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How to ask for an extension

Extension = extra time on your assignment. You might need it. Maybe the homework looks impossible, school's busy, or... life. Jump to an email template.

I (and all my friends in high school) never thought to ask for an extension. We just turned things in late or unfinished. After all, why bother?

  1. A few points can mean A LOT. Graduating on time, qualifying for your sports team, going into your final exam relaxed or STRESSED (I need a 206% to get a B).

  2. By proving you want to do better in the class, you and your teacher might gain mutual respect (maybe make non-hostile eye contact sometimes). Class will suck less and they might just be there when you really need help.

  3. You’re more likely to learn something from the assignment since you actually have time to think about it.

  4. Why not give yourself a little more control over what you have to do for school?

Extensions are like... Soup.

You need a few ingredients for a tasty, or, um, successful extension request.

Ingredient #1: Ask in person. Teachers will know you're being genuine and you'll have more respect for each other. If this makes you want to crawl under a desk and hide, you can always send an email instead. Ready to ask?

Ingredient #2: ask BEFORE the due date. If you ask an hour before the work is due, even the nicest teachers will roll their eyes. If you have a strict teacher (you know, the one with one squinty eye who is vocally counting down the years to retirement?), then you’d better give a few-days’ warning. If you’re like “oh, SHIT, my paper is due TODAY (or yesterday, or a week ago),” read this.

Ingredient #3: know how much time you need. You might only get one or two days, but you should always ask for an extension that will actually make a difference. If you need another week, ask for need another week. Be open to negotiating.

Ingredient #4: explain WHY you need it You’ll need reasoning that isn’t too vague and dismissive (“I just need more time”) but that also isn’t a ten-page sob story (“oh my god Mrs. Parker, my dog died last week and my aunt is in the hospital and I’m having a mental health crisis and I have FOUR exams this week and . . .”). If your reason for needing an extension is anything like that, an extension won't save you 24-hour extension. Instead, think about getting some more serious academic support.

Missing some ingredients? We've still got you covered.

I just want to email

Here is a form email you can use to ask your teacher for an extension:

Dear [Mr./Ms./Mrs. teacher last name],

I am writing to ask for an extension on **[assignment name]** due [due date of assignment]. I am behind on this assignment because [1 or 2-sentence explanation of why you need an extension].

I can complete this assignment by [the new due date you want—ideally 1-2 days after the original date].

This extension will give me the time I need to [do my best work OR fully learn the material]. Thank you for considering it, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do!

[Your first and last name]

This is what your email might look like once you fill in the blanks:

Dear Ms. Harrison,

I am writing to ask for an extension on the To Kill A Mockingbird essay due Monday. I am behind on this assignment because I have my regional cross country meet on Saturday and have spent an unusual amount of time this week training. 

I would like to be able to complete the paper by Wednesday morning. I believe this extension would allow me the time I need to do my best work. 

Thank you for considering my request, and please let me know if there’s anything else I can do!

Kind regards,
April Maddigan

How do I ask in person?

Step 1: Find a time to ask that won’t disrupt any classes. Right after class, before or after school, or during the teacher’s planning period are usually the best times.

Step 2: Know what you’ll say. If this is the sort of thing that makes you nervous, then practicing what you’ll say ahead of time can make it easier. Here’s what to cover:

Say that you’d like to request an extension on [this assignment], which is due [at this time]. No need to tiptoe around this—just get to the point.

Give a short explanation of why you need this extension.

Offer a potential new due date. You’re more likely to get a short extension, so asking for 1-2 extra days is usually safest.

Tell them how far along you are with the assignment (if you’ve started), and ask them any questions you have about it.

Step 3: Present yourself as calm and confident. If you’re one of those students who normally slouches through the hallways, rolls their eyes at everything the teacher says, etc., don’t do that. Play the game: you know what it is that teachers want to see (decent posture, eye contact, calm), and you’ve probably seen other students present themselves that way. When you want something from a teacher, it’s worthwhile to pretend for a few minutes that the teacher’s class is important to you. All it is is a game: in return for extra time on your homework, you’re giving the teacher your focus and respect. Read [what if they say no] if you’re worried you might abandon the part when your teacher says something annoying.

What if it's due today (or yesterday? or last week??)

If you’re asking for an extension on the day of, or even later, then you’re coming to a bargaining table with no chips. This is no reason to panic—it just means that you’ll have to work with your teacher differently. Here are three options:

1. Ask your teacher for advice. Talking to your teachers doesn’t have to be a combat situation—in a lot of cases, it’s perfectly reasonable to just explain your situation and ask what you can do to make it better. Be straight with them. Most teachers will recognize that you genuinely want to find a solution, and will meet you on your level.

