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I am a grad level student and I am completing my last course this semester. The professor is reducing our grade by 20%/day if we submit our assignment late. It is a lot. For example, my grade is 18/20 and he reduced it by 4 because I submitted it a day late. My total GPA is A+. It is a significant amount of grade that he is taking off. This will ruin my grade.

I understand that a late submission is not good. Having said that, I have always been trying my best to submit them on time. His assignments were more difficult than what he was teaching us during lectures and I always need to study extra books and material to solve problems.

I was thinking of sending an email and asking for him to waive the penalties. Especially now due to COVID it is somehow cruel to enforce these penalties.

What would be the best way to convince a professor to waive late submission penalties?

Reason for late submission: Due to my research internship, I have been working part-time in a company in another city (not the city that the university is located). So it was pretty hard for me to keep up with the deadline. Before COVID, I had to even commute in between cities to attend classes and that drained me.

Edited: I wrote this letter, please feel free to edit or add more details.

Dear zyx, I am writing regarding the late-submission penalties.

Due to my research internship and displacement, It was pretty hard for me to keep up with the deadlines.

During this time I had to commute in between cities and I had only slid to follow up the course and solve assignments that I can save them for submitting my assignments earlier.

Not accessing the in-person classes made me spend hours studying other references to solve my assignments.

So I was wondering if you could please waive late submission penalties?

Best regards,

XYZ

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – eykanal Apr 17 at 15:49
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    "...I had only slid to follow up the course and solve assignments that I can save them for submitting my assignments earlier." The meaning of this particular statement isn't very clear, so you would want to rewrite it. – Panzercrisis Apr 17 at 23:14
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Professors will say no by default to all such requests, but a lot of the time they secretly want to say yes, so you need to help them help you by providing all the relevant context, being logical and reasonable, and generally convince them that you are worthy of their attention and understanding.

Here is my attempt at a draft email.

Dear Professor xyz,

my name is ZYX, I’m a student in your Programming for Programmers class. I submitted the first class project one day late on February 17 and as a result you imposed a 20% late submission penalty, which reduced my project grade from 18/20 to 14/20.

I know that this penalty is in the course policies and accept that there is a good reason for such penalties and that you have the right to decide such things. But I wonder if you considered that such a high penalty may be unreasonably harsh? I am an excellent student and have worked very hard to maintain an overall GPA of A+ in the program. Because of the penalty it seems almost certain that my final grade for the class will end up lower than what my performance would merit without the penalty, which in turn would lower my overall GPA and future academic and career chances. The consequences seem disproportionate relative to the one time mistake of submitting an assignment late by just one day.

I therefore want to ask respectfully if you might consider waiving or at least reducing the penalty for this late submission.

I do sincerely apologize for the late submission, and for not contacting you in advance of the deadline to request an extension (something that in hindsight I obviously should have done when I realized I was going to be late). Normally I am very good at keeping up with my workload, but back in February, because of a research internship I was doing at [name of company], which required me to commute back and forth between [name of city 1] and [name of city 2] and took up a lot of my time and energy, my commitments ended up piling up in an unexpected way, which caused me to fall a little behind and miss the deadline. I nonetheless worked diligently to catch up and ended up managing to submit what I think you’ll agree is a high quality project the next day.

Thanks for your consideration. I hope you understand my anxiety and do not think less of me for making this request. In this difficult period when students like me are facing an uncertain job market and other unusual difficulties related to the COVID-19 crisis, we could use a bit of leniency.

Regards,

ZYX

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    This line jarred for me "But I wonder if you considered that such a high penalty may be unreasonably harsh?" - It seems a bit confrontational. Perhaps something like "I was hoping there might be some scope for leeway" – Valorum Apr 16 at 20:10
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    @Valorum yes, it’s clear that I’ve forgotten how to speak like a true grad student. – Dan Romik Apr 16 at 20:31
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    I wonder if mentioning that this will bring down OP's GPA would be a plus. Some professors might stop reading there and assume OP cares more about grades than learning and dismiss the request. – The Hagen Apr 16 at 22:06
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    @DanRomik - To me if feels like you're questioning his judgement. "Hey, don't you think you're being capricious and stupid?" – Valorum Apr 17 at 6:49
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    This wouldn't move me much. However if there was a hint of asking whether there is a possibility of doing an extra assignment or doing something more in order to regain the lost score, I'd be more inclined to bend the rules. I mean, If I was the student, I'd try to argue if I could do another assignment to get the score. If the professor was to waive completely he'd be doing wrong to all the other students. But letting a student have a do-over upon request would be within tolerable moral limits, IMHO. – Stian Yttervik Apr 17 at 7:59
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I'm going to guess that you won't be able to convince them, no matter what you say. I think the rule that they imposed is very strict, but not unreasonable. They may have done so as a goad to get you to work early and often on assignments, rather than to let things go to the last moment. They may have done it simply to aid their own workflow in grading and giving feedback.

You can ask, and give the reasons. State them honestly. You can ask for an exception. You'd be more likely to get a one time exception than a general change in policy. But the prof would be doing you a favor in that case and you'd have to recognize it as such.

But, you made your own decisions to take on a workload that may have been to heavy for the conditions. Since those decisions were yours to make, it isn't the responsibility of others, including this prof, to get you out of the consequences.


I was once in a similar situation and wound up needing to drop a course to get back to a more reasonable work load. It required a favor from the dean who was, fortunately, inclined to grant it.

