I wonder what is the best strategy to follow to respond to students who book an appointment with you and do not show up. It is just so un-nice when this happens.

I do not want the student to be upset but at the same time to honour his/her bookings.

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    Is this like booking a slot at office hours (which are open no matter what), or scheduled any time? – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 20 '20 at 16:35
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    What may help is to tell them in the first class that in the past you had students who behaved like this and you didn't like it because of (list reasons). Some people may think that it is no problem as you would sit their and do other things if they don't come. – user111388 Oct 20 '20 at 17:42
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    What country are we talking about? – Mast Oct 21 '20 at 6:06
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    @Tom As an aside, there is the notion of "monochronic vs polychronic time", which influences language, or rather: influences how time agreements are perceived. Tom Scott has a tangent in this video (from 3:06 onwards) on that topic, supporting your point about it being a cultural thing. – orithena Oct 21 '20 at 13:47
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    In defence of the students, they are living in a world where they can do 5 interviews with an employer and then get ghosted, so they don't necessarily think that doing the same to an authority figure is strange or wrong. – Flounderer Oct 22 '20 at 1:54

Back when this was something I had to deal with, I would:

  1. Always have something to do if someone doesn't show up for their appointment, or if their question gets resolved very quickly.

  2. Write brief emails to no-shows along the lines of

Dear X: I'm following up on our appointment today at 14:00. I hope everything is OK with you. Let me know if your question is still relevant and you would like to reschedule. If you answered your own question, I'm glad, but next time I'd appreciate a heads up for scheduling purposes. Ditto if something came up and you just couldn't make it. See you in class tomorrow, I hope!

  1. Get progressively more direct if people missed several appointments, to the extent of refusing to make further appointments (leaving the student the option to come for the office hour I had for appointment-free visits every week).

Note the tone of the email in point 2 is not demanding of an explanation (or indicating a desire to judge whether excuses provided are adequate), but is also openly asking for a change in behaviour, without pulling rank or going passive-aggressive. Generally I got belated apologies and improved future behaviour. And a couple of times the "I hope everything is OK", meant genuinely, surfaced that something pretty dire had happened (where a pure chastising email soliciting an apology would have been cringingly tone-deaf!), including a student on the verge of an emotional breakdown where we were able to get them help.

Now, a couple of decades later, I'd still do the same -- and suspect I've written stuff not too dissimilar in tone to peers and superiors too!

Basically: be frank about what you need to change, don't make an investigation of it, and open the door to empathy.

Editing to add: Comments/other answers have pointed out potential different cultural expectations, and/or that the tone is not optimal if there turns out to have been a real emergency. Regarding the first, agreed: needs to be tempered by cultural norms. But if student behaviour feels outside of local norms, do go ahead and address it. Regarding the 2nd, also true. At the risk of going very math/stats-nerdy, there is a Bayesian prior regarding what caused the missed appointment. My answer assumes the Bayesian prior is fairly flat between emergency, forgetfulness, student self-absorbtion/failure to consider from others' point of view, and overall excessive academic stress. The tone tries to be acceptable and hopefully effective in all these instances. If your Bayesian prior is more heavily weighted to one pole, your optimal tone will change. This includes repeat offenders (where the Bayesian prior weighs more heavily on self-absorbtion), reason to suspect emergencies, etc.