2. Turn in what you've done so far if you’ve gotten started. Ask for an extension on the rest of it! This gives you a way to bring at least one chip to the table!

3. If the assignment is worth a lot of points, you can ask your teacher to adjust its weight on your final grade. Reactions to this idea will depend on the teacher, but it’s worth a shot if you’re worried about how much a late grade will impact your success in the class. This conversation might look like:


"Success in this class is important to me: I've enjoyed learning the material, and doing well on exams and assignments is rewarding, it lets me show what I know. 
Would it be possible to decrease the # of points/percentage this assignment is worth, and put more weight on [assignment you did well on/hope to do well on]?
Completing this assignment was a high priority, but I couldn't because [short reason, eg "a personal issue" is the minimum you need].”


(If the language is more sophisticated than something your teacher would believe you wrote, make it your own... and add 1-2 typos.)

This class makes no sense

So I’ve looked at this assignment, I’ve thought about it, and I might as well just burn it because the instructions are gibberish.

The fact that you’re browsing through this page means that part of you wants to try the assignment, or that you have no choice. Asking for an extension on homework like this is a good start, but one or two more days won’t magically give you the understanding you need to do it.

So you’ll have to ask for some help.

Luckily, asking for help makes your extension request stronger because it shows your teacher that you’re taking steps to complete it. Of course, there may be that one teacher who’s like “NO! I WON’T HELP YOU!” but lots of teachers like helping students. When you ask for a few extra days, you can say something along the lines of:

“Part of the reason I’m asking for an extension is I’m struggling to complete it. I’ve read it, and I’ve tried this much [remember, you’re allowed to show them your progress before actually turning it in] but I don’t understand . . .”

If your teacher says that they won’t help, damn. It might not be worth flipping over a desk and getting detention. Fingers crossed there's someone else in the building you can ask! If your ELA 9 teacher doesn’t want to help you understand what an "argumentative thesis" is, find another ELA 9 teacher, or the ELA 10 teacher, or the history teacher, or, honestly, the theater kid. Even Khan Academy does English help now.

I don't respect them, they don't respect me

Asking for an extension may seem like a recipe for disaster if you and your teacher operate in entirely different dimensions. Your teacher is in their world, grading homework, maybe being serious all the time, and having the problems of your average taxpayer but not the problems of a 17-year-old. Who’s to say that your teacher will take you and your life seriously? Maybe they’ve even shown their disinterest in the past—your jokes in class are “disruptive” rather than funny, or your nodding off is “disrespectful” rather than just being tired. It’s amazing how many meaningless teacher words start with “dis.”

Anyway, the point is that you have faults (or maybe just a personality) that you think you’d have to “fix” before your teacher respects you enough to give you an extension. This may be the case—it’s always possible that your teacher has a bone to pick and just won’t treat you well no matter how nice or serious you are now. Maybe they’ll laugh or roll their eyes.

But there are two good reasons for your teacher to say yes, even if they find you annoying and reprehensible:

Teachers have way too much work to do. Let’s face it, one of those taxpayer problems is that they have mounds of papers to grade, taxes to file, meeting to attend, etc. If they give you an extension, then they’re giving themselves one too. They won’t have to deal with your homework right away. Plus, having students care about school can make them feel better about all of this, especially if they often get the impression that no one listens to them.

If you ask for an extension seriously (without a cocky grin or the posture of a hunchback), your teacher will get that you’re interested in their class and in learning. Teachers are human. They’ve usually chosen their job because they want to work with students. Asking for an extension on your assignment instead of turning it in late tells them that you want to work with them too.

Also—there’s always the possibility that your teacher will understand.

I had a long-term sub in sixth grade. In my opinion, he had no idea what he was doing. He was supposed to teach us about Southeast Asian history, but all I saw were white PowerPoint slides with paragraphs of black text copy-pasted from the textbook. The only slide that wasn't met with snores was a picture he showed us of a butchered pig. He checked off every no-no in the book: boring classes, unfair grading, an unnecessarily hard test, and a ban on bathroom breaks.

I had absolutely no respect for that teacher. 

If you think you might lose it asking for an extension, you could just write an email. If you’re emailing, you can be careful with your words. and if you need to calm down after reading your teacher’s response, you can do that.

If you’d rather try and talk to your teacher in-person, come prepared: If your teacher says something you don’t like, pretend to think about it. Take a deep breath—count to four on the inhale, six on the exhale. Maybe say “hmm” to keep them from thinking you’re about to lose it.

Or: pretend you’re acting. You and your fellow actor are about to perform a skit. You play the calm and reasonable character who (miraculously) can easily hold in laughter and anger. Your colleague is the idiot. They say stupid things. But, as the calm one, you have to somehow guide your companion to a good conclusion.

Can I talk about mental health?

