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Knowing When and How to Ask for an Extension: A Few Tips

Having graduated from college only a short time ago, I often reflect fondly on my academic and personal trials while navigating the complicated and exhausting world of the university student. As an entering freshman, one aspect of academics of which I was completely ignorant was the ability to ask for an extension on an academic paper.

This practice, in my high school experience, was completely unheard of, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite common in college. Professors are, after all, human, and many of them understand the pressures that come with handling classes, extra-curricular activities, and socializing all at the same time. Over the years, I learned quickly the do’s and don’ts of asking for extensions. Here are a few tips.
1. Ask about the professor’s extension policy when the semester starts.
If not explicitly stated in the syllabus, ask the professor from the very beginning whether or not extensions on papers are granted. This will demonstrate that you respect the professor’s rules and expectations. If the prof has a very strict, no-extension policy, then don’t ever ask for one.
2. Never ask for an extension in the last minute.
Asking for an extension the night before a paper is due is a surefire way to either get denied or to not be taken seriously by your professor. If a professor does grant an extension when you ask in the last minute, you can be sure that he or she will have given it grudgingly, and they’ll be much harder on you for the rest of the semester. A week before the paper is due is a good rule of thumb, but never push it closer than three days before deadline.
3. Ask for an extension only if you genuinely want to improve the quality of your work.
Although it may not always seem that way, professors by and large want you to excel in their class. They want you to learn a thing or two also. If you find that your paper could substantially benefit from extra time that you will actually spend researching, writing, and revising, then go ahead and ask. But above all, be honest with yourself.
4. When asking for an extension, make it clear to your professor that you’re asking for extra time in order to make the most out of the assignment.
While of course there will be times when you’re in desperate need of extra time precisely because you squandered your time, putting things off till the last minute (been there, done that), the last thing a professor wants to hear is a laundry list of excuses. Ask for an extension politely and calmly (never sound desperate), making sure to emphasize what, exactly, will improve given the extra time.
5. Be prepared to submit work that will stand up to stronger scrutiny.
When a student is given some extra time, it is only fair that the professor expect a higher standard of work as compared to the work of students who turned in their papers on time. Therefore, if you aren’t prepared to put in the extra time, then think twice about extending the agony.
These are just a few tips that will hopefully enable you to make the most out the occasional paper extension. Most importantly, be sure to treat extensions as gifts and not entitlements. Be grateful when you get one, and fully assume the responsibility that comes with the extra time.