How to Ask a Professor for an Extension + Example Emails
So, you want to learn how to ask a professor for an extension, but you’re afraid of sounding like a slacker, or of getting on your professor’s bad side. Luckily, we have some dos and don’ts that should cover your questions. The first one is simple: please do not, under any circumstances, use the example below as a template.
This Is Not How to Ask for an Extension on an Assignment
Dear Professor S.,
I’m so so sorry but I won’t be able to turn in the final assignment on time. There’s an issue going on in my dorm room and it’s really, truly and utterly gross (I won’t go into the details). I’ll make sure to get the assignment to you soon. Please know that I’m really bummed to be doing this, because your course really was my favorite course this semester.
While Charles wrote his email in earnest, he made multiple gaffes that only added more awkwardness to an already confusing request. (In fact, Charles forgot to phrase his request as a question!) Yet asking for extra time should not become an additional crisis on top of other stress. In this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to ask for an extension on an assignment.
What’s Your Excuse?
Turning in an assignment late can cause anxiety for students. Many fear getting points docked or a lower final grade. Some view it as doing something “wrong” and end up feeling preemptively guilty or undeserving of the extra time. These anxious feelings can manifest in the request itself. (Just look at Charles’s overly effusive apology.) However, a lot of valid reasons for an extension exist. The first successful step in how to ask a professor for an extension requires clarifying your situation.
Let’s say you have a funeral to attend, you fall sick, or, as was Charles’s case, you discover a bedbug infestation. All of these reasons qualify as unexpected crises you couldn’t plan for. In urgent circumstances like these, professors tend to take an accommodating stance for last-minute requests. They have lives outside of academics too, and know how the real world can intervene.
Less urgent circumstances that require you to know how to ask for an extension might involve a conflict of deadlines in different classes, or a wedding to attend. To increase your chances, make your request as far ahead as possible, as soon as you learn of the conflict.
Professors may not accommodate every request, especially if the student simply procrastinated. But whatever your circumstances, do give your professor the real reason. Honesty always comes across as most genuine and requires fewer justifications. Plus, treating the situation in a mature manner will result in the professor responding in kind, and taking your request more seriously.
How to Ask for an Extension on an Assignment to Improve Your Work
A less typical, last-minute, yet non-urgent request can arise when students find they don’t understand how to accomplish the assignment. Similarly, they may find they aren’t satisfied with the quality or direction of their work. Asking for more time to improve your work can sound reasonable to a professor. The trick here involves specifying exactly why you need more time and what you wish to improve. Consider asking for suggestions as well before going forward. Most professors prefer grading a student’s best effort rather than a sloppy, punctual paper, and will be willing to help those who show enthusiasm for their subject.
With the various types of impediments and conflicts identified, let’s consider the best approaches for how to ask for an extension. If in doubt, and especially in an emergency, send an email. When emailing, include these three vital pieces of information:
1) Explain the situation you’re facing.
2) Suggest a specific alternative deadline. This date should be reasonable, both in terms of reorganizing your own schedule, and with respect to the teacher’s semester. Avoid an overly-optimistic deadline; you won’t impress your teacher if you’re forced to ask for an extended extension.
3) Ask about the teacher’s late policy, if you don’t know it already. If this information is included in the course syllabus, acknowledge the late policy in writing. Perhaps your teacher docks points regardless, in which case, you’ll want to know how many for each day the assignment is late. You may need to weigh your priorities, and decide which to sacrifice, promptness or quality.
How to Ask a Professor for an Extension During Office Hours
If you’re trying to juggle multiple courses’ assignments, or want an extension with more guidance, send a preliminary email asking to meet with your professor. Do email first, because waylaying your professor after class can stress everyone out. Once a meeting is scheduled, the face-to-face chat may prove more successful, simply because it’s harder to say no in person. This meeting also gives your professor a chance to put a face to a name, and will give you a chance to say something about what you’re working on. Extra guidance like new leads and library references may also speed up your progress.
Putting the How in How to Ask a Professor for an Extension
Let’s return to Charles’ email, and imagine how his professor might react. Reading about a “really, truly and utterly gross,” mystery situation doesn’t give the professor any idea of the student’s trouble, nor of how severe it is, or how long it will last. The professor has no incentive to act leniently, and no opportunity to sympathize. If anything, the vague description evokes confusion, pity, and doubt.
