Requesting an extension from your instructor or professor can be intimidating. You might worry it will make you look irresponsible or that they will doubt your reasons. But remember, if you don’t ask, you deny yourself any opportunity for a necessary extension.
It is best to request an assignment extension in person. Professors are more inclined to empathize with your situation. Also, you and your professor can create a new plan while reducing miscommunication between both parties. But sometimes meeting in person isn’t possible: You attend school online, the professor is out of the office, or an unexpected situation has arisen. In those cases, an honest email or Zoom meeting is the next best thing.
Let’s look at situations that may warrant an extension, those that may not, and how to ask for an extension on a deadline.
Reasons to ask for an extension
Sometimes things go wrong despite our best efforts. When the unexpected happens, inform your instructors immediately and request an extension for imminent projects, papers, or reports. Appropriate reasons include:
- Physical health: injuries, ailments, as well as chronic health conditions
- Mental health: anxiety, depression, and other ongoing or long-term mental health conditions
- Bereavement: serious illness or death of a family member, guardian, or significant person in your life
- Financial hardship: recent loss of employment, adverse changes to your financial aid package, or sudden financial instability
- Unforeseen circumstances: family emergencies, caring for dependents unexpectedly, and environmental disasters
- Educational accommodations: requiring special educational accommodations or assistance and/or additional aids
- Important obligations: Asking for an extension due to pre-existing obligations is best done in advance; some reasons include athletic or academic commitments, an important surgery, or pregnancy
Less urgent but honest reasons for an extension
Even if you’re proactive with your studies, there are times when circumstances warrant asking for an accommodation. These reasons include technological snafus or misunderstandings, like confusing deadline dates.
Worth a shot
Sometimes we drop the ball. Hey, it happens! In these situations, an extension is less likely. Nevertheless, take ownership of your mistake—being honest and humble can work in your favor. Common reasons include procrastinating, failing to check the syllabus for assignments, or forgetting the assignment altogether.
How to ask for an extension
An honest, respectful request might get you the extension you need. Use the following approaches to increase your chances for an extension.
Professors can sense dishonesty, and they’ve already heard all the made-up stories from students over the years, so be honest. Tell them the truth about what you’re going through. This does not mean you need to share private or personal information. Instead, use language that clarifies the situation for your professor but also conveys your needs.
Straightforward communication is key if you’d like a more flexible deadline. If a short-term issue prevents you from completing your work, explain that the situation is temporary. If it’s a longer-term issue, request time to speak with your professor in person. Devise a plan for turning in coursework on a timeline that works for you and your professor.
Offer a solution
Don’t leave the work of figuring out the next steps to your instructor. Propose a new deadline that is feasible for you to complete the work and respects your instructor’s time. Consider the nature of your situation and propose a reasonable and timely alternative or two.
Acknowledge the favor
Instructors carry heavy workloads and may be juggling multiple courses with many students and numerous deadlines. When you request an extension, take a moment to acknowledge that your request may present an inconvenience and that you appreciate their time and help.
How not to ask for an extension
Don’t fabricate a reason for being unable to meet a deadline
Requesting extensions is appealing when you’re under the crunch of a deadline, but if you don’t have an honest reason, don’t make one up. It’s dishonest, and there may be academic consequences if your misrepresentation is discovered. When all else fails, be honest. The outcome may surprise you.
Don’t minimize a potentially missed deadline
A difference of a few hours or days after an established deadline may not seem like a big deal, but approaching a request with this type of thinking is harmful.
Trivializing an instructor’s deadlines is disrespectful and could lead to a “no” when you ask for an extension. Instructors design courses with your academic needs in mind, so approach asking for a more flexible deadline with respect.
Don’t offer an unrealistic “new” deadline
Resist the impulse to suggest a deadline that sounds optimistic, but may be unrealistic. The last thing you want to do is to miss a deadline twice. Assess the nature of your situation and consider how long you need to complete the assignment. Suggest an attainable and realistic deadline.
After your professor responds
If your professor approves your request, celebrate! But seriously, thank them and use the allotted time to complete the assignment to the best of your ability. Extension approvals are acts of kindness, not obligations.
If your professor says no, review your class’s late policy. If a small percentage is deducted for each day an assignment is late, it may be worth submitting the project or essay a day or two after the initial deadline. If late work is not accepted, complete the assignment to the best of your ability and turn in what you can. Something is always better than nothing.
Request an extension examples
What follows are a few examples of ways to request an extension. You know your instructor, so use language that feels appropriate to your situation and to your relationship with them.
Request due to a serious or urgent reason
Dear Professor Greene,
I am emailing you to request an extension. Three days ago, I had a severe allergic reaction and was hospitalized.
Because of my illness, my problem-solution essay will not be complete by tomorrow’s deadline. Half of my draft is finished, and an extension would allow me to finish the essay. Could I submit the assignment Thursday, April 14, instead?
Please let me know how you would like to proceed.
Request due to a less urgent reason
Dear Professor Jones,
I’ve had difficulty with the Civil War research paper due to a scarcity of sources. The research librarian and I discovered my focus is too narrow. I’ve restarted the process, but I don’t believe my paper will be finished by our deadline. I can submit what I’ve completed by Friday, but if I could submit my work next Monday, the extra time will allow me to better research and flesh out my focus area. I realize this may be an inconvenience, so please let me know if this adjustment is possible.
Request due to a non-urgent reason
I did not realize our project is due at the end of this week and am nowhere close to finished. I know I completely dropped the ball on this one, but if there’s any possibility that I could submit it at a later date, I’d really appreciate it. I realize this is an inconvenience and not in keeping with the standards of your class. I apologize.