December 5, 2010 7:47 PM   Subscribe

Missed a deadline (and the late deadline) for a major term paper, help?

I assumed my paper was due the same day as my final, which was a novice error (I'm a freshman at a state university). I just figured out that the paper was not, and now I'm in a state of complete frazzle and stress because the paper is one of three things I must pass individually to pass the class as a whole.

Tips on how to email my teacher? I haven't had much 1 on 1 interaction with her but during lectures she seems pretty unforgiving and stern so my hopes for this email aren't the highest. I'm trying to find a way to emphasize the fact that I'm a dumb, dumb freshman learning the ropes but I'm not really sure how.

I'm definitely not expecting amnesty, here, but I'm still hoping for the best, but in the likely case my begging does not go through, any emotional advice for a freshman failing his first class?
posted by anonymous to Education (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Failing a class != failing as a human being. Most people will fail at least one class at some time. All that happens is that you get to repeat it. It's inconvenient, but not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things.
posted by flabdablet at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Don't email, go in person during her office hours unless they are several days away.
posted by saucysault at 7:53 PM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

any emotional advice for a freshman failing his first class?
Don't panic. First of all, you may not fail the class. Second of all, if you do, it is not the end of the world. Go talk to your academic advisor. Ask if there's a policy where you can retake the class and have the second grade replace the first. Many state universities do have a policy like that. If yours doesn't, then you're going to have an F on your transcript. That's ok. Assuming your other grades are ok, having one F is not going to define your life. Just consider this a very, very painful learning experience about going through your syllabus on the first day of class and putting all of the assignments in your planner.
posted by craichead at 8:01 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

You don't make any mention of how late it is or if you finished the paper. Hopefully you have actually finished the paper.

Go see her in person. Have your finished paper in hand and explain your mistake without making excuses.

If it's not catastrophically late you might get away with a late penalty instead. If she seems hesitant about taking it in general, you might suggest the possibility of a late penalty instead.
posted by Diplodocus at 8:10 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't get ahead of yourself. Email the professor immediately, and then also set a time to meet with them. Your school and prof will vary, but in my experience professors care less about deadlines than students think, and place the most importance on just seeing the work as opposed to when they see it. After you email the prof and figure out a time to meet, work on the paper. A near-complete paper is the best bargaining chip you can give yourself right now.

There will be plenty of time to figure out what to do about failing after you fail, *if* you fail. Don't give up hope yet, don't give into all-or-nothing thinking, and don't use this as an excuse not to continue to do work for this class.
posted by MadamM at 8:11 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would email the professor to establish a time (when you first realized your mistake). Then, offer a solution which you think would be fair: e.g: deducting 10% or 20% of your grade for the paper, or ask her if there are any other extra-credit activity you can do to make up for this error. Offer to meet her face-to-face to discuss the problem.

Also, you need to find out when is the deadline for her to submit the final grade; and what you can realistically achieve to show your commitment to the class.

Finally, realize that while these academic activities are stressful, they are only there to help you learn. Exams and papers are feedback so you know how well you are doing. They have no correlation with your worth in life.
posted by curiousZ at 8:14 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

If there's any possible way to drink a quart of coffee and just get the damn thing done tonight, it's always a million times better to turn in the paper late, rather than -- already late -- ask for additional time.

Regardless, spend less time explaining why it is late, and more time saying when you will be turning it in.

Just consider this a very, very painful learning experience about going through your syllabus on the first day of class and putting all of the assignments in your planner.

Yup. Everyone does this from time to time (including professors, who also face deadlines for submitting articles and grant proposals); it's part of life, and learning to handle it with grace is an important part of the process.
posted by Forktine at 8:14 PM on December 5, 2010

Then, offer a solution which you think would be fair: e.g: deducting 10% or 20% of your grade for the paper, or ask her if there are any other extra-credit activity you can do to make up for this error.