A very common reason for needing an extension is that you’re struggling with psychological health. It’s also probably the toughest reason, because it doesn’t feel solid—you can’t give your teacher a list of things you have to do this week, or explain why you find the assignment hard, or point to your own or a family member’s physical illness to show that homework isn’t your only priority. Mental health is just that—it’s mental. You can’t hold it. You don’t get a runny nose or a cough. It presents itself as exhaustion, apathy (not caring about anything), basically a heavy gray fog that’s settled into your head.

What’s worse, a lot of people still don’t understand that mental health is real. You might have classmates going around joking about it, or rolling their eyes at any mention of depression or anxiety. Your family might have a “suck it up” attitude. That turns a lonely experience into an even lonelier one, and might make asking for help a terrifying possibility.

True story:
“A hispanic first gen student felt like he couldn't talk about or allude to mental health issues in class. He took an AP class where the teacher was notoriously mean. In a low point for his mental health, he plagiarized an essay. The teacher ripped it up in front of him in class, making him cry. He never cries.”

But remember, if you ask for an extension, you’re asking for help on an assignment. On your workload. Not on your mental health itself. Which means that the explanation you give doesn’t need to go into detail—you just have to give your teacher a vague idea ofwhat they need to know to vaguely understand what’s going on. This explanation is somewhere in between what you might tell a librarian after returning a book late, and what you might tell a police officer after your friend goes missing.

To the librarian, you would say either nothing or “sorry I’m returning this a bit late.” Saying “I’m so sorry, I was halfway through this book when I started crying, and then I didn’t want to read it anymore, but then when I got to page 157 I realized that I had just needed some sleep and that actually I could read the rest of it . . .” would just be weird. A librarian who doesn’t even know your name won’t care about all the struggles that made the book late—they just care that it’s back now.

But if a police officer is asking you questions about your friend who’s gone missing, then they want ALL the details. Not just “we hung out on Tuesday night,” but rather “we met here, then we went there, and we talked about this, and then we did that . . .”

Your teacher needs some explanation, but not a play-by-play account. Here are some lines that might be helpful when asking for an extension.

I’m wondering whether I could take an extra day on this assignment. I’ve been dealing with some mental health difficulties, and I’m having a hard time staying on top of my workload. A little extra time would really help.
I’m wondering whether I could take an extra day on this assignment. I’ve had a really hard time finding the motivation to do my work lately, and I’m a bit behind on some other assignments. A little extra time would really help.

You can keep your privacy, while getting the help you need. Plus, your classmates and parents never have to know that you got an extension at all. If you’re struggling with your mental health and you want more serious support, read this.

Me? I don’t need an extension. I don’t think . . .

If you’re a student who takes pride in your time-management skills and your ability to get all your work done, then having to ask for an extension can feel like a let-down. You know that your teachers are swamped with work—class planning, grading, the exhaustion of teaching many students at once—and you don’t want to be the kid who is a lot to “deal with.” And maybe you’re worried that asking for an extension won’t just be a one-time thing: that “giving up” now will inevitably lead to you becoming a worse student in the future.

This was very much my attitude when I was in high school. Being a straight-A student and getting all my work done was a point of pride, and it never would have occurred to me to ask for an extension. That isn’t to say that I didn’t ever struggle—I turned in late work with some frequency—but I figured that was better than getting accommodations for what I considered my “poor time-management skills.”

In the spring of my first year in college, however, I found myself facing a dilemma. I was swamped with work, struggling with motivation, and exhausted. I had a deadline for a midterm project coming up, and I was having a hard time getting it done. My friend suggested that I ask for an extension. My thoughts about that were along the lines of: “hmm yeah, that would probably be a good idea . . . but for someone else, because I know that I’ll figure out some way to get this done.” I knew that the project due date was already fair—my class had set it together with the professor. I felt bad asking to change it.

Long story short, I finally gave in and asked for a small extension. After all my belaboring and feeling guilty, my professor replied with the short email: “Extension granted!” No bells or whistles, no questions asked, no concerns, just a thumbs up.

If you’re a student who rarely needs help getting all their work done, then you’re probably also someone who knows themself and their abilities well. You’ve probably cut deadlines close before, and haven’t asked for an extension, because you knew that you didn’t need one. This tells your teacher (and it should tell you) that, if you’re thinking of asking for one now, then you definitely need it. This is not a situation where you’re slacking off or slowly becoming a worse student!

Maybe you’re thinking that, if you ask for an extension now, you’ll be tempted later to take more and more accommodations, until you’re a flat-out rubbish student. To be frank, this is ridiculous. “Slippery slopes” might be dangerous with alcohol: if you drink a lot, then your brain starts learning to crave alcohol. Addictions involve chemical changes in your brain that make your decision-making skills—your ability to “say no” later—worse over time.

