Students, If You Are Facing This Situation, Run and See Your Professor NOW!

Posted by on Nov 2, 2012 in Communicating with Professors, General, Interpersonal Communication | 11 comments

Any guess what I’m going to say? Do not pass ‘Go’! Do not collect $200! Go see that prof! (stokfoto)

(I hit a grading wall and there went my blogging rhythm this week! Quick news that made me feel very honored: Say This, NOT That received its first peer-reviewed journal nod from The National Academic Advising Association: “…should be required reading for first year seminars and campus orientation classes.” Yay!!!!! Here is the full review and if your campus would like an exam copy, message me at and I’ll send word to my publisher.

Now, on to today’s post: The NACADA review discusses the increasing disconnect between students and campus professionals. Well, a student wrote to me with a huge disconnect, albeit self-created… a critical and time-sensitive issue, one that I bet hundreds of students at all levels are facing right this minute.

The premise of #STNT and this blog is that students don’t have to sabotage themselves when a simple conversation could so often save their situation. This student’s issue is hardly simple, but a discussion right this second is the first place to start. Students, if you are reading, take my advice and talking points and get to your professor’s office now, well before your term ends! You won’t know if you can save your situation unless you try! Parents, I also encourage you to gently nudge and ensure that your college student isn’t in this same boat without you knowing it.)



Because I have seen the advice you have given other college students, I would like to ask for your help in explaining myself to my professor. I have missed class now for about three weeks straight without contact. I started missing class right before I had a presentation due. Initially, I wasn’t ready. Then, I actually finished my presentation, but thought it wasn’t good enough and I just kept missing class. Each day, I was determined to go, but I became too anxious. I talked myself out of going every time. This went on for three weeks. I even missed a major exam.

Now I have a bigger issue: If I drop this class, it will affect my scholarship. How in the world do I face my professor after such a long absence? What do I say? I don’t want my prof to think I’m lazy because I am actually an A-student. I have only recently felt anxiety about going to class. Should I e-mail first, asking to meet during office hours? I feel like my anxiety is a non-excuse and wouldn’t be taken seriously at all.



As always, before I give my advice, please comment and provide your suggestions and support. Students who write into my blog typically watch the community unfold (which is magnificent!).


You were very courageous to write. There are a ton of other students who stop going to class and simply just fade out. At least you are motivated to try and speak to your prof.

I am empathetic to you primarily because I am a public speaking professor. I know the kind of anxiety that students face. It can be debilitating and devastating. I realize that you may have intended to go to class and even had your foot out the door and something held you back from doing so.

But now it’s time to come clean, mainly for the reason that pretty soon, you won’t be able to salvage the situation at all. Too much time will have passed for your professor to do anything for you. I can’t say that that’s not the case already, but there may be a possibility if you come to your professor with a concrete plan.

Here is what I would do:
-Review your syllabus for the professor’s policy on late work and absences (and hopefully there is one). Read that twice if you have to so you know it backward and forward.

-Do any calculations of where your grade was already. Try to work out every worst/best case scenario if you can make up the work. See where your grade might fall. Include the penalty that the syllabus describes, if that is noted.

-Yes, it is a good idea to e-mail your professor and make a set appointment to meet. Don’t go into details here. Just say, “I’ve missed a good deal of class. I need to meet with you regarding my situation. I would like to set a specific time to do that. I see that you have office hours during X time. May I come meet with you at __?

-Come into the professor’s office with a proposal already laid out for the work you’ve missed and the grade calculations. This is where many students go wrong in this type of meeting. They make the professor do all of the catch-up work on catching them up! Take responsibility for your absences. Have a proposal laid out based on the syllabus on how you are going to make up the work. You can discuss the missed exam when you are there.

-When you are in the meeting, I recommend telling the prof why you’ve missed class. Ordinarily, I say the reasons don’t matter, but you had anxiety. Your prof should know. You do have to show that you were ready for the presentation so bring it with you. Say, “I was scheduled to deliver my presentation and I wasn’t ready. I prepared it and then became anxious that it wasn’t good enough. I was too afraid to let anyone know how anxious I was, so I stayed away from class. I realize this was not the best decision and I know that it may be too late for me to do anything about my situation. I would like to try and save my standing in this class.

I have the presentation ready, and even though I am still anxious, I’d like to try and work through it. I have gone through the syllabus and reviewed the absence and late policy. I have gone through the possible grade scenarios and if you look them over to see if I’ve calculated things correctly, I think I can still pass. I also missed the exam, so that is one thing I need your help to figure out. I understand if there is nothing I can do, but I’m hoping there is still time for me to save myself here.

I am determined to not miss any further class, and if I do, I am willing to face any consequences at that point. I at least wanted to meet with you and explain myself. I probably look like a lazy student. You can look up my transcript and you will see that I’m actually an A student with a scholarship. I fell into a bad situation this term. I’m determined to turn things around.”

I get that you’re worried about not being taken seriously. Dead grandmothers are one thing, but anxiety is a hard excuse for students to disclose. Most of us wouldn’t brush that off, even though I’m not sure that your disclosure is going to be able to salvage the situation (though I hope there is something your prof can do). If anxiety is a serious issue, please get help from the college’s counseling center. That’s exactly what they are there for!

One last option: Ask about an “incomplete.” I have no idea if your prof would agree or what your college’s requirements are, but if you need to have your anxiety substantiated by your doctor, it could help you take a “pause” from this class and not lose your funding or credit. It’s worth the question.

I hope my suggestions have helped. I’d love to hear how your conversation goes.

My best to you,

Say This, NOT That is the exact resource for these types of “save your behind” situations. Here are other topics that it covers for important conversations with professors.


  1. Very thorough response Ellen, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I would have the student look into the institution’s attendance policy. It would be good to determine if there is a discrepancy between the two policies. I would also recommend speaking to a mental health professional to get some help working through the anxiety. Anxiety is not something to be taken lightly and can be extremely debilitating.

    • Eric,
      Yes, good point. The institution may have an attendance policy, as well. Hopefully if this situation is remedied, the student will be able to deal with some of the anxiety issues. Not that they will go away by any means, but the anxiety over dealing with the professor will be one less issue to tackle.

      I appreciate you writing!

      • I’m thankful that you wrote this piece, so many students will benefit. I need to comment more!


  2. I’d just like to add that you shouldn’t brush off your anxiety either!

    Anxiety disorders can be devastating (as I know from personal experience), and they often emerge during young adulthood. Don’t be embarrassed to seek out help! I know that the dominant message we often receive is that anxiety is good, or that you should just “get over” your anxiety. But for those with an anxiety disorder, it can be nearly impossible to deal with alone.

    Missing three weeks of class due to anxiety is a big red flag. See someone now. Not soon. Not later. Go online and find out how to schedule an appointment with your counselling center now. Don’t let them brush you off with a “well, we’re booked solid for the next four weeks.” Explain your situation; there usually are emergency appointments open for people who are in a state of crisis.

    I know it’s hard, but getting help early can help prevent a breakdown later.

    • Hi, Kate,

      I totally agree with you as I have issues with anxiety, myself. It can escalate and spiral out of control. One’s world can become very, very small! I also agree that counseling centers on campus can get booked as the term continues (students tend to have more crises as the weeks progress), but an emergency appointment is usually available.

      This is great and important advice. I just e-mailed the student, so I hope we hear something!

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