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    Excellent answer. A useful mental framework is that, in this context, you are a member of the service industry (student is paying for education that you are providing). The fact you are also a busy and possibly famous research professor is irrelevant. Focus on providing good service, even to bad customers. – eykanal Oct 21 '20 at 14:11
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    @eykanal: Good point, although in some countries/cultures, students are not perceived as customers. – J W Oct 21 '20 at 14:15
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    @eykanal: Agreed it’s an exemplary answer, but coming from a very different viewpoint. In a teacher-student relationship, the teacher is in a position of power and authority, and that comes with the responsibility to have compassion and empathy for the student and their circumstances. – PLL Oct 21 '20 at 14:25
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    eykanal and PLL, I don't disagree with either of you, but rather than service or power, I personally just view it more as a simple professional collaborative relationship. Get the job (in this case teaching-learning) done; if there's a problem, address it calmly; and assume good faith of one's collaborators, whoever they may be. I recognize that on average the cause of poor behaviour may well be entitlement or careless self-interest, but it is not sufficiently often that I behave with a different assumed explanation in mind, absent evidence to the contrary. – Houska Oct 21 '20 at 16:57
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    @eykanal that’s a great point, with the caveat that I don’t regard a student who misses an appointment to be a “bad customer”. To my perception many students these days are dealing with levels of stress that are far beyond anything I ever experienced as a student, and missed appointment are merely one inevitable outcome. Also it’s not really important from my point of view who pays for the student’s education. Finally, I also agree with the complementary points of view of PLL and Houska. But yes, it’s good to remember that a professor is nothing more than a glorified service provider. :-) – Dan Romik Oct 22 '20 at 3:28

It’s not just students who do this. Every professional I know - doctors, lawyers, professors, psychotherapists etc - regularly has experiences with people who make appointments and don’t show up. I think the best course of action is to accept that this happens and save your energy and outrage for other things. There is no point in contacting the student. They may contact you later to apologize and/or try to reschedule, or they may not; it’s up to them and beyond your control.

At least be thankful that as a professor you don’t lose income when this happens (unlike many other professionals) and are free to use the time to do other useful work. One trick I’ve learned is that when I have an appointment coming up with a student, especially one that I don’t know well, I sometimes prepare in advance some unrelated work to do while I wait for them to show up (usually minor tidbits like sending off some emails), keeping in mind that I could be waiting a lot longer than I expected...

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    If you miss an appointment with a doctor or a lawyer you get charged. Its pretty much the only time a doctor in the UK will send you a bill. If you miss work without an explanation, you lose your job. Actaully, when I was an undergrad my uni would charge student who regularly missed tutorials the cost of the tutor. – Ian Sudbery Oct 20 '20 at 19:22
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    @IanSudbery sometimes you get charged, and in other cases you don’t. I know specific people (including a lawyer and a psychotherapist) who complain about losing income and time from missed appointments. As I was saying, professors (and UK doctors, I guess) are lucky in that regard. And the last thing you said about losing your job is neither here nor there (and also far from being universally true; if it were, 90% of people I know would be unemployed). – Dan Romik Oct 20 '20 at 19:30
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    I don't think "outrage" is called for, but it can also be that the professor's time (travel, perhaps) is wasted. – Buffy Oct 20 '20 at 20:21
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    Good answer. I also set a time at which I switch entirely to other tasks, and let them wait until the task is done. E.g. if they haven't turned up after 15mins (or 10 or 5, your pick, I myself am not that punctual, so 15mins is fine), you switch or leave room or whatever, and if they turn up and I have time and am in a generous mood, I tell them that I will be able to talk to them in half an hour/an hour/etc. That usually discourages regular latecomers. If I get an email beforehand, it's even better. There is always something to do. – Captain Emacs Oct 20 '20 at 22:39
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    @Nzall exactly. Also in the case of doctors, some of them have clients who cannot afford to pay their rates out of pocket, so even sending them a bill won’t achieve much. Insurance won’t cover a missed appointment. – Dan Romik Oct 21 '20 at 13:17

I disagree with the posted answers, asking for an explanation is not necessary, and it would strike me as pretty rude and weird if a professor emailed me back to say "Why didn't you make the meeting?" Especially if I missed it for highly personal reasons. They aren't my parent or mentor.

Give them until the end of the workday or so, and if they haven't apologized or reached out, something appropriate to say would be:


Please give me a heads-up if you aren't able to make your meeting, so that I don't wait too long for you. If you would still like to meet, please (let me know/schedule online).

If the student has a reasonable excuse (got sick, personal emergency), they will likely let you know. Sometimes they'll let you know even if it's unreasonable. If not, they will still have learned their lesson about oversleeping, etc. by understanding they disappointed you and interrupted your day.

