When I wrote my syllabus for this term, I added the line "Late work will not be accepted." In the past, I just took off a large percentage of the grade per day, but I became tired of the added work of managing papers that students handed to me at random times and places.

The students, naturally, complain this policy too harsh, especially when some larger projects are worth 25% of their grade. I searched the Internet to try to establish what the norm is. I found many syllabi from famous universities, but found very few even list any policies at all.

Is "no late work" a typical rule?

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    As a student, I had a number of courses which did not accept late submissions at all. I also had courses which had similar rules to what you've done previously, deducting points for late work, and other courses with other different policies besides. I see nothing wrong with a "no late work" policy that is clearly stated in the syllabus. (I was an undergraduate in Texas.)
    – Brian S
    Mar 25, 2014 at 17:57
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    Yes, it is very common. For examples you can try Google queries like "no late work will be accepted" site:harvard.edu. Mar 25, 2014 at 20:00
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    @Joshua I have a hard time seeing what would qualify as "insane" in what the OP proposed.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:36
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    In industry, late work could cause serious consequences such as huge financial loss. You are doing your students a big favor by imposing no late work policy so that they learn this precious lesson as early as possible if they are going to work in industry after graduation.
    – Nobody
    Mar 26, 2014 at 2:28
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    Is “no late work” a common policy? It should be. Mar 26, 2014 at 7:10

21 Answers 21


One issue not covered by the many good answers is proportionality.

There's nothing wrong with having firm deadlines and sticking to them, or allowing a grace period with corresponding deductions, and so on. But it's your job as lecturer to make sure the 'punishment fits the crime'. If you have a zero-tolerance late policy and a short time window for a hard assignment that counts for a lot of points, then the policy is disproportionately harsh even if it's fair and clearly stated. I bring this up because you mentioned assignments/projects that carry upto 25% of the grade.

This is partly why I use a sliding scale late policy, where students can turn in things late, but lose a percentage of their score for each day they're late, upto a week for a 2-week assignment at which point they earn nothing. If you wish to have firm deadlines for a project that accounts for a large portion of the grade, then you might consider creating intermediate deadlines to break up the penalty. This way, students can learn the consequences of missing deadlines without facing huge penalties. It is also more robust to unforeseen events that no one can control.

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    Codified rules are good. They don't preclude you from being accomodating of special situations. Say a student approaches you well before the deadline and has valid reason to be late (illness, tragedy, ...). This might be obvious to many, but maybe it needs to be said. (Also, I challenge that university attendees should be forced to do anything. Give them material, give them offers for support, and then the exam. Those who can not motivate and organise themselves should fail. Unfortunately, that point of view is not economically (US et al) and/or politically (EU et al) opportune.)
    – Raphael
    Mar 25, 2014 at 18:52
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    True. What I meant to say was that the OP mentioned zero tolerance AND lots of points. Then a short time window is the last piece that turns this into an unfair policy.
    – Suresh
    Mar 25, 2014 at 20:18
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    One percentage point per day is not enough IMO. I like multiplier = 0.90 ^ (days late), which is 100%, 90%, ~81%, ~73%, ~66%, ~59%, ~53%, ~48%... but never quite gets to zero. Mar 25, 2014 at 23:21
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    @Joshua And those rules apply in special circumstances.... There is a huge difference IMO between allowing a repeat due special circumstances and allowing late work...Note that students complaining that late work is not accepted is not the same as "in special circumstances" late work is not accepted......
    – Nick S
    Mar 26, 2014 at 1:13
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    I've never taken a class where we were directly punished for showing up for an exam late. The punishment was always implicit and proportional (if you show up late, you have less time to finish; the later you are, the less time you get). Mar 26, 2014 at 15:23

Disclaimer: I am a student in Central Europe (Computer Science), but an enthusiastic one ;)

"No late work" rules are common for both courses with many (>100) and with few participants. Usually, there will still be a couple of students trying to get a deadline-extension, but in my experience this number is far smaller if you make the "no late work" rule clear to everyone.