Don't do this. Just passing the class is the real goal here, and the penalties for being late are probably already in the syllabus. Own up to your error, and only get into bickering over the grade and penalty after you have turned the paper in. Until you have it written and submitted, you can't bargain.
posted by Forktine at 8:16 PM on December 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Email (your prof or your TA) right now. Explain exactly what happened, be honest, but be brief.
Dear Professor X,

I have just realized that I have been planning on the wrong due date for the final paper. I had somehow thought it was due the day of the final. I am very, very sorry. I realize that I have also missed the late deadline, and that the paper is required to pass the class -- so I don't know what to do.

I am writing to ask if there is any way I can still achieve some credit for this assignment in order to pass the class. I can give you the paper by [date/time].

Again, I am so very sorry about this. [anything else you want to add about freshman errors, mercy,etc]

your full name (and ID number if your class is huge)
[date/time] should be a realistic time that is also VERY SOON like tomorrow at 5pm.

As soon as you send the email, start writing the paper so you will actually have it ready by your stated time. You might not get an answer until tomorrow morning.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:17 PM on December 5, 2010 [17 favorites]

in my experience professors care less about deadlines than students think

This is often true, but if this is a gigantic required class with hundreds of students, the policies may be stricter. There is no way to know. You just need to email, right away, be apologetic, tell her when (very soon) you will turn in the work, and let her decide what happens next.

Also, if you do fail a class it will be okay. Happens to the best of us. (Ahem.) But send that email and write the paper by tomorrow.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 PM on December 5, 2010

Veteran student (read grad student) here. I've been a teaching assistant for 8 semesters as well, so I know things from the teaching side.

Pro tips:
- Relax! You're not the first, the last, and probably not the only one in this boat. Remember that when you're writing to the professor.
- Does your class have a clearly defined policy on late work? Go back and read your syllabus.
- Email or in-person doesn't really matter to me as an instructor. E-mail works best sometimes because it sucks up the least amount of time.
- Be concise and to-the-point. State your case, and own up to your screw-up, but don't dramatize it. They've heard this one before, so just be honest about it.
- You'll probably get amnesty. Instructors sometimes put on a gruff/stern exterior to maintain order. It works. At the same time they gain nothing in failing people for small issues. They'd usually rather see you have a good attitude about being a student.
- You clearly care. That will show. Lots of students don't care, and they're the ones that we bring the boot down on.
- Think of a time when you can realistically finish the paper. This number will come in useful.

The first paragraph of your Ask Me is pretty good. I'd cut the personal exposition and the doom and gloom. You'll be fine!
posted by Mercaptan at 8:28 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to the very next office hours she has. Your paper should be complete and in your hands. Tell her you understand this was a major screw up on your end because you messed up the dates, and you understand if there's nothing that can be done about it at this point but you would be very very thankful if she took your paper anyway. Any points are better than no points, so you'll be happy if she assigns you an additional penalty for missing the late deadline. Do not whine or fight with her about it (though I doubt you will based on what you've written here). Emphasize that this is your own stupid freshman error and in no way her fault, but you're hoping for some help out of the hole you've dug for yourself.

Do not try to resolve this issue over email, or in the five minutes before or after class. Use those methods to set up an appointment in her office if necessary, but don't try to settle it via those methods. Email will deny her the ability to see your contrition and make it extremely easy for her to say "nope, sorry" and settle the issue right there. Talking with her about it before/after class with put her in a corner because she'll have to have the discussion with you in front of a hundred other people to whom she had already said "I never accept late work" so she can't possibly accept your work.

Maybe she'll accept it. Professors are usually more compassionate than you may think, so there's hope. But she also might not. Oh well, it happens. I can guarantee every single student at your university has some kind of similar "OH SHIT" screwup (mine involved an alarm screw up that made me miss the first half of a final for the strictest teacher I've ever had -- that one ended with me bawling in front the whole class because I was so frazzled; a friend accidentally slept through his entire math final once). Your school almost certainly has a repeat/delete policy that you can use to erase the F grade if necessary. Figure out if you really, truly, 100% cannot pass the class if she doesn't accept your paper. If there's literally no way, then don't study for the final. Less work for you come finals week.

