Ask a Professor: How to Ask for an Extension on a Paper

Ask a Professor: How to Ask for an Extension on a Paper

  • Review the syllabus or assignment to ensure you understand the professor’s extension policy.
  • Whether you’re facing a scheduling conflict or an emergency, explain your situation clearly.
  • If your extension request is denied, determine how you can still turn in your best work.

A few years ago, a student raised his hand with a question about the deadline for submitting final papers in my senior seminar class. “Now, is the paper due midnight East Coast time or midnight West Coast time?” he asked earnestly.

I responded that if he provided proof he was on the West Coast, I’d happily accept papers until midnight Pacific time — I wasn’t planning to stay up late to watch the essays roll in either way. That set off a full week of students photoshopping their faces onto images of California beaches and Disneyland. In the end, every student submitted their paper on time.

Most of the time, students ask for more than a three-hour extension. And most of the time, professors happily grant extensions on papers. But how should you ask your professor for an extension on a paper?

How to Raise Your Chances of Securing an Extension

Professors will more likely grant an extension if you approach them early on in the term, which requires planning ahead. For example, if you know at the beginning of the semester that you have three papers due the same day, consider approaching your professor to ask for an extension even though the paper isn’t due for several weeks.

If, on the other hand, an emergency comes up that requires an extension, reach out to your instructor as soon as possible. Explain the circumstances and be specific about what you need. Are you requesting a one-day extension? A week? Or an indefinite extension?

Understand that professors will more likely grant your request if you ask for a shorter extension.

Be sure to show your professor that you aren’t asking for an extension simply because you ran out of time — even if that’s partly true. Demonstrate your commitment to the class by including a rough draft of your paper or a description of your topic in your extension request. You can also offer to come to office hours to discuss the extension in person.

Make sure to stay engaged in the class in other ways, too, such as by participating in discussions and meeting all other deadlines.

Sample Emails Asking for an Extension

Emailing a professor can feel intimidating, but using a template can make the process easier. In any email to an instructor, you should always include your name, your class or section number, and a clear question or request. You should also write professionally, and make sure to address your professor at the beginning of the email.

Students often ask for an extension because of deadlines in other classes, exams, work or career development events that overlap with the deadline, and last-minute emergencies. Whatever the reason, you don’t need a long explanation of your circumstances — just quickly mention the conflict and request an extension.

The sample emails below should give you a clearer idea on how to ask for an extension on a paper.

What If You Don’t Get the Extension?

Most professors understand that students are human, with lives and jobs outside of class. And most professors will gladly approve an extension. But sometimes professors say no. So what if you don’t get the extension?

If it’s just days (or even hours) until the deadline, research the late penalty and decide whether it’s better to turn in the paper late or rush to meet the deadline. Always turn in your best work possible and avoid the temptation to plagiarize, which will only cause more problems down the road.

If you’ve planned ahead, you have several options. You can rearrange your schedule to make time to write the paper, ask the professor for the paper topics in advance, or ask for extensions in your other classes instead.

Feature Image: PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

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