10 excuses college professors have heard a million times (and why you shouldn’t use them)

It’s the night before that big paper is due. An unfortunate combination of technical failures, insufficient sources, and good old fashion procrastination has you pulling your hair out as you take a bite out of your day-old Taco Bell and down your fourth cup of coffee. Sure, you can try to pull yet another all-nighter and try to concoct something barely readable. Maybe you’ll get a sudden 5am rush that will turn you into a writing genius and finish those last five pages like you were coloring by the numbers.

But then again, that bed over there is seducing you with its cozy comforter and plump pillows. Perhaps it’s easier to just show up early to class tomorrow, dressed in your best brown-nosing attire, and sweet-talk your professor into extending your deadline. But what can you tell your professor that they haven’t already heard? The good old days of “My dog ate my homework” just won’t cut it anymore. You have to evolve with the times. Get ahead of the curve. Come to your professor with a story that will bring her to tears. She’ll have no other choice than to gift your troubled soul with an extra day to turn in your paper. Right?

Wrong. For every unique excuse you can come up with, your professor has heard three variations of it. So save yourself the embarrassment and read the below 10 excuses that professors heard a million times, with reasons why they aren’t willing to accept them.

1. “My computer crashed!” (and other technology problems)

In an era where digital papers and electronic submissions are the norm, a plethora of problematic possibilities have opened up for the already-stressed college student. You’re working on a paper, forget to save, and right as you’re about to hit that little disk icon on the top left of your screen, your screen freezes and your mouse stops working. Or the power goes out at your house. Or your internet gives out the night you have a huge research project to do. Or your DVD drive fails right when you’re about to watch a video for class. Or your printer fails to print that 30 page pdf. I could go on and on.

The point is, surely your professor can’t fault you for that. After all, you can’t control any of the above-mentioned situations. While that is true, any professor who’s been around the block will tell you that such a problem only happens if you’d waited until the last minute to work on your assignment. Procrastination is your biggest enemy with this excuse, because it tells the professor you waited until the last minute to start an assignment.

Had you started the assignment earlier on, you would have had time to get that situation fixed when the university’s IT department is actually opened. Even if the problem set you back a few days, your professor would be more likely to accept the excuse the day before the assignment is due, rather than the day of.

2. “I slept through my alarm”

It happens, I know. I’ve slept through a few alarms in my day. This is especially ruthless for those dreaded 8am classes, where you’re not likely to wake up on your own due to the late nights you’ve pulled. This excuse may  work once towards the beginning of the semester, especially if you’re a freshman and getting used to living independently.

But any time after that and a professor will just see you as someone who is irresponsible. First of all, there are several types of alarm rings on your alarm clock or phone. Experiment until you find one that works. If you really are sleeping through every single alarm you can put up, then you are probably not getting enough sleep. If that’s the case, then you need to work on your time management. Get things done more efficiently so you don’t have to sleep so late.

The thing is, sleeping through your alarm won’t work when you get into the working world. Your boss doesn’t care that you can sleep through a foghorn. If your sleeping patterns are that abnormal, then you probably need to get that checked by a doctor. College is a wonderful place to make these types of mistakes, as the repercussions are not as bad as in the real world. But still, spare your professor the excuse and just acknowledge that you won’t be late again.

3. “There’s a lot going on in my life right now”

Ahh yes. The “woe is me” approach. I hear this one all the time when a student misses a deadline for something I assigned them to do. Not only is this excuse vague and of little value, but this excuse tells me that you are self-centered enough to believe that you are the only person in the world with a lot going on in your life right now.

Wake up, please. We all have “a lot going on in our lives right now”. That’s just the way our modern society works. We are over-worked and over-stressed and life constantly gets in the way. A part of growing up involves learning to adapt to these situations and make them fit into our busy lives. Breaking up with your girlfriend or losing your childhood pets are emotionally distressing, sure, but such is life. It has its ups and downs, but anything short of death in the family or something equally devastating could be worked around. Could you imagine if everyone used that excuse when things got too tough? We’d be a mess!

4. “My other class is taking up all of my time”

This one is a major no-no! I’m telling you this one from experience. I tried this once on a professor, and I didn’t hear the end of it. Let’s just say that professors are proud of the classes that they teach, and in their own little world, they are the only ones in our lives and all our allegiance belongs to them. They don’t want to hear that not only is there another professor in your life, but that you clearly prioritize your time with their assignments over this one. It’s like telling your significant other that you missed your anniversary date because you had to help your mother with the dishes.