Just keep in mind that students have other work besides your course and make sure that there's enough time to do the assignment. I don't really see the point to give less than two weeks - if a student falls ill for a couple of days or is otherwise occupied, a second week will give him or her the chance to nevertheless produce a good solution.

Even for regular homework assignments, I think that giving the students two weeks time will result in far better hand-ins: they can ask questions/request clarifications one week after the assignment was published in the lecture.

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    +1 for "make sure there's enough time." Even for a short assignment, don't assume that I can find an hour in the next two days to complete it.
    – ff524
    Mar 25, 2014 at 16:17
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    "I don't really see the point to give less than two weeks." One possible point is that students retain much more from a lecture if they do a follow-up assignment as soon as possible after the lecture -- two weeks later is almost as bad as two months later. Mar 25, 2014 at 16:41
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    @MarkMeckes If you want the follow-up assignment to immediately follow the lecture, make it an in-class assignment. Otherwise, don't assume that students should be able to rearrange their schedules to accommodate your tight deadline, however well-intentioned.
    – ff524
    Mar 25, 2014 at 16:51
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    @ff524: I don't expect my students to rearrange their schedules, I expect them to arrange their schedules around the classes they're taking. Mar 25, 2014 at 17:25
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    @Raphael We were often forced into those two days due to projects for other classes. In my experience, professors seem to like to assume that they're the only ones that give homework, and assign due dates accordingly, not taking into account we have stuff to do for other classes as well.
    – Izkata
    Mar 25, 2014 at 19:40

I am sure this varies between lecturers/courses; some universities may have more or less stringent policies but none that I have seen. In my own surroundings, a deadline used to be a deadline. This has softened over time due to many circumstances. Lecturers/teachers are more stressed and enforcing deadlines inevitably involves more work; students seem to find more and more excuses for not being on time. It is hard to point the finger in one or the other direction.

It is, however, interesting to think about the fact that deadlines are still deadlines in society. If you do not send in your tax report in time you are fined; if yo do not pay your bills you are "fined" etc. More critically, if you cannot finish a work task on time you may lose out on salary increases promotion or even lose a job, the latter particularly if you run your own business. So learning to cope with deadlines is important yet it seems to not be prioritized.

So what can be done? Key is to be very clear on what will happen from the start. If you make assessment criteria you can state that a late task means fail/zero points or whatever the perspective is. At the same time you can say that for a larger task, points will be deducted or grade lowered a step at a time after each time period the work is late. My former advisor gave all of us the option of being late but told us that points will be deducted. It was up to us to judge if we would benefit from being late (Better answer gave more points than was deducted for being late). This fostered some form of responsibility where you as a student had the power to decide.

So I do not think that it is difficult to impose rules for lateness that allows students to assess the effects of being late. Learning is of course about learning a subject but it is also about learning to function in society (in the work place) and that involves developing work standards that are good. So when imposing rules that involve lateness, it is also important to make the rules very clear and also to provide suggestions for what you perceive as a good work ethic/schedule to pass the tasks well, i.e. provide the students with enough information to also see what will not work. If you fail to do so the lateness effects may only seem as punishment.

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    +1 for So learning to cope with deadlines is important yet it seems to not be prioritized. Mar 25, 2014 at 16:28
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    True, though if you don't pay your bills, you're fined, you aren't generally immediately sent to collections or thrown in jail. If you don't send in your tax report on time, you have to deal with bureaucracy, fill out a bunch of papers, and probably won't get your refund very quickly, but you will still generally get it eventually. Learning to deal with deadlines is definitely good, but still, the real world isn't usually "turn it in on time or you're just completely screwed with no recourse", either.
    – neminem
    Mar 25, 2014 at 18:44
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    @neminem ... but losing a significant amount of points isn't exactly "being screwed with no recourse" either. It's exactly what you mentioned for the other examples - it's quite bad, and you would generally want to avoid it, but it's not the end of the world if it happens.
    – xLeitix
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:39
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    As I understand it, there are a lot of career paths (e.g. medical school) where having a single 'C' on a college transcript is an automatic and irrevocable disqualification. And if you have a 'no late work' policy and individual assignments worth 25% of the grade, you're talking about giving an otherwise perfect student a 'C'. Mar 27, 2014 at 8:11
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    @DanielMcLaury And if the students shows up late for the exam, you are also giving an otherwise perfect student a "C"... If the assignments for a class are worth 25%, then they should be a higher priority for that student than a 10% assignment... And we are speaking about probably multiple assignments worth 25%, being late once is not the end of the world... Being late always would be an issue, but then would you really want to accommodate that student?... And since you brought up medical school, would you want the student which is always late to be your heart surgeon?
    – Nick S
    Mar 27, 2014 at 14:01

