Part 16: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time - The “Caught in a Lie” File
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. Here are the best ones where students got “caught in a lie” about their excuses.
As an overview, this article is part of a series (Overview: The Best (Really Worst) College Student Excuses of All Time - Introduction to the Article Series), exploring what excuses college students have offered to explain an absence, a missed exam, a paper or project being late, etc. All of these excuses have been collected from this author’s contemporaries - professors and instructors at colleges and universities all across America. As such, it is a “crowdsourced” piece, and I owe them my gratitude for sharing their “best” excuses - which in reality means the “worst” - from their students over the years that provided the basis for this article series. And in all of these articles, each of which deals with a different “origin area” for student excuses, from health to tech to social to pets and more, we not only see excuses that make us laugh, but we also see some that could make you cry, as there are also stories of students who “went the extra mile” and persevered over the unique obstacles they might have faced in their lives to succeed in school (A complete list of the articles in the series with links to them is provided at the end of this article.)
In this article in the series exploring college student excuses, we review a special set of excuses students have actually used to miss a class, a test, or a paper/project submission deadline, in which they have ended up being “caught in a lie.” As you will see in these excuses submitted by my fellow professors from all across the United States, in some cases, the student was undone by accident, while in others, the professor actually uncovered the lie. So, without further ado, let’s look at these instances where students didn’t “get away with” their attempt to give a “fake news” reason for skipping class, missing an exam, or trying to put off a project deadline.
The “Caught in a Lie” File
Every one of us who has taught at the college level for any length of time has heard student excuses that sound incredible - like the following submissions from colleagues - that 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!”
“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!”
And yes, sometimes the truth about the accident - or accidents - is stranger than any fiction one could write:
“Had a student miss class because he hit a deer on the way to campus. Missed the next class because he needed to get a rental car, having totaled his by hitting the deer, and had to find someone to rent it for him because he was under 25. Missed the third class because he hit a deer in the rental. All documented. All true. Told him he should buy an orange car moving forward.”
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!”
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.’”
But alas, for all of us working with students today, there are situations where the student employs their creative skills to come up with an excuse for their particular situation. And sometimes, we professors do uncover the fact that their excuse is false, catching them in a “lie” - or at least an embellishment!
Take travel for instance. Sure, most of the time, a student who says they will be away on a trip is actually away. However, there are indeed times when students actually happen to get caught in a travel lie - either by happenstance or by a intrepid professor on the lookout for them - when they are not really being away when they said they were traveling:
“My most favorite! Student emailed: ‘I am sorry I couldn't make it to class, I missed my flight, I am at the airport....’ I read this email as I saw him walking across campus. At the very least, hideout til class is over.....”
“I had a student once call to tell me he missed class because he was snowed in an hour away. This was in the days before everyone had cell phones. Caller ID told me he was calling from his dorm room!”
In the same way, we have professors who discovered that their students were lying about the weather:
“I had a student once call to tell me he missed class because he was snowed in an hour away. This was in the days before everyone had cell phones. Caller ID told me he was calling from his dorm room!”
And no doubt, car accidents are an unfortunate and serious matter - when they are real. But alas, sometimes students will try to make-up a car wreck excuse...
“A colleague's student notified them that they'd been in a car accident. They sent photos as proof. The colleague thought the photos looked weird and just Googled ‘car wreck’ on a whim, and the student's 'proof' were the first photos that came up in the search.”
Health-related concerns are typically the most common reason for students to miss a class, a test, or a paper/assignment deadline. But of course, not every medical excuse is real. As a professor, you know that, and yes sometimes you do see evidence of such with your own eyes! And from the number of “health lies” reported by my contemporaries from faculty all across the country, there is no shortage of students getting caught by their professors with false medical excuses - and yes, sometimes the students make it easy to do so!:
“Probably 20 years ago I received a phone call from a student who claimed to be in a cardiac intensive care unit. He claimed to be hooked to life support and heart monitor. The beeping sound of the heart monitor was a friend doing a bad imitation of a heart monitor. I could also hear faint giggling in the background. The student never returned to class after that.”
“I had a student submit a handwritten note to excuse 2 weeks' worth of absences. The note was in pencil, had several mis-spellings, and looked like a 7-year-old wrote it, but this student claimed it was from his doctor. The wacky thing was he was also attending my husband's class during that time and of course, he tried to pull it on him as well - so a ‘two fer!’”
“I had a student email me that he was rushed to the hospital for not feeling well... as I watched him play monopoly in the student union while I grabbed a coffee on break. This was the same student who handed in a plagiarized paper on Cats, the musical. The copy/paste was obvious because he had copied from catsonbroadway.com ... which at the time was the URL for a Veterinarian in Missoula, Montana.”
