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Late Assignments – A Complete College Student’s Guide

As semester assignments begin to accumulate, students can often feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they might be facing. When deadlines from various classes begin to coincide, it can be all too easy to end up with late work. This is a common experience for many students, and it is important to understand the consequences of turning in late assignments. 

The ability to turn in late work will vary from professor to professor. Many will accept late work with a penalty, while others will only accept it if you have made a special arrangement beforehand. It is important to understand the policy for each of your classes to be successful. 

In the rest of this article, we will take a closer look at late work policies in different college classrooms. We will see some typical examples from professors as well as the reasons behind these different policies. We will also see how to ask your professor for an extension if you feel like you cannot complete an assignment on time. 

Do professors accept overdue assignments?

Do Professors Accept Late Work?

Professors do accept late work, but they tend to have different policies when it comes to accepting work and awarding credit. Even if it is late, professors usually prefer that students complete the assignment so that they will stay engaged with the material and the learning process.

However, professors usually will assign consequences for late work. If your professor accepts late assignments, he or she might do so with some amount of point dedication. The system for these penalties will depend on your specific professor.

You will need to consult your syllabus or your class policies to understand the consequences of turning in a late assignment for each of your professors. 

This deduction may increase the later the assignment is, such as a 10% loss of points each day that it is late. Or you may find that if you submit the assignment even a minute after it is due, it can only receive 50% credit. 

These penalties may depend on the size and importance of the assignment as well. 

If you can submit a late assignment, even with a points deduction, earning some credit is often better than earning no credit at all. Even though it can be painful to submit a fully complete assignment and know that it can only earn up to 50% of the total possible points, this is still better than earning a zero for that particular assignment. 

Extenuating Circumstances and Emergencies

Professors may be willing to make exceptions for late assignments in extenuating circumstances and serious emergencies. However, be prepared to show documentation if this applies to you. 

If you had a severe illness, a death in the family, or other emergencies, consult with your professor about what documentation they may need to verify your situation.

Professors ask for proof not because they don’t believe you but often as a way to make sure students won’t try to take advantage of the system in place when there are real emergencies. If these circumstances apply to you, you may be able to submit an assignment late without receiving the penalties that usually apply to late work. 

Other Extensions and Exceptions

Depending on your professor, you may be able to contact them in advance if you know you won’t be able to make your assignment deadline, which does not usually mean the night before the assignment is due. 

It is more likely your professor needs to hear from you at least a week in advance.

If you have a serious reason why you won’t be able to make the anticipated deadline, some professors are open to making special arrangements with responsible students. Others will not be so open to this, as they will see it as your responsibility to arrange your time and complete your tasks. 

You may get a feel from other students who have already had this professor whether or not it’s possible to arrange extensions. You may also encounter a limit to these extensions, such as professors who will give you one special extension per semester but are not open to any more extensions than that.

Can a Professor Refuse a Late Assignment?

If you are not facing extenuating circumstances with documented proof, professors can refuse a late assignment. It will depend on the professor, as many will accept late assignments with a penalty. It is important to check with each professor to understand the policy. 

You may find that some professors are very strict on their policies to accept assignments only if they are on time. While the inflexibility of their policy might feel alarming to students, most professors have well-intentioned reasons for how they choose to conduct their class. 

Professors can understand that students are facing a lot of challenges and may even be willing to make exceptions in extreme circumstances. However, professors are also trying to prepare students for life after college that will certainly involve strict deadlines without much room for flexibility. 

If a professor allows a student to hand in assignments or ask for extensions after the due date, they may feel the students in their classroom are drifting apart in terms of cohesion.  Assignments typically correspond with the topics being covered in class, and their due dates reflect the timeline in which students should be processing and applying the information.

If you have half of the class sticking to the schedule and the other half of the class drifting behind, the professor’s job of teaching the collective group of students suddenly becomes much more challenging. 

It is no longer a cohesive whole but a fragmented group with some students hungry for the new information while others have not yet internalized last week’s material. 

Professors have designed their lectures and class structures carefully and usually with years of experience in applying them. 

The lessons they have to teach will build on each other (source). If students have holes in their foundational knowledge because they haven’t yet completed the assignments, they will struggle to absorb the new information as well.

