Overview: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time - Introduction to the Article Series
College professors from around the country have offered the most outrageous excuses their students have given for missing a class, a test, or an assignment deadline. In this series of articles, we explore excuses that range from sad to fantastical to yes, some that are inspiring.
This is the introductory article to a series of articles exploring the “best” - well, read that as the worst - excuses offered by college students for missing classes, tests, paper due dates, etc. The basis of the articles has been “crowdsourced,” as college professors from around the country responded to an invitation on social media to share their most memorable excuses offered by their students over the course of their teaching careers. The article series has been compiled and authored by Dr. David C. Wyld, himself a business professor with over thirty years of classroom experience. While prior to this project, he might have thought that he had seen it all, the feedback Dr. Wyld got from hundreds of professors for this series of articles shows just how unlucky, how creative, and yes, sometimes just how inspiring a student excuse can be!
This article series, with contributions from over 500 college professors and instructors from all over the country, should be of interest to many different audiences, including university administrators, college faculty, and yes, college students (and maybe even their parents)! Indeed, today’s students might be able to learn from the “lessons learned” by prior students in their interactions with their professors, and see how excuses - of all types - are viewed from the other side of the equation.
Now I have to begin this series of articles with a disclaimer: Professors are by and large a very empathetic bunch of people. After all, we have made a career choice to work with college students and help advance their development, education, and careers. But still, like you, we can laugh at a whole host of excuses students have tried - and in many cases succeeded - in convincing their college instructors that they had a legitimate excuse for being absent, for missing a test, for not making a presentation, or for not being able to turn a paper in on time.
Yes, many of these student excuses chronicled in this series of articles will have you staring at the screen in disbelief and even laughing out loud at their absurdness (and a warning that more than a few of these excuses perhaps might even have you spitting your coffee out on your device’s screen!). While some of these excuses offered by students - well, more than a few - are highly creative and fantastical in nature, sometimes as we all know, the unlikely and improbable does happen. Take for instance this post from a colleague somewhere in the United States (and yes, I promised anonymity to all who contributed their student excuses for this article series):
“My first year teaching I had a student miss the first test telling me her mom had died. The second test came along and I got a phone message saying she had been in a car accident. For the third test, she came to my office to say her husband had just been diagnosed with cancer and she couldn't concentrate.I don't ask for documentation and tend to take people at their word, but I called bullshit. I have never felt like less of a human being than when I found out it was all true....”
And speaking of death, here’s an excuse submitted by one of my contemporaries with an amazing - but true - student story:
“I don’t know about my worst one (excuse), but I do have the best one... one of my students was late to class one morning because SHE DIED. Literally. She has a congenital heart defect and had to be rushed to the hospital where they revived her during the night. And she still showed up the next morning... just late. ”
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses
While we may laugh at some very questionable student excuses throughout this series of articles, just know that all of this is offered in a good spirit. In no way are these excuses being offered by my colleagues and highlighted here intended to be “punching down” or belittling students in any way. And know this: There are tremendously dedicated students out there in the student body - always. And sometimes, we see students in fact go way, way beyond what anyone would expect. Take for instance the story related by one of my contemporaries about a pregnant student:
“I had a student in labor. The doctor told her it would probably be awhile. She came to class (having contractions) and took a final. Then went back to the hospital and had the baby !” She even had the hospital band on her wrist! And she had one of the highest grades on the final!
Sometimes though, all of us get the very real student stories that can lead us to share a tear or two ourselves, as some students today do have hardships that many of us cannot simply imagine - and these date back long before COVID-19. Take this professor’s story for instance:
“I had a student arrive late with a note from her kids explaining that they were hungry and asked her to make dinner first. I still have that note on my bulletin board. ”
There are, however, the student excuses that are, well, mind-boggling in their absurdity - and in their improbability:
“One of my students was late to the class video meeting because he was eating cake in the shower and it fell and plugged the drain so his shower started flooding and his mom came upstairs because there was water flooding the kitchen. I am not sure how cake would plug a drain to the point one couldn’t just clear it out, but his mom was yelling at him about cake in the background so I believed him...and laughed for about ten minutes!”
“Student says his aunt gives him medicine that makes him spacey, so it makes him forget to do his work. It was Metamucil!”
“Students said: ‘I thought I was dying and went to urgent care but my tongue was blue because of a lollipop.’ Got that one in an email 8 years ago that’s still in my ‘Keep’ folder.”
“A local student submitted an assignment an hour late and said she didn’t know what time zone we lived in...all semester. ”
And yes, while there’s no proven scientific theory behind this, one can safely say that the intricacy of a student excuse might just be inversely related to just how much truth there might be contained within it, as this one enterprising student’s excuse shows:
“I passed by my student on the way to class and he told me he was getting coffee and then coming to class. He asked me if I wanted one, and I said no thanks. Class started and I didn’t see him. 20 minutes into class another student’s phone rings and he answered it. He told me it was for me. It was the student who I passed on the way to class. He told me after he bought coffee, he went home to get his backpack. (He had his backpack on when I passed him). Then he said when he got home, his dog destroyed everything in his apartment and he had to clean up. Once he finished cleaning up, he left to head back to campus to join the class. Unfortunately, he stepped in a giant puddle and his clothes got soaked, so he had to turn back to change. (It was over a hundred degrees that day and not a cloud in the sky). Once he got back he realized, by the time he would dry up, it would be too late to go to class. So he asked me to mark him as if he attended, because if none of that happened he would have come to class. I was floored with this excuse. I was silent, rolled my eyes, and hung up the phone. True story!”