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    This is the approach I generally take, but be warned, it has lead to students who become accustomed to there being no consequence for not turning up and become increasingly unreliable. In these situations however, I often just get on with my work, happy for the extra gap in my schedule. – Ian Sudbery Oct 20 '20 at 21:27
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    @IanSudbery Yeah, I would have written a different answer if the question was about chronic lateness. – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 20 '20 at 22:21
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    You ARE their mentor in this context, and you are also metaphorically their parent in a staff student relationship. You may not ask why BUT they have a degree of social contract obligation to tender a reason. – Russell McMahon Oct 21 '20 at 12:25
  • @Russell Well I disagree about the parent metaphor and that all professors are mentors to all undergraduates. But, yes they do, but the Q was about the professor's perspective – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 21 '20 at 13:09
  • My point wasn't that I would do something different if they were chronically late/no-shows (true), but that I think sometimes this approach encourage chronic no-showing (or at least I wonder if I'd taken a harder line to start with, some chronically late/no-show students would be less so). – Ian Sudbery Oct 21 '20 at 17:40


As other answers have suggested it’s good to have another task to be doing in office hours and I choose times when I am likely to be not my most productive anyway. I don’t pay much attention if students don’t turn up. They don’t intend it to be a personal slight, in my experience at least. Some are forgetful, some have difficult lives, and some are just a bit crass. At the end of the day, I’d sooner spend longer with those that do come than chide those that don’t.

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    Yeah, I'd agree: the time invested in doing anything at all is a suboptimal investment of one's time and mental energy. Misguided, akin to trying to correct the behavior of bad drivers on the highway, by gesturing to them, honking, or flashing your headlights. :) – paul garrett Oct 21 '20 at 18:18

Maybe ask for explanation and if it's reasonable then rebook if they still need it and if it's not then ask them to not do that anymore and explain that the time could be used for other more important things.

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    -1. It's not a professor's job to judge whether some excuse is reasonable. Just read the questions here. Somebody's advisor does not believe in depression. Somebody here asked if the death of a girlfriend's mother is a reason to miss class. Somebody here said children's problems are not a reason to miss class because students should not have made children. I can't see what makes a professor qualified to judge reasons. – user111388 Oct 20 '20 at 17:46

It is perfectly reasonable to ask for an explanation and, if necessary, an apology. Some students need to be taught even the simplest social niceties as they are in a new environment initially.

However, you also need to respect the privacy of the student so that a general explanation may be all that can be rightly expected. "Unexpected emergency" can be enough.

And you might even object to a "flip" excuse posing as an explanation or an obviously insincere apology.

But the sword is double edged. If you miss an appointment or are late to one, you should also apologize, of course. But lots of things can be treated as "teaching moments" that aid a person in their future career, even if it isn't "subject related."

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    I can't agree with this answer, it's not a professor's job to cross-examine even a lame excuse. Even in a highly personal relationship, sometimes you just accept a lame excuse once. If it becomes a problem, then have a chat. Asking them to cancel ahead of time, is appropriate though. – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 20 '20 at 16:44
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    @AzorAhai--hehim, the explanation needn't be detailed. "Unexpected personal emergency" is perfectly valid. But it should be honest. – Buffy Oct 20 '20 at 18:20
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    It would be pretty odd, IMO, for anyone to ask for a reason why they missed an appointment, except maybe to say "I hope everything's OK." – Azor Ahai -him- Oct 20 '20 at 22:19
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    @AzorAhai The perceived appropriateness of "cross-examining" a seemingly-dishonest excuse really depends on your personal tolerance for dishonesty and how inclined you are to confront people who wronged you. Taking a more extreme example: would you also consider it inappropriate to (safely) confront someone who punched you? (Ignoring the fact that you may have some legal recourse in that case) – NotThatGuy Oct 21 '20 at 3:17
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    @Buffy But then why are you asking? If everyone only says "personal reasons" then you're not gaining anything by asking. And you're making it really awkward for the students who haven't learned that they can say "personal reasons" instead of "it was coming out both ends". – user3067860 Oct 21 '20 at 15:13

I would just brush it off. If they really need it, they will come back or email you

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    What about the professor's wasted time - they could have gone to somewhere else to do something? What about the professor's anxiety worrying if something happened to the student? – scaaahu Oct 23 '20 at 9:36

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