Not so with extensions. Two more days on a paper does not change your brain chemistry. Instead, it makes you less exhausted. Every future deadline will be a new decision, and you will approach that decision with the same diligence and care that you have now. What makes you a good student is not that you’ve never asked for help—it’s that you care about and learn the material. Just ask for the damn extension.

This is slightly terrifying

Depending on your teacher and classmates, asking for an extension might be scary. I’ve had teachers who were mean, loud, or just really unpredictable. They’d be helpful and patient one moment, and yelling the next. I’ve also had classmates that are constantly looking to tease a “try-hard” or “goody two-shoes.” This puts you in a position of constantly having to prove that you don’t care about school—and asking for an extension definitely won’t help with that.

If you need some extra time but want to avoid these situations entirely, just send an email [link to email stuff]. Then you don’t have to deal directly with a mean teacher or risk being caught by mean students.

That being said, teachers are less likely to be mean to a student one-on-one. Often they just use yelling and strictness as a “classroom management technique,” [link] which won’t transfer to individual conversations.

Why even bother?

Totally fair. Homework can seem completely pointless sometimes (and sometimes it is completely pointless). You might be curious about what you might gain from an assignment that just seems silly— if so, check out [link]. Or, maybe this homework just isn’t targeting your needs as a student. You want to do well in school, but you’re either bored as hell (if this is the case, try this [I think we’re planning on having stuff for this]) or struggling so much that you don’t know where to begin (if this is the case, try this).

But it’s also possible that your problem runs a little deeper. School is based on an agreement: you come to class and turn in homework, and in return you get points. These points can lock in your grades, what you do after high school (sometimes), and how people see you. What if this system breaks down? What if you start seeing points as just points—not really as a measure of anything, and definitely not as important? If you’re not already motivated to do your assignments because you want to learn, then getting a few lousy points out of it might not make you feel much better.

This is completely legitimate. In fact, the work-for-points system is more of an open question than you think. There is a lot of debate over the best way to teach students, and some countries (like Finland) have become famous for their rejection of competition and measurement-based education. Your school is not perfect, and if you think it could do a better job of keeping you and your peers engaged and learning, you’re probably right.

The good news is that you’re not as powerless as you might think. Some of the most successful education reforms have come about because of students. It’s true that you have to go to school—but you have the right to push for changes while you're there. Using resources like these and learning how to identify and advocate for your needs as a student can help you (your peers, your teachers, and the school system) make education better.

An extension is not gonna solve this

Sometimes shit happens, and you need some help getting through it. Depending on the severity of the situation, an extension on one or two assignments might not cut it. It’s still good to ask for these, but you’re also allowed to seek out more serious support.

I had a friend in high school who lived alone, without either of his parents or any financial support. The authorities let him stay in his apartment as a minor, but he had to figure everything else out by himself. As you can probably tell, this was a disastrous situation for him to be in, and he needed any help he could get.

My friend decided to talk to one of our science teachers. Our teacher was able to help him find a job, and also give him some emotional support along the way. She helped my friend communicate his needs to our other teachers and to the school’s administration, so that he got any extensions and help on homework that he needed. Of course, none of this was a complete solution, but my friend was able to get the food he needed to survive, and even graduate with good grades.

This was a good strategy. If you’re in a tough place, then talking to a teacher you trust can make your life a little easier. You can also go straight to an administrator, if that’s something you’re comfortable with. If nothing else, they can communicate to your other teachers, your guidance counselor, etc. that you need some flexibility. This will make getting extensions and other kinds of help an easier process.

How much you share is, of course, up to you. Remember that most school employees are mandatory reporters, which means that if they learn that a student is in danger (because of child abuse, an abusive relationship, unsafe living conditions, etc.) then they are required to tell the police. Depending on what kind of help you want, this might be a good thing. But in the end, it’s up to you how much you want your teachers to know about you. For more information on seeking this kind of help, read [link to another resource].

What if they say no?

If you're really sick and tired of this, fuck.

Maybe, maybe there's a way to take the high road. Listen to their reasoning. Ask them why not. Share your emotions, tell them this is hurtful, even if you think they don't deserve to know.

Write down the conversation. Share your frustration with friends. If this is about graduating, or about college admissions, this is the type of stuff you can talk to your principal about or write in your additional information section. Maybe it can even be an essay.

If you're feeling malicious... one option: If your state is a one-party consent state, you may be able to record your conversation with your teacher. IT IS STILL UNETHICAL TO SHARE. Do this only if you're worried about being harrassed. Now, you'll have something you can show to another adult in a conversation about why your grade is low, why you're cutting that class (because you don't feel safe in it).

What else can I extend?

You don't have to take exams at the scheduled time. [examples] It really, really doesn't hurt to ask.