Sometimes in my excitement about a course plan I’ve developed I totally forget to put a late policy in my syllabus. Even after 21 years of college teaching, I forgot to add a late policy to my course syllabus this past fall semester! [What was I thinking? Answer: I wasn’t!]
Why do you need a late policy in your syllabus?
1. Your students need to know up front how you will handle assignments they want to turn in late. When the semester gets tough, students do triage with their assignments. For example, if two assignments are due on the same day and it’s the night before the due date, the student will work on the one for the course that will not accept late papers. The other assignment will be pushed off. If there is no late policy, a student may simply figure that the due date is not hard and fast.
2. A clear and written late policy helps you to deal with all your students fairly.
3. The policy gives you something to fall back on when you encounter problem situations. Okay, this sounds really vague. Let me be frank. Some students get themselves into academic trouble- not turning in work on time routinely or maybe at all, coming to class late all the time. As the semester comes to a close, what do you do about this? How do you handle the student who then comes up to you at the end of the semester, with three assignments still not turned in and now wanting an extension on the final exam?
What should your late policy articulate?
1. For how long will you accept late work? A typical length of time in my department is two weeks. After two weeks, there is usually another assignment in the mill, so continuing to work on the old one will now interfere with the new one. Also, two weeks is a lot of course material under the bridge, so it’s really hard to catch up a gap like that.
2. Will you deduct a late penalty? Most college students are taking four or five classes each semester. In a thirteen to fifteen week semester, most of us think of our courses in halves, thirds or fourths. Most of us also tend to have three or four bigger assignments like tests, exams or papers. Most of us space these assignments out and sometimes link the assignments to a topic or subtopic related to the course material. That means that roughly every three or four weeks, the students will have some big assignment coming due in most of their classes. They could have an exam, a presentation and a paper all due in the same week.
Sometimes even the most organized and proactive individuals have a hard time juggling that kind of stressful workload. It’s hard to find the time to work steadily on multiple big assignments and not get all stressed out and worried. At the same time, most college students also have very complicated lives outside of their academics. They have volatile and time-consuming social lives.
It may seem harsh, but late policies help students be successful by providing a structure or framework for getting the work done.