This is an extremely good lesson in the importance of getting to know your professors. You don't have to be best buds with them, but make sure they know you're a hardworking student who puts forth 100% effort every day for their class. It will make your whole school experience better, make it easier to ask for letters of rec down the line if you need them, and possibly save your butt if this ever happens again.
posted by lilac girl at 8:29 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Also, this is the kind of situation which tempts generally good and ethical students to plagiarize. Don't. In general, academic careers are made or broken not by single decisions but by patterns of decisions, but the one exception to that is plagiarism. You could really screw yourself over if you grab something off the internet. If you don't think you can get it written tonight, then you should definitely get it in late rather than copy it.
posted by craichead at 8:30 PM on December 5, 2010 [3 favorites]

Get in contact ASAP. Explain what happened, ask if there is anything you can do. Show up to office hours and talk to them no matter what they say or offer.

Show that you care by actually caring and working hard.
posted by pmb at 8:33 PM on December 5, 2010

Lobster Mitten is Bang On. I am a prof who is taking an online break right now, checking my email in case I missed the assignment or such an email from a student of mine who is about to receive a zero on his paper, having not communicated with me about it and having not turned in the assignment. About an hour ago, I received an email from another student in a similar situation from a different course. Do It Now!
posted by kch at 8:35 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't email, go in person during her office hours unless they are several days away.

Maybe that will lead to a better outcome, but if you do something that demands an immediate, then-and-there answer from me instead of just emailing me about it, you're more likely to get a "No."

Then, offer a solution which you think would be fair: e.g: deducting 10% or 20% of your grade for the paper, or ask her if there are any other extra-credit activity you can do to make up for this error.

Don't do this. If you do this, you're likely to get back what the professor thinks is fair, which might well be "You didn't turn it in on time, and so receive a zero." The smart move here is just to beg for whatever mercy might be on offer. LobsterMitten's email seems about right to me.

Offer to meet her face-to-face to discuss the problem.

Having a sad and awkward interaction with an upset student face-to-face instead of by email is, very emphatically, not a bonus. Especially if the prof or someone she knows has been physically threatened by an angry or upset student; it happens.

Email will deny her the ability to see your contrition and make it extremely easy for her to say "nope, sorry" and settle the issue right there.

Again, depends on the prof. I try to be neutral about this, but if anything I think I find it easier to grant this sort of mercy to a semianonymous bunch of text than to the upset, crying person in front of me who's making me feel terrible and awkward. I don't intentionally take it out on them or anything, but for sure it puts me in a different (and probably less favorable) head space.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:39 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go to the very next office hours she has. Your paper should be complete and in your hands...

email after the paper is due, politely asking for topic references/advice on how to write it (of course, not making this up).
posted by ovvl at 8:51 PM on December 5, 2010

This is definitely an in-person conversation. The professor needs to be able to read your sincerity in a way that will not come through in an e-mail. Contact the departmental office to determine when the prof will be in, then camp out until you get a chance to plead your case. As noted, having document in-hand is a plus, if you can swing it, but don't delay the conversation just to finish the doc. From what I recall of college, humanities professors tend to be relatively flexible, but math & hard-science profs rarely budge in their expectations.
posted by Ys at 8:54 PM on December 5, 2010

What LobsterMitten said. Email is better. You want the "omg I JUST REALIZED THAT I TOTALLY SCREWED UP" to communicate, in a professional way. Contacting them the moment that you realized what happened shows you're not hiding anything.

Coming to them with a completed paper would make me wonder, hmm, did she really just realize the due date, or did she just finish late, and then come up with an excuse?
posted by salvia at 9:06 PM on December 5, 2010

Another person from the other side of the desk/lectern here to say that email would be better for me, too. LobsterMitten's suggested approach is excellent.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:14 PM on December 5, 2010

I once lived with this brilliant friend, who got extensions on every.single.paper. Her reasons were usually "I just discovered the XYZ letter collection. This is fascinating, did you know that it has every letter ever sent by Queen Pamela?!? Imagine what HER perspectives on the Georgian incursion reveal. I'd really like to include that, but I won't be able to finish that analysis by Monday -- could I have until the end of the week?" Living with her revealed that whole categories of teachers and grad students just don't care about the due date and got into teaching because they're interested in scholarship, not being authoritarian enforcers. That said, this roommate was the nerdiest of nerds who did amazing work and now has a Ph.D., so she could basically relate to these grad students as an equal.

