How to Ask Your Teacher for an Assignment Extension

Sep 17, 2015

Q: Jessica, my week has been crazy! Between work and family emergencies, I haven't been able to get my reading done for my online English class. Now I have a report due next week. What's the best way to ask my teacher for an extension?

If I had a dollar for every time a student came to me with a similar story ... well, let's just say I'd be in Hawaii right now.

I'm sure you realize that teachers don't love getting these questions from students. Grading late work is time-consuming, interferes with the current schedule, and, I think, is unfair to students who submitted work on time.

That said, I can tell you that yes, there is a right way and a wrong way to ask for an extension. Look, even I have to ask for extensions on work sometimes. Life has a funny way of interfering with deadlines. But you'll get a much better response from your teacher if you've been a good, responsible student up to this point.

There's absolutely nothing more frustrating to me than students who wait until the very last minute to do their work, or who don't submit class assignments or participate in discussions, and then shoot me poorly worded emails in the last week of class asking for extensions on their final papers, or whether I might consider offering extra credit assignments. Why would I want to help them out when they haven't helped themselves by doing the work up until now?

If you have generally shown the teacher that you are responsible, committed to success, and willing to do the work, you're in a much better place to ask for an extension.

How to ask a teacher for an assignment extension

So here's how I'd recommend approaching your teacher. First, consider the timeline. You may not even be allowed to submit work if you're in the last week of class. Also, would submitting your work late create further problems for you in terms of doing the next assignment? Would an extension really help you? Also, remember that if it's going to be late, it should be good -- you will have had more time.

Next, call or email your teacher directly. Explain your situation in clear terms. For instance, when my students come to me and say, "I had a family emergency," that sounds like code for, "I can't come up with a good excuse." If the matter is private, you can probably skip the details, but be specific enough that your situation comes across as genuine. Let the teacher know that you're behind schedule and what your plan is to catch up, and then politely ask for an extension.

Your teacher may ask when you can submit the assignment. Have a target date in mind. If you ask for too much time, though, you'll seem unreasonable. A week would be the absolute limit, in my mind, but it really depends on your class. He or she might also respond with, "You can have three more days," or have another specific time table in mind. Take what you're offered graciously, submit the assignment promptly, and don't make this a habit. Or, he or she could flat out say no. Don't wait to hear back from him or her before you start working on the report. That way, if you get a no, you've done your best.

Oh, and a heads up: Proofread your emails. We English teachers are generally more likely to respond positively to a request that is not only genuine, but also well written.