I would say that in general it depends. If assignments are going to be happening regularly or are kind of a hard mathematics course (think calculus, differential equations...) then I think the no late work policy is valuable. This is particularly true if you plan to post a solution to the assigned problems shortly afterwards.

On the other hand in a class that I teach most of the assignments are more project oriented. As a result they will take longer than a normal assignment, and they are also far more open-ended (a solution from student A may look nothing like solution from student B, but they may both be completely valid). As a result the approach that some students use may lead them to take longer on an assignment than others. I use a sliding scale as discussed above; Typically I allow 1 week grace where each day costs a few percentage points, and after that the assignment is not accepted.

as for pros and cons,


  • students seem to like the flexibility, sometimes many of their assignments are due in one or two days and this allows some buffering (at a cost)
  • with a digital submission like blackboard the late grading is very easy to do
  • assignments appear to have more work put into them, instead of students doing the bare minimum they tend to explore their solutions more


  • since introducing the policy some students tend to turn in homework later (typically 1-3 days)
  • some students treat the final deadline (1 week late) as the deadline, so a limited number of students will turn in their homework late consistently

Overall I am happy with the solution though, and I would suggest offering a slight grace period where it doesn't make your life too difficult. The main approaches that I've seen being either % off per day, or x number of free late days for the class.

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    +1 for "if you plan to post a solution to the assigned problems shortly afterwards," which seems to be an issue not addressed by the other answers. Mar 26, 2014 at 10:35

As an undergrad computer science/philosophy major at a top 10 school in the United States, I would say that 90% of the classes I have taken have had a no late work policy. Particularly after the end of freshman year, it's understood that you need to get your work in on time.

However, it's usually understood in these classes that there is still the option to ask the professor for an extension, which will almost certainly be granted in cases of illness, etc, unless the class is just too large/has an automated grading system (checkouts of code on a particular date from SVN, for example) that prevents this. The late policy covers the case where a student just doesn't hand in his or her work when it's due and says nothing to his or her professor, and there is really no excuse for that.


I think it depends a lot on the culture and the institution. In America, er, a decade or two ago, I remember there was usually some penalty for late work at the Universities I and my friends attended, but "no credit for late work" was rare. However when I was at university in England, there were no penalties for late work in any of my classes. Even very late work was not considered a problem. Personally, I found that having all the time I needed to do the work, resulted in me being far more productive (if not as timely, but no one cared about that), and doing much more interesting and better writing, as well as not abusing my sleep by staying up all night.