Thus enlightened, I got an extension on my next paper, all the way through Christmas break, on the grounds that I'd read all the essential documents (and more), that I'd written two 20-page drafts, (attaching one), and that my understanding of the topic had taken a jump, making me want to rewrite it once more with new framing informed by {Scholar}'s perspective. Of course I'd be happy to turn in what I had, but I really think this new angle...

- you're not the only student to ask for an extension
- professors are human and may not care that much about the rules (being a freshman in a big lecture class does work against you here; they feel some need to be "fair")
- demonstrating diligence, hard work, and an interest in the topic will help. It might even buy you more time, e.g., "the earliest I could turn it in would be 5 PM tomorrow. I certainly don't want to inconvenience you any further. I had been hoping to also incorporate XYZ, which would take me until Wednesday, if you didn't mind.")
posted by salvia at 9:32 PM on December 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

This is definitely an in-person conversation. The professor needs to be able to read your sincerity in a way that will not come through in an e-mail.

On the one hand, no. This just isn't true.

On the other hand, there's also the danger that anonymous is one of those people who gets all plasticky and fake when they're nervous, and so would appear deeply insincere.

Contact the departmental office to determine when the prof will be in

They are unlikely to know.

then camp out until you get a chance to plead your case.

In my estimation, this is likely to set a confrontational tone for a meeting that ends badly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 PM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to add that as a current student, emailing is the first and possibly only step you should take to initially contact your prof and let them know what happened. I think you should offer to come in, because some profs prefer that and because the general idea you're trying to convey is "I am a serious student, not a habitual fuckup, who is taking this VERY SERIOUSLY and would be willing to do anything your Graciousness feels is sufficient to save this situation even a little bit." Your prof might want to have you in for a nice long chat about your work habits or might just want to answer your plea and move on to something more interesting (probably the latter, in a big class at a state U), but you can't know that beforehand and you should be making it clear that you are throwing yourself on their mercy, whatever that might entail.
posted by MadamM at 9:45 PM on December 5, 2010

"You're not the first, the last, and probably not the only one in this boat. Remember that when you're writing to the professor."

But DO NOT indicate in your email that you're aware of this. Explain that you have no idea how you could have done something so careless. Act as though you're sure that you're the only person in the history of school to do such a thing.

And yes, relax. It's really not a big deal, I promise. Winter break is just around the corner!
posted by easy, lucky, free at 9:49 PM on December 5, 2010

Don't email, go in person during her office hours unless they are several days away.

No. You need to get in contact with the professor the minute you realized you screwed up and missed the deadlines. Sure, you can ask to set up an appointment. But the farther away from the deadline you get, the less likely you are to get mercy.

yes, IAAP. I am not, of course, your P
posted by leahwrenn at 10:02 PM on December 5, 2010

Don't email, go in person during her office hours unless they are several days away.

What?? No. Email right away. You're already past the deadline—if I were in the professor's position I would not want you wasting more time waiting for office hours to roll around, even if they're at 8:00 tomorrow morning. And as ROU_Xenophobe points out, approaching profs in person can make them put up their defenses.