This leads to a downward trend in the classroom where students simply cannot keep up. To avoid this from happening, professors may choose to stick to strict deadlines to keep their students responsible for the material taught on the timeline that has been designed. 

From the student’s experience as well, the class can start to feel overwhelming, and the assignments can become a burden. 

As assignments begin to accumulate, students may need to rush through them just to get them done before the end of the semester. This style of working does not help students enjoy the learning process or get the most out of the classes they are taking. 

However, even for professors with strict policies, the sooner you can talk to them about any issues you are experiencing, the better. Conversations about extensions after the deadline has passed may not be welcomed by the same professor who is willing to make a special arrangement with you a week or two before the deadline arrives.

How To Ask Professor To Accept a Late Assignment

If you know you won’t be able to make a set deadline, it is best to contact your professor as early as possible. 

The sooner you realize your limitations and express them, the more responsible you will seem like a student, and the more likely your professor may be to make a special arrangement for you. 

Professors have heard every excuse imaginable as to why an assignment wasn’t handed in when it should have been. Their sympathy may be low when contacted with one of these excuses after the fact. 

You are better off contacting them before the deadline has passed, if possible. 

It is also best to be honest and take responsibility for the fact that you will not complete your work on time. This is also preferable for many professors than to be told excuses and avoid taking the responsibility that the situation requires.

If it’s possible to meet with your professor in person, this is ideal. 

Try to stop by during their office hours, if possible, because it will show that you are putting in the effort and demonstrating that you are engaged in the class. They might see that you are really trying your best and that you simply have a conflict that requires a little extra time to complete an assignment properly. 

If it’s not possible to meet with your professor in person, sending an email is also a common practice for students needing to discuss deadlines. 

However, if you’re writing an email to stall and try to buy yourself more time, your professor will likely see right through this tactic. If you write to your professor claiming that the assignment is done, but you are wondering if you can still submit it, you should be ready to back up your claim.

If it’s possible to attach the assignment to the document or provide a link where the professor can see the assignment, that will go a long way in bolstering your credibility. Many times students will write that the assignment is complete when it is not, hoping they will have it done by the time the professor responds to the email. 

To get a college professor’s perspective on excuses and honesty in asking about late assignments, you can check out this video on Youtube:

How To Compose an Email to Your Professor

Keep your emails short and to the point while being respectful and taking responsibility for your lateness. Avoid blaming outside circumstances, because you can explain your situation while recognizing the fact that it was you who failed to complete the assignment on time. 

To help you write a respectful and effective email to your professor about a late assignment, you can follow this sample guide:

Sample Email To Professor Regarding Late Assignment

To: (make sure you have entered your professor’s email correctly here)

Subject: Late Assignment (you can also write your name and class section here for clarity)

Dear Professor ______, (use the appropriate name and title for your professor here)

I am writing to you because I am concerned with my ability to meet the deadline for the _______ assignment (specify the particular assignment here).

I have struggled to manage my time wisely in the last few weeks and really apologize for failing to keep up with the clearly explained structure of the course. (You can offer your explanation and take responsibility for your mistake here).

If you are willing to accept this assignment past its date, I am prepared to turn it in on ____ (offer a suggested deadline here). Or I can come by your office hours tomorrow to discuss this further if that suits you (offer an alternative to discuss it in person if appropriate). 

Again, I am sorry for this mismanagement on my part. I am doing my best to improve myself in terms of time and assignment management.


(Your name, class, and section information)

Be Respectful

No matter the response your professor gives you, continue to be respectful in your communications. 

Your professor is doing you a favor by negotiating deadlines and trying to help you out in succeeding in the class. Even if you are facing a harsher penalty than you would like, try to take it in stride and remember this lesson for the next set of deadlines you are facing. 

If your professor doesn’t respond to your email, see this guide on what to do.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to turning in late assignments, your ability to do so will depend on your professor and your circumstances. It is best to understand the late assignment policy for each class from the beginning, so you know what kinds of penalties you are facing for late work.

When it comes to contacting your professor, try to do this as early as possible. The sooner you talk to your professor, the more likely he or she is to try to help you. If you are facing a real emergency, remember to communicate this and provide any supporting documentation.

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