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    I find the last part interesting, as typically when one is late on an assignment it results in less time for the following assignments... And then you get no better writing and more abusing sleep..
    – Nick S
    Mar 27, 2014 at 12:32
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    Ah but if no assignments have punitive deadlines, that doesn't need to happen. My overall amount of work done went up by a lot, actually, as I would actually spend several productive days working on a paper, revising it, turning it in when I was happy with it. So it didn't create a backlog - it just had me feeling no deadline pressure or resentment, and doing the work when I was ready and had thought of something interesting to write about, instead of stressing and resenting the deadline and doing something at the last minute, losing sleep, etc.
    – Dronz
    Mar 28, 2014 at 20:47
  • I highly doubt that any instructor would accept assignments long after the final examination. Typically the final exam is a hard punitive deadline for all the assignments... Which means that the total time you can spend on all the assignments is the same, no matter how deadlines are set... It is an illusion that with no strict deadline, you get more time for all assignments, but this is a very popular thought among the students... The reality is that you only get extra time if you start the assignments late... If you have 2 weeks for an assignment but you only start it a day or two before ..
    – Nick S
    Mar 28, 2014 at 22:28
  • ... the deadline, yes by extensions one actually gets more time and less abusing sleep. But exactly the same result can easily be accomplished by starting the assignment 2-3 days earlier... Or, and some of my students are shocked when I tell them this, one should simply start the assignment 2 weeks before the deadline as one is expected.
    – Nick S
    Mar 28, 2014 at 22:29
  • Have you heard the expression, "what we resist, persists?" Do you think the shock of a student hearing that they could start assignments early is about not having heard it before, or about having to be punished into learning the truth of that obvious statement? I think the suffering and head-butting around deadlines comes from the power conflict in the situation. It's not about learning the obvious truth of when things could be done, and it doesn't have to be a stressful power struggle, and when it's not about that, it can be about much more interesting things.
    – Dronz
    Mar 29, 2014 at 20:23

I have never seen a no late work policy; on the contrary, most of the classes I have taken/TAed accepted late work and took off no credit when the amount of time late was reasonable (1 or 2 days if you were asking questions / professor knew you were working on it.) This is probably due to the fact that most of my classes have had 5-10 students in them; the classes that I have taken with 20+ students have all accepted late work with a similar penalty as the one you described.

The question follows: Do you want every students best work, or do you want every students best work within a very strict time frame? If an assignment is difficult, and not just time heavy, it might be worth relaxing a no late work policy in my opinion.

It is entirely possible to have a hybrid, in which weekly assignments are not accepted late but larger assignments can be late with penalty.

  • 4
    "Do you want every students best work, or do you want every students best work within a very strict time frame?" I want students to learn as much as possible from the course. Research on learning has shown that students retain more from a lecture if they do follow-up work as soon as possible after the lecture, regardless of how well they do on that work. Mar 25, 2014 at 16:46
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    @Mark Meckes: and is that difference large enough to offset learning less from the work itself because it has to be done at a more likely unsuitable time?
    – Mark
    Mar 26, 2014 at 15:27
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    @Mark: Based on studies I've seen, yes. Mar 26, 2014 at 15:51

I specify a due date, but have a 48 hr, no questions asked, grace period. If a student gets an assignment in by the due date, I give a small amount of extra credit (typically 0.25 pts added to his or her final percentage*). I do not accept assignments after the grace period. I never get complaints about this policy.

* I don't round final percentages. Students are in charge of their own rounding by getting the extra credit for turning in assignments by the due date


I've always been a student that turned in HW late, and it varies widely depending on the professor. In general, I have found the humanities departments the most harsh about deadlines. The natural science classes are more lenient, with some professors clearly stating that they will accept late HW with a deduced grade. Others will accept late HW unofficially before they return graded HWs to students, and yet others will work with you more flexibly. There hasn't been a single professor of mine that hasn't accepted at least some late HW from me.

As a TA, I fully accept late HW, with no deadlines, and likewise return the HWs to students late (you can call it a "suggested deadline"). My teaching principles are fairly libertarian, and my students tend to learn a lot during the semester. That's what I care about. The only time I care about HWs and examinations is to see whether I'm doing an effective job at what the students' pay me to do, which is teach them. It's only fair to examine the students to see if I'm failing them.

It's appalling to see professors demand of their students, who, just in case anyone forgot, pay the professors' salaries, demand of their students to learn a certain way within a definite deadline. Nothing in my experience has been more detrimental to my learning. I've gained the most out of classes that allowed me to turn in HW late.

Just in case anyone thinks that students who fail to "respect" deadlines are intrinsically procrastinators, I declare that it was quite the contrary in my case. The reason I submitted HWs late was to ensure I read the whole relevant text before attempting the HW. I wanted to know exactly what I was doing when I solved a problem, rather than use "ad hoc" methods to get something that resembles the correct answer. Moreover, I would often find a passage in a text that interested me, so I would pursue the topic and do some research. Sometimes this "research" would take a week out of my time, but I learned more from the self-driven pursuits than all the professor-imposed, who was paid by me to teach me, HW combined.