Then there is this story from an anonymous colleague, which reads almost like an excuse developed by the student in the spirit of "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”:
“I had a student drop off the face of the earth for two months only to return two weeks before the end of the semester wanting to make up all the labs. When I refused, telling her that what she requested was too much work for her to succeed, she told me I couldn't refuse her because she was out due to a heart condition. When I asked why she didn't email, she said she couldn't because she had to stay flat on her back. When I asked why she didn't dictate an email to someone who could type it for her, she got pushy. When I asked why she didn't call me to inform me, she repeated that she had to stay flat on her back, to which I replied, ‘The phone still works no matter which way you are holding it.’"
One of my colleagues even asked her students to come-up with the “most absurd” excuse they could as a creative exercise, and this is “the best one” that she received in return:
“One semester when I was teaching deviance I told students in that class to come up with the most outlandish excuses they could and I'd announce the "ridiculous excuse winner" at the end of the semester. Only one student gave a non-normative excuse that entire semester and it was, ‘Aliens kidnapped me to teach them out to hunt during the opening week of deer season.’”
And then again, there are excuses that sound incredible (and entries into the previous professor’s contest!) - but they are in fact very real:
“‘I couldn’t finish my essay last night because I had to go bail Grandpa out of jail.’ And it turned out to be true.”
“Ok this one was actually true, though it sounds fake. A student called me (knowing I’d never believe an email) that she couldn’t get out of her house to come to class because there was a mountain lion on her porch! (It’s Colorado, so this stuff happens haha)!"
“I always appreciate an excuse from a student that I haven't heard before because they are so crazy they have to be true. I once had a student borrow a Post-It Note poster pad for a class presentation. He came to me later and confessed that he could not return it because his roommate had been drinking and when my student suggested slowing down, the roommate sped up in protest, got sick, and puked all over it. He didn't think I would want it back (which I agreed!) and he offered to buy me a new one. I told him that the story alone was worth the replacement cost!”
“I don’t know about my worst one (excuse), but I do have the best one... one of my students was late to class one morning because SHE DIED. Literally. She has a congenital heart defect and had to be rushed to the hospital where they revived her during the night. And she still showed up the next morning... just late.”
“Once had a student claim a dead grandma three times in one semester. I can't remember the specific circumstances, but it turned out to be true!”
But every once in a while, some of us do encounter a student who just “throws him or herself on the mercy of the court” with an honest, “non-excuse excuse:”
“I had a student email me: ‘I have no good excuse and I'd rather not have to explain my bad reasons. I will turn in all of my late assignments by the end of the week. If you have time to evaluate them I'd appreciate feedback, even though I don't expect to receive credit.’ I appreciated their honesty and humility!”
And so, as we look at a whole host of excuses from students, offered by professors from colleges and universities all around the country, do know that all of this is offered in a good spirit, as we have all been there ourselves! We have all been in a pinch sometime - and maybe many sometimes - in the course of our lives where we face a conundrum: Do we tell the truth, or do we construct a lie? Whether it was in our own college days, on the job, or in a relationship (or perhaps “all of the above!”), we’ve all - and yes, some of us many, many times - had to decide on whether to level with another person as to what was really going on in our lives or to construct a story from “alternative facts.” In this series of articles, we will see a mix of both - we will see excuses that are too fanciful to be true and those that are true despite seeming to be too fanciful to possibly be true - but they are!
The Article Series
And so this article serves as the kickoff to this series of articles exploring the “best” (really meaning the “worst”) college student excuses of all time. All of these excuses came from my contemporaries who are professors and instructors all over America, each of whom responded to a social media invitation to submit their “best” excuses offered by their students for missing a class, a test, a project due date, etc. In all, over 500 higher education faculty from across the United States ended up submitting excuses that spanned the gamut in terms of their “origins” - health conditions, tech issues, legal problems, social and family issues, pet and animal concerns, housing issues, and much, much more.
This series of articles, “crowdsourced” from my contemporaries' very generous (and anonymous) submissions of their “best” student excuses, explores just how far students will go to craft excuses that will convince their college instructors to excuse an absence, let them take a make-up test, turn a paper or project in late, etc. And yes, we may laugh at the absurdity of many of these excuses. However, in almost every instance, there were also examples provided by my colleagues around the country of students who persevered, overcoming whatever obstacle that was in their way to make it to class, to complete the paper on-time, or yes, to take a test while in active labor!
You can say one thing about all of the hundreds of excuses submitted from my fellow college faculty members. While sometimes we professors hear or read “TMI” (too much information) about a student’s excuse, perhaps it is just a sign - and yes, a positive sign - about today’s students. As one of my colleagues put it so well:
“I think that students, particularly Gen Z students (those born after 1997), are somewhat comfortable being honest about why they missed class or an assignment and are just telling us, but they aren’t using it as an ‘excuse’ in that they don’t expect to be legitimately excused from class, or they expect a late penalty of some kind. I’ve had students tell me they just needed a personal day and wanted to let me know why they were gone because they cared about the class. When I get those kinds of emails, that’s how I take it. If they didn’t care about my class, they would have just skipped and not reached out at all.”
So, I would encourage you to kick back with a good cup of coffee (or more) and scroll through this series of articles. You will laugh at many of these excuses, and yes, in some instances, you may be inspired and even shed a tear or two!
Enjoy this article - or these articles? Please buy Professor Wyld's ebook - The Handbook of College Student Excuses - that compiles all of these excuses in one place - for yourself, for a college student you know (or parent), or for a college faculty member. It is a great, fun read, and makes a great gift! Get it today from Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1073655) or on Amazon (https://amzn.to/3rM5IXZ).
About David Wyld
David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness.
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