How to Ask a Professor for a Paper Extension

Maybe you just broke up with your significant other, have become suddenly ill, or are just completely swamped with other homework. There are a myriad of honest reasons you probably won't have your paper in on time. It is a scary and intimidating thing to ask for an extension. Here's the best way to attract your professor's compassion.


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    E-mail is most often the best way to get an extension. It is far easier to express your problem in an e-mail and allows you to say whatever you need without interruption. However, some professors dislike e-mail and see it as a way to avoid direct conversations. If you don't get a reply within 24 hours (during the week), talk to them directly in their office. Do not call unless they would consider it an emergency, which it likely is not.
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    Be honest as to what the e-mail will be about in the subject line. The professor has doubtless received many similar e-mails. A subject like "paper extension" or "inquiry on paper extension" are usually best.
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    Begin the e-mail with "Dear" and the professor's official title. Using their full title shows respect.
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    Start with an apology for sending the e-mail. For some reason you can't get the paper to them on its due date. Accept responsibility for this fact.
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    Explain your circumstance. If your life was going perfect you would probably have had the paper done. If it has been a hard day, explain why. If you have a huge test on the same day, say that. The use of a death story is fine, if it is true. Otherwise stay away from such stories, most professors will be understanding of lesser circumstances.
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    Ask for your extension. Be specific as to how much time you will actually need. If you only need a few hours, don't ask for 2 days. Ask for the minimum time necessary to write a quality paper.
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    Thank your professor for her or his time and for considering your dilemma.
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    End the e-mail "Sincerely" and your name.
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    If they say no, accept it. They are under no obligation to accept your request. Repeating the request makes you look immature, so best avoid it. Do the work, take the grade reduction, and accept meeting the deadline was your responsibility.


  • The more responsible you have shown yourself to be in class (coming to class on time, staying awake, completing assignments) the more likely the teacher is to give you an extension when you really need it.
  • Ask for the extension well in advance of the due date--as far in advance as you anticipate a problem. Do not wait until it is due and then try to discuss the matter when the professor asks for papers to be turned in.
  • If you actually are sick, try going to your local clinic first, before going to the professor. You may be able to get a note from the doctor, requesting an extension due to illness.
  • Discuss the matter in private, whether by email or in person. Avoid the phone. If you do succeed in getting an extension, keep that information confidential. This way the professor won't face pressure to extend the deadline for the entire class, or feel his/her authority is being questioned publicly.
  • Even if you are not sick from an infection such as flu or pneumonia, but you are simply very, very stressed (i.e. not able to sleep, crying a lot from stress, loss of appetite, etc.), you can still go to the doctor. S/he may be able to request an extension for you, for "medical reasons", in order to alleviate stress that is potentially damaging to your health. Some professors are more likely to take a doctor's request seriously, than if you simply told them yourself how stressed you are.
  • The worst that can happen is that the professor will say "no." It never hurts to ask, especially if it will help you out.
  • Understand the problem the professor has if an extension is granted. Paper and project extensions create enormous equity issues in a classroom. If you ask for more time, that is time that other students will not have because they met the deadline. Penalties assessed for late papers are not about a punitive issue, they are about an equity issue.
  • Be honest. Lying is not necessary and complicates things. It can lead to serious consequences.
  • Consider offering a specific suggestion of a new due date and mention the value difference that the time will buy. For example, if a research paper is due on Monday, you might say, "Because of my ADHD, it is helpful for me to have assistance at the library. I have an appointment with a research librarian set for Friday, so I was hoping I could have until Wednesday to turn in my paper. That way I will have a few days to revise and won't have to research, write, and revise all in one weekend."
  • If you're asking for an extension because you're sick, consider how much information your professor really needs. "I'm running a fever" is appropriate; "I'm leaking fluids at both ends!" is not.


  • Try to only ask for one paper extension a semester unless there are truly extreme circumstances. Asking for one paper extension is understandable, asking for 3 is being irresponsible with your time.
  • Your professor may offer you an extension with points deducted for being late. You will have to weigh if the extra day(s) are worth this loss.
  • If you lie, you will probably become liable under your school's policy for academic honesty. This means you could fail a course or even be kicked out of university. Be honest--it is not worth losing everything over one assignment.
  • If the reason you are asking for an extension is related in any way to a physical or learning disability, you may be required to have documentation on file. College rules or state laws may prohibit the professor from taking your word for it, no matter how obvious your situation may seem. If you have any academically relevant disability, seek out the office which handles disabled student files early in the semester. It can be a long process to approve regular accommodations, so don't expect to be able to wait until a specific problem comes up.

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Categories: Dealing with Teachers