“I once received an absence note from 'Dr. Martin Lawrence.' (This was in the 90’s, so he [Martin Lawrence] was on TV and all.) Just for giggles, I drove by the building that was supposed to be his office, just in case there really was a doctor with that name. Nope.”
“‘I was on my way to the classroom to give an exam, and a student called and told me he was at the hospital with his girlfriend, who, he said, ‘was having an abortion at that minute.’ He was however, standing outside the classroom building as I walked in to give the exam.”
“I had a student miss a test because his grandfather was in the hospital. Of course I excused and let him make up the exam at a later date. However, turns out the student was the brother of a friend of mine and when I asked her about her grandfather, she had no idea what I was talking about...”
“In the early days of Facebook, a student missed a majority of my class and at the end of the semester, wanted an incomplete. She had gained the confidence of the assistant department chair, who scheduled a meeting where they were to make the case that the student had a mental health problem and should be excused from having missed all but 4 classes, and should be allowed to turn in the assignments sometime later (never mind this is a lab-based course with a field placement). Prior to the meeting, I looked her up on Facebook, only to find a fully public profile with hundreds of photos of her, underage drinking and partying across the country--on days when class was scheduled. In the meeting, I listened to the sad story of how she couldn't even get out of bed most days. I listened to the case from the administrator. Then I asked them both to put themselves in my shoes and consider how that explanation compared to what she's putting on Facebook. I had printed out her profile and set in on the table in front of her. That ended the meeting pretty quickly.”
“I had a student say that they were going to submit an assignment late because they were volunteering with a kid with cancer and then proceeded to provide me with extremely personal information about this child (who was in no way related to them) in a way that read to me like they were simply trying to tug at heartstrings and to also make themselves look superior as a person who volunteers with kids with cancer. I found it absolutely disgusting. Submitting the assignment late wasn’t a big deal for me, and I granted the extension, but the exploitation of a child really pissed me off.”
Then there’s this classic regarding a dental excuse, with a comment from the dentist involved that was spot-on:
“I had a student forge dental notes to excuse absences. Multiple days (not consecutively), and the dentist was a couple of hours away. When I called the dentist to confirm, he remarked, ‘If the student worked as hard in the class as he did to fake these notes, he would probably be doing a lot better in the course.’ Student ended up expelled.”
And for some reason, there seems to be some very real confusion as to the nature of prostate cancer among some male students out there!
“There was one time that a student told me he couldn’t make the exam because his grandmother had prostate cancer. I just stared at him blinking for a looooong time…”
“My favorite of all time happened to a colleague. A female prof had a male student tell her that he had gone home because his mom had cancer. Being a compassionate person, she asked him more about the situation. He volunteered that his mom had prostate cancer. She suggested that his mom might want to get a second opinion!”
Finally though, here is an excuse from one of my colleagues that captures just how much many of us in the professoriate want to believe our students when it comes to medical-related issues, but sometimes, there are indeed signs that we shouldn’t:
“First, I do have a tendency to believe people too often. Second, I was new to the Mayo Clinic area in Rochester, Minnesota. They do a lot of amazing things at the Mayo Clinic. This student told me that her husband was having a trans-species transplant. I believed her. It wasn’t true. However, that was at least 22 years ago. I’m going to guess that maybe that could happen today, LOL.”
If there is a leading cause of student absences when it comes to health, gastrointestinal issues certainly lead the way. In fact, throwing-up and diarrhea seem to be the “go to” excuse for many students. But when you try to play the “gastro card,” students would be well-advised to get their story - and their technology - in line:
“Student emailed me ‘I will miss class due to food poisoning.’ Then, a second email came from with a photo of her using a beer bong labeled ‘check out last night, Carmen.’ Then a third email came, frantically telling me not to open the second because she sent it to a friend with the same first name. I sent back an email stating only ‘unexcused absence’ (although I did think for a min that this really is a sort of food poisoning).”
As we discussed in an earlier article, death is one of the most commonly played “excuse cards” for students. And yes, test times and project deadline dates can be especially dangerous for grandmas! But death, as we all well know, is really not a laughing matter - even though we might rightly laugh at some of the student stories shared by my colleagues about how students tried to use “fake” death excuses with them. However, it is important to recognize that a student using a false death of a family member as an excuse can be quite painful for the faculty member on the other end of the transaction - especially at certain times for all of us. This was exemplified by this submission from an anonymous colleague:
“I had a kid lie to me about the death of his father once. It was especially awful since the class was aware that my own father had just died over break.”