Imagine instead that Charles wrote, “I just discovered a bedbug infestation in my dorm room. According to pest control, I’ll need to spend the weekend bagging up my possessions before an exterminator arrives. Then I’ll have to find a different place to sleep and study for the coming week.” Here Charles goes into enough detail to delineate the situation. It becomes clear that a bedbug infestation is time consuming, as well as psychologically and physically taxing. Though unusual, Charles’ reason for wanting an extension now sounds perfectly legitimate.
You can avoid Charles’s main mistake by articulating your situation clearly and concisely. With a big emphasis on concisely. If you’re going to a funeral, you don’t need to convince your teacher that you loved your grandmother. If you’re sick, you don’t need to list your symptoms. A brief email saves your harried professor some time, and gives students practice in establishing their own personal boundaries. Overall, a brief email will sound professional and sincere.
Another must when learning how to ask a professor for an extension involves tone. The right register will come across as respectful and somewhat formal. Change phrases like “I’m really bummed” to “I regret.” Apologize, but don’t overdo it. One apology appropriately recognizes the inconvenience the professor may experience.
How to Ask a Professor for an Extension, Example 1
Now let’s take a look at Charles’ improved urgent request.
Dear Professor Sassin,
I’m Charles Yu, from your Modern Architecture seminar. I’m writing to let you know about a situation that’s come up. I just discovered a bedbug infestation in my dorm room. According to pest control, I’ll need to spend the weekend bagging up my possessions before an exterminator arrives. Then I’ll have to find a different place to sleep and study for the coming week.
Because of this, I’m afraid I won’t have time to work on the final assignment until next week. Would you consider a one-week extension, with a new deadline on May 25? If so, please let me know how this extension might affect my grade.
I apologize in advance for the inconvenience, and am open to other suggestions you may have.
In his amended version, Charles makes it clear why his particular situation requires more time. He asks for (rather than dictates) an extension, and shows that he’s both concerned about his grade and happy to consider an alternative plan. The writing sounds polite, clear, and formal—a complete reversal from the previous chaotic and informal tone. Charles’s chances look good.
How to Ask a Professor for an Extension, Example 2
In the following example represents a less typical situation. Time is of the essence, but the situation itself cannot be called urgent.
Dear Professor Napier,
I’ve been hard at work on my research essay for your class, the English Romantic Novel. Initially, my plan involved comparing early Gothic novels, analyzing recurring motifs, and rooting them in British culture of the time. However, the more I’ve read, the more I’ve realized that my interest lies in the parodies of Gothic novels, particularly in the works of Wilde and Austen, and in the significance we might pull from the distortions they make.
I believe I could write a more compelling paper on this subject, but the deadline is fast approaching. I won’t have enough time to refocus the research and finish writing by Friday. Would you mind if I turned the paper in next Tuesday, October 3, instead? I understand that your late policy is strict. However, I think this new theme may inform my senior thesis, so I wonder if an exception can be made.
I’m happy to meet and discuss during your office hours tomorrow. Please let me know at your earliest convenience.
Here, Tatiana takes a risk. She knows her situation won’t seem urgent, but she appeals to her professor’s academic side. To do so, Tatiana must expand. The email is not concise, nor is it fluffy. Her investment in the assignment appears genuine. Furthermore, she explains the stakes, that this extension could positively affect her future course of study. This appeal will be hard for most professors to turn down.
How to ask for an extension – Additional Resources
If you’re looking for more advice on how to navigate the college work-life balance, how to better communicate, and other college know-how, you may find the following links to be of interest:
- Communicating with Professors: Ten Practical Suggestions
- What Does it Mean to Audit a Class in College?
- Best Gap Year Programs – 2023
- The College Transitions Dataverse
With a BA in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, and a Master’s in Translation from Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Kaylen has been working with students on their writing for over five years. Previously, Kaylen taught a fiction course for high school students as part of Columbia Artists/Teachers, and served as an English Language Assistant for the French National Department of Education. Kaylen is an experienced writer/translator whose work has been featured in Los Angeles Review, Hybrid, San Francisco Bay Guardian, France Today, and Honolulu Weekly, among others.
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