It's time we do away with harsh grading policies and strict deadlines, because I don't know a single person who has ever learned that way.

On the other hand, I do know a lot of wage-slaves, also known as employees at major companies, who rent their bodies to their masters; and the masters certainly will demand of their subjects to have work done on time and subject themselves to meaningless evaluations by authoritarian figures. That isn't the environment in which people can learn and discover; that sounds more like mines, sweat-shops, and assembly line to me. Unless one wants to impose an assembly-line education, which is what's common in USA universities these days, I'd advise against serious deadlines.

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    their students, who, just in case anyone forgot, pay the professors' salaries — Incorrect. My salary is paid by the state, not from tuition income. (I do not accept late homework, even for illness or injury. I do, however, forgive homework under extenuating circumstances, so that the student's grade is unaffected. And I'm happy to give feedback on anything.)
    – JeffE
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:40
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    Yes, but so do I. And so do their future employers.
    – JeffE
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:44
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    @TheLateGreat you don't purchase learning. you pay for the time and expertise of people who've spent a long time studying the topic you're learning. If you want to buy your education, you can always buy a degree. But then it won't have much value.
    – Suresh
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:46
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    Sometimes, "staggering consistency" = "correct". I should add though that I've seen courses (often, mathematically oriented ones) dole out homework that has no deadlines and merely needs to be turned in by the end of the semester. The problem is then that the homework fails as a diagnostic tool to identify student weakness and misconceptions that could have been rectified if detected early.
    – Suresh
    Mar 25, 2014 at 22:47
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    This is what worked best for you. Other students may find (in the long run) that a lack of firm deadlines would be a detriment to their learning; for instance, it gives them the option of putting off work until they've forgotten how to do it. I understand your point of view, but I don't think you can claim that it's the one right way to do things. Mar 25, 2014 at 23:17

My problem with a "no late work" policy is that it disincentivizes learning. If a student forgets an assignment or can't quite finish it in time, they no longer have any reason to learn the material; they get no credit for learning it because they cannot turn it in late. Because of this, I favor a 10% or even 20% per day penalty as oppose to a no late work policy.

I also think the "prepare students for the real world" argument is invalid. In the real world, if you miss a deadline for something (work deadline, tax filing, etc.) you will get punished somehow, but you likely still have to complete the work; it doesn't just disappear. Also, preparing the students for the real world is a secondary goal at best. Helping students learn the material should always come before preparing them for the real world. Internships and first jobs are much more suited for preparing for the real world.

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    Aren't doing better on the final exam, doing better in followup courses, doing better in job interviews, doing better on the job, and "gee my mom and dad paid all this tuition money so I'd better get something out of it" reasons to learn the material?
    – JeffE
    Mar 28, 2014 at 5:41
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    So, college students are known for being great planners with lots of well thought out long term goals who rarely make poor decisions...? Don't pretend like rewards months/years down the road are of the same value to students as instant rewards. Also, for gen-ed courses, almost none of what you mentioned applies. How can you motivate a CS major to learn more about chemistry? Well, you can start by not disincentivizing them with a silly grading system.
    – MikeS
    Mar 28, 2014 at 17:31
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    College students are adults.
    – JeffE
    Mar 29, 2014 at 3:48
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    That's exceedingly dismissive and I'd say flip to sweep this and so much else under the rug with "he's/she's an adult". Are you going to hold me to your arbitrary standards even though I'm not even considered legally competent among other things? And even if I were, what you said is inappropriate for a great many people, probably a quarter, for any number of other reasons. Aug 9, 2015 at 6:16

I remember an answer I once got for a piece of work handed in a few minutes late (and rejected):

How can you have nothing ready for 30 days and then suddenly have something in the last few hours?

In fact, I had been working on it the whole time, trying to constantly improve it, despite the fact that I had a working solution early on. Waiting was a mistake and helped me learn to prioritise.

