what to do when you're absent from school college class

What to do when you’re absent from class: College edition

Katie Azevedo good habits, organization, self advocacy, time management

By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.

This is part two of a two-part series about what to do when you’re absent from class. Part one outlined strategies for high school students, while this post is more appropriate for students in college or graduate school.

As I wrote in part one for high school students, missing an occasional class isn’t the end of the world. You will not die. You will not (likely) fail the course if you miss a class here and there. Phew.

Being absent from class becomes an issue, however, if you:

  1. don’t plan ahead
  2. don’t properly manage your work before and/or when you return to class

What to do BEFORE you’re absent from class

If you know you’re going to be absent from class, let your professor know in advance. Do this in person. If it’s not possible to talk in person, then write an email at the very least. 

Regardless of how your communicate with your professor, be sure to address the following:

  1. Let the teacher know which class(es) you’ll be missing. Keep your explanation brief. (She doesn’t need to know that you’re getting that weird procedure done or that you’re driving 300 miles to see that Indie concert.)
  2. Respectfully ask if there are assignments you can gather ahead of time
  3. Clarify your teacher’s policy for accepting late work

I might not make any new best friends with what I’m going to say next, but it’s the truth: Complete and submit your “potentially missed” work before it’s due (or at least on time). 

In other words, if you know you’re going to be absent from class the day a project is due, turn in the project before you’re absent. Same thing with presentations: if you are going to miss a presentation, ask if you can do your presentation during the class before you’re absent.

Missing a college class is different than missing a day of high school because college professors almost always give out syllabi with all the course’s assignments listed by due-date. (On the contrary, high school teachers don’t typically include all assignments and due-dates on their syllabi.) Therefore, you really have no excuse for not getting your stuff in on time, especially if your absence is planned.

Additionally, most college assignments are submittable (is this a word? does it matter that I don’t care if it is or isn’t?) online, so again, there are not many late-work excuses that would fly.

What to do about unplanned absences

If your absence is unplanned, then things change a little. Here’s what to do when you’re absent from school (or just a class) without any warning:

  1. Email your professor immediately. Even if you’re sick, you can manage to put together a few sentences explaining your absence.
  2. Respect the teacher’s absentee policy. You should know this policy ahead of time, as it’s likely on the syllabus you got on your first day. If the teacher doesn’t accept late work, no matter what, then that’s the end of the story. If s/he accepts work one day late, then you better submit that work by tomorrow. (I’m saying that in my mom voice.)
  3. Check all your online platforms (Canvas, Google Classroom, etc.) for announcements and postings. 
  4. Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.
  5. Check your syllabus for assignments and due dates, and reach out to classmates to explain what you may have missed in class.
  6. Do the work. Do the work. Do the work.
  7. Submit work digitally if possible.

When you return to class after being absent

When you return to class after being absent, check in with your teacher. It doesn’t hurt to arrive to class a few minutes early to do this. You have two objectives for this check-in:

  1. Turn in any assignments that you weren’t able to submit digitally
  2. Review with your professor what you missed from the previous class


… and this is a big BUT …

… don’t begin this conversation with “What did I miss?” Instead, start with something like, “I was absent last class, but I believed I missed the presentation on XX and the notes about YY. Is that correct?” Let your professor know that you made the effort to fill in the gaps independently – that initiative will go a long way.

Final notes about missing a college class

Bring absent from class won’t kill you. It happens, both unexpectedly and deliberately (mental health day, anyone?). You’ll be fine as long as you take care of business on time and do the work, do the work, do the work.

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