It’s quite the catch 22. All your professors seemingly schedule all their tests and all their assignments due on the same week, then get upset when you have a hard time balancing them all out. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the harsh reality of college. Proper time management and controlling your procrastination can help you escape this conundrum.

5. “I forgot this was due today”

It’s pretty obvious to see why this excuse won’t work. “I forgot” didn’t work in elementary school, and it won’t work now. But what makes this excuse even worse is that in most of your classes, due dates are typically listed on the syllabus! You know that piece of paper you’re given on the first day of class that you doodle on while the professor goes over it? Yeah, you’d best not lose that. Professors tend to put test dates and due dates for assignments on their syllabi, making that a handy tool when trying to keep track of all your assignments.

Plus, this excuse is so lazy and unoriginal, you’ll be insulting your professor more than anything. So please, just avoid it and take the late grade.

6. “I didn’t know it’s considered plagiarism”

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This one can be tricky, because it’s most likely true and it’s most likely an innocent mistake that can happen to anyone. In fact, it happened to me in college one time. I had to write a paper for a business class. I took this class before my first college writing class, and I kinda breezed through my high school writing classes without much thought, so I didn’t know much about citing your sources. There were plenty of paragraphs that had no sources, and could be considered plagiarism.

When confronted about it by my professor, I told him I didn’t know it was plagiarism. What he told me was a life lesson I still remember clearly to his day. “Ignorance of the law does not allow you to break it”. Plus, every college has a student handbook with a conduct policy that discusses plagiarism rules and what you could get in trouble for. Student handbooks are long and rather dry reads, but it wouldn’t hurt to look at their plagiarism section and see how to avoid it.

In the end, my professor gave me a chance to redo the paper, and many professors will probably do the same for you if you’re a freshman and it’s a first offense. But still, try to steer clear of this excuse, as there are only very few situations where such an excuse would work and not make you look like a fool.

7. “I didn’t know this would be on the test”

One rule I quickly learned in college is that, with very few exceptions, everything ever taught in a class has the potential to be on the test. You never know when an off-topic subject told by a professor during his incessant ramblings ends up as a bonus question on the final. Even in classes where they offer study guides, don’t get too cozy. It’s possible that they can change their mind and add something in there. Many syllabi even state that everything from class discussions, to assignments, to study guides are testable material.

So the lesson here is that unless your professor specifically states that it won’t be on the test, it has a chance of being on the test. So for you to show up and tell them you didn’t think it would be just makes you seem silly and amateurish.

8. “They called me in to work”

This one is tough because I know many very responsible students who work because they have to, not just because they want some extra cash. Many of them are paying their way through college themselves, or have to support their families with their supplemental income. And many off-campus jobs are not flexible with work schedules. Sometimes they will schedule you at the worst time, and there’s very little you can do about it.

Unfortunately, it is very rare that a professor will accept work as an excuse for not completing an assignment, studying for a test, or especially for not showing up to class. College is expected to be a priority above all else, and if an off-campus job won’t allow you to do that, you are expected to find a different job or to work on campus.

This is easier said than done, I know. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for this type of situation. Unless you’re willing to pull an all-nighter after a long evening shift, your best bet is to talk to your boss way in advance to see if he or she is willing to work with you on a particular assignment or test. I’ve found that employers are more flexible if you talk to them early.

9. “You weren’t in your office when I looked for you.”

I get this one a lot, which is especially frustrating for both parties involved since I am out of the office very often. Let me once again refer you to the syllabus. Every syllabus I’ve ever seen has every available method to contact your professors. Office hours, location of office, phone number, cell phone number (for those brave souls), and email address are listed, as well as their preferred method of contact. Telling them that they weren’t in their office tells them that not only did you not look at the syllabus, but that you didn’t attempt to contact them any other way.

And don’t even think about using this excuse if you didn’t actually stop by their office. There’s nothing more embarrassing than telling them you stopped by at a time that they were actually there.

10. “You never said that”

This one should be a no-brainer. How else do you think a conversation would go where you are essentially telling a professor exactly what he or she said or didn’t say? Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put this excuse on here, but I’ve seen it used enough times that I felt it was worth mentioning.

The truth of the matter is that a professor is most likely to know what they did and didn’t say. Even in the rare occurrence that they are mistaken, who do you think they are going to believe: their own memory or yours? Unless you have evidence to back it up, don’t attempt to get into an argument with a professor regarding what he or she didn’t say. You will lose.

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One response

  1. So very true. I am going to make my students read this at the start of every semester and see how many of them use your list of excuses when they decide that personal responsibility no longer applies.

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