Now, students will indeed try and play the “Death Card,” even when there’s no death involved. For instance, let’s say you’re a student of one of the many professors who require documentation for a death-related absence. So you don’t have an obituary or a funeral card/program for a death excuse? Not an issue for this student!:
“One girl told me that she missed my exam because her mother died. I offered condolences and requested documentation. An obituary would do. Two days later I came to campus and found a note slipped under my office door. It was a pencil-written letter in girly cursive written on a page torn out of a spiral notebook stating that the girl's mother had died. It was signed “xxxx’s father.”
Sometimes, students do experience the “Revenge of the Dead” when their lie gets exposed - although maybe not as totally and hilariously as in these real stories related by my fellow college professors:
“Oh, I had an epic ‘dead grandma’ story. I received a call from a student the night before the exam (I gave out my number for emergencies) and he gave me this horrible story about his beloved grandmother dying and he just couldn't function and really needed an extension on the exam. What said student didn't know was that both Grandma and I were from the same town. And it just so happened that at the time of this call, I was sitting at the same table with her at a church event. I responded to him by name, saying I was so sorry that his Grandma Beth died. Grandma Beth, who is one sharp cookie, took one look at me and said, ‘Is that ____?’ Before I could finish nodding, she ripped the phone out of my hand, stalked off to an empty classroom, and proceeded to give her grandson one HECK of a chewing out. She returned about twenty minutes later, handed my phone back to me, and said, ‘He WILL be in class tomorrow.’ The next morning, he was twenty minutes early and gave me flowers as an apology for his lying and that he ‘would never do this again.’"
“When I was in grad school, an undergrad ended up facing disciplinary actions because she told her professor she would miss an exam because her father died. The professor felt horrible that she would have such an experience as losing her father, so she got the student's home number and called to give their condolences. The father answered the phone.”
And yes, students may be surprised to learn that sometimes, they can play the “Death Card” one too many times:
“Had a student walk in my office crying that her mother died and asked if I would work with her. Well yes, obviously. She walks out of my office and another instructor walks in my office and says did her mother die again this semester? That was many years ago. I now require an obituary or service program.”
“The student who claimed dead grandma... as they had every semester for the previous three years. Apparently, they thought professors don’t chat.”
“One time, a student of mine had his Aunt pass away. I obviously said no worries hand it in when you could. About 2-3 months later, I was sitting down for lunch with other faculty members on the program ... and one of my colleagues told us to keep an eye on the student because he had an aunt pass away. I asked if it was the same aunt from 2-3 months ago. By the end of the conversation, we realized that over the past two years he had roughly 7 aunts pass away.”
Then there are students that have fake pets, much like fake aunts, grandmothers, and close friends. Below is the best story on this point from a contemporary:
"Student emailed me saying, ‘My dog was hit by a car and I had to take him for emergency surgery.’ I got a colleague to ask him how his dog was doing. He replied, ‘Dog?’”
Finally, the online world has always been a place where students can do “interesting” things to cheat. This leads to the “cat and mouse” game of catching students cheating, but sometimes, students can make it easy, as the story from this anonymous colleague revealed:
“In my former life, I got an email from the LMS tech support with an attached message from a student who had been buying alllll of his work from a pay site thinking the LMS tech email was the pay site email. He was basically chewing them out because 'his' work was late and it was going to affect 'his' grade.... He'd given them his login info and everything. They were posting discussions and papers, etc. Needless to say, he didn't graduate.”
Now of course, students have had issues with online classes predating the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as online classes have proliferated, so too have student “issues” - like this excuse that was called “fake” by a credentialled expert that is a classic!:
“Student emailed me: ‘I will be unable to hear, and therefore participate in class for the first 8 weeks due to extensive ear piercing that prevents me wearing headphones. Also, I have no webcam or mic.’ I introduced this student to the office of disability services to see what tools they could provide to help her thrive. Suddenly, they found a speaker at home to at least be able to listen to class. To which a heavily-pierced colleague replied: ‘As someone with no less than 5 piercing in each ear, this person was truly full of it.’”
Unlike most of the other articles in this series, this one doesn’t conclude with a story of students persevering or overcoming adversity when it comes to certain issues. Hopefully though, all of these students - and students in the future - will have learned from these experiences (and maybe even have a great story to tell about them someday!). The moral of the story is indeed simple: Be truthful! It will pay off in the long run, and yes, today, with social media and endless sources of information, your professor might just be more able than ever to catch you lying about being sick at home when your Instagram story shows you out having fun! Just saying….
The Article Series
If you enjoyed reading this article on the best excuses offered by college students regarding legal issues, please check out the other articles in the series exploring a whole host of other “causations” of absences, missed tests, late projects, etc. It’s all offered in a good spirit, and I hope you will check them out for yourself and perhaps share with your colleagues - and maybe even your students!
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). You can also view the college student "Excuse of the Day" on Dr. Wyld's blog at http://www.collegestudentexcuses.com/the-best-excuse-of-the-day/.
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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