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

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
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An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D., has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a writer and consultant. She holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern...
Updated on April 20, 2022
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  • 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?

The Basics of Asking for an Extension

Before approaching your professor, read the syllabus or review the assignment. Most professors lay out their policies on extensions in either the instructions for the paper or the course syllabus, which functions as a contract between the instructor and the student.

Policies on extensions vary widely. Some professors refuse to offer extensions for any reason. In those cases, try to avoid missing the deadline or review the late penalty to see whether you're willing to take the hit to your grade.

Policies on extensions vary widely. Some professors refuse to offer extensions for any reason.

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Some professors offer extensions on a case-by-case basis, while some may require a doctor's note or other proof that you can't meet the original deadline.

Other instructors set deadlines for papers but do not apply late penalties. Still, don't take that as an invitation to miss the deadline. Even in these cases, students should let their professors know if they need an extension.

In terms of how to ask for an extension, it's generally best to make the request over email. That way you have a paper trail of your request and your professor's response.

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.

Tips for Requesting an Extension

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    Read the syllabus or assignment
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    Ask your instructor as early as possible
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    Reach out via email with a specific request
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    Ask for a shorter extension if possible
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    Demonstrate your commitment to the class

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.

Sample Email for School-Related Extensions

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Dear Professor Walker,

My name is Kellen Brown, and I'm in your 10 a.m. American politics class. In reading the syllabus, I notice the second paper is due on March 3. I have two other papers due that same day for other courses.

Would it be possible to request a one-week extension on the deadline and turn the paper in on March 10 instead? If you don't grant extensions, could I receive the paper topics early so I can start working on it in advance?

Thank you,

Sample Email for Work-Related Extensions

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Dear Professor Johnson,

My name is Stephanie Pritcher, and I'm enrolled in your 2 p.m. seminar on 19th-century British literature. Our first paper is due the same week as a major presentation at my work. Do you offer extensions on papers? I see in the syllabus that late papers receive a grade penalty, which I'd like to avoid. If you offer extensions, I could turn in the paper on Tuesday, April 20, instead of Friday, April 16.

Thank you,

Sample Email for Emergencies

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Dear Professor Prakash,

My name is Sandra Lassiter, and I'm in your 11:30 a.m. history 201 class. Because of a family emergency, I will be out of town this weekend without my research materials for the paper due on Monday. Would it be possible to request a three-day extension and turn in my essay in class on Thursday? I'm attaching my outline and rough draft to show the progress I've made on the paper so far.

Thank you,

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.

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