So welcome be hard deadlines, they teach planning and prioritisation, and save examiner time.


As an undergraduate, I have had a few classes like this, but if it's a class with lots of HW assignments, usually the professor will grant extensions if you ask; sometimes there are also a set number of "late days" that students can use, so maybe you can do that so that the volume of late submissions is reduced, or just take 50% off for one day and 100% off for more than one (that way I doubt many people would ever submit late).

I just want to make it clear that any professor should, of course, always grant extensions in the event of an emergency (family emergency / illness); to do otherwise is, well, barbaric.

Edit: I don't think you're obliged to give full credit if there was no extenuating emergency circumstance (e.g. illness) and the student didn't ask you beforehand. If they thought they might not finish in time, it's definitely their responsibility to tell you that. That said, giving 0% for such a case is also pretty harsh.


I think the focus of teaching should be students' learning, and all policies including late assignment policies should be designed with the goal of improving student learning and experience. A good fair policy would encourage learning and good behavior, a bad unfair one would do the opposite.

I think students generally care too much about grades, it is important to refocus them as much as possible on learning. Assignments, tests, and grades are tools for teachings not goals of teaching.

The hard deadline policy is common but I think it is also a common experience of instructors that it doesn't work well. It is important to think about why it is so, if we understand why hard deadlines do not work well then we can design better policies.

In my experience, the followings are the main reasons for missing deadlines in most cases (roughly based on the justifications my students gave me when asking for extensions in my previous courses):

  1. Technical difficulties: small unexpected submission difficulties, i.e. they have finished assignments but they were unable to submit it before deadline, e.g. they lost power just before deadline.

  2. Procrastination: Considerable number of students leave working on assignments to the last minute. They are also not good with estimating the time they need to finish assignments. So they go over deadline.

  3. Special cases: events beyond students' reasonable control prevented them from finishing assignments, e.g. serious illness.

Of course we would not want to penalized students for the 3rd reason. But we should also try to help those in the first two groups.

One common alternative to hard deadlines is having grace days, but it has a too high administrative overhead in my opinion, and it doesn't really work much better. They will use up their grace days and then go over deadline. If we give them a grace day for all assignments then we are essentially shifting deadlines in their minds.

After discussions with a few more experienced instructors I switched to something similar to Suresh's policy for my last course and it worked quite well. There was almost no serious complaint. Here is the policy I used:

1% penalty for every 30min after the deadline.

First, it is easy to implement. I use an online submission system so it is quite easy to compute and apply these penalties using time-stamps for latest submissions, it is a simple script.

Second, it is effective way of helping the first two groups. This policy gives them two extra days after the deadline if they really need. Most late submissions miss the deadline by a small amount of time. Being essentially a continuous linear penalty function it makes sure the penalty is proportional: a student who goes over the deadline a few minutes doesn't loose too much points. I give students typically 2 weeks for submitting assignments. I don't think it makes sense to give more that 2 extra days. Too many days and too soft penalty will essentially shift assignment deadlines in their minds and cause further procrastination. The hourly lateness penalty creates a sense of urgency that daily penalty would not. I had around 100 students and they seldom went over a few hours. I also put deadlines on Friday evenings. Students who don't like doing assignments hate to spend their weekend on them. Student who submit their assignments on time do not have to worry and spend their weekend working on assignments, this adds an extra incentive for them to finish it by deadline, or if not possible with as little lateness as possible. In addition, it also makes sure that the following week we can focus on our topic without them worrying about assignments.

To deal with the 3rd group I don't use my late assignment policy, I use an special consideration policy. If a student misses an assignment deadline with a good reason, e.g. serious illness supported by medial documents, I apply my special consideration policy to accommodate them e.g. I may move the points for the assignment to other assignments.


I think the appropriateness of such a policy depends on the class and the students within it, and even when it exists, I'd consider flexing it for extraordinary circumstances.

For example, I once had a student who turned in late work because they were called up to respond to a national emergency. Is that really something I should have savaged their grade for, even if generally the class had a pretty strict deadline policy (because I was trying to turn grades around fast)?