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    it was only a day late, – programmer Apr 16 at 13:35
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    @programmer Feels to me that the policy is pretty explicitly designed to cover cases that are "only a day late" - since you were only a day late you get -20%, if you were three days late you would get -60% off. I'm not saying it's a particularly lenient policy, but I feel "it was only a day" will not impress this specific professor much. – xLeitix Apr 16 at 14:59
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I'm going to go against the flow here and say it's likely not worth drafting a letter to your professor asking for a reduced penalty:

  • However you phrase it, it easily comes across as "needy" to me and so may negatively impact the professor's opinion of you;
  • Your circumstances aren't exceptional (essentially boiling down to "I was busy so didn't have enough time");
  • 20% per day actually seems rather lenient to me (we had a strict 0% policy for any late submission without an exceptional excuse.)

I've received a few requests like this from students in the past - the answer was almost always "no", and for better or worse, it made them seem desperate and/or lazy. (Of course, exceptions for situations such as "my father passed", "I was admitted to hospital", etc.)

Where you might receive more leeway is if you contact the professor well in advance of the deadline, demonstrate that you're working on the problem, say that you'll struggle to finish in time and ask if there's anything that can be done. This puts across the impression of "I'm trying but really struggling, what should I do?" rather than "I didn't work hard enough and submitted late, could you maybe get rid of that penalty pretty please?" - and most reasonable professors would want to help you out in the first situation.

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    You seem to miss the point that this professor is not you. Many profs accept the requests (especially since Covid is an exceptional suggestion) and you do not really point out why it could be a disadvantage to write such a letter. From your answer, it seems like the only thing lost when writing a letter is a small amount of time. Also, the one who judges if the circumstances are exceptional is the prof, not we on the Internet (as we do not have enough information on the situation). – user111388 Apr 17 at 11:08
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I think you have a unique "opportunity" with the pandemic: True reason for being late or not, it is an extraordinary situation. Your professor may feel they can make an exception this semester without violating sacred principles.

One thing which would convince me was if the whole class/course would write a polite request that late penalties were suspended under these extraordinary circumstances. I don't know how many students are in your course, and if anybody else was late. But I would try to contact everybody (including punctual submitters!) and write a common letter detailing the problems which you all faced and stating that you all scrambled, and some simply had it easier with setting up home office, commuting etc.

Including everybody would make it more palatable to the professor because they might conceive a waiver as an unjust advantage of those who could not manage their time well. If everybody is OK with that it's easier to relax their principles just once under these extraordinary circumstances.

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Your professor has good reasons for their late submission penalties.

Employment demands timely delivery, even when the work is tough. Lateness has real consequences, projects and relationships can be ruined. Sometimes negotiation is possibly; other times it is not.

Exploiting current events for personal gain may pay off, but not without cost. Other avenues should be sought, overtime considered.

An unanticipated or uncommon personal situation might merit delayed delivery. For instance, a prestigious, honourable activity on-top of a usual workload.

A combination of current events and a personal situation might also merit delay.

In the words of George Davis, Tell It Like It Is.

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    I think the appeal to academic policy as preparation for employment is particularly weak here. In many careers, a delay in a deliverable will be noticed or even anticipated long before the deadline, which can be shifted to accomodate, as deadlines are rarely as immutable as academia presents them to be. Let alone the simple fact that employment rarely involves the requirement to find both energy and free time at home to complete significant amounts of work, as most work is done during dedicated paid time. While it is a reason for late submission penalties, I wouldn't call it a good reason. – Klaycon Apr 16 at 20:38
  • @Klaycon Spot on! I'd fully anticipated your comment. That's why I wrote: projects and relationships can be ruined and that sometimes negotiation is possibly; other times it is not. As for employment rarely involves the requirement to find both energy and free time at home to complete significant amounts of work, that really depends on your job. Many will strongly disagree with you. Similarly for dedicated paid time, many work well beyond contracted hours. – user2768 Apr 17 at 7:15
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    @user2768: Please note that in many couuntries,working beyond contracted hours is against the law and not something people should be taught as a good thing. – user111388 Apr 17 at 16:29
  • @user111388 I didn't suggest breaking the law. Regardless, contracted hours may be unbounded for practical purposes. Specifically for academia: I've never known a academic to record nor cap their hours. – user2768 Apr 20 at 10:43
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You need to get out in front of things. Acceptable reasons for a waiving of late penalties after the fact are usually limited to personal illness, serious illness or death in the family, or some other serious unexpected incident.

Other work commitments, commuting, picking up children from school, time for studying, etc. are expected situations for students. It is completely unreasonable to ask after the fact for a waiver of your late penalties for any of these reasons. You haven't failed your assignment, so let this 20% penalty teach you about your own personal capacities.

Now asking before the assignment is due is another matter. If you are having trouble keeping up, especially with unprecedented events like the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools will have rules allowing for extensions. So get in front of this: consider all of your subjects and their assessments. If there are any that are bunched together (for example if you have a week with 3 major things due in it) then it's quite plausible that you can get an extension for one or more. You should ask both your lecturers and your school's dean of studies/student department/etc, so that they can coordinate extensions between different subjects. Or you may be able to withdraw from a subject without academic penalty. But there's no guarantee that flexibility will be granted to you. Your problems aren't unexpected.

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The penalty is set for some good reason, or at least the professor who set it must think so. However, the penalty is reasonable because of some assumptions work, and those assumptions are likely to work for all students, because if they weren't, the professor would have changed the deadline for all students after some of them asked in time.

Therefore, if you are going to request a change for you and not for the other students, you need to explain why the assumptions on which the penalty is based don't hold for you, and just telling that you are a good student is not going to do the word.

Furthermore, you are asking for an extension when the deadline has already passed. Then, in addition to give a good reason you need to explain why that reason was unforeseeable.

And last but not least, such a hard penalty seems a reaction with the professor not wanting students being late with excuses, probably as a reaction to past experiences. That means that the excuse needs to be very good and very well documented.

And Covid-19 alone doesn't seem to be a good excuse, but documented days of hospitalisation may be, or being unexpectedly confined without a computer or a pencil too.

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