Every syllabus contains deadlines for submitting academic assignments: annotations, essays, exams and discussion postings. Most of the time, students are penalized for submitting these assignments late, although it is not unheard of for a university professor to disregard an assignment entirely if it is submitted after the predetermined deadline.
You’ve heard your professor say “this policy is meant to facilitate your success” and you think to yourself “no way, it’s meant to punish me!”
Consider, for a moment, a more utopian world. You walk into your first day of class and find your awesome professor has developed no firm deadlines. The syllabus still has recommended due dates, but nothing is technically due until the end of the semester. You can complete your work any time you want, as long as it’s all submitted by the last day of your eight-week course.
For motivated students, this structure may not be inhibitive. Organized and ambitious learners would likely be able to adapt to this level of leniency. However, for others, it may look something like this:
Week one zooms by and you spent the weekend hanging out with your friends and family, binge-watching Netflix or taking care of chores and not completing your first written assignment.
No worries, you think to yourself, I have a month and a half to turn it in!
Week two comes along and slips away before you know it. You decided to go on a camping with your significant other and left no time to do your weekly assignments.
No worries, you think to yourself, I still have five weeks to turn it in!
Week three evaporates while you spend the weekend on the beach soaking up some rays.
No worries, you think to yourself, I still have a whole month to turn it in!
Before you know it, you find yourself at the end of week six going into week seven, and you now realize you have not one but a seven assignments to get done before the end of the semester. How did this happen? Why didn’t the professor push you to get your work completed in a more timely and efficient manner?
Of course, you could call in sick to work, take three days off, and work feverishly day and night to get all seven assignments completed. By the time you finish the last assignment, your vision is blurry and forgot what class you even took in the first place. But you’ve completed everything. You can breathe a huge sigh of relief. You’re going to pass the class after all!
Or so you thought…
Until you get feedback on the work you handed in. The professor notes you forgot references on every single paper. He or she points out that if you submitted your assignments on the recommended dates, you would have gotten feedback each week and been able to correct this deficiency in your subsequent papers.
Specifically, the professor found your last assignment to be completely incoherent. The overall quality of your work is substandard; perhaps your week one assignment might have been up to snuff (except for the missing references) because you started fresh, but as the hours and days dragged on, the writing quality diminished to the point where your Word documents were peppered with spelling and grammatical errors and you missed important assignment requirements.
You end up with a D- in the class. Yes, you completed your work but there goes graduating Summa Cum Laude and now you have three days of missed work sitting on your work desk to catch up on and three fewer vacation days.
Learning is most effective when there is a structure that allows you to build skills over time. Courses are organized so that students can get the most out of them. Late work policies help keep students on track. However, professors also recognize that things come up. The professors you work with will likely allow extensions on assignments with valid reasoning, assuming that you use them sparingly.
Yes, the late work policy is your friend.
Ed Keim has been an adjunct professor for several years at various universities and has over twenty years of experience as a half- and full-time university student. His professional experiences include serving as a weapons system technician on F14A Tomcat aircraft, operating heavy construction equipment in the environmental remediation field, and repairing, and later managing, electronic manufacturing production lines for a large Japanese electronics firm. He has also years of experience running his own business consulting firm and tax preparation.
His hobbies include herpetology and his office is populated by several reptilian friends, including two ball pythons who have been with him for over 25 years, a baby reticulated python, an albino Columbian redtail boa constrictor, a 10 foot Burmese python, and an Argentine tegu the size of a Chihuahua.