I think the answers from LobsterMitten and ROU_Xenophobe are spot on. Explain succinctly what happened and ask whether there is anything you can do at this point to salvage your grade. Say when, realistically, you could get the paper done in a hurry, but don't offer extra credit work or any specific resolution with respect to the grade—you don't want to come off as trying to bargain. Right now you have, effectively, no right to pass the class, and asking for an arrangement like "deducting 10% or 20% of your grade for the paper" comes off as terribly arrogant. Approach this with humility.
posted by Orinda at 10:24 PM on December 5, 2010

p.s. IANAProfessor, but I taught university courses for about a decade while getting my Ph.D. Personally, I'm with ROU_Xenophobe—I'd much rather deal with this kind of issue over email, and in fact if you asked me about it in person, I'd probably say "I'll consider it and email you my decision later." I'd be seriously creeped out and suspicious of your motives if you lurked around waiting for me with a completed paper in hand if we had not already arranged an in-person handoff.
posted by Orinda at 10:34 PM on December 5, 2010

IAAP. I am up late at night on a Sunday grading and probably shouldn't answer questions like this after spending my entire weekend with a stack of papers. I'm also pretty tough on deadlines because my job gets much more difficult when people are on different schedules. I give students one week to turn in late work, though, so that IS the amnesty you'd get in my class. It's unlikely you'd get anything beyond that, especially if I've had anyone else in the class ask for an extension or try to turn things in beyond the late-work deadline. If no one else in the class is in the same position, there would be more hope for you. Of course, there's no way for you to know that information.

Here's how I would prefer to be approached. Email ASAP with your error (per much of the advice given above) and ask if there is a time to meet about the paper. If the answer is no, then you're probably out of luck and she's really strict. However, if I agree to a meeting and you don't have the paper in hand at the moment you walk into my office, you're probably not going to get amnesty. I have no way (other than a paper in-hand) to differentiate between honest mistakes and students who blew off an assignment, gave me some flimsy excuse, and bet on my compassion. I wouldn't really want to meet with you because it's going to be an uncomfortable situation for us both, but I probably would because I think you deserve a shot to present your case. So you may have to decide whether or not its worth it to you to write a paper tonight that may or may not get you credit for anything. A lot would depend on your prior performance in the class. Previous late work and poor attendance=no amnesty. Stellar record so far=more potential for amnesty. I will probably not want to make a decision that very instant, so you may have to wait. Be prepared for that and do not press the issue. Do not whine or plead. I've seen that too many times before and it only makes for an uncomfortable interaction. Pretend you are a professional in the workplace and I'll be more comfortable. Whine like a freshman and I'll probably get annoyed. I will feel bad for you either way, but that might not change my decision.

Tomorrow, three of my students will find out that they haven't passed their class. That is not fun for me or them, so you should know that even if your prof is strict about this, there's probably nothing personal in it. In fact, when students fail my classes for missed work, I make a point of telling them that I'd welcome them back the next semester and that they can use work created the first time around in the second iteration of the class. Two students took me up on that offer this semester, and they'll both pass this time around. In the end, no matter how the conversation goes, be professional and don't burn any bridges. You don't want to be THAT student. Plus, if it matters, I'll think better of you for being mature and taking responsibility for your mistake no matter what the outcome for your grade.

Sorry--that's probably not exactly what you want to hear, but that's my general thought process. I thought it might help you think of the possible reactions. Good Luck!
posted by BlooPen at 10:55 PM on December 5, 2010 [6 favorites]

I did something like this once. I had a class where the final was at a special time- not the usual time for finals for classes that met at that time. I *totally* missed it- didn't even listen all the times in class they mentioned the date, because i was sure I knew when it was. Didn't even realize my mistake until a few days after the test.

I explained my mistake as honestly and contritely as I could, the professor let me take a make-up, and I don't think I even got marked down. So it's not guaranteed, but it may all be fine.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:29 PM on December 5, 2010

Another professor here. I think LobsterMitten has given you great advice. That's how I'd want a student to approach the problem with me: immediate, direct, neither whiny nor groveling, points out the bottom line. And definitely be hard at work now getting that paper finished to be able to turn the paper in by the end of the day tomorrow or first thing Tuesday morning on the case that she is willing to accept it. Good luck!
posted by pittsburgher at 11:32 PM on December 5, 2010

