Ask a Professor: How to miss a class and still make the grade

Classroom miss
Give only the information necessary when you know you’re going to miss a class.

During your semester, you will inevitably miss a class or two — hopefully not more! The way you deal with missing your classes will speak to your character as a student, as well as impact your final grade in many cases, either directly or indirectly.

Here is my advice to make sure those days you just can’t make it don’t result in not making the grade.

Before you reach out

1. Read the syllabus
Remember that document that your professor went over during the first class while you were only half-listening? Yep. That’s where you’ll find the professor’s policy on missed classes, as well as how it might impact your grade. It will also have an outline of what was going on during the class that you missed, so head there when your alarm simply didn’t go off or you have that trusty case of “food poisoning.”

2. Secure proper documentation
Often, your reason for missing class will be legitimate, but be sure you can provide proper documentation. Your professors have seen it before: After a suspicious number of grandparents “die” right around the time major assignments are due, they know to require evidence of your reasons for missing class. This means anything from an official notice from the university excusing your absence to a police report or insurance claim.

3. Ask around
After dutifully checking the syllabus, move on to checking whatever learning management system your professor and school use, like Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle. Often, professors will post the homework or class notes there, to be accessed by all members of your class. Next, talk to classmates and get the notes or discuss what happened while you were out. Only once you have done your best to get caught up should you contact the professor with specific questions regarding what you missed.

Some things to avoid when following up with your professor

1. Don’t ask, “Did I miss anything important?”
The short answer here is that of course you missed something important. It might not seem like it, but a typical 15-week, three-hours-per-week course is not a lot of time, and professors design their courses to maximize the learning that can take place. Classes aren’t a serialized television series or a sports game where there are lulls in the narrative or action; the course you’re taking has clear outcomes and goals that each class is meant to achieve.

2. Don’t ask, “Could you tell me everything that I missed?”
You missed the class, therefore it is your responsibility to do everything in your power to find out what you missed before asking the professor. Many professors hold class without lectures and prefer to engage in class discussion or in-class work. An email requesting a professor re-hash the class for you probably won’t be a productive endeavor.

3. Don’t ask, “Is it okay if I miss class for __ reason?”
Sometimes you know in advance that you will need to miss class — that happens. Asking if you can miss class if you’re already going to miss it anyway won’t endear you to any professor because it won’t make a bit of difference whether he or she says no. If you have a legitimate excuse, then it doesn’t matter what the professor says. If you do not have a legitimate excuse, asking permission uses up the time and resources of your professor without reason.

4. Don’t overshare
There is no need for a blow-by-blow account of your gallbladder surgery or the intimate details of the family dynamics keeping you from attending class. Keep your reasons simple and on a need-to-know basis.

5. Don’t let reasons become excuses
Missing one class because your alarm didn’t go off is one thing; missing half a semester for the same reason is entirely different. Unexpected things will always come to pass, but as a student there are things you can control; or rather, there are things that often get out of control. Control the things you can so that when legitimate reasons for missing a class come up, you are in a position that it won’t matter as much.

Finally, here’s a sample email to send to your professor when you miss a class.

Dear Professor X,

I am in your [insert class name and time] and I will be missing this [day of the week]‘s class on [insert topic here – it will say in the syllabus]. I will have proper documentation that I can show you during the following class OR I understand that this will impact my grade in [insert consequence – again, it will be in the syllabus]. I have already spoken with [name of classmate] about getting his/her notes, and I will be sure to do the reading/homework as well. I will also come and talk to you during your office hours about any specific questions about the content of the reading or homework.

Thank you,
Student


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