How to Ask (and Receive) a Paper Extension

If you’re anything like me, you hate falling behind on your work, especially when it results in a slashed final grade. And if you’re not like me and timeliness isn’t a priority for you, it’s safe to assume that you still hate watching your grades plummet. Regardless of your usual class work ethic, requesting a paper extension is never easy; asking to skirt around a professor’s biblical syllabus is dangerous territory, and in doing so you risk not only the humiliation of rejection, but the cruel reality of having to complete an assignment on time. This is no simple feat, but it is by no means impossible.
Before asking for an extension, make sure you really need it. Consider your schedule between now and when the assignment is due; do you physically not have enough time to complete the work, or are there a few social activities you can cut to make some room for paper writing? If there is any way you can avoid requesting an extension, do so.
If you’re definitely incapable of completing your assignment on time, read the syllabus top to bottom. Familiarize yourself with the professor’s extension and lateness policy. Most professors dock an assignment’s grade by a percentage point for each late day; be prepared for this worst-case-scenario. Some professors explicitly state in their syllabus that they do not permit extensions; others say they are willing to negotiate in certain circumstances; still others don’t mention such a policy at all. Make sure you know what you might expect from your professors beforehand.
Before talking to your professors, learn from other students. Ask around and see if anyone has asked for an extension in your class before and get as much advice as possible; ask how strict the professor is, what his or her expectations were, and whether he or she is even open to extensions to begin with.
If you’re still up for the challenge, be as professional as possible. Make your case with your professor in a clear, brief, and diplomatic way. This is a balancing act; you need to persuade your professor that you are in dire and legitimate need of an extension, but you don’t want to sound whiny or unappreciative. Explain why you need the extension, and make sure you stick to reputable reasons. If you need an extra day because of an all-night victory celebration for your basketball team, you probably won’t garner much sympathy; getting worn down by three tests in one week or a big event for the club you’re president of, on the other hand, might work a bit better. Also, demonstrate your understanding of your professor’s policies. Mention that you’ve read the syllabus and recognize an extension might not be possible, but you’re hoping for your professor’s guidance.
Above all else, be prepared for the worst. Some professors will completely refuse your request on the simple basis that it’s against their policy; others will give you a stern lecture on the importance of time management before begrudgingly making an exception. Make sure you’re emotionally ready to handle rejection—along with the potential letter grade drop or all-nighter.

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