Oh, and one more thing: when you send the e-mail, please make sure that you use proper capitalization, grammar, and so forth. In other words, make it well-written. This may seem like a small thing, but it's part and parcel of being a good student and acting professionally in this situation. There are professors out there (myself included) who have their teeth set on edge by e-mails like "hey professor i'm realy sorry but i missed ur paper deadline", and you don't want said professor to think that they're going to have to read five pages of that glurge if they let you hand the paper in late.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:10 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

usually, if you have been attending class and/or can write a nice apologetic email and effect a sincere demeanour in person at the follow-up appointment, you can eke out a low pass even if you have failed to submit by "the date". Especially if you are a freshman. Lecturers don't like failing students if they can avoid it. If you play your cards right and make sure you submit a good paper, you should have a good chance of avoiding failure.
posted by kid A at 5:21 AM on December 6, 2010

Another (part-time) prof here. If you've turned everything else in on time, I'm likely to understand it as an honest error and to let you turn it in late.

However, if your particular class (as a whole) has been a nightmare of late papers, whining students, bickering over grades, etc., I'm going to be less favorably disposed towards any individual member of that class who has YET ANOTHER problem. (Unless you're one of the three students in the class that makes me NOT want to stab myself.)

Personally, if I agree to take your paper late (which I usually do), I'm going to tell you that I won't grade it until AFTER I finish grading everything else, entering grades, etc., and that means (depending on how long the rest of my grading takes), I may have already entered all the grades at the grading deadline and then you will have to wait until January for me to put through a grade change. Typically I actually do get around to knocking out stragglers when I have a short break, or when my brain is exhausted with the 50th student paper on topic X and I need to read something different for a minute, but my policy with late papers is that officially I am not required to get to them until after I finish ALL of my other obligations for the semester for students who finished on time. And I'm NOT going on campus special in late December in the snow to put through a grade change (which must be done in person); if I have to do a grade change, you have to wait it out until January. If that's the case, suck it up and don't panic about it until a week after classes start back, and then be polite about it. Nothing makes me grouchier than a student who blew a deadline e-mailing me repeatedly over Christmas (even on Christmas!) about when I'm going to put through their grade change when I already told them, "When I get back to campus in January."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:22 AM on December 6, 2010

(English instructor here) Others have given you good advice already, but I would add:

don't take it personally, or try not to blame the teacher, if they won't or can't take your paper. Sometimes they can get in a lot of trouble with the dept. if someone finds out they gave a non-emergency extension. Sometimes, even if they can, they feel like if even one student tells another "I got an extension", then you'll have other students complaining that they didn't get one extra day to write a better paper. It sucks for teachers too, sometimes, wanting to be human and give a break but understanding that that wouldn't be fair to your OTHER students.

And if you do fail, many universities will let you re-take a course and erase the original grade if you pass next time. And if you can't even do that, one F in a freshman class is not going to keep you from grad school or whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn't become a pattern.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:47 AM on December 6, 2010

First, don't panic. I'm telling you not to panic as a warmup for telling my students the same thing.

Second, contact the professor as soon as possible. Preferably by e-mail. I find it difficult to make decisions about things like this on the fly and like to have a few moments to think about them. (This may be different for a more experienced professor; I'm a new professor, and so I'm seeing a lot of these situations for the first time.)

For what it's worth, I tend to accept late work if it won't make my life more difficult. Somehow at the beginning of the semester I managed to convince my students that I never accept late work ever -- this isn't actually true -- so when a student comes to me and says they're going to get something in late I'm usually okay with it.

If there is a policy on late work, read it -- students that clearly didn't read the syllabus are a bit infuriating. (My policy, insofar as I have one in writing, is that I don't accept late work -- but I've been known to bend this. But I have to appear inflexible so that students don't abuse this, because I teach large classes.)

Don't camp out in front of the professor's office:
1. it's kind of creepy;
2. even if the professor is someone who keeps a regular schedule during the main body of the semester (and not all of them are), after classes are over people's schedules tend to change;
3. the departmental office won't know when they'll be in anyway.
If your professor has regularly scheduled office hours, go to them -- but after sending e-mail, so the professor will have had some opportunity to think about the situation.

Finally, in general we don't like failing people. Keep this in mind.
posted by madcaptenor at 9:10 AM on December 6, 2010

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