When it’s spring, a young college student’s fancy turns to . . . Well, not to getting papers turned in on time. It’s easier to get extensions on deadlines these days, says an AP story. And lazy students can get excuses online.

BOSTON – Some educators believe late papers — and the excuse-making that goes with them — are on the rise. Many lump the trend in with grade inflation as evidence of declining standards, a growing sense of student entitlement and a mollycoddling campus culture in which instructors are expected to act more like friends and therapists than teachers.
There are old standbys — illness, towed cars, family crises — but also new ones. Hard drives and computer viruses, not dogs, devour homework these days. One student told University of Central Arkansas composition instructor Beverly Carol Lucey that an exploding blender drenched his paper with an appetite suppressant smoothie.

And the student couldn’t print a fresh copy?

Life crises aside, many think plain, old sloth is the real problem.

A national student survey recently found that nearly two-thirds of students spent 15 hours or fewer per week doing coursework, and about 20 percent of both freshmen and seniors claimed to spend fewer than five hours per week.

For the truly lazy, a feature on the Web site student.com generates automatic excuse-requesting e-mails. Users pick the phrases they want, asking for “a bit of slack” or a “slight favor” because they “have SO much work to do” and could never finish the assignment “in the complete way you deserve.”

Only once in my college days did I turn a paper in late. I’d had a bad cold. The teacher lowered my A to a B. I coughed piteously. It didn’t work. I never missed a deadline again.

About Joanne


  1. My child had to finish a project for geometry last year while she was so sick with the flu she could hardly sit up. The damn thing was due and the teacher e-mailed to remind us that it was due whether the child was in school or not. The teacher knew she’d made a good start on it because she’d showed the teacher what she had and the teacher made notes on it for her. I brought it in the day after it was due (and several days before my child was able to go back) and the teacher took off points for lateness, but added some for complexity. I really thought that was a bit much.

  2. Margaret says:

    Joanne, I had the same thing happen once in college. A day late = one letter grade reduction. The professor wrote something poetic like, “Alas, this should have gotten an A+…” 🙂 I, too, was never late again.

  3. slimedog says:

    Anyone get the exact URL for the excuse generator? I’d like to get my students hooked up to it so they can come up with some new material. So far I’ve only heard one original (but extremely lame) one this semester: “I had to stay home last week to take care of my sister’s dog whose toenails wouldn’t stop bleeding after my sister cut them and she had to go to work.”

    I franken’ HATE late assignments and sorry excuses. Every out-of-cycle homework, essay, or quiz takes time away from class preparation and time I spend helping students who bust their butts keeping up.


    I think your daughter’s teacher is a lot smarter than you…think she is. She took the points off for tardiness–you took the assigment in late–and rewarded your daughter for doing a complicated task. The policy was preserved, the point was made, and your daughter came out ahead.

  4. slimedog, but here’s the thing:

    Suppose my child were not in school, but in the workforce. She had excellent attendance and was never late to work. She completed all her assigned work on time, did a good job, smiled at the boss, and got along with her coworkers. If once in a blue moon she was sick in the bed, so that an assignment didn’t get turned in, would her employer dock her pay? Of course not. I’ve been in the workforce lo these (mumble mumble) years and I’ve never seen such a thing.

  5. hard-ass-prof says:

    Why am I not surprised by the 15 hours or less per week for coursework (homework)? The Jacuzzi U. is here and we can’t be getting in the way of the student trying to have a good time. As for hard drive crashes as an excuse, I wouldn’t accept it. In the working world waiting for the student no such excuse exists. I don’t get such luxury for grant proposals, consulting reports to industry, etc. Try two hards, and some backup software, I do it, and it works great.

  6. I am an adjunct at a local community college.

    I teach an evening class and a Saturday morning class. Overall the students who complain, fuss, throw fits, and have late papers are 18-21. The ones who get their work done regardless, show up every day on time, and do their best are older students who are going back to school with a specific goal in mind.

    I’d say it’s an age and maturity thing, except for the fact that I also teach part time at an alternative high school for homeschoolers. Sometimes they turn in work late, but they don’t give me goofy excuses or complain about the grade (Well, not for lateness anyway.). They just take the ten, twenty, or fifty points off for one, two, or three days late.