As an undergrad engineering/computer science alum, I will say that I am biased towards having a late policy. Scale the assignment difficulty appropriately to account for "extra" time at a penalty and codify the policy to be clear and non-negotiable, ie 10% off per day. The other option is to tell students late assignments are not accepted, but extend deadlines appropriately based on student feedback. The goal remains the same: maximize participation.

The reason I support this is pedagogical. It is not to account for students being irresponsible. It is to attract more students to complete an assignment, allowing them to be methodical and calculating with their learning experience while ultimately maximizing the value they receive from a course.

The goal with college classes, from a pedagogical view, is to maximize turnout and participation. These are solid measures indicating that students are learning and that the college experience is economically valuable. If there is a no late assignment policy and 25% of students received a zero or extremely low mark for being unable to "complete" on time, we have an issue that could potentially be fixed with a course policy change. So I argue that it is better to have a late penalty while scaling content difficulty appropriately.

I was exceptionally busy during my senior year, taking the max amount of credits where all classes were advanced level/difficult. I recall one class where the policy was no late assignments. This was a very difficult programming class. I was on the wire for time, and pulled repeated all-nighters to complete an assignment for this course- right past the due date. I was very stubborn and I refused to just give up, although in the back of my mind I considered the high likelihood I would receive a zero. It ended up being accepted with no penalty and I received a high grade where the average grade was significantly lower.

Many would say this is not fair. But from my perspective, I learned more actually doing the assignment rather than being defeated - the alternative fate would have been to cease all work and receive a zero had the policy been uncompromising. As someone who is a perfectionist- I prefer not to stop until I know I have produced something that is robust and meets all requirements- this hits home even more for me. I believe that from a learning standpoint, accepting late assignments is far more likely to result in higher quality education. If a late penalty makes a course "easier", scale the content appropriately. Or surprise the students on a case by case basis at the instructor's discretion.

The goal is to get as many students as possible in a course to give a best effort attempt on an assignment given a variety of schedules, circumstances and uncertainty in the assignment itself. If after some date they receive a zero you will always chop off a number of students who can do the assignment with more time, and would with the opportunity, even with dramatic penalty.

  • 1
    And if the policy had been "no late work", then instead of just handing in what you had, you would have done nothing? Be realistic. You wouldn't have been "defeated", you would simply have handed in something that wasn't as good as it could have been if you'd had more time. Which is kind of a common situation to be in throughout your life.
    – jalf
    Mar 29, 2014 at 11:40
  • That is sometimes true and sometimes not. In that particular case I would have failed the assignment completely. I consider that defeat. It is actually not as common a situation as you may think. Very rarely in life do you need to complete something, once, before a certain date or face failure. Things we do at work don't just disappear once a certain day passes; it just gets deferred until a later date. The point is that handing in something that isn't as good as it could have been is bad. The goal is to get as many students to hand in their best work as possible. Is that so far-fetched?
    – trueshot
    Mar 30, 2014 at 7:48
  • no, if that was the goal, you wouldn't have deadlines at all. It is up to the student how much work they want to put in before the deadline. Universities are not obligated to coddle you. And you're still hung up on the (wrong) mindset that "if it is not perfect, then it might as well not exist". In real life, people do not just "defer" the task you've been working on if you exceed the deadline. Instead, you just have to make do with what you've got. You, not I, are the one pretending that things just disappear if you can't perfect them before the deadline. They don't.
    – jalf
    Mar 30, 2014 at 10:32
  • But please enlighten me as to how it is "fair" that you get a full grade for breaking the rules. You were supposed to do X before date Y. By your own admission you were unable to do that, and would have failed the course if they hadn't been lenient. Why did you deserve that leniency? You were unable to do what the course required.
    – jalf
    Mar 30, 2014 at 10:35
  • I'm not going to tell you I deserved anything. I am going to tell you that I have personally experienced the benefit of a late policy in courses. Those policies have allowed me to absorb more from a course than what would have been possible without one. The goal for me was always to learn. Forgive my selfish desire to maximize learning. You imply that the goal of a university is to sink as many students as possible, ie no student deserves "leniency". I argue that the goal is to maximize participation. Target any average for a course, but get as many students to try their best as possible.
    – trueshot
    Mar 30, 2014 at 20:01

An important role for a college professor is to prepare the students for the real world. And in the real world, deadlines are firm. You think a customer or an employer cares that you have a "good excuse" for being late? That you "tried"?

