got your work done on time;
- Something has happened (did your migraines flare up recently?) that has prevented you from completing on time.
When you ask for the extension, include the support plan, diagnosis, or doctor’s note to increase your chances of receiving the extension that you requested.
Extensions are commonplace, but you need to state your case. We have provided an outline of exactly how to ask for the extension that you might want to consult if you think you qualify for an extension. This outline explains that you need to take some key steps, including the steps in the infographic below (plus some more!):
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Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.