  7. slimedog says:


    Depends on the employer. Some folks come back from the sickbed to find their job gone or downgraded. And independent contractors have it worse.

    ANYBODY FIND THAT EXCUSE GENERATOR YET? I have students too dumb to make up good stories–they need help!

  8. The only time I needed an excuse not to turn in my final was when my Grandmother died. However, instead of asking for an extension, I turned the paper in early and then asked if it was okay that I not be at the last class.

    But when I was in Jr. High, I had a really original excuse. I had to turn in a “bug-board” (a collection of dead bugs that I had collected with their scientific names inscribed next to them), and it was laying on the breakfast bar all ready for me to take to school the next day. Apparently carpenter ants love glue and I had used glue to attach the bugs to the board. I think you get the idea. The teacher looked at me like I was looney when I gave him my excuse but gave me an extra day to re-do the project. Of course I got a C because one day doesn’t make for a lot of bug catching, but I was just happy that he gave me the time to make a grade at all!

  9. I actually did have a student once whose dog ate her homework. She handed it in on time, tooth marks, dog slobber, and all. Her mother confirmed her story. I had met the dog in question, so I knew the tooth marks matched.

    In the interest of full disclosure, I did actually once tell a man (the one to whom I’m now married) that I couldn’t go out with him because I had to wash my hair.

  10. what bugs me is when students call in sick (when they’re scheduled to give a presentation or hand in a paper) in the MIDDLE of the class in question, when they know I won’t be in my office.

    I guess they think if I have to call them back, I’m less likely to say “no”

    and what slimedog said about out-of-cycle homeworks and papers is very true. It takes me less total time to grade, say, 20 homeworks, all at once than it would take me in total to grade those same 20 homeworks that dribble in over a period of three weeks. (I even tried explaining that to the students; nothing short of docking points for lateness gets homework in on time). I’m not talking about students who are genuinely sick or have other obligations (I have a student who is in the Reserves and had to go do training; he brought me a copy of his orders). What I object to are the people who are there but don’t get the work done. And many of them don’t even bother with an excuse! They just hand it in days late and expect I won’t mind.

    I strive to have grading back to students (even exams) the next class day. (And I have a good reputation among the students for giving fast feedback). I feel like I should be offered the same courtesy by the students, handing their homework and whatnot in on time.

  11. JimInNOVA says:

    I had a class in college with a very simple policy on late papers. There was a paper due every week, it was to be inside the door of the professor’s office by 5 PM on Friday. He would wait until the 5th chime of the Old Main bell had died, then close his office doorand start grading. Anything not in his office received a 0, but still had to be turned in and complete to receive a grade other than F-NC (failing, not complete) for the course. Exceptions were made only for pre-arranged approved excuses, hospital stay as evidenced by a bill, or death in the family as evidenced by obituary. Two students tried to turn in late papers the first week, and found out that he was serious. After that, there were no late papers.

  12. Last semester I had a young man bring his laptop (his only computer) to class to show me that a computer virus wouldn’t let him access any programs. He then left class with my encouragement to take the laptop in to the IT people…and had the assignment on my desk before my office hours the next class day.

    This semester, I’ve given one student an extension on every paper (one or two days) because he had to fly home (fm Manhattan KS to San Fransisco–football scholarship) every weekend because his three year old son had cancer. With this last paper, he got it in late because he broke his leg, and they were pinning it on the day it was due. Talk about your really BAD luck. BTW, the young’un is passing…he really does good work.

    Sometimes, the excuses are valid. Trust but verify with the liason between your dept. and the athletics dept.

  13. Bob Diethrich says:

    Isn’t the most common excuse heard nowadays that

    “The DOS ate my homework!”

    Hello, is this thing on?

  14. When I was entertainment editor of my college newspaper, my rock music critics, who were brothers, turned in a review early but handwritten. They apologized for not typing it up, explaining that their father had just died and they had to get home for the funeral. I accepted the apology.

  15. I just did a Google search on “excuse generator” that turned up some 82,600 hits. This one at dozings.com has some promise. A search on “college excuse generator” produces about 14,800 hits. Bay Area readers might be amused to learn about this Muni Excuse Generator.Not all professors play along. I have a roundup of some tough late policies I turned up with a fairly cursory search.