Trust me, you'll be doing all your students a favor by accustoming them now to the reality that schedules are unforgiving.


When I was a student, one of the first things we were told was "No late work is accepted. Not even if it is only a matter of seconds. Not even if the printer catches fire or you're snowed in".

My university had previously just subtracted from the grade, and had been warned by the authorities that this was against the rules. So they stopped doing that, and instead enforced a zero-tolerance rule of "respect the deadlines".

And honestly, it worked well. The only requirement is that you make absolutely totally sure that all of your students are aware of these rules! Like I said, it was drilled into our heads on day 1 (and repeated regularly ever since). And it was enforced for the entire Computer Science department, not just for individual courses.

Of course, students can always ask (preferably in advance) to have an agreed-upon extension in special cases (perhaps in case of extended sickness, or whatever else it might be), but if it's just a matter of "I didn't finish in time", then tough luck. You either hand in what you have, even if it is incomplete, or you don't hand it in at all.

Honestly, I kind of think it is the only fair policy. Lowering a student's grade for handing his work in late strikes me as much weirder. Their work should be graded on its quality, and nothing else. "your ability to manage time" should not be part of the curriculum. If two students hand in equally good work, they deserve the same grade.

I think the important point is that being late doesn't mean that you can't hand in your work. It just means that instead of handing it in late, but complete, you hand it in on time, but incomplete. And you get graded on what you handed in.


I don't know about "typical," but I have definitely seen it used. I've taught mostly in design schools where understanding the importance of hitting deadlines is a core part of the training.

Having said that, most instructors are a little more moderate. Some will say students are allowed one late assignment per semester, some will accept any assignment late for half-credit.

My own personal policy was this: As long as you made a reasonable effort to turn an assignment in on time you could always improve your grade on that assignment by resubmitting any time before the end of the semester. If you missed that first deadline, no deal. But if you turned in a project at, say, 25% completion on the day of the deadline and then before the end of the semester managed to get in the remaining 75% you could have full points. But that's just me.

One other thing I go out of my way to say on day 1 is that communication is important. I had a student who didn't show up for class all semester only to tell me two weeks before the end that he'd been caring for an ailing relative. I could have made an accommodation in week one, but what am I supposed to do in week 13?!


The university I attended had a no late work policy, however, some of the modules did allow a 24-hour late work window, but work submitted in this 24 hours was capped at 40% (Minimum pass grade).


I work at a middle-ranking UK university and we have a rule of 5% per day for 5 days then zero. I think it becomes counted as a cost by some students. "No late work without a doctor's cert", providing everyone knows well in advance, seems as fair as any other, what with the deadline being part of the test.


Your students have the reasonable right to expect you to operate the policies decided by your department. Whilst I have every sympathy with the notion of 'a minute late = no marks' providing exceptional circumstances are accounted for, it's really not your decision but rather a decision that should be made by your department and uniformly applied across different courses.

It is unfair on students for your course to operate a different policy to the other courses they are taking because it (a) unfairly requires them to prioritise the work for your course over other courses and (b) it requires them to notice that you've set different regulations. So, whether or not your method has merit, you should adopt the same system as other courses they are taking.

I'm kind of surprised that your university/department does not already have a formally stated and agreed policy on this.

  • 4
    My department leaves this decision to the individual instructors. As it should. And no, students don't need to notice; instructors just need to tell them.
    – JeffE
    Mar 26, 2014 at 23:29
  • The comment on noticing was based on the assumption that was a general ruling. If every course does things differently then that alters expectations. Mar